It's important that each of us decide how to participate in our government. There are many ways and most of us find what suits us best. Some of us decide to take an active roll and get involved by running for office or become a volunteer for others that are running. Some of us choose to vote and faithfully do so, which is a very important part of being involved. I hope that the information below will help you to better understand the structure of Missouri Government.
THE STRUCTURE OF MISSOURI GOVERNMENT
Missouri's state government is similar to the other forty-nine states in that it is divided into three principal branches: the legislative, the executive and the judicial.
The legislative branch has the responsibility of writing and passing our state laws. In Missouri, the legislature is bicameral, meaning that it is made up of chambers - the House of Representatives and the Senate. Together, these divisions are known as the General Assembly.
Once the laws have been passed by the legislature, it is the duty of the executive branch to execute and administer them. As the chief executive of the state, the Governor is the recognized leader of this branch. He or she is assisted by the Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, State Auditor and Attorney General, all elective officials. Various departments and enforcement boards, provided for in the constitution, are also divisions of the executive branch.
Having three distinct branches of government insures that no one group can dominate the government through a concentration of power.
The Missouri Constitution provides for this legal separation of powers in Article II, which reads:
The powers of government shall be divided into three distinct
departments - the legislative, executive and judicial - each of
which shall be confined to a separate magistry, and no person
or, collection of persons, charged with the exercise of powers
properly belonging to either of the others, except in the instances
in this constitution expressly directed or permitted.
Equal distribution of powers among state officials is a guarantee that the citizens of Missouri will be fairly represented in government.
The Legislative Branch
The General Assembly meets once a year, beginning in January, for four and one-half months. They convene in the Capitol to enact new laws and revise existing Missouri laws or statutes. When the session adjourns for the year, legislators return to their districts where they continue to serve as the political voice of the constituents.
The only other time the legislature meets is when the Governor or General Assembly calls for a special session. These sessions deal only with specific legislation for which it was called and cannot exceed 60 days in duration.
Missouri is divided into 34 senatorial districts on the basis of population, and each district elects one state senator. The senators are elected for four-year terms, with an overlapping arrangement which provides that half the terms expire every two years.
To be eligible for election as a state senator, a person must be at least 30 years old, a qualified voter in the state for three years, and a resident of his or her district for one year.
The President ProTem appoints all committee chairs, majority party committee members to all committees, and is elected by the membership.
The Majority and Minority Floor Leaders manage all floor legislative action on behalf of their parties. The Majority Floor Leader sets the schedule and order of business for the Senate.
The House of Representatives
The Missouri House of Representatives is composed of one member from each of the state's 163 legislative districts. These districts are drawn according to population.
Member of the House are elected for two-year terms at regular elections held in even-numbered years. To run for state representative, a person must be at least 24 years old, a qualified voter in the state for at least two years, and resident in his or her district for at least one year.
The Speaker is the presiding officer in the House. His or her responsibilities include appointing committee chairs, establishing the number of members on each committee and appointing the majority party members of committees. He or she also assigns bills to committees and signs all official actions of the House.
The Speaker Pro Tem presides in the Speaker's absence. Both the Speaker and the Speaker Pro Tem are elected at the opening of the first regular session of each General Assembly by the membership.
The Majority and Minority Floor Leaders manage floor actions on behalf of their parties. The Minority Floor Leader appoints minority party members to committees.
The Party Whip directs the support of party members for the party's programs and objectives.
House and Senate members work in specialized, bipartisan legislative committees which consider the validity and need for a particular bill. Committee chairs are always appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate. The committees are set up according to the rules of each house and are established on the basis of the subject matter.
When a committee receives a bill, it studies it carefully and then holds public hearings. It is during these hearings that the private citizen is given the opportunity to personally speak out for or against a particular bill. When the hearings are over, the committee goes into executive session to determine what shall be done with the bill. Decisions concerning the bills are always reached by a majority vote.
The citizen can, and should, attend these hearings if they have an interest in a bill, because once the bill has passed "out of committee" the citizen's only recourse is to write to their individual state senator or representative.
The Making of the Law
An amusing quote (attributed to Count Mirabeau while watching students observing the proceedings in the French Assembly) about lawmaking states, "Laws are like sausages. You should never see them made."
Although the Count was undoubtedly commenting on the personal styles of the assemblymen, lawmaking often is not smooth and neat. But the legislative process is essentially a well-defined exercise.
