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A state legislature in the United States is the legislative body of any of the 50 U.S. states. The formal name varies from state to state. In 27 states the legislature is simply called the Legislature or the State Legislature, while in 19 states the legislature is called the General Assembly. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the legislature is called the General Court, while North Dakota and Oregon designate the legislature the Legislative Assembly.
Every state except Nebraska has a bicameral legislature, meaning that the legislature consists of two separate legislative chambers or houses. In each case the smaller chamber is called the Senate and is usually referred to as the upper house. This chamber typically, but not always, has the exclusive power to confirm appointments made by the governor and to try articles of impeachment. (In a few states, a separate Executive Council, composed of members elected from large districts, performs the confirmation function.) Members of the smaller chamber represent more citizens and usually serve for longer terms than members of the larger chamber, generally four years. In 41 states, the larger chamber is called the House of Representatives. Five states designate the larger chamber the Assembly and three states call it the House of Delegates. Members of the larger chamber usually serve for terms of two years. The larger chamber customarily has the exclusive power to initiate taxing legislation and articles of impeachment.
Prior to the United States Supreme Court decisions Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the basis of representation in most state legislatures was modeled on that of the U.S. Congress: the state senators represented geographical units, while members of the larger chamber represented population. In Reynolds v. Sims the Supreme Court decided upon the one man, one vote standard for state legislatures and invalidated representation based on geographical units regardless of population. (The ruling does not affect the U.S. Senate, because that chamber's makeup is prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.)
Nebraska originally had a bicameral legislature like the other states, but the lower house was abolished following a referendum, effective with the 1936 elections. The remaining unicameral (one-chamber) legislature is called the Nebraska Legislature, but its members are called state senators.
As a legislative branch of government, a legislature generally performs state duties for a state in the same way that the United States Congress performs national duties at the national level. Generally, the same system of checks and balances that exists at the Federal level also exists between the state legislature, the state executive officer (governor) and the state judiciary, though the degree to which this is so varies from one state to the next.
During a legislative session, the legislature considers matters introduced by its members or submitted by the governor. Businesses and other special interest organizations often lobby the legislature to obtain beneficial legislation, defeat unfavorably perceived measures, or influence other legislative action. A legislature also approves the state's operating and capital budgets, which may begin as a legislative proposal or a submission by the governor.
Under the terms of Article V of the U.S. Constitution, state lawmakers retain the power to ratify Constitutional amendments which have been proposed by both houses of Congress and they also retain the ability to call for a national convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution. After the convention has concluded its business 75% of the states will then be required to ratify what the convention has proposed. Under Article II, state legislatures choose the manner of appointing the state's presidential electors. Formerly, state legislatures appointed the U.S. Senators from their respective states until the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913 required the direct election of Senators by the state's voters.
Generally, the legislative bodies and their committees use either Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure or an amended form thereof.During official meetings, a professional parliamentarian is available to ensure that legislation and accompanying discussion proceed as orderly as possible without bias.
The lawmaking process begins with the introduction of a bill in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Bills may be introduced in either house, sometimes with the exception of bills increasing or decreasing revenue, which must originate in the House of Representatives. The order of business in each house provides a proper time for the introduction of bills.
Bills are usually assigned consecutive numbers, given in the order of their introduction, to facilitate identification. Usually a bill cannot become enacted until it has been read on a certain number of days in each house. Upon introduction, a bill is usually read by its title only, constituting the first reading of the bill. Because a bill is usually read by title only, it is important that the title give the members notice of the subject matter contained in the bill.
As with other legislative bodies throughout the world, U. S. state legislatures operate mainly through committees when considering proposed bills. Thus, committee action is probably the most important phase of the legislative process. Most bills cannot be enacted into law until it has been referred to, acted upon by, and returned from, a standing committee in each house. Reference to committee usually follows the first reading of the bill.
Each committee is set up to consider bills relating to a particular subject.
Standing committees are charged with the important responsibility of examining bills and recommending action to the Senate or House. Often on days when a legislature is not in session, the committees of each house meet and consider the bills that have been referred to them to decide if the assigned bills should be reported for further action.
For most bills, the recommendations of the committee are followed, although either house is free to accept or reject the action of the committee. Bills reported favorably by a committee may be placed on a regular calendar (the agenda of the deliberative body).
