Government of Alabama

Government of Alabama

The Government of Alabama is divided into executive, judicial, and legislative branches.


The Alabama Executive branch consists of the governor, currently Bob Riley, the Cabinet, and the executive staff. The Cabinet consists of the heads of 25 different departments ranging from the Chief of Staff to Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Cabinet members

* Chief of Staff Dave Stewart
* Communications Director Jeff Emerson
* Legal Advisor Ken Wallis
* Finance Department Travis Allen
* Banking Department John Harrison
* Department of Industrial Relations Phyllis Kennedy
* Department of Insurance Walter A. Bell
* Department of Labor Jim Bennett
* Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation John Houston
* Department of Revenue Tom Surtees
* Department of Senior Services Irene Collins
* Department of Tourism and Travel Lee Sentell
* Department of Transportation Joe McInnes
* Department of Public Safety Col. Chris Murphy
* Alabama Development Office Neal Wade
* Emergency Management Agency Bruce Baughman
* Alabama Military Department Maj. Gen. Mark Bowen
* Department of Homeland Security Jim Walker
* Medicaid Agency Carol Herrmann-Steckel
* Department of Human Resources Dr. Page Walley
* Alcohol Beverage Control Emory Folmar
* Department of Children's Affairs Richard Dorrough
* Department of Economic and Community Affairs Bill Johnson
* Department of Corrections Richard Allen
* Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Barnett Lawley


The Court of the Judiciary is created consisting of one judge of an appellate court, other than the Supreme Court, who shall be selected by the Supreme Court and shall serve as Chief Judge of the Court of the Judiciary; two judges of the circuit court, who shall be selected by the Circuit Judges' Association; and one district judge who shall be selected by the District Judges' Association. Other members of the Court of the Judiciary shall consist of two members of the state bar, who shall be selected by the governing body of the Alabama State Bar; two persons who are not lawyers who shall be appointed by the Governor; and one person appointed by the Lieutenant Governor. Members appointed by the Governor and Lieutenant Governor shall be subject to Senate confirmation before serving. Provided, however, that on January 1, 2005, the appointment authority granted to the Lieutenant Governor shall revert to the Governor and the Governor shall therefore be entitled to appoint three persons who are not lawyers, subject to Senate confirmation. The court shall be convened to hear complaints filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission. The court shall have authority, after notice and public hearing (1) to remove from office, suspend without pay, or censure a judge, or apply such other sanction as may be prescribed by law, for violation of a Canon of Judicial Ethics, misconduct in office, failure to perform his duties, or (2) to suspend with or without pay, or to retire a judge who is physically or mentally unable to perform his duties. ("Constitution of Alabama of 1901, Amendment 581, §6.18").

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Alabama is composed of a chief justice (currently Sue Bell Cobb) and 8 associate justices (Harold Frend See, Jr., Champ Lyons, Jr., Robert Bernard Harwood, Jr., A. Woodall, Lyn Stuart, Patricia M. Smith, Michael F. Bolin, and Tom Parker). As the highest state court, the Supreme Court has both judicial and administrative responsibilities.

The Supreme Court has authority to review decisions rendered by the other courts of the state. It also has authority to determine certain legal matters over which no other court has jurisdiction and to issue such orders necessary to carry out its general superintendence over the courts in Alabama. The Alabama Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over all appeals where the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000 and appeals from the Alabama Public Service Commission.

The chief justice is the administrative head of the state's judicial system. The Supreme Court may make rules governing administration, practice, and procedure in all courts. Under this authority, rules of practice and procedure and judicial administration have been adopted to eliminate many of the technicalities which cause delay in the trial courts and needless reversals in the appellate courts.


House of Representatives

The Alabama House of Representatives is composed of 105 members from an equal amount of districts across the state. Article IV, Section 50 of the Alabama Constitution states the size of the House remains at 105. Members are elected to a four-year term. Like the U.S. House of Representatives, the Alabama House has the exclusive power to write revenue bills for state.


