Rhode Island’s present state constitution went into effect in 1843. Before that time the state was governed under the royal charter issued in 1663 by King Charles II of England. The state constitution now contains more than 50 amendments. Proposed amendments must initially be approved by a majority of the elected membership of both houses. To be adopted, they must then win the approval of a majority of the voters in a general election. Amendments may also be proposed by a constitutional convention.
The chief executive of Rhode Island is the governor, who is elected for a four-year term. Other elected executive officials are the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer, all of whom serve four-year terms.
The governor may veto legislation, but the General Assembly may override the veto by a three-fifths vote of those present at the voting. The governor also appoints some of the state’s major administrative officials, generally subject to the approval of the Senate.
The Rhode Island legislature, called the General Assembly, consists of a 38-member Senate and a 75-member House of Representatives.
All legislators are elected for two-year terms. Regular sessions of the General Assembly, which convenes annually on the first Tuesday in January, generally conclude sometime between May and early July. Special sessions of unlimited duration may be called by the governor.
The highest court in Rhode Island, the supreme court, is composed of a chief justice and four associate justices. It generally meets in Providence. The appointment of a supreme court judge requires that a judicial nominating committee submit the names of five candidates to the governor. The governor selects one of the five and submits the name to the General Assembly, wherein a majority vote of both houses is required for confirmation and appointment for life. The major trial court in the state judiciary is the superior court. It consists of justices appointed for life by the governor following the procedure used in selecting supreme court justices. Other courts include a family court, district courts, courts of probate, whose functions are often performed by the town councils, and municipal police courts.
There are no independent county governments in Rhode Island. The state is divided into five counties, but the counties serve merely as state judicial districts. The state’s chief units of local government are 31 towns and 8 cities. The towns and cities are contiguous, so that they include all the land of the state within their boundaries. Most towns still have town meetings, an institution dating from colonial times. A town financial meeting is held annually. Most town officials are elected on the state’s regular election day and serve two-year terms. A number of towns have the council-manager form of government. Most of Rhode Island’s cities have the mayor and council form of government. "Rhode Island" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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