State

Under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all powers not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states and the people. All state governments are modeled after the federal government and consist of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The U.S. Constitution mandates that all states uphold a “republican form” of government, although the three-branch structure is not required.

Executive Branch

In every state, the executive branch is headed by a governor (Gina Raimondo) who is directly elected by the people. In most states, the other leaders in the executive branch are also directly elected, including the lieutenant governor (Daniel McKee), the attorney general, the secretary of state (Nellie Gorbea), and auditors and commissioners. States reserve the right to organize in any way, so they often vary greatly with regard to executive structure. No two state executive organizations are identical.

Legislative Branch

All 50 states have legislatures made up of elected representatives, who consider matters brought forth by the governor or introduced by its members to create legislation that becomes law. The legislature also approves a state’s budget and initiates tax legislation and articles of impeachment. The latter is part of a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government that mirrors the federal system and prevents any branch from abusing its power.

Except for one state, Nebraska, all states have a bicameral legislature made up of two chambers: a smaller upper house and a larger lower house. Together the two chambers make state laws and fulfill other governing responsibilities.

The State of Rhode Island General Assembly is the state legislature of Rhode Island. A bicameral body, it is composed of the lower Rhode Island House of Representatives with 75 Representatives, and the upper Rhode Island State Senate with 38 Senators. Members are elected in the general election immediately preceding the beginning of the term or in special elections called to fill vacancies.

Judicial Branch

The district court has jurisdiction over cases regarding small claims, violations of municipal ordinances and misdemeanors when the right to a jury trial has been waived. If a defendant opts for a jury trial, the case is transferred to the superior court. Appeals from district court go to the superior court. The Supreme Court focuses on correcting errors made in lower courts and therefore holds no trials. Rulings made in the Rhode Island Supreme Court are normally binding; however, when questions are raised regarding consistency with the U.S. Constitution, matters may be appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court.