The Alabama Senate is composed of 35 Senators, in keeping with Article IV, Section 50, of the Alabama Constitution, which limits the Alabama House of Representatives at 105 members, and the Senate at 35, and with Article IX, Sections 197 and 198, which establishes membership in the Senate at not less than one-fourth, nor more than one-third, the total membership of the House of Representatives, and allows for additional representation in the event new counties are created. Thus, the Alabama Senate is precisely one-third the size of the House of Representatives, and each Senator represents a district of approximately 125,000 Alabamians.

Under Article IV, Section 47, of the Constitution, Senators must be at least 25 years of age at the time of their election, must be citizens and residents of the State of Alabama for at least 3 years, and residents of their district at least one year, prior to election.

Senators, like members of the House of Representatives, are elected for four-year terms, and take office at midnight of the day of their election. Amendment 97, to the Constitution, provides that should a vacancy occur in either house of the Legislature, the governor is required to call a special election to fill such vacancy.

While the House of Representatives has exclusive power to originate revenue bills, such legislation can be amended and/or substituted by the Senate. Moreover, because the Senate is considered to be the "deliberative body", rules concerning length of debate are more liberal than those of the House of Representatives.

Like the United States Senate, the Alabama Senate has sole power of Confirmation of certain appointees designated by the Constitution and by statute. The legislative antecedent of this role is a similar power vested in the Roman Senate, during the period of the Roman Republic.

The Senate Seal features an open book and torch, accompanied by the Latin phrase Libertas Per Lege, meaning "Liberty Through Law". The official Seal of the Senate was adopted by Senate Resolution, August 19, 1965, and was created by a special committee consisting of then Senators John Tyson (Mobile), Vaughan Hill Robison (Montgomery), Bill Nichols (Talladega), Lieutenant Governor Jim Allen and Secretary of the Senate McDowell Lee.

The Lieutenant Governor of Alabama, currently Jim Folsom, Jr., is ex officio President of the Senate, as provided under Article V, Section 117 of the Constitution, and is considered an officer of the Executive Branch under Article V, Section 112. The Lieutenant Governor is elected, by statewide vote, every four years, and must be at least 30 years of age, when elected, and must have been a citizen of the United States for 10 years, and a resident citizen of the State of Alabama for 7 years, prior to election. The Lieutenant Governor can vote, on any matter before the Senate, only to break a tie vote. The Senate may, by Rule, grant other powers to the Lieutenant Governor, in his/her capacity as President of the Senate.


House of Representatives

The Alabama House of Representatives has 105 members. Each member represents a district of approximately 40,000 people. The members of the House are elected to four-year terms. Members of the House at the time of their election, and must have been citizens of Alabama for three years, having lived in their respective districts for at least one year immediately preceding their election. The Speaker of the House, currently Seth Hammett, is a member of the body and is elected by his colleagues to serve as the presiding officer.

All revenue raising matters must originate in the House just as in the Congress of the United States. It takes a quorum to conduct business, and a majority of a quorum can pass any bill except a constitutional amendment, which requires a three-fifths vote of all those elected. An appropriation to a non-government organization such as a private college requires a two-thirds vote of those elected.

Members of the House are paid a salary of ten dollars a day plus expenses other than travel in the amount fixed by joint resolution of the legislature.



Regular Sessions

The Legislature convenes in regular annual sessions on the first Tuesday in February, except (1) in the first year of the four-year term, when the session will begin on the first Tuesday in March, and (2) in the last year of a four-year term, when the session will begin on the second Tuesday in January. The length of the regular session is limited to 30 meeting days within a period of 105 calendar days. There are usually two meeting or "legislative" days per week, with other days devoted to committee meetings. Special sessions of the Legislature may be called by the Governor, with the Proclamation listing the subjects which the Governor wishes considered. These sessions are limited to 12 legislative days within a 30 calendar day span. In a regular session, bills may be enacted on any subject. In a special session, legislation must be enacted only on those subjects which the Governor announces in his proclamation or "call." Anything not in the "call" requires a two-thirds vote of each house to be enacted.

