Governments are based on a plan and Connecticut's Constitution creates the plan for our government. All the information that anyone needs about how government works is contained in that document. The Constitution that we use today was written in 1965.
Today, the government works in very much the same way it did over three hundred and fifty years ago. Government has become more complicated over those years, but is still based on the important idea that people give the government its political power. Our Constitution says that all free governments are based on that idea. The Constitution also divides that power into three parts or branches of government, the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Branch. A color poster showing the three branches of Connecticut Governement is available free for order or download from the CT-N Network at http://www.ctn.state.ct.us/poster.asp
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The Legislative Branch
The Connecticut Legislature is made up of the men and women of our state who come together to write new laws and change laws that were written in the past. The legislature is called the General Assembly and is made up of two separate groups or "houses." One house is called the Senate and the other is called the House of Representatives. Each member of the Senate is called a "Senator" and each member of the House of Representatives is called a "Representative." Senators and Representatives are elected by the voters in an election held every two years. The next election for the General Assembly will be held this year in November. Next January, the winners of the election will come to Hartford to begin their work.
Do you know who represents you? Learn the exciting stories, decisions, and policies of the senators and representatives who serve you. Try to guess the mystery legislator and play games to find out more about who in Connecticut represents you by clicking on the link.
How a Bill Becomes Law - Free Poster Available
When a member of either house of the General Assembly wants to make a new law or change a law, they write a "bill." A bill can be introduced in either the Senate or the House of Representatives. Before a bill can become a law, several things must happen. A vote must be taken in both the Senate and the House of Representatives and a majority of the Senators and Representatives must vote for the bill. If more than half of the senators vote for a bill, we would say that the bill has "passed" the Senate. The bill must also pass in the House of Representatives. Once a bill has passed both Houses, it becomes a Public Act or a Special Act. A Public Act is a general law that applies to everyone, but a Special Act is a special law that was passed for a special purpose.
The Legislative Commissioners Office gives all the Public and Special Acts a number and makes sure that the printed version of each Act is the same as the bill that passed both Houses of the General Assembly. Each Act is "certified" as correct by the Legislative Commissioners Office; the Senate Clerk's Office; and the House Clerk's Office. This means that each Act is signed by three different people, before it is given to the Secretary of the State. The Secretary of the State keeps a record of every Act passed by the General Assembly and delivers each Act to the Governor.
When an Act is given to the Governor, he or she can do one of three things. If the Governor signs the Act, it becomes a law. If the Governor does not want the Act to become a law, he or she "vetos" the Act and the Secretary of the State must return the Act to the General Assembly. The Senate and the House of Representatives can vote to pass the bill again and if the bill passes with enough votes (a two-thirds majority) the Act becomes a law over the Governor's veto. If the Governor does not sign an Act, but also does not veto it, it will become a law after a certain number of days have passed.
The Public and Special Acts are published in the form of books in October of each year. Every two years, all the Public Acts are included in a set of books call the General Statutes.
A color poster illustrating the legislative process is available free for order or download from the CT-N Newtork at http://www.ctn.state.ct.us/poster.asp
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The Executive Branch
The Executive Branch is made up of the State Officers. The officers are the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of the State, Treasurer, Comptroller, and the Attorney General. They are all elected for terms of four years.
The Governor is the chief officer of the state and has the duty to make sure that the laws made by the General Assembly are properly executed. The Governor names certain people to be Commissioners and the General Assembly must vote to approve them. The Commissioners are the heads of the different agencies of State Government and they help the Governor with the work of the Executive Department. The Governor addresses the General Assembly each year and makes suggestions for new laws or changes to laws that already exist.
The Lieutenant Governor is elected with the Governor and is also the President of the Senate. As President of the Senate, the Lieutenant Governor can break a tie vote in the Senate. If the Governor is out of the State or is not able to work, the Lieutenant Governor will act for the Governor.
The Secretary of the State keeps the state's public records and documents and is the Commissioner of Elections. These documents are very important to government's business and must be kept safe. The Secretary receives many different kinds of documents, but some of the most important ones are the bills, acts and resolutions of the General Assembly; the records of votes in elections; and the documents for businesses.
The Treasurer receives all the money that belongs to the State. All the different state agencies and offices send the money they receive to the Treasurer. The Treasurer invests money for the State, and for the State's different retirement and special funds. The Treasurer also keeps the deeds for the property owned by the State. Every year the Treasurer makes a report to the Governor showing how much money the State has received and spent during the year.
The Comptroller approves and pays all the State's bills. The Comptroller is also responsible for the State's Payroll. That is the money that is paid to the people who work for the State. The Comptroller prepares a monthly report of the money received and spent and also makes a report to the Governor each year.
