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The primary function of the General Assembly is to administer the activities of the state for the greater benefit of all, through enactment of laws, resolutions, and sound fiscal policies.
The General Assembly prior to the Revolutionary War consisted of just the House of Assembly and was overseen by the Colonial Governor of Pennsylvania who resided in Philadelphia. With the advent of the Revolutionary War and the separation from Great Britain, a new government was formed, with a President (Chief Executive), House of Assembly and a second house, the Legislative Council. Landowners and other persons of substance were allowed to vote, as they had been under the Crown. The first state General Assembly met 28 October 1776 at New Castle. Members continued in office until the following October.
The House of Assembly was composed of seven representatives from each county and the Legislative Council had three members from each county. All money bills originated in the House of Assembly, with any subsequent alterations being performed by Legislative Council; all other bills could be presented in either house.
The President of the state, established with the 1776 Constitution, was chosen by joint ballot of both houses. A similar ballot was cast annually in order to choose delegates to the United States Congress. The consent of 5/7 of the House of Assembly and 7/9 of Legislative Council was required to enact any changes in the constitution.
Each house had the power to choose its own speaker and appoint its officers, judge the qualifications and elections of its members, decide on its own rules of proceedings, and direct the manner of filling vacancies.
The chief executive could not adjourn or dissolve the legislature. He could, however, call it into session if a majority of one house applied to him, or if he had the consent of the Privy Council.
A Privy Council was provided in the 1776 Constitution, to advise the President. It consisted of four members, two chosen by each house. Members of the Privy Council had the powers of Justices of the Peace. If a member of the Legislative Council or House of Assembly was elected to the Privy Council, he lost his seat in the General Assembly. Terms on the Privy Council were two years, and members could not succeed themselves. With less fear of a strong executive in 1792 than in 1776, the second constitution abolished the Privy Council.
A constitutional convention was called in 1791 by Assembly resolution and met in November of that year to revise the 1776 constitution then in use.1 The 1792 constitution created a General Assembly divided into a Senate, with three members from each county, and a House of Representatives, with seven members from each county. These two bodies assumed the lawmaking powers for the state.2 The 1792 constitution extended the voting right to free white men above the age of twenty-one who had resided in the state for two years and paid a state or county tax assessed at least six months before the election.
The 1831 constitution changed the term of office for representatives from one year to two, and that of the senators from three years to four.
Changes in apportionment were effected in 19633 when the General Assembly established 35 representative and 21 senatorial districts (7 in each county) within the state. Additional representative districts could be established in the event of population changes. The following year,4 the number of senatorial districts was reduced to 18, with allocations of districts as follows:
35 Representative Districts (8 Wilmington, 16 NCC, 5 KC, and 6 SC)
18 Senatorial Districts (4 Wilmington, 8 NCC, 3 KC, and 3 SC).
The 1968 reapportionment added 1 senatorial and 4 representative districts, with the allocation of districts as follows: 5
39 Representative Districts (6 Wilmington, 21 NCC, 6 KC, and 6 SC)
19 Senatorial Districts (3 Wilmington, 10 NCC, 3 KC, and 3 SC)
In 1971, 2 representative and 2 senatorial districts were added, the districts allocated as follows: 6
41 Representative Districts (6 Wilmington, 23 NCC, 6 KC, and 6 SC)
21 Senatorial Districts (3 Wilmington, 12 NCC, 3 KC, and 3 SC)
1 Messersmith, G., Government of Delaware, p. 15.
3 54 D.L., ch. 1
4 54 D.L., ch. 360
5 56 D.L., ch. 243
6 58 D.L., ch. 280
rlg/jrf; January 14, 1988; January 28, 1988; April 23, 1988; March 27, 1989
Related Topics: General Assembly