The idea for a piece of legislation may come from a private citizen, consumer or business group or a legislator. The bill may be drafted by the legislator or he or she may request the professional assistance of the legislative staff. A bill may originate in either chamber with the exception of appropriations bills which are always introduced in the House of Representatives. Since the process is the same in both branches of the Legislature, let's assume that our bill is introduced in the House of Representatives. After the sponsoring legislator has filed the bill with the Chief Clerk of the House, it must be read on introduction and ordered printed. This is its first reading. Once the bill has been printed, it is second read and referred to the speaker of the House for assignment to one of the many committees. The first and second reading of bills might be considered a formality since the Legislature does not take action until the Speaker of the House has assigned the bills to committee.
However, once the bill is assigned to committee, the process moves into high gear. A bill seldom comes out of committee exactly the way it was received. After the committee has a public hearing on the bill, it meets in executive session. During this session, amendments can be offered or the committee can completely rewrite the bill and offer a House Committee Substitute. After all the changes have been made, the committee votes on the bill. If a majority of those present vote to pass the bill out of committee, it is placed on the perfection calendar. The committee may also vote not to pass the bill, and it will die in committee.
Once placed on the perfection calendar, the bill must wait its turn for debate. At this stage of the process, all House members get a chance to express their views on the bill. During debate, amendments may be offered and voted on or an entirely new bill, a House Substitute, can be offered.
Each time a change is offered, the full House must vote on that change. After all debate has ended, the Speaker calls for a vote. If passed, the bill is referred to as perfected. (A simple majority of those present in the chamber is all that is required for passage.) It is then placed on the third reading calendar.
Once it reaches the top of the third reading calendar, the bill is again debated before the House; however, it cannot be amended.
Representatives can only approve or reject the bill as it was passed during the perfection stage. Once all debate has ended, the Speaker calls for a roll call vote. To pass a bill on third reading, a constitutional majority is required. (At least 82 of the 163 members of the House of Representatives must vote "yes" to pass a bill on third reading.)
If passed by the House, the bill goes to the Senate where the process is repeated. On its arrival in the Senate, the bill is first read. Then it is placed on second reading calendar, read in the chamber and given to the President Pro Tem for assignment to committee.
As in the House, the committee may change the bill or kill it in committee. If the bill is voted out of committee, it is placed on the Senate calendar under House bills for third reading. The perfection stage is eliminated in the Senate. However, when the bill is debated by the Senate on third reading, unlike third reading stage in the House, amendments may be offered and the bill may once again be changed. If any changes are made though, the bill as amended by the Senate, must go back to the House for its approval.
If the House rejects any or all of the changes made by the Senate, the bill will most likely end up in a conference committee composed of members of both the House and the Senate. If the conference committee reaches a compromise, its report must be adopted by both the House and the Senate before the bill is Truly Agreed To And Finally Passed. It is then signed by the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate and sent to the Governor.
If the Governor signs the bill, it becomes law 90 days after the legislative session ends. However, if it contains an emergency clause, the bill becomes effective the day it is signed by the Governor.
We hope this explanation gives you a better understanding of the legislative process.
This illustration to the right shoes the flow of a bill originating in the House of Representatives. If, in the example shown, the bill, as passed by the House was amended by the Senate, the bill would have to be returned to the House where the amendments offered by the Senate would have to be voted on. Failure by the Huse to concur with the Senate amendments could send the bill to a conference committee composed of members of both the House and the Senate before the bill can be "Truly Agreed To And Finally Passed". Once passed into law, legislation may still be challenged in the courts.
The Executive Branch
The executive branch consists of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, and State Auditor and sixteen departments. The state's business is conducted through the departments which in turn are divided into divisions, commissions and boards. With the advice and consent of the Senate, the Governor appoints the directors of the departments and divisions and members of the commissions and boards. The sixteen departments which assist in executing and administering the laws of the state are: Office of Administration; Agriculture; Conservation; Corrections; Economic Development; Elementary and Secondary Education; Health and Senior Services; Higher Education; Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration; Labor and Industrial Relations; Mental Health; Natural Resources; Public Safety; Revenue; Social Services; and Transportation. The Office of Administration functions as a central management agency for the coordination of planning, budgeting and personnel activities of the departments.
Another important aspect of the executive branch is that all six officers are elected individually and independently of one another, which means that the Governor has no basic control over the other five executive officials.