Most of the work of the legislature is done by committees. The legislature as a whole relies on its committees to report out only those bills deserving the consideration of the entire house.
Through standing committees, each bill is addressed by a group of members who have special knowledge of its subject. Some members of the legislature have expert knowledge of particular subjects of legislation, and these members are usually placed on committees to take full advantage of this specialized knowledge. For this reason, the legislature often accepts the final recommendations of its standing committees. As has been noted, however, the legislature does not completely abdicate its responsibility for the consideration of pending bills. If the need arises, the members of either house can force a committee to take action on a bill, or they can ignore the committee's recommendations.[ citation needed ]
Across the country, pocket veto powers are not uncommon in state legislatures, which allows a committee to "kill" a bill, sometimes without even a public vote; in Colorado, the power was notably repealed in a citizen initiative constitutional amendment in 1988 driven by various reform groups.
When a committee refuses to vote a bill out of committee, a discharge petition can be passed by the broader membership. The specifics vary from state to state; for example, in 2004, a report found that New York State "places more restrictions than any other state legislature on motions to discharge a bill from a committee",which led to subsequent reforms.
After a committee has completed work on a bill, it reports the bill to the appropriate house during the "reports of committees" in the daily order of business. Reported bills are immediately given a second reading. The houses do not vote on a bill at the time it is reported; however, reported bills are placed on the calendar for the next legislative day. This second reading is made by title only.
The regular calendar is a list of bills that have been favorably reported from committee and are ready for consideration by the membership of the entire house.
Regardless of how a bill is placed on the calendar, once the bill is considered and adopted, this is called the third reading. It is at this third reading of the bill that the entire legislature gives consideration to its passage. At this time, the bill may be studied in detail, debated, amended, and read at length before final passage.
If the majority vote in favor of the bill, it is recorded as passed.
A bill that is passed in one house is transmitted, along with a formal message, to the other house. If the bill is not reported from committee or is not considered by the full house, the bill is defeated.
The house of origin, upon return of its amended bill, may take any one of several courses of action. It may concur in the amendment by the adoption of a motion to that effect; then the bill, having been passed by both houses in identical form, is ready for enrollment. Another possibility is that the house of origin may adopt a motion to non-concur in the amendment, at which point the bill dies. Finally, the house of origin may refuse to accept the amendment but request that a conference committee be appointed. The other house usually agrees to the request, and the presiding officer of each house appoints members to the conference committee.
A conference committee is often empaneled to discuss the points of difference between the two houses' versions of the same bill, and tries to reach an agreement between them so that the identical bill can be passed by both houses. If an agreement is reached and if both houses adopt the conference committee's report, the bill is passed. If either house refuses to adopt the report of the conference committee, a motion may be made for further conference. If a conference committee is unable to reach an agreement, it may be discharged, and a new conference committee may be appointed. Some highly controversial bills may be referred to several different conference committees. If an agreement is never reached in conference prior to the end of the legislative session, the bill is lost.
When a bill has passed both houses in identical form, it is then ready for transmittal to the governor.
Once a bill reaches the governor, he or she may sign it, which completes its enactment into law. From this point, the bill becomes an act, and remains the law of the state unless repealed by legislative action or overturned by a court decision. If the governor does not approve of the bill, he or she may veto it. In the event of a veto, the governor returns the bill to the house in which it originated with a message explaining his or her objections and suggesting any amendments (if applicable) which might remove those objections. The bill is then reconsidered, and if a simple majority of the members of both houses agrees to the proposed executive amendments, it is returned to the governor, as he or she revised it, for his or her signature.
On the other hand, a qualified majority (two-thirds) of the members of each house can choose to approve a vetoed bill precisely as the legislature originally passed it, in which case it becomes a law over the governor's veto. If the governor fails to return a bill to the legislative house in which it originated within a specified number of days after it was presented to him or her, it becomes a law without their signature.
The bills that reach the governor less than a specified number of days before the end of the session may be approved by him or her within ten days after adjournment. The bills not approved within that time do not become law. This is known as a "pocket veto". This is the most conclusive form of veto, for the legislature (having adjourned) has no chance to reconsider the vetoed measure.