The Attorney General takes care of legal matters for the State. He or she gives legal advice to the other State Officers and members of the Executive Branch. The Attorney General is the lawyer for the State and represents the State in court. People who work in the Executive Branch or The General Assembly can ask the Attorney General questions about the law and the Attorney General will write an opinion explaining what the law means.
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The Judicial Branch
The Judicial Branch is made up of the Supreme Court, the Appellate Court, the Superior Court, and the Probate Court. The General Assembly can also create other courts if they are needed. The General Assembly was the highest court in Connecticut, until 1784, when the Supreme Court of Errors was established.
Judges of the Superior Court are named by the Governor from a list given to the Governor by the Judicial Selection Commission. Whenever the Governor names a judge to serve on any Connecticut Court, that judge must also be confirmed by the General Assembly. This means that the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate vote to approve the Governors choice. All judges confirmed by the General Assembly serve for a term of eight years.
The Superior Court is the court where trials begin. A trial may occur when a person is charged with a crime, or when people disagree about a legal matter. That is the difference between criminal and civil matters that come before the court. The charges or disagreement are presented in a courtroom before a judge. In some cases, the judge will make the decision, but in other cases the decision is made by a jury, when a jury trial is requested. The Superior Court has four divisions where trials are held. They are the civil, criminal, housing and family divisions.
A civil case is usually a matter in which one party sues another to protect civil, personal or property rights. Examples of civil cases are disagreements between landlords and tenants, automobile or personal accidents, product or professional liability suits and contract disputes. In most civil cases, the accusing party (plaintiff) is asking the court to order the another party (defendant) to pay money for damages or an injury.
A criminal case is one in which a person (defendant) is accused of breaking the law. When a person breaks the law, the crime is considered as a violation of everyone's rights. The State's Attorney's Office represents all the people of the state and brings the case against the defendant.
Cases involving housing are heard in special courts in the Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford-Norwalk and Waterbury judicial districts. In all other judicial districts, these cases are heard in the same courts as the civil cases.
The Family Division is responsible for cases involving family or children's issues. Family issues include divorce, child custody, protection from abuse, and family support payments. Issues concerning children or young people include delinquency, child abuse and neglect, and termination of parental rights.
The Appellate Court is made up of nine judges, who are also judges of the Superior Court. They are named to the Appellate Court by the Governor and must be confirmed by the General Assembly, just like the Superior Court Judges. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court chooses one of the judges to be the Chief Judge of the Appellate Court. If people disagree with the decision of the judge in the Superior Court, they can ask the Appellate Court to look at the decision again, or review the decision of the Superior Court. Cases are heard before three judge panels and a majority of the judges must agree on a decision. The Appellate Court can agree or disagree with the decision of the judge in the Superior Court. If they agree with the Superior Court decision, we say that the decision has been "affirmed." If they disagree, we say that the decision has been "reversed." The Appellate Court can also modify the decision of the Superior Court.
The Supreme Court is made up of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. The Chief Justice and the Associate Justices are named by the Governor and must be confirmed by the General Assembly. It is the highest court in the State of Connecticut. It is a special court that is very different from the Superior Court, which is the trial court. The Supreme Court does not hear from witnesses. It hears from lawyers who present their case for their clients. It is the job of the Supreme Court to make decisions about the law. It can decide if a law is "constitutional," or if another Connecticut Court has understood the law correctly when making a decision in a court case. All the justices hear each case before the Supreme Court and a majority of the justices must agree on a decision. The justices who make up the majority write the Supreme Court opinion. The justices who disagree with the majority can write their opinion, which is called a "Dissenting Opinion," which explains why they disagree with the majority.
The Probate Court keeps the records of wills, trusts and estates. This court makes sure that the terms of a person's will are carried out. It can also appoint guardians or conservators to protect people who are not able to make decisions for themselves. The State of Connecticut is divided into Probate Districts that can be made up of one town or more than one town. Each Probate District has one judge. Judges of the Probate Court are elected at state elections in the same year as the Governor and they serve for a term of four years.
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Bill - A written draft of a new law that has not been voted on by the General Assembly
Certify - To say in writing that a thing, statement, or document is true and correct.
Confirm - To give approval of something.
Estate - All the property or things that are owned by a person.
Public or Special Act - A bill that has been approved by a majority vote of both the houses of the General Assembly.
Trust - There are many different kinds of trusts. One type uses a document that allows some property to be owned by one person, but to be cared for by another person.
Will - A document that a person uses to dispose of property after death.
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Content Last Modified on 2/18/2010 11:31:06 AM