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Barish, Lawrence S. (ed.) / State of Wisconsin 1995-1996 Blue Book
(1995-1996)

The framework of Wisconsin state government,   pp. [245]-256 PDF (3.8 MB)


Page 248


WISCONSIN BLUE BOOK 1995 - 1996
                   THE FRAMEWORK OF WISCONSIN GOVERNMENT
                                   Government at a Glance
   The framework of state government in Wisconsin, like that of the federal
government and all
 other states of the Union, is made up of 3 branches: legislative, executive,
and judicial. The legis-
 lative branch includes the Wisconsin Legislature, composed of the senate
and the assembly, and
 the service agencies and staff that assist the legislators. The governor
heads the executive
 branch, which includes 5 other elected constitutional officers, as well
as 16 departments, 19 inde-
 pendent agencies, 3 authorities, and 1 public nonprofit corporation, all
created by statute. The
 judicial branch consists of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals,
circuit courts,
 and municipal courts, as well as the staff and advisory groups that assist
the courts. Each branch
 is described in detail in its respective section of the Blue Book.
   Local units of government in Wisconsin include 72 counties, 189 cities,
394 villages, 1,265
 towns, and several hundred special districts.
                                   Origins of the 30th State
   From Wilderness to Statehood. The first Europeans to reach Wisconsin were
the French ex-
 plorers and fur trappers. Thus, Wisconsin was included in the French sphere
of influence from
 the time of Jean Nicolet's arrival at a Winnebago Indian village on Green
Bay in 1634, through
 the signing of the 1763 Treaty of Paris that concluded the French and Indian
War and ceded the
 land encompassing Wisconsin to Great Britain. At the end of the Revolutionary
War, 20 years
 later, the British not only gave formal recognition to the independence
of the 13 new states, they
 also ceded the vast, unsettled territory west of the Appalachian Mountains
to the new nation.
 Actual British control of the area did not end, however, until 1814, following
the conclusion of
 the War of 1812. As a United States territory, Wisconsin was initially governed
by the Northwest
 Ordinance of 1787, and then by the laws of the Indiana Territory, the Illinois
Territory, the Michi-
 gan Territory, and finally, in 1836, the Wisconsin Territory.
   On August 6, 1846, the Congress of the United States authorized the people
living in what was
 then called the Territory of Wisconsin "to form a constitution and
State government, for the pur-
 pose of being admitted into the Union". Based on this "enabling
act", the people of the territory
 called a constitutional convention in Madison to draft a fundamental law
for governing the state.
 The first proposal for a constitution was drafted in 1846 and submitted
to the people on April 6,
 1847, but the voters rejected it because of several controversial provisions.
Only 14,119 favored
 the proposed constitution, while 20,231 were opposed.
   On March 13, 1848, a second convention submitted its draft, which was
ratified by a vote of
 16,799 to 6,384. The constitution then adopted has remained the Wisconsin
Constitution to this
 day. However, in the intervening years the electorate has voted 135 out
of 186 times to approve
 amendments that changed or repealed a total of 119 sections of the constitution.
   On May 29, 1848, Wisconsin became the 30th state admitted to the Union.
   State Powers and Prohibitions. The enabling act passed by the U.S. Congress
in 1846 de-
clared that the territory of Wisconsin was authorized to form a constitution
and state government
"on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatsoever".
Thus, from the moment
of its birth, the State of Wisconsin - its people, its lawmaking bodies,
its administrative machin-
ery, its courts - was subject to the U.S. Constitution.
  The original states specifically delegated a number of powers to the U.S.
Congress, and Wis-
consin agreed to this delegation. Congress is given the authority to regulate
interstate and foreign
commerce, maintain armed forces, declare war, coin money, establish a postal
system, and grant
patents and copyrights. Congress also has power to "make all laws which
shall be necessary and
proper" for carrying out the responsibilities delegated to it.
  The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifies: "The powers
not delegated to the
United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are
reserved to the States,
respectively, or to the people." Although the powers delegated to the
federal government and
the powers reserved to the states seem to be neatly delineated, government
responsibilities and
activities have not been that clear-cut. In fact, many powers are exercised
concurrently by the
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