State and Local Government
The government of California comprises a democratic republic with three branches of government: the executive branch consisting of the Governor of California and the other elected constitutional officers; the legislative branch consisting of the California State Legislature which includes the Assembly and the Senate; and the judicial branch consisting of the Supreme Court of California and lower courts. The state also allows direct participation of the electorate by initiative, referendum, recall and ratification.
Government is exercised through state agencies and commissions as well as local governments consisting of counties, cities and special districts including school districts.
California’s constitution is one of the longest collections of laws in the world, taking up 110 pages. Part of this length is caused by the fact that many voter initiatives take the form of a constitutional amendment.
Many of the individual rights clauses in the state constitution have been construed as providing rights even broader than the Bill of Rights in the federal constitution. An excellent example is the case of Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins, in which “free speech” rights beyond those required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution were found in the California Constitution by the California courts.
The Big Five is an informal term used to describe the legislative leadership role in the institution of California government, consisting of the governor, the Assembly speaker, the Assembly minority leader, the Senate president pro tempore, and the Senate minority leader. Members of the Big Five meet in private to discuss bills pending in the legislature. Because the party caucus leaders in California’s legislature also control the party’s legislative campaign funds, the leaders wield tremendous power over their caucus members. They are thus able to exert some influence in their caucus’s votes in Big Five meetings. Therefore, if all five members agree to support a Bill, it will likely pass into law.
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