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The State of Rio de Janeiro: Introductory Note

Philip Raworth
Edited By: Philip Raworth

© 2017 Oxford University Press

Rio de Janeiro is the third smallest of the twenty-six states of the Federative Republic of Brazil with an area of 43,696.1 square kilometers (16,871.2 square miles). It is, however, the third most populous state with, as of 2012, a population of 16,231,365. The State is situated in the Southeast Region together with Minas Gerais to the west, Espírito Santo to the north and São Paulo to the southwest. To the east and south of the State lies the Atlantic Ocean. The capital of the State is Rio de Janeiro.

The city of Rio de Janeiro was established in 1565 to counter French attempts to set up a colony there. It prospered in the 17th century with its cattle and sugar cane sectors and in the 18th century as the port for the export of gold from Minas Gerais. It became the capital of the colony in 1763. The arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family in 1808 and an influx of European artists led to a flowering of culture in the 19th century and the founding of the prestigious Royal School of Sciences, Arts and Works. In recognition of the royal role in the State’s development, the eagle, the symbol of the Brazilian Imperial Family, is still found in the foreground of the State’s flag.

When, in 1960, Rio de Janeiro was replaced by Brasilia as the capital of Brazil, the city became the State of Guanabara with the surrounding area known as the State of Rio de Janeiro. In 1975 the two states merged into the State of Rio de Janeiro.

The State of Rio de Janeiro, like all Brazilian states, has all the powers that are not forbidden to it by the Federal Constitution. In addition, the State has the power, in common with the Union and the municipalities, to:

  • –  ensure the defense of the Constitution, the laws and the democratic institutions and preserve the public heritage;

  • –  take care of the health, public aid and the protection of handicapped persons;

  • –  protect the documents, works and other assets of historical, artistic and cultural value, monuments, notable natural landscapes and archeological sites;

  • –  prevent the flight, destruction or defacing of works of art and other assets of historical, artistic or cultural value;

  • –  provide the means of access to culture, education and science;

  • –  protect the environment and combat pollution in all of its forms;

  • –  preserve the forests, fauna and flora;

  • –  encourage agricultural production and organize food supply;

  • –  promote programs for the construction of housing and the improvement of living conditions and basic sanitation;

  • –  combat the causes of poverty and the factors of marginalization, promoting the social integration of the disfavored sectors;

  • –  register, monitor and supervise the concession of rights to research and exploit water and mineral resources in their territories;

  • –  establish and carry out an education policy for traffic safety.

The State also has, concurrently with the Union, power to legislate on:

  • –  tax, financial, penitentiary, economic and town-planning law;

  • –  the budget;

  • –  commercial boards;

  • –  costs of law court services;

  • –  production and consumption;

  • –  forests, hunting, fishing, fauna, conservation of nature, protection of the soil and natural resources, protection of the environment and control of pollution;

  • –  protection of the historical, cultural, artistic, tourist and natural heritage;

  • –  liability for injury to the environment, consumers, assets and rights of artistic, esthetic, historical, tourist and natural value;

  • –  education, culture, teaching and sport;

  • –  creation, operation and procedure of the court of small claims;

  • –  court procedure;

  • –  social security, protection and defense of health;

  • –  legal aid and public defenders;

  • –  protection and social integration of handicapped persons;

  • –  protection of infants and young people;

  • –  organization, guarantees, rights and duties of the civil police;

When exercising this supplementary power, the State must comply with the general rules set down by the Union. Where there is no Federal law on general rules, the State exercises full legislative power to look after its particularities. However, once a Federal law on general rules supervenes, the effectiveness of the State law is suspended to the extent that it is inconsistent with it.

Legislative Power

Legislative power in the State of Rio de Janeiro is vested in a unicameral Legislative Assembly. It is elected by universal suffrage for a term of four years. It cannot be dissolved by the Executive Power or by itself. The number of deputies in the Legislative Assembly equals three times the representation of the State in the Chamber of Deputies1 and, once the number of thirty-six has been reached, it is increased by as many as the Federal deputies are more than twelve. At present, the number of deputies is seventy. The Legislative Assembly meets annually in the capital of the State from February 1st to June 30th and from August 1st to December 31st.

