The California Legislature is made up of a Senate of 40 State Senators who are elected for a maximum of two four-year terms and an Assembly of 80 members who are elected for a maximum of three two-year terms. The Secretary of State conducts legislative elections on Election Day, which is either a federal or state holiday depending on the year. Voters select one member from each district to serve in the Assembly and two members to serve in the Senate. The remaining seats are filled by candidates elected at large. In most years, one third of the Senate and one half of the Assembly are up for election simultaneously; however, under the California Constitution, no more than one fourth of both houses can be elected every two years.
The distribution of congressional districts has been criticized as being an attempt by politicians to manipulate data in order to benefit themselves. During the last round of redistricting in 2011, Republicans controlled both the House and Senate of California's Congresses. As part of its effort to draw new maps, the Republican-controlled Legislature followed the same process that it would use to draw its own district boundaries. By combining several small population areas within the same district, legislators were able to create districts with significantly different populations. For example, one district had only 36,000 people while another had nearly 1 million. These types of districts can give voters in some places the opportunity to elect their legislators while others remain unrepresented.
California has a bicameral legislative system with two houses: a lower house (the Assembly) and an upper house (the Senate). The California State Assembly is made up of 80 members that are elected for two-year terms. The California State Senate is made up of 40 senators that are elected for four-year terms. There is no limit to how many times a senator or assemblyman can seek office.
The Legislature meets for approximately 180 days out of the year in Sacramento, California. During this time, they consider bills and resolutions and may hold hearings on these topics. If a bill passes into law without changes, it is called a "signed" bill and will be sent to the governor for approval. If the governor vetoes the bill, then it must be passed again by both houses of the Legislature before becoming law. If there is no veto, then it becomes effective upon signing by the governor.
In California, laws can only be changed through the process of legislation. No other method is available. This includes the ability to amend the Constitution itself. Amendments to the Constitution can be proposed by Congress, the states through their legislatures, or the executive branch of the government. Only those amendments that are approved by three-fourths of the states can then be added to the Constitution.
The process of proposing laws and amendments to the Constitution begins in the California State Assembly. A bill can be introduced by anyone who wishes to draw attention to a issue before the Legislature.
The California State Legislature is divided into two chambers: the Senate and the Assembly. The people of California are represented by 40 senators and 80 assembly members. The Legislature maintains a legislative calendar that lists key dates for events throughout its two-year term.
The State Senate has 20 members from districts that cover an average of 98,000 people per district. Senators serve four year terms, with half up for election every two years. The State Assembly has 40 members from districts that cover an average of 49,000 people per district. Members serve two year terms, with half up for election every two years.
In addition to setting policy by voting on bills before them, the State Legislature also controls what laws can be proposed through the process of drafting legislation or "bills." Members of the State Assembly introduce bills, which require approval by a majority vote of the House before they can move forward. State Senators can propose amendments to existing bills with the aim of changing them significantly before voting on them. If an amendment is accepted by a majority of the Senate, it must then be approved by the Assembly before it can become law.
State legislators are not directly elected by voters but instead are chosen by their peers in each party's primary election. Voters have a role in selecting candidates by voting for either Democrats or Republicans, but once selected, candidates appear on the general election ballot under the banner of their party.
Since 1996, California State Assembly members have been limited to three terms (6 years). Since 1998, state Senate members have been limited to two terms of eight years. These limits apply to all seats, including those up for election every other year.
In California, term limits were adopted by voters through an initiative process. The first time they were on the ballot, they passed with 57 percent support. They have since been put forward again, and have a good chance of passing this time around as well.
The idea behind term limits is that elected officials should be responsive to their constituents rather than being forced to deal with one another over and over again. As well, it reduces the amount of time that people can spend in public office, which may help to eliminate some corruption from the system.
The California State Legislature is the most popular body with which voters can engage on term limits issues. Almost every time they have been placed before the public, voters have said "yes" to limiting themselves to only three four-year terms or two six-year terms.
However, it is possible to exceed these limits; for example, a person could serve four consecutive two-year terms instead of the usual two consecutive four-year terms. Similarly, someone could serve eight consecutive years instead of the usual four years.
Since 1996, California State Assembly members have been limited to three terms (six years). These are lifetime restrictions, not consecutive limits. For example, if a senator were to die in office after only two terms, his or her family could choose to run for another office before their time was up.
The six-year limit on legislators is a product of California's indirect election system. Under this system, voters do not select candidates directly but instead vote for delegates who will choose candidates at special elections. The more offices that are open, the more seats are available so it becomes harder for individuals or small groups of people to gain control of the legislature. If legislators were allowed to serve unlimited numbers of terms, they could use their positions to build personal power bases and stack the deck in favor of certain policies or industries. Indirect voting systems are used by most other major countries including France, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
The eight-year limit on senators is meant to give legislators time to pursue private interests outside of government and also to allow governors to replace them when needed. Governors can call special elections to fill vacant seats, but they cannot appoint people to those seats until the next general election.