The New York State Legislature, which is older than the U.S. Congress, was established as a law-making body in 1777. The Legislature is comprised of two houses, the Assembly and the Senate, both of which have co-equal powers. These two houses have the power to make all laws in all areas of the state except those that have been reserved to the federal government or to the people.
The first Assembly, under the Constitution, was composed of seventy members from the existing fourteen counties of the State. Only possessing twenty pounds, tenants paying an annual rental of at least forty shillings and taxpayers were eligible to be Assemblymembers. An increase of one member could be added to the membership whenever the census (every ten years) showed an increase of one-seventieth in the population, until the total membership had reached 300. By 1801, the number of members had increased to 108, but the law was found to be unequal. Consequently, a Constitutional amendment was adopted that year reducing the membership to 100 and fixing as the maximum to which it could be increased. This increase was to be allowed, after each census, at the rate of two new members annually. In 1808, twelve new members were added and in 1815 there was a further increase of fourteen. The Constitution of 1821 fixed and limited the membership of the Assembly at 128. This number remained in effect until 1894 when the Constitution of that year increased the membership to 150.
Since 1938, Assemblymembers have been elected in even years for two year terms. Vacancies are filled by special election. The Assembly meets annually in unlimited session and convenes in the Capitol in Albany, in the Assembly Chamber. To take a virtual tour of the Assembly Chamber, click here.
In the Assembly, the presiding officer is the speaker, elected by the members, upon the nomination of the majority party. The speaker in the Assembly, directing the course of business, rules on procedure, and certifies the passage of bills. The speaker may leave the chair to debate on any measure, although it is rarely done, and may vote but is not required to do so except to break a tie. The speaker makes all committee assignments and appoints and directs the work of most of the Assembly staff. The current Assembly Speaker is Carl E. Heastie.
The Constitution permits, with certain restrictions, legislative reapportionment by legislative enactment. Reapportionment is the act of re-defining the boundaries of legislative districts, according to the census. Acts reapportioning the Assembly districts were passed between 1879 and 1992. Reapportionment takes place every ten years based on population.
Under a reapportionment act passed at a special session in 1964, the Assembly had 165 members in 1966. In 1966, the courts set up a reapportionment plan that returned the Assembly to a membership of 150 to be elected in 1966 for two-year terms, a number and term that still exists today. To see which Assemblymember represents your district, click here (you'll need to know your zipcode).