The Legislative Assembly has the power, in accordance with the State and Federal Constitutions and with the sanction of the Governor of the State, to legislate on all matters within the jurisdiction of the State, among which are:

  • –  the taxation system, collection and distribution of revenues;

  • –  the multiannual plan, budgetary rules, annual budget, credit operations and the public debt;

  • –  State plans and programs for development, in conformity with national plans and programs;

  • –  the general rules on the exploitation or licensing of public services as well as their expropriation and reversion, or the expropriation of the assets of concessionaires or licensees and authorizing each one of the acts of retaking or intervention;

  • –  the creation, conversion and elimination of public offices, positions and functions;

  • –  the general rules on the sale, transfer, exchange, leasing or acquisition of public assets;

  • –  the temporary transfer of the seat of the Government;

  • –  the organization and fixing of the personnel of the Military Police and the Military Corps of Firefighters;

  • –  the administrative and judicial organization of the Justice Department, the Attorney-General’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and the Court of Accounts of the State;

  • –  the creation, incorporation, merger and dismantling of municipalities;

  • –  the running, directly or by way of a concession, the State undertaking in which the State public authorities hold a majority of the capital with a right to vote with an exclusive right to distribute natural gas services;

  • –  the institution of metropolitan regions, urban agglomerations and microregions;

  • –  the creation, organization and powers of the Secretaries of State and the entities of the public indirect administration;

  • –  the fixing of the salaries of the State deputies;

  • –  the fixing of the salaries of the Governor, the Deputy Governor and the Secretaries of State;

  • –  the cultural surveys for the purpose of protecting environmental areas and ecosystems and preserving the historical and cultural heritage.

The Legislative Assembly has exclusive power to:

  • –  provide for its rules of procedure, policing and the administrative department of its secretariat as well as to create, provide for, convert and eliminate the respective offices and fix their remuneration, in compliance with the parameters set down in the law on budgetary rules;

  • –  elect the members of the Bureau for a term a two years with permission to be re-elected;

  • –  authorize the Governor to be absent from the State for more than fifteen consecutive days;

  • –  authorize the Governor and Deputy-Governor to be absent from the nation;

  • –  fix and temporarily change its seat and that of its sittings, as well as the meeting place or its standing committees;

  • –  swear in the Governor and the Deputy-Governor, as well as to receive their respective pledges or resignations;

  • –  suspend normative acts of the Executive Power that overstep the regulatory power or the limits of legislative delegation;

  • –  pronounce judgment annually on the accounts of the Governor, review the reports on the fulfillment of the Government’s plans and proceed to the taking of accounts when they are not presented within sixty days from the opening of the legislative session;

  • –  supervise and control the acts of the Executive Power including those of the indirect administration;

  • –  ensure the preservation of its legislative power with respect to the normative power of the other Powers;

  • –  authorize, by two thirds of its members, the bringing of proceedings against the Governor, the Deputy-Governor and the Secretaries of State;

  • –  try and judge the Governor and the Deputy-Governor for political crimes and the Secretaries of States for crimes of the same nature connected with the former;

  • –  try and judge the State Attorney, the Attorney-General and the Public Defender-General of the State for political crimes;

  • –  approve beforehand, by an open vote and after public argument, the choice of counselors of the Court of Accounts of the State nominated by the Governor;

  • –  suspend the application, in whole or in part, of a law or normative act of the State or the municipalities that is declared unconstitutional by a final decision of the Court of Justice;

  • –  remove, by a decision of an absolute majority, the State Attorney before the end of his mandate in the form of a complementary law;

  • –  review annually the accounts of the Court of Accounts of the State;

  • –  request Federal intervention, if necessary, to ensure the free exercise of its functions;

  • –  authorize a referendum and convene plebiscites;

  • –  give prior authorization to the sale for consideration of assets of the State, in conformity with this Constitution;

  • –  receive the resignation of deputies;

  • –  amend the Constitution, promulgate laws in face of the Governor’s silence, issue legislative decrees and resolutions;

  • –  declare the loss of a deputy’s mandate, by an absolute majority of its members;

  • –  give prior authorization to external financial operations of interest to the State;

  • –  review decrees for intervention in the municipalities;

  • –  order the suspension of a contract impugned by the Court of Accounts;

  • –  review vetoes by the Governor;

  • –  approve, on the initiative of a third and by a vote in favor of three-fifths of its members, a motion to disapprove the acts of the Secretaries of State, in the process of discussion and voting of which the rules of procedure of the Legislative Assembly shall govern, assuring the Secretaries a right of defense before the full House;

  • –  give prior authorization, by an absolute majority of the deputies, to a proposed external loan to be presented by the Governor to the Federal Senate;

  • –  authorize the creation, merger or dissolution of public undertakings or mixed-economy companies as well as the shareholder control of undertaking belonging to the State;

  • –  choose two-thirds of the members of the Court of Accounts of the State.

