The General Assembly
The General Assembly is where important decisions about government are made. Members of the House of Representatives and Senate must think about each new law carefully. At the same time they must keep in mind the wishes of those they represent.
Many of the state's important political leaders have served in the General Assembly. In 1857 when the General Assembly met in Des Moines for the first time, there were two future governors, two future lieutenant governors, a future United States senator, and many future United States congressmen among the members of the state legislature. Being a member of the General Assembly was a part-time job (as it still is today), and the legislature met only once every two years. As the problems of lawmaking became more complicated, there was a need to meet more often. In 1969, after Iowa voters changed the state Constitution, the General Assembly began to meet every year, from January to May or June.
Legislators try to know what the people they represent think about new laws and problems. During the legislative session in Des Moines representatives read the letters people send. Legislators also travel home on weekends to talk with the people. The hometown newspaper is another source of information. When the legislature is not in session, representatives return to their regular jobs around the state. While going about their daily work, they learn what the people think about different problems.
During the years since 1846, the legislature has faced such complicated questions as: How old should people be before they can vote? Should women be allowed to vote? Should Iowans be allowed to drink liquor? How old should a person be before he or she can leave school? Thousands of bills are considered by the Iowa General Assembly in a year.
- Margaret Atherton Bonney, Ed., “The General Assembly,” The Goldfinch, (Spring 1976): 3-5.