The Constitution provides that no law shall be passed except by a bill, which is a proposed law written out in the proper form. When approved by the legislative body and the Governor, the bill becomes an act. The lawmaking process begins with the introduction of the bill in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Bills may be introduced in either house, with one limitation---bills which increase or decrease revenue must originate in the House of Representatives.

The order of business in each house provides a time for the introduction of bills. In order to give the people of a particular locality advance notice of the intent to introduce a bill affecting that locality, the Constitution provides that local and special bills (that is, those bills which apply to a particular named locality) must be advertised in a newspaper published in the county affected (or posted if there is no newspaper) for four consecutive weeks before introduction. Documentary proof that this notice has been provided is required before a local or special bill may be introduced. This process is known as Notice and Proof.

Bills are assigned consecutive numbers, as introduced, to facilitate identification. No bill can become an act until it has been read on three separate days in each house. Upon introduction, a bill is usually read by title only, constituting the first reading of the bill. Because a bill is usually read by title only, it is important that the title give the members notice of the subject matter contained in the bill.

All legislative bodies operate mainly through committees in doing their work of considering bills. Committee action is probably the most important phase of the legislative process. The framers of the present Constitution of Alabama were conscious of the importance of the committee system, and inserted a provision in the Constitution stipulating that no bill may be enacted into law until it has been referred to, acted upon by, and returned from, a standing committee in each house. Reference to committee immediately follows the first reading of the bill. Bills are referred to committees by the Lieutenant Governor and the President Pro Tempore in the Senate, and by the Speaker in the House of Representatives.

The Constitution states that each house shall determine the number of committees and the numbers vary from quadrennium to quadrennium. Each is set up to consider bills relating to a particular subject of legislation. A bill dealing with health matters, for example, would be referred in both houses to the committee on health; a bill dealing with schools would be referred to the committees on education. Other committees deal with such subjects as business and labor, public welfare, conservation, agriculture, governmental affairs, local legislation, etc. Alabama legislature has a Legislative Council, a permanent or continuing interim committee, composed as follows: From the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor and President Pro-Tempore, the Chairmen of Finance and Taxation, Rules, Judiciary, and Governmental Affairs, and six Senators elected by the Senate; From the House of Representatives, the Speaker and Speaker Pro-Tempore, the Chairmen of Ways and Means, Rules, Judiciary, and Local Government, and six Representatives elected by the House. Also serving are the majority and minority leaders of each house. The Legislative Council meets at least quarterly to consider problems for which legislation may be needed and to make recommendations for the next legislative session. A number of significant statutes have been placed on the books as a result of the Council's activity.

Special Sessions

The Governor issued a Proclamation calling the Alabama Legislature into Special Session. The Proclamation included in the foregoing link includes all language usage, as well as factual errors contained in the Governor's official Proclamation. For example, constitutional amendments always require a 3/5 vote of the elected Members of each house for passage, whether in regular or special session. This constitutional provision cannot be abrogated by any governor. Likewise, while a governor's proclamation may itemize subjects to be considered in a special session, such proclamation cannot dictate that the Legislature specifically consider only a bill which mirrors the exact language of a bill offered in a previous session. The Legislature may offer and consider any bills it chooses in a special session. Bills which do not fall within the general subject matters itemized in the governor's proclamation require a 2/3 vote of a quorum present in each house for passage, with the exception of constitutional amendments, which always require a 3/5 vote of the elected Members of each house for passage. A special session can consist of no more than 12 Legislative (meeting) Days within a 30-calendar day period.

Legislative Process

Standing committees are charged with the important responsibility of examining bills and recommending action to the Senate or House. Usually on days when the Legislature is not in session, the committees of each house meet and consider the bills that have been referred to them to decide if the assigned bills should be reported for a second reading.

For most bills, the recommendations of the committee are followed, although either house is free to accept or reject the action of the committee. Bills reported favorably by a committee are placed on the regular calendar.