Sometimes what the legislature wishes to accomplish cannot be done simply by the passage of a bill, but rather requires amending the state constitution. Each state has specified steps intended to make it difficult to alter the constitution without the sufficient support of either the legislature, or the people, or both.
In most states, a new state legislature convenes in January of the odd-numbered year after the election of members to the larger chamber. The period during which the legislature remains in session varies. In states where the legislature is considered part-time, a session may last several months; where the legislature is considered full-time, the session may last all year, with periodic breaks for district work.
Currently, there are 7,383 state legislators in the United States. They are usually assisted by staff aides to help prepare and analyze legislation, to review and amend submitted budgets, and to help solve constituents' grievances with the state government.
Many state legislators meet every year at the National Conference of The Council of State Governments (CSG), headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, with offices in Washington, DC; New York City; Chicago; Atlanta; and Sacramento, and at the annual meetings of CSG's regions, The Southern Legislative Conference, The Midwestern Legislative Conference, the Eastern Regional Conference and CSG West, and at the Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is headquartered in Denver, Colorado and has a lobbying office in Washington, D.C.
Additionally, privately funded organizations with ideological leans have annual meetings attracting many legislators. These include the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization, and the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), its progressive counterpart.
As of 2017, 24 of 99 chambers have limits on the number of bills that a legislator can introduce per year.
When a bill passes based on votes mostly from the minority party and "moderate" members of a majority party, it is referred to as the majority being "rolled".Political scientists study "roll rates" as a measure of the ability of the majority party to avoid votes on bills which a majority of the majority oppose. An empirical analysis of state legislatures found that of the 99 studied, 53 had roll rates below 5% and 83 have roll rates below 10%.
The first bicameral American legislature was formed in 1619 by the Virginia House of Burgesses.
The California State Legislature is a bicameral state legislature consisting of a lower house, the California State Assembly, with 80 members; and an upper house, the California State Senate, with 40 members. Both houses of the Legislature convene at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The California state legislature is one of just ten full-time state legislatures in the United States.
The Michigan Legislature is the legislature of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is organized as a bicameral body composed of an upper chamber, the Senate, and a lower chamber, the House of Representatives. Article IV of the Michigan Constitution, adopted in 1963, defines the role of the Legislature and how it is to be constituted. The chief purposes of the Legislature are to enact new laws and amend or repeal existing laws. The Legislature meets in the Capitol building in Lansing.
The Alaska Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Alaska. It is a bicameral institution consisting of the 40-member Alaska House of Representatives and the 20-member Alaska Senate. There are 40 House Districts (1–40) and 20 Senate Districts (A–T). With a total of 60 lawmakers, the Alaska Legislature is the smallest bicameral state legislature in the United States and the second-smallest of all state legislatures. There are no term limits for either chamber.
The Massachusetts General Court is the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The name "General Court" is a hold-over from the earliest days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when the colonial assembly, in addition to making laws, sat as a judicial court of appeals. Before the adoption of the state constitution in 1780, it was called the Great and General Court, but the official title was shortened by John Adams, author of the state constitution. It is a bicameral body. The upper house is the Massachusetts Senate which is composed of 40 members. The lower body, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has 160 members. It meets in the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill in Boston.
The Maryland General Assembly is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Maryland that convenes within the State House in Annapolis. It is a bicameral body: the upper chamber, the Maryland Senate, has 47 representatives and the lower chamber, the Maryland House of Delegates, has 141 representatives. Members of both houses serve four-year terms. Each house elects its own officers, judges the qualifications and election of its own members, establishes rules for the conduct of its business, and may punish or expel its own members.
The Florida Legislature is the legislature of the U.S. State of Florida. It is organized as a bicameral body composed of an upper chamber, the Senate, and a lower chamber, the House of Representatives. Article III, Section 1 of the Florida Constitution, adopted in 1968, defines the role of the legislature and how it is to be constituted. The legislature is composed of 160 state legislators. The primary purpose of the legislature is to enact new laws and amend or repeal existing laws. It meets in the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee.
The Florida House of Representatives is the lower house of the Florida Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Florida, the Florida Senate being the upper house. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution of Florida, adopted in 1968, defines the role of the Legislature and how it is to be constituted. The House is composed of 120 members, each elected from a single-member district with a population of approximately 157,000 residents. Legislative districts are drawn on the basis of population figures, provided by the federal decennial census. Representatives' terms begin immediately upon their election. As of 2020, Republicans hold the majority in the State House with 71 seats; Democrats are in the minority with 45 seats. Four seats are vacant.
