The constitution of Lower Saxony

The first (elected) Landtag, or parliament, of Lower Saxony passed the Provisional Lower Saxony Constitution on 3 April 1951, i.e. after the Basic Constitutional Law for the Federal Republic of Germany had come into force. It was promulgated on 13 April 1951 and came into force on 1 May 1951. This constitution, deliberately designated “provisional”, was closely aligned with the Basic Constitutional Law and abstained from restating directly applicable provisions of the Federal constitution, such as civil rights. It confined itself to laying the basis for state organization in Lower Saxony.

The achieving of German unity and freedom in 1990 was regarded by the Parliament of Lower Saxony in the twelfth legislative period as the right opportunity to remove the “provisional” aspect from the existing constitution. But the time had also come to take stock. There was a need to consider what changes were necessary to meet the challenges of the present and the future. On the basis of the resolutions recommended by a special committee, the State Parliament then passed the Constitution of Lower Saxony following initial deliberation on 18 March 1993 and then, after further intensive discussion in committee, on 13 May 1993 following the second and third deliberation in plenum.The new Constitution of Lower Saxony defines the state as a free, republican, democratic, social and – in this respect making “environmental conservation” a state objective for the first time – as a constitutional state committed to protecting the natural resources necessary for life within the Federal Republic of Germany and as part of the European community of nations. Other state objectives that have since been adopted include the prohibition on discriminating against the disabled, the obligation to promote sports and to provide the population with suitable living space and work, and also the obligation to respect animals as living beings.

The constitution also lays down that all state authority derives from and is exercised by the people through elections and referendums and through special legislative bodies and bodies exercising executive and judicial power. It contains an acknowledgement of human rights as the basis of the state community, peace and justice. It makes the fundamental rights established in the Basic Constitutional Law for the Federal Republic of Germany and civic rights part of that constitution.

One very important innovation is the introduction of the so-called plebiscite elements in the form of initiatives, petitions and referendums. An initiative under Article 47, by which the parliament can be asked to give time to particular matters in connection with policy-making within the framework of its constitutional authority, requires the signature of 70,000 eligible voters. A petition according to Article 48, aimed at getting a law passed, amended or repealed, requires the support of 10% of eligible voters. By means of a referendum under Article 49, a law can be passed if the majority of those voting and at least one-quarter of eligible voters have approved the draft. The constitution itself can be changed by referendum only if at least half of the electorate agree. A referendum is also held if the parliament does not approve draft legislation submitted under a petition with no essential changes within six months. The State Parliament can also present draft legislation of its own to request a ruling on the subject of the referendum initiated by the people.

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