After a committee has completed work on a bill, it reports the bill to the house during the reports of committees in the daily order of business. Reported bills are immediately given a second reading. The houses do not vote on a bill at the time it is reported; however, reported bills are given a second reading and are placed on the calendar for the next legislative day. This second reading is made by title only. Local bills concerning environmental issues affecting more than one political subdivision of the state are given a second reading when reported from the local legislation committee and re-referred to a standing committee where they are then considered as a general bill. Bills concerning gambling are also re-referred when reported from the local legislation committee but they continue to be treated as local bills. When reported from the second committee, these bills are referred to the calendar and do not require another second reading.

The regular calendar is a list of bills that have been favorably reported from committee and are ready for consideration by the membership of the entire house.

Bills are listed on the calendar by number, sponsor, and title, in the order in which they are reported from committee. They must be considered for a third reading in that order unless action is taken to consider a bill out of order. Important bills are brought to the top of the calendar by special orders or by suspending the rules. To become effective, the Resolution setting Special Orders must be adopted by a majority vote of the house. These Special Orders are recommended by the Rules Committee of each house. The Rules Committee is not restricted to making its report during the Call of Committees and can report at any time. This enables the committee, especially toward the end of the session, to determine the order of business for the house. This power makes the Rules Committee one of the most influential of the legislative committees.

Any bill, which affects state funding more than $1,000, involving expenditure or collection of revenue must have a fiscal note. Fiscal Notes are prepared by the Legislative Fiscal Office and signed by the chairman of the committee reporting the bill. They must contain projected increases or decreases to state revenue in the event the bill becomes law.

Regardless of how a bill is reached on the calendar, when the bill is considered and adopted, this is called a third reading. It is at the third reading of the bill that the whole house gives consideration to the bill's passage. At this time, the bill may be studied in detail, debated, amended, and read at length before final passage.

After the bill has been discussed, each member casts his/her vote as his/her name is called alphabetically. The Senate is rather small, and voting may be done effectively in that house by manual roll call. The membership of the House is three times larger than that of the Senate, and individual voice votes would require a great deal of time. For this reason, an electronic voting machine is utilized in the House of Representatives. The House members vote by pushing buttons on their desks, and their votes are registered by colored lights which flash on a board in the front of the chamber. The board contains all of their names and shows how each member voted. The votes are electronically recorded in both houses.

If a majority of the members who are present and voting in each house vote against the bill, it has failed passage. If the majority vote for the bill, it is recorded as passed. If amendments are adopted, the bill is sent to the Enrolling and Engrossing Department of that house for engrossment. Engrossment is the process of incorporating amendments into the bill before transmittal to the second house.

A bill that is passed in one house is transmitted, along with a formal message, to the other house. Such messages are always in order and are read (in the second house) at any suitable pause in business. After the message is read, the bill receives its first reading, by title only, and is referred to committee. In the second house, a bill must pass successfully through the same steps of procedure as in the first house. If the second house passes the bill without amendment, the bill is sent back to the house of origin and is ready for enrollment. If the bill is not reported from committee or is not considered by the full house, the bill is dead. However, the second house may amend the bill and pass it as amended. Since a bill must pass both houses in the same form, the bill with amendment is sent back to the house of origin for consideration of the amendment.

The house of origin, upon return of its amended bill, may take any one of several courses of action. It may concur in the amendment by the adoption of a motion to that effect; then the bill, having been passed by both houses in identical form, is ready for enrollment. Another possibility is that the house of origin may adopt a motion to non-concur in the amendment and the bill dies. Finally, the house of origin may refuse to accept the amendment but request that a conference committee be appointed. The other house usually agrees to the request, and the presiding officer of each house appoints members to the conference committee.

A conference committee meets and discusses the points of difference between the two houses and tries to reach an agreement on the bill. If an agreement is reached and if both houses adopt the conference committee report, the bill is finally passed. If either house refuses to adopt the report of the conference committee, a motion may be made for further conference. If a conference committee is unable to reach an agreement, it may be discharged, and a new conference committee may be appointed. Some highly controversial bills may be referred to several different conference committees. If an agreement is never reached in conference, the bill is lost.