The Michigan Senate is the upper house of the Michigan Legislature. Along with the Michigan House of Representatives, it composes the state legislature, which has powers, roles and duties defined by Article IV of the Michigan Constitution, adopted in 1963. The primary purpose of the Legislature is to enact new laws and amend or repeal existing laws.
The Tennessee General Assembly (TNGA) is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Tennessee. It is a part-time bicameral legislature consisting of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Speaker of the Senate carries the additional title and office of Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee. In addition to passing a budget for state government plus other legislation, the General Assembly appoints three state officers specified by the state constitution. It is also the initiating body in any process to amend the state's constitution.
The Alaska Senate is the upper house in the Alaska Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Alaska. It convenes in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska and is responsible for making laws and confirming or rejecting gubernatorial appointments to the state cabinet, commissions and boards.
The Alaska House of Representatives is the lower house in the Alaska Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Alaska. The House is composed of 40 members, each of whom represents a district of approximately 17,756 people per 2010 Census figures. Members serve two-year terms without term limits. With 40 representatives, the Alaska House is the smallest state legislative lower chamber in the United States.
The Maryland Senate, sometimes referred to as the Maryland State Senate, is the upper house of the General Assembly, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Maryland. Composed of 47 senators elected from an equal number of constituent single-member districts, the Senate is responsible, along with the Maryland House of Delegates, for passage of laws in Maryland, and for confirming executive appointments made by the Governor of Maryland.
The Arizona State Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Arizona. It is a bicameral legislature that consists of a lower house, the House of Representatives, and an upper house, the Senate. Composed of 90 legislators, the state legislature meets in the Capitol Complex in the state capital of Phoenix, Arizona. Created by the Arizona Constitution upon statehood in 1912, the Arizona State Legislature met biennially until 1950. Today, they meet annually.
The Florida Senate is the upper house of the Florida Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Florida, the Florida House of Representatives being the lower house. Article III, Section 1 of the Constitution of Florida, adopted in 1968, defines the role of the Legislature and how it is to be constituted. The Senate is composed of 40 members, each elected from a single-member district with a population of approximately 470,000 residents. Legislative districts are drawn on the basis of population figures, provided by the federal decennial census. Senators' terms begin immediately, upon their election. The Senate Chamber is located in the State Capitol building.
The Alabama Legislature is the legislative branch of the state government of Alabama. It is a bicameral body composed of the House of Representatives and Senate. It is one of the few state legislatures in which members of both chambers serve four-year terms and in which all are elected in the same cycle. The most recent election was on November 6, 2018. The new legislature assumes office immediately following the certification of the election results by the Alabama Secretary of State which occurs within a few days following the election.
The Kansas Legislature is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Kansas. It is a bicameral assembly, composed of the lower Kansas House of Representatives, with 125 state representatives, and the upper Kansas Senate, with 40 state senators. Representatives are elected for two-year terms, senators for four-year terms.
The Legislature of the State of Oklahoma is the state legislative branch of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma House of Representatives and Oklahoma Senate are the two houses that make up the bicameral state legislature. There are 101 state representatives, each serving a two-year term, and 48 state senators, who serve four-year terms that are staggered so only half of the Oklahoma Senate districts are eligible in each election cycle. Legislators are elected directly by the people from single member districts of equal population. The Oklahoma Legislature meets annually in the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City.
The Kansas House of Representatives is the lower house of the legislature of the U.S. state of Kansas. Composed of 125 state representatives from districts with roughly equal populations of at least 19,000, its members are responsible for crafting and voting on legislation, helping to create a state budget, and legislative oversight over state agencies.
The Annotated Code of Maryland, published by The Michie Company, is the official codification of the statutory laws of Maryland. It is organized into 36 named articles. The previous code, organized into numbered articles, has been repealed.
The Nebraska Legislature is the supreme legislative body of the state of Nebraska. Its members are called "senators." The legislature is officially unicameral and nonpartisan, making Nebraska unique among U.S. states; no other state has either a unicameral or a nonpartisan legislative body. With 49 members, it is also the smallest legislature of any U.S. state.