Governor: According to state law, the governor must be at least 30 years of age, a U.S. citizen for the past fifteen years, and a Missouri resident for the past ten years. He or she has the power to both appoint and remove various agency heads and other officials. The Governor regulates the spending of state money and has the power to reorganize agencies. He or she also has legislative powers like the "veto" which, unless the legislature overrides it by a two-thirds majority vote, can prevent a bill from becoming a law. The Governor has the ability to pardon people who have committed crimes, and he or she may call special sessions of the General Assembly. The Governor also has the constitutional power of commander-in-chief of the state militia, which he or she may call out to enforce the laws of the state. No person may be elected to this office more than twice.
Lieutenant Governor: The Lieutenant Governor is, by state law, the President of the Missouri Senate and has the same qualifications as the Governor. As President, he or she has the power to preside over the Senate, recognize speakers, and conduct Senate business, though in recent years Lieutenant Governors have not presided over Senate proceedings on a regular basis. The Lieutenant Governor is only allowed to vote when there is a tie in the Senate or a tie in a joint vote of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Secretary of State: By state law, the Secretary of State must be a resident of the State of Missouri for at least one year prior to being elected. The Secretary of State's office isdivided into three areas: Elections and Commissions, Business Activity, and Administrative Services. He or she is Missouri's chief election official, and as the keeper of the Great Seal of the State of Missouri, finalizes many official actions of the Governor by affixing the state seal. The Secretary is also the state's chief archivist, recordkeeper and microfilmer, as well as the responsible party for corporate, uniform commercial code, and securities matters.
Autitor: The Auditor, whose qualifications are the same as the Governor's, makes certain that the officials and agencies of the executive branch are spending their money the way they are required to by state law. The Auditor is also responsible for auditing the General Assembly and counties.
Treasurer: The Treasurer has the same residency requirements as the Secretary of State. He or she handles the state funds. Money received by the state through taxes and other sources goes into the state treasury. The Treasurer takes the money which is not needed to operate the state government in any one year and invests it. He or she also oversees the distribution of funds to state agencies and employees. Like the Governor, no individual may be elected to this office more than two times.
Attorney General: To be qualified to run for Attorney General, a candidate must be an attorney and live in Jefferson City after the election. He or she has the power to give non-binding legal opinions to the Governor, the General Assembly, and other state officials. His or her other powers include representing the state of Missouri in court.
The Judicial Branch
The third major branch of Missouri government is the judicial. The chief responsibility of the judicial branch is to interpret the laws of the state as passed by the legislature, and it also attempts to judiciously settle controversial issues. In so doing, it deals in two areas of law: criminal and civil.
Criminal cases are those in which there has been a violation of the law whcih causes an injury to the state or society. Persons found guilty in a criminal cas may be punished by fine, imprisonment or executins.
Civil cases are those in which there has been a dispute between persons, often over minor disagreements in interpretation of the law. The person who loses a civil lawsuit is not subject to fine or imprisonment. However, the court may decide that the injured party should be paid a certain amount in damages.
Missouri courts are presided over by judges who are either elected to their posts or are chosen under the nonpartisan court plan. The nonpartisan plan is the method employed in filling judgeship vacancies in many Missouri courts.
The judicial branch of Missouri government can be divided into three levels: the circuit and associate circuit courts, the court of appeals, and the supreme court.
The Circuit Court: The court system concentrates all initial legal activity in the circuit court. Missouri has forty-siz judicial circuits, divided along county lines. Each circuit contains at least one circuit judge and at least one associate circuit judge for each county within the circuit.
Many judges of the circuit court are popularly elected, while judges in some circuits are selected under provisions of the nonpartisan court plan. Circuit judges serve terms of six years, while associate circuit judges serve foru-year terms. These circuit courts handle original civil and criminal cases, as well as misdemeanors and felonies.
The Court of Appeals: There are three courts of appeals in Missouri: St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield.
The courts of appeals hear cases from lower courts whose decisions have been appealed and which are not reserved exclusively for the Missouri Supreme Court. However, cases not within the exclusive jurisdiction may be transferred from the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court when it is determined that a case involves an important constitutional issue that should be decided by the state's highest court.
The Supreme Court: The Missouri Supreme Court is the highest court in the state and hears cases appealed from the courts of appeals or involving the death pelanly, life imprisonment, and United States treaty or statute, or construction of the United States and Missouri Constitutions. The court may also order cases transferred to it from the Court of Appeals if the cases involve questions of general interest or importance, if the Court thinks the existing law should be re-examined or for other reasons provided by law.
In addition to these duties the Court is responsible for the supervision of all lower courts in the state. It is assisted in this task by the State Courts Administrator's Office.