Unless there is a constitutional provision to the contrary, the decisions of the Legislative Assembly and its committees are to be taken by a majority of votes in the presence of an absolute majority of its members. The Legislative Assembly, by a simple majority, or any of its committees may convoke Secretaries of State to give information on previously determined matters within their jurisdiction, and absence without proper justification constitutes a political crime. Conversely, a Secretary of State may ask to appear before the Legislative Assembly or any of its committees to explain matters relevant to his portfolio.

The legislative process concerns the following instruments:

  • –  complementary laws to the Constitution;

  • –  ordinary laws;

  • –  delegated laws;

  • –  legislative decrees;

  • –  resolutions;

  • –  amendments to the Constitution;

The right to initiate complementary and ordinary laws lies with any member or committee of the Legislative Assembly, the Governor of the State, the Court of Justice, the State Prosecution Service and citizens in the manner and cases set down in the Constitution. However, the following matters are reserved exclusively for the Governor to initiate:

  • –  the establishment or alteration of the personnel of the Military Police and the Military Corps of Firefighters;

  • –  the creation of public officers, functions or positions in the direct and autonomous administration of the Executive Power or an increase of their remuneration;

  • –  public servants of the State, the legal rules governing them, filling of offices, tenure and retirement of civil servants, discharge and transfer of military persons to the inactive list;

  • –  organization of the State Prosecution Service, the Attorney-General’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office;

  • –  creation, organization and powers of the Secretaries of State and the bodies of the Executive Power.

Complementary laws are adopted by an absolute majority while ordinary laws require only a simple majority of votes.

Once a bill for a complementary or ordinary law is approved, it is sent to the Governor of the State, who, if he agrees, assents to it. If the Governor considers the bill to be unconstitutional or contrary to the public interest, in whole or in part, he vetoes it totally or partially within a period of fifteen working days from when he receives it, and he communicates the reasons for the veto to the President of the Legislative Assembly within forty-eight hours. Once the time limit of fifteen working days has passed, the silence of the Governor is considered assent. A veto by the Governor may be overturned by the vote of an absolute majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly in an open vote. As a bill for a complementary law requires an absolute majority to be adopted in the first place, there is little scope for a veto here. Matters contained in a bill that have been rejected or vetoed may only constitute the subject of a new proposal in the same legislative session by means of a proposal from an absolute majority of the members of the Legislative Assembly.

Delegated laws are issued by the Governor of the State, who must seek the delegation from the Legislative Assembly. Acts that are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Legislative Assembly may not be the subject of delegation, nor may matters reserved for complementary laws or legislation on the organization of the Judicial Power or the State Prosecution Service or multiannual plans, budgetary rules and budgets. Delegation to the Governor of the State takes the form of a resolution of the Legislative Assembly, which specifies its subject matter and the conditions of its exercise.

The popular initiative may be exercised by the presentation to the Legislative Assembly of a proposal for a law in due article form and signed by at least two-tenths percent of the electorate of the State distributed in at least ten percent of the municipalities with not less than one-tenth percent of the electors in each of them. It is up to the Legislative Assembly to adopt the proposal as a law or not. In addition, by means of a duly reasoned proposal of two-fifths of the deputies or five percent of the registered voters in the State, a matter concerning the destiny of the State may be submitted to a popular plebiscite. Two plebiscites at most may be carried out per year with up to five proposals permitted per consultation. It is forbidden to carry out a consultation within the four months preceding the holding of municipal, State and national elections. A proposal that has been rejected in a plebiscite may only be presented again after an interval of three years.

The Constitution may be amended by means of a proposal from:

  • –  One third of the members of the Legislative Assembly;

  • –  the Governor of the State;

  • –  more than half the municipal councils of the State, each one of which must declare itself by a relative majority of its members;

  • –  a popular initiative signed by, at a minimum, one percent of the State electorate distributed, at least, over a tenth of the municipalities existing in the State with not less than three tenths of a percent of the electors in each one of them.

The amendment proposal is debated and voted on in two stages, and it is considered approved if it obtains, in both ballots, the favorable votes of three-fifths of the members of the Legislative Assembly. The contents of a proposed amendment that has been rejected or considered prejudicial may not be the subject of a new proposal in the same legislative session.