When a bill has passed both houses in identical form, it is enrolled (prepared in final form for transmittal to the Governor). The enrolled copy is the official bill, which, after it becomes law, is kept by the Secretary of State for reference in the event of any dispute as to its exact language. After a bill has been enrolled, it is sent back to the house of origin, where it must be read again (unless this reading is dispensed with by a two-thirds vote), and signed by the presiding officer in the presence of the members. The bill is then sent to the other house where the presiding officer in the presence of all the members of that house also signs it. The bill is then ready for transmittal to the Governor.

When the bill reaches the Governor, he may sign it and thus complete its enactment into law.

The possibly of the Governor disapproval of the bill comes to fruition, he may veto it. The event of vetoing they must return it to the house in which it originated with a message explaining his objections and suggesting amendments which will remove such objections. Amendment of the bill can be a possible solution to the save the legislature from death. The bill is then reconsidered, and if a majority of the members elected to both houses agrees to the executive amendments, it is returned to the Governor, as he revised it, for his signature. A majority of the members elected to each house approve a vetoed bill as the Legislature passed it, it becomes a law notwithstanding the Governor's veto.

However, if the Governor fails to return a bill to the legislature which it originated within 6 days after it was presented to him (including Sundays), it becomes a law without his signature. This return can be prevented by recession of the Legislature. In that case the bill must be returned within 2 days after the Legislature reassembles or it becomes a law without the Governor's signature.

The bills that reach the Governor less than 5 days before the end of the session may be approved by him within 10 days after adjournment. The bills not approved within that time do not become law. This is known as a "pocket veto". It is the most conclusive form of veto, for the Legislature, having adjourned, has no chance to reconsider the vetoed measure.

Alabama is one of the states in which the Governor has the power to accept or reject any particular item of an appropriation bill without vetoing the entire bill. In this event, only the vetoed item of the appropriation bill is returned to the house of origin for reconsideration by the Legislature. The remainder of the bill becomes law.

Sometimes what the Legislature wishes to accomplish cannot be done simply by the passage of a bill but requires amending the Constitution. The bill or joint resolution is drafted to propose an appropriate amendment to the Constitution. Such a bill or joint resolution is introduced in the same manner as other bills and resolutions and follows the course of ordinary bills, except that it must be read at length on three different days in each house; it must be passed in each house by a three-fifths vote of all the members elected; and it does not require the approval of the Governor. A constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature bypasses the Governor and is deposited directly with the Secretary of State. It is then submitted to the voters of the state at an election (the time of which is fixed by the Legislature) held not less than three months after adjournment of the session in which the amendment is proposed. The Governor announces the election by proclamation, and the proposed amendment and notice of the election must be published in every county for four successive weeks before the election. If a majority of those who vote at the election favor the amendment, it becomes a part of the Constitution. The result of the election is announced by proclamation of the Governor.

One of the common misconceptions about the Legislature is that the members work only for the two or perhaps three days which the Legislature meets each week. People usually visit the Legislature on a day when the houses are in session, and wonder how it ever gets anything done in view of the apparently confused, disorganized picture presented by the legislators on the floor. What people fail to realize is that most of the work of the Legislature is done by committees. Actually, they are the backbone of the legislative process. Behind every bill of general importance considered on the floor of each house, lies many hours of careful work by the members of the standing committee to which the bill was referred. The Legislature as a whole relies on its committees to dispose of the frivolous, dangerous, or less important measures and to report out only those bills deserving the consideration of the entire house.

By working through standing committees, the legislature can have each bill considered by a group of members who have special knowledge of the content. Some members of the Legislature have expert knowledge of particular subjects of legislation, and these members are usually placed on committees to take full advantage of this specialized knowledge. For this reason, the Legislature usually accepts the recommendations of the standing committees. As has been noted, however, the Legislature does not completely abdicate its responsibility for the careful consideration of pending bills. If the need arises, the members of either house can force a committee to take action on a bill, or they can ignore the committee's recommendations.


* [ Governor's Office Website]
* [ Legislature Office Website]
* [ Judicial Office Website]

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