The first state constitution, adopted in 1849, outlawed slavery and was unique in granting property rights to married women in their own name. A new constitution, drafted in 1878 and ratified the following year, sought to curb legislative abuses—even going so far as to make lobbying a felony—and provided for a more equitable system of taxation, stricter regulation of the railroads, and an eight-hour workday. Of the 152 delegates to the 1878 constitutional convention, only two were natives of California, and 35 were foreign-born; no Spanish-speaking persons or Indians were included. This second constitution, as amended, is the basic document of state government today.
In April 1994 the California Constitutional Revision Commission was appointed to make recommendations to the governor and legislature for constitutional revisions affecting budget process, governmental structure, local government duties, and other areas. The Commission made its final report in 1996, on schedule. Through 2002 the California constitution had been amended 507 times.
The California legislature consists of a 40-member senate and an 80-member assembly. Senators are elected to four-year terms, half of them every two years, and assembly members are elected to two-year terms. As a result of a 1972 constitutional amendment, the legislature meets in a continuous two-year session, thus eliminating the need to reintroduce or reprint bills proposed in the first year of the biennium. Each session begins with an organizational meeting on the first Monday in December of even-numbered years; then, following a brief recess, the legislature reconvenes on the first Monday in January (of the odd-numbered year) and continues in session until November 30 of the next even-numbered year. Special sessions may be called by the governor to consider certain specific matters. Members of the senate and assembly must be over 18 years old, and have been US citizens and residents of the state for at least three years and residents of the districts they represent for at least one year prior to election. Legislative salaries in 2002 were $99,000 annually, unchanged from 1999.
Bills, which may be introduced by either house, are referred to committees, and must be read before each house three times. Legislation must be approved by an absolute majority vote of each house, except for appropriations bills, certain urgent measures, and proposed constitutional amendments, which require a two-thirds vote for passage. Gubernatorial vetoes may be overridden by two-thirds vote of the elected members in both houses. In the 1973/74 session, the legislature overrode a veto for the first time since 1946, but overrides have since become more common.
Constitutional amendments and proposed legislation may also be placed on the ballot through the initiative procedure. For a constitutional amendment, petitions must be signed by at least 8% of the number of voters who took part in the last gubernatorial election; for statutory measures, 5%. In each case, a simple majority vote at the next general election is required for passage.
Officials elected statewide include the governor and lieutenant governor (who run separately), secretary of state, attorney general, controller, treasurer, and superintendent of public instruction. Each serves a four-year term, without limitation. As chief executive officer of the state, the governor is responsible for the state's policies and programs, appoints department heads and members of state boards and commissions, serves as commander in chief of the California National Guard, may declare states of emergency, and may grant executive clemency to convicted criminals. In general, if the governor fails to sign or veto a bill within 12 days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays), it becomes law. Candidates for governor must be at least 18 years old, a five-year citizen of the United States, and a five-year resident of California. The governor is limited to a maximum of two consecutive terms. The governor's annual salary in 2002 was $175,000.
The lieutenant governor acts as president of the senate and may assume the duties of the governor in case of the latter's death, resignation, impeachment, inability to discharge the duties of the office, or absence from the state. To vote in California, one must be a US citizen, at least 18 years old, and have been a resident of the state. Restrictions apply to convicted felons and those declared mentally incompetent by the court.