Executive Power

Executive Power in the State is vested in the Governor, who is assisted by the Secretaries of State. The Governor and Deputy-Governor of the State are elected, simultaneously by direct universal suffrage, ninety days before the end of the term of office of their predecessors. The candidate who, having been registered by a political party, obtains an absolute majority of votes, not counting blank and invalid votes, is considered to have been elected as Governor of the State. If no candidate achieves an absolute majority on the first ballot, a new election takes place between the two candidates with the most votes, and the one who obtains a majority of the valid votes is considered elected. The election of the Governor results in the election of the Deputy-Governor registered with him. The term of office of the Governor is four years and he may not be re-elected for the following period. The term starts on January 1 of the year following that of his election.

The Governor of the State has exclusive power, in accordance with the State and Federal Constitutions, to:

  • –  freely appoint and dismiss the Secretaries of State;

  • –  exercise, with the assistance of the Secretaries of State, the supreme direction of the State;

  • –  initiate the legislative process;

  • –  approve, promulgate and have published laws as well as issue decrees and regulations for their proper application;

  • –  veto Bills, totally or partially;

  • –  provide for the organization and operation of the State administration;

  • –  abolish public functions or officer when they are vacant;

  • –  decree and carry out interventions in the municipalities, appointing an intervenor, in the cases set down in this Constitution;

  • –  present messages and the plan of the Government to the Legislative Assembly on the occasion of the opening of the legislative session, explaining the situation of the State and requesting measures that he judges necessary;

  • –  appoint the State Attorney from among those persons appearing on a triplicate list composed of members of the State Prosecution Service;

  • –  appoint the counselors of the Court of Accounts of the State;

  • –  appoint the judge in the case mentioned in the sole paragraph of Article 157 of the State Constitution as well as the Attorney-General and the Public Defender-General of the State;

  • –  send to the Legislative Assembly the multiannual plan the proposed law on budgetary rules and the budget proposals provided for in the Constitution;

  • –  present annually to the Legislative Assembly, within sixty days from the opening of the legislative session, the accounts pertaining to the previous financial year;

  • –  fill and eliminate State public offices;

  • –  appoint the Public Defender-General of the State from among those appearing on a triplicate list composed of members of the Public Defender’s Office.

The Governor is not politically responsible to the Legislative Assembly, but he may be impeached for both political and common crimes and possibly removed from office. Political crimes are the acts of the Governor that are contrary to the Constitution of the Republic, that of the State and, especially:

  • –  the free exercise of the Legislative Power, the Judicial Power and the State Prosecution Service;

  • –  the exercise of individual and collective rights;

  • –  the internal security of the nation or State;

  • –  honesty in the administration;

  • –  the budgetary law;

  • –  the application of laws and judicial decisions.

A Governor who is indicted by the vote of two-thirds of the deputies is sent for trial before the Superior Court of Justice, in the case of common criminal offenses, or before the Legislative Assembly in the case of political crimes.

Judicial Power

The Judicial Power is vested in the Court of Justice and the following lower courts:

  • –  the district judges;

  • –  the Jury Courts;

  • –  the Councils of the Military Justice;

  • –  the Special Courts and their Appeal Divisions.

Judges are guaranteed security of tenure, which, at first-level courts, is only acquired after two years of service. Their removal must be founded on a decision by a vote of an absolute majority of the special body of the Court of Justice or the National Council of Justice, with the guarantee of a full defense.

The Court of Justice has the power to initiate legislation on the following matters:

  • –  change in the number of the members of the courts;

  • –  the creation or elimination of positions and the fixing of the salaries of appellate judges, other judges including of the lower courts, where necessary, the support services and those of the courts that are attached to them;

  • –  the creation or elimination of lower courts;

  • –  the creation of new judicial positions and the alteration of judicial organization and division;

The Court of Justice hears petitions for a declaration of the unconstitutionality of a law or normative instrument, whether State or municipal, with respect to the State Constitution. The petition may be brought by the Governor of the State, the Bureau, the Legislative Assembly, the State Attorney, the Public Defender-General of the State, a municipal prefect, the bureau of the chamber of municipal counselors, the Sectional Council of the Order of the Advocates of Brazil, a political party represented in the Legislative Assembly or in a chamber of municipal counselors and by a trade-union federation or class entry of State scope.


This is the lower house of the Brazilian Federal parliament.