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Roles of Government

January 10, 2007

The Role of our Government

This time of year is very important to Alabama’s government. The events of the next few weeks will shape the face of our state for the next four years. Newly elected officials will take office, and there will be many new faces, and many old ones, too.  We have a new lieutenant governor, a new chief justice of the Supreme Court, a new secretary of state, as well as countless new senators, representatives, commissioners, and judges. 


Each one of these offices has a significant role in how the business of Alabama is conducted. The roles of the three branches of government intertwine to form a system of checks and balances, ensuring that one branch does not have too much power.


For the legislature, the process begins with an organizational session. This week, both the House and Senate are convening for the 2007 organizational session, as is customary at the beginning of each four-year quadrennial.


During this time, members are sworn-in, new leadership is elected, and new procedural rules are established. Next week the governor and the supreme court justices will be inaugurated. In March, the legislature will convene for the 2007 regular session and will begin to pass laws.


While each branch has many responsibilities, one of the integral tasks of our government is controlling how our money is spent. Each year, the governor submits a budget proposal to the legislature. Both houses are ultimately responsible for passing the budgets. In fact, the constitution requires that passing the budgets is the only mandatory job of the legislature. The difference in Alabama’s government and the federal government is that our state constitution requires us to pass balanced budgets. Unlike Congress, we aren’t allowed to spend money that we don’t have.


However, similar to our federal government, Alabama’s legislature is divided into two separate houses, both of which are representative of the people of the state. The Senate, or upper house, is made up of 35 senators, each of whom represents approximately 125,000 Alabamians. The House of Representatives, also known as the “Voice of the People,” is comprised of 105 members, and each represents approximately 40,000 Alabamians. Similar to the United States Congress, all revenue raising matters must originate in the House rather than the Senate.


In addition to submitting budget proposals, the governor is responsible for signing all bills into law. The judicial branch, or the Supreme Court, is responsible for interpreting the laws, and ensuring that all laws comply with our constitution.


While all three branches have distinctly different duties, our government functions most efficiently when they all work together. Often members of each branch are from different parts of the state, different backgrounds, and different parties. However, it is imperative that all three branches work together to do what is best for Alabama.