New York has had four constitutions, adopted in 1777, 1822, 1846, and 1895. The 1895 constitution was extensively revised in 1938, and the basic structure of state government has not changed since then, although the document had been amended 215 times by January 2003. In 1993 the Temporary State Commission on Constitutional Revision was created in anticipation of a referendum on a constitutional convention in 1997.
The legislature consists of a 61-member senate and 150-member assembly. Senators and assembly members serve two-year terms and are elected in even-numbered years. Each house holds regular annual sessions, which begin in January and are not formally limited in length; special sessions may be called by the governor or initiated by petition of two-thirds of the membership of each body. All legislators must be at least 18 years old, US citizens, and must have been residents of the state for at least five years and residents of their districts for at least one year prior to election. The legislative salary was $79,500 in 2002, unchanged from 1999.
Either senators or assembly members may introduce or amend a bill; the governor may introduce a budget bill. To pass, a bill requires a majority vote in both houses; a two-thirds majority (of the elected members in each house) is required to override the governor's veto. If the governor neither signs nor vetoes a bill, it becomes law after 10 days, as long as the legislature is in session.
The state's only elected executives are the governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general. Each serves a four-year term. The governor and lieutenant governor are jointly elected; there is no limit to the number of terms they may serve. The governor must be at least 30 years old, a US citizen, and a resident of the state for five years prior to the date of election. The lieutenant governor is next in line for the governorship (should the governor be unable to complete his or her term in office) and presides over the senate. In 2002 the governor's salary was $179,000, unchanged from 1999.
The governor appoints the heads of most of the major executive departments, with some of the appointments requiring the advice and consent of the senate. The exceptions are the comptroller and attorney general, who are elected by the voters; the commissioner of education, who is named by the Regents of the University of the State of New York; the commissioner of social services, elected by the Board of Social Services; and the chief of the Executive Department, which the governor heads ex officio.
A bill becomes law when passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by the governor. While the legislature is in session, a bill may also become law if the governor fails to act on it within 10 days of its receipt. The governor may veto a bill or, if the legislature has adjourned, may kill a bill simply by taking no action on it for 30 days.
A proposed amendment to the state constitution must receive majority votes in both houses of the legislature during two successive sessions. Amendments so approved are put on the ballot in November and adopted or rejected by majority vote. The constitution also provides that the voters must be permitted every 20 years to decide whether a convention should be called to amend the present constitution. Voters in New York must be US citizens, at least 18 years old, residents of the county (or New York City) for 30 days prior to election day, and unable to claim the right to vote elsewhere. Restrictions apply to convicted felons and those declared mentally incompetent by the court.