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POLITICAL AND MUNICIPAL LEGISLATION IN
During the period covered by this review, October 1, 1899, to October 1, 1900, thirteen states held regular and four held extra: sessions. Only six states have annual sessions and all but eight of those having biennial sessions, hold them in odd years, so that there is only about half as much state legislation in even as in odd years. The total number of acts and resolutions passed during this off year was 5,886, of which Virginia passed 1,485; New York, 777; Maryland, 758; Ohio, 636; Massachusetts, 594; New Jersey, 201; South Carolina, 181, and Kentucky, 40.
General vs. Special Legislation.-In the Annual Summary and Index of State Legislation, issued by the New York State Library, 1,469 of these 5,886 laws are summarized. The Annual Summary includes all general laws and a few special and temporary laws of general interest, so that it is safe to say that three-fourths of the laws passed were special. Of the 1,485 laws passed by Virginia only 152, or a little more than one-tenth, were general, while in New Jersey over fourfifths of the 201 laws passed were general. The difference is doubtless due to the restrictions on special legislation contained in the New Jersey constitution. In Virginia the only restriction on special legislation is the provision that the legislature may not grant divorces, change names, direct the sale of estates of persons under legal disability, or grant relief in any other case where courts or other tribunals have
1 For previous articles on “Political and Municipal Legislation" see ANNALS for May, 1896 (Vol. VII, pp. 411-425); for March, 1897 (Vol. IX, pp. 231-245); for March, 1898 (Vol. XI, PP. 114-190); for March, 1899 (Vol. XIII, pp. 212–229), and for March, 1900 (Vol. XV, pp. 16–26).
Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia.
8 California, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas.
*Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and South Carolina.
6 Vermont, which holds its regular session in October of even years, does not come within the period covered by this review.
jurisdiction, Until 1875 the New Jersey constitution merely prohibited the granting of divorces and the sale of land of persons under legal disability by special act, but in that year an amendment was adopted restricting special legislation within narrow limits.' This amendment provides that no general law shall embrace any provision of a special character, that no special bill shall be passed unless public notice of intention to apply for it has been previously given, and that special acts shall not be passed bearing on any of the following matters:
Laying out, opening, altering and working roads or highways.
Regulating the internal affairs of towns and counties; appointing local officers or commissions to regulate municipal affairs.
Selecting, drawing, summoning or empaneling grand or petit jurors.
Creating, increasing or decreasing the percentage or allowance of public officers during the term for which said officers were elected or appointed.
Changing the law of descent.
Granting to any corporation, association or individual any exclusive privilege, immunity or franchise whatever.
Granting to any corporation, association or individual the right to lay down railroad tracks.
Providing for changes of venue in civil or criminal cases. Providing for the management and support of free public schools.
The legislature shall pass general laws providing for the cases enumerated in this paragraph, and for all other cases which, in its judgment, may be provided for by general laws. The legislature shall pass no special act conferring corporate powers, but they shall pass general laws under which corporations may be organized and corporate powers of every nature obtained, subject, nevertheless, to repeal or alteration at the will of the legislature.
The effect of these restrictions is very strikingly shown by a comparison of the number and kind of acts passed by the New Jersey legislature during the three-year period
· Virginia Constitution, 1869, art. 3, & 20.
1872-1874, preceding the adoption of the amendment, and the period 1876-1878, after its adoption. During the first period the average number of acts passed was 624, of which III were classified in the volume of session laws as general and 513 as special. For the second period the average number of acts was 219, of which 188 were classified as general and thirty-one as special. The adoption of the amendment seems, therefore, to have reduced the total volume of legislation 65 per cent, and the number of special acts 94 per cent, and to have increased the number of general acts 70 per cent.
Virginia voted in May to hold a constitutional convention. It will be interesting to see whether the convention, in drafting a new constitution, will follow the now almost universal practice of restricting special legislation.
Florida adopted a constitutional aniendment in November prohibiting the creation of corporations, except universities and ship canals by special act. Of the 242 acts and resolutions passed by Florida in 1899, twenty-five were special acts relating to corporations. The amendment should, therefore, diminish the present volume of legislation about 10
The Mississippi legislature has exercised a certain degree of self-control in the matter of special legislation by authorizing the auditor and land commissioner to settle claims for taxes erroneously paid, correct errors in land descriptions, cancel patents to lands in certain cases and make rebates.
In New York a constitutional amendment was proposed by the legislature of 1899 but not repassed by the legislature of 1900 prohibiting the passage of a special or private bill granting exemption from taxation. The need of further constitutional restrictions or of the exercise of legislative self-control in the matter of special legislation in New York is very great. During the period 1894-1899 there was an annual average of 589 special to 243 general acts passed.
IN. Y., 1899, p. 1605.
There was an average of 183 special city, fifty-three special village, twenty-six special town and twenty-nine special county acts, making in all 291 special acts dealing with local governmental organization. November 3, 1874, a number of constitutional amendments restricting special legislation were adopted and while they reduced the annual output of legislation about one-half, the natural increase in special legislation in lines not touched on in the amendments, has, in the course of a quarter century, brought up the annual average to a point only about 10 per cent below that prevailing previous to the adoption of the amendments. For the three years 1871-1873 there was an annual average of 904 acts and for the years 1876-1878 an average of but 447, while for the past seven years the average has been 832.
By the passage of a few general laws the annual output of legislation in New York might be greatly reduced. Each year an average of twenty-seven amendments to the fish and game laws are passed, seventeen of which apply to but one or two counties. A general law conferring on county boards of supervisors power to pass fish and game regulations, subject to the approval of the state commissioners of fisheries, game and forests, would considerably relieve the legislature. Moreover, many of the details now prescribed by the fish and game laws might well be left to regulations of the state board. The state board of railroad commissioners now exercises an extensive quasi-judicial authority that obviates the necessity for numerous special acts, and this method of control could be profitably extended to a number of other fields.
The effect of the prohibition of special city legislation on the volume of legislation has been shown by the experience of Wisconsin. In November, 1892, a constitutional amendment was adopted prohibiting the incorporation of a city or the amendment of its charter by special act. As a result of this amendment the total number of laws passed has been reduced more than one-quarter and the number of pages of law more than one-half. During the six years 1886-91 there was an annual average of 266 laws, covering 993 pages, while for the period 1893-98 there was an annual average of 191 laws, covering 412 pages.
In this connection the experience of Illinois is also instructive. It is a great state with varied interests, and, like New York, has had to deal with the problem of a big and rapidly growing city. It has a general law for the incorporation of all cities, most of the provisions of which apply to all alike. Instead of going into great detail the law merely prescribes the general organization and gives to the city council power to adapt the more detailed organization to the changing needs of the city.
With an annual average of 183 special city acts the suspensive veto over such acts given to the mayor of cities of the first class and to the mayor and council of other cities by the constitution of 1894, seems to have proven totally inadequate to cope with the evil.
Annual Sessions.-Rhode Island has been holding two sessions of its legislature yearly, an annnal session being held at Newport beginning on the last Tuesday in May, and an adjourned session at Providence beginning in January, The January session held at Providence has usually lasted into May, after which the Newport session, beginning the last Tuesday in May, has usually lasted till the latter part of June. A constitutional amendment was adopted at the November election providing for a single annual session at Providence beginning on the first Tuesday in January.'
Statutory Revision.-In 1889 New York created a statutory revision commission to revise certain of the general statutes of the state. It was supposed that the commission would complete its task in two or three years at most, but the work of revision has been continued from year to year and is still unfinished. The scope of the undertaking was soon broadened to cover the entire field of statutory law. A
1R. I., 1900, j, r. 1.