Supreme Court judges are selected under Missouri's nonpartisan court plan. There are seven Supreme Court judges who serve 12 year terms. They select one of their number to be chief justice, usually for a period of two years.
The decisions of the court are in the form of written opinion prepared by a judge and adopted by a vote of the judges. The Court is normally divided int two divisions, though sometimes a case will be heard by all seven judges.
Much of the power to regulate internal affairs in Missouri is delegated to locally elected governing bodies, such as governments of counties, cities, townships and various kinds of districts. These local units have no reservedpowers of their own, but only those which are granted to them by the Missouri Constitution and laws. The state sets up both the basic frameworks of government available to the local units and also the conditions governing local choice and implementation. The people in the local units fill in the details with appropriate actions and ordinances, being allowed varying degrees of discretion depending on the size of the population and other factors.
County Government: There are 114 counties in Missouri, plus the City of St.Louis which, under the constitution, has county status. Withe the exception of the City of St. Louis, all 114 Missouri counties have some basic type of county government, although the structure and operation of county governments vary considerably.
Most governments are directed by the presiding commissioner of the county commission and the other commissioners of the commission; all of them are elected by the people. The county commission serves as both the central executive and legislative body.
City Government: There are three main types of city government being used in Missouri today: the mayor-council form, the commission form and the council-manager form.
The Mayor-Council Form: this is the form of city government which appears most frequently in Missouri. In this type of government there is a city council (or board of aldermen) composed of four or more members who are elected by the people, a mayor who is either elected by the people or by the council from among its own members and several administrative officials who are elected by the people of the community or who are appointed by the mayor.
The Commission Form: In this form of city government one body, called the board of commissioners (or the city council in some places), performs both the legislative and the executive functions.
The Council-Manager Form: The council-manager form of government is comprised of a council, a mayor and a city manager. The city manager is a nonpartisan official hired by the city as an administrator. He or she is the person who is generally responsible for all city administration.
Missouri has eleven people in Washington, D.C., who represent the state in the United States Congress.
The United States Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government, and it works in conjunction with the country's executive and judicial branches to exercise the sovereign power of the people of the United States. Congress is divided into two distinct branches which are call the Senate (Upper House) and the House of Representatives (Lower House). Its two-year sessions last from each odd-numbered year to the next oss-numbered year.
United States Senators: Missouri is like every state in that itis represented in Washington by two senators who are elected to six-year-terms. These officials provide a smaller body of more experienced lawmakers to counter balance the workings of the shorter term (two-year) House members.
United States Representatives: Nine Missourians currently represent Missouri in the House of Representatives in Washington. the members of the House are elected to two-year terms from the districts in the state which are drawn up according to population: thus, the more heavily populated states have more representatives and state's representatives will increase or decrease in proportion to the state's population.
You must be 18 years old, a U.S. citizen and have identification to register. Registration is upen until the fourth Wednesday before election. change of address is necessary if address change is prior to the registration deadline. If the change of address is after the deadline, you must contact your county clerk's office for further instructions. A bill requiring voter registration services at branch and fee offices of the Motor Vehicle and Drivers License Bureau was passed by the legislature in 1994. Contact your county clerk about where to register in your area.
The Citizen's Role in Democracy
Not everyone can be involved in politics to the extent of holding public office, however, there are a number of effective ways for citizens to participate in government. Changes in our government may be gained through traditional avenues established by custom, or through other legally established means. The most frequently used means through which a voter may express his or her opinion is by writing a letter to his or her elected representative. Writing your representative is an effective way of making yourself heard on a subject. Members of the General Assembly and state officials pay close attention to their mail, particularly when a piece of controversial legislation is at hand.
Missouri is one of only 24 states that allow citizens the opportunity to make changes in state law and constitution through the petition process. A group of voters may draft a proposed law the be submitted to a vote of the people in a process called "initiative". Occasionally, through a "referendum", the legislature submits a proposal to the peoplefor approval or disapproval. Unlike acts of the Legislature, theveto power of the governor does not extend to measures referred to the people.
All of these devices have one thing in common - they depend upon the vote for their execution. Petitions request a vote in the legislature, initiative and referendum bring proposals to the people for a vote, and letters to legislators try to influence votes. Looking over the structure of our government, this same fact emerges. Simple as it is, everything depends upon our use of the vote. It is the basic tool of democracy. If a few citizens don't use it, domocracy falters; if no one uses it, there is no democracy.