What is the Meaning of the State Legislature? - Examples and What they does

  

What is the Meaning of the State Legislature? - Examples and What they does



A legislature is an officially elected assembly formed to make laws for a political unit such as a nation, a state or a local government.  The genesis of legislatures traces back to the medieval period when “Althing” (a Nordic word for ‘general assembly’) was established in Iceland and a uniform code of laws was proclaimed. 

In more contemporary times, there are various types of legislative forms, including the two most common categories of legislatures — the presidential style systems featuring separation of powers and parliamentary-style systems featuring integration of powers.

In the U.S., state legislatures are presidential-style bodies which are primarily in charge of making laws of general-purpose and universal application for the respective states with governors being responsible for the “faithful execution” of state laws.

At the local level both general-purpose governments and single-purpose governments are present.  The former provides a wide range of services and serves a diversity of functions, while the latter carries out a specific function such as education, the provision of utilities, the irrigation of farmlands, or the provision of transportation services, for example. 

There are a variety of legislative structures used in local governments, including boards of county commissioners, city councils, school district boards, and a wide variety of more specialized elective boards and commissions.

State legislatures are the primary lawmaking bodies of American government, and they are, generally speaking, quite similar in structure to the U.S. Congress.  The legislature in all cases is a multi-member body of popularly elected representatives. 

State legislatures are also diverse in terms of their size and their party composition.  Legislators prefer policies that favor the preferences of voters in individual districts, and thus the size of a district matters when considering the implications of certain policies.

In this article, you will learn what a state legislature is all about?  Examples and What they does.

 

What Is a State Legislature?

A state legislature is a legislative branch or body of a political subdivision in a federal system. Two federations literally use the term "state legislature". The legislative branches of each of the fifty state governments of the United States are known as state legislatures.

The broad definition of a state legislature is a governmental body that makes state laws. The United States gives its fifty states a certain degree of autonomy from the federal government. This means that each state can make its own laws and run its own affairs. This system of government, with a dual national and local governing system, is known as federalism.

Each US state government is modeled after the national government in Washington, D.C. In other words, state governments are divided into three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial. At both the federal and state levels, the legislative branch makes laws, the executive branch implements laws, and the judicial branch assesses laws. State legislatures compose the legislative branch of state government.

27 US states call their legislative branch the State Legislature. 19 states call their legislatures the General Assembly. The names used by the 4 remaining states legislatures are:

· Massachusetts - Massachusetts

· General Court New Hampshire - General Court North

· Dakota - Legislative Assembly

· Oregon - State Legislative Assembly

Legislature, lawmaking branch of a government. Before the advent of legislatures, the law was dictated by monarchs. Early European legislatures include the English Parliament and the Icelandic Althing. Legislatures may be unicameral or bicameral (see bicameral system). Their powers may include passing laws, establishing the government’s budget, confirming executive appointments, ratifying treaties, investigating the executive branch, impeaching and removing from office members of the executive and judiciary, and redressing constituents’ grievances. Members may be appointed or directly or indirectly elected; They may represent an entire population, particular groups, or territorial sub districts.

In presidential systems, the executive and legislative branches are clearly separated, in parliamentary systems; members of the executive branch are chosen from the legislative membership.

A legislature is an organ of government that enacts laws for orderliness in the state. It debates executive policies (bills) and initiates its own policies. These policies when approved become laws.

In Nigeria, part of the legislature includes the National Assembly (the Senate and House of Representatives), the State House of Assembly, and the Council.

There are two types of legislature; unicameral legislature and bicameral legislature.

1. Unicameral legislature: Legislature with one Chamber or House e.g. the state House of Assembly.

2. Bicameral legislature: Legislature with two legislative chambers or Houses e.g. The National Assembly in Nigeria (the Senate and House of Representative).

 

How do you go about measuring the effectiveness of any given State Legislature?

What do we want our state legislatures of the 21st century to be? Of course we want them to be effective, to be good. But we also know that state legislatures will be heavily influenced by forces over which they have little control-technology in particular.

The challenge is to remain true to the fundamental purposes of representative democracy and the legislative system. So what is an effective, a good legislature in a time of dramatic change?

It's a question, for the most part, that has gone unanswered, and even unattended.

And the answer as to what a good legislature is must come from legislators, legislative staff and concerned citizens. For legislatures to be good, they must carry out the functions we expect of them in our system of representative democracy. The principal ones are balancing power, representing constituencies and making laws.

In considering whether legislatures are doing their job (and hence are good), we have to examine how well they are performing these three functions.

 

1. Making Law

Although representing others deals with the relations between the legislature and the public, lawmaking is internally focused. It relates to the processes by which laws (and policies) are fashioned. Lawmaking includes several related legislative activities. The legislative role in formulating, reviewing and adopting a state budget has special significance. The budget is probably the most important bill that a legislature passes.

A legislature that performs poorly on the budget is likely to be an ineffective legislature overall. The legislature's oversight role is also worth considering; that is, how and to what extent does the legislature monitor the application and effect of the laws it has enacted.

Finally, we should pay some attention to legislative foresight; that is, how and to what extent the legislature looks ahead in order to develop policies to meet the future needs of the state. What should we expect of the lawmaking process?

a. It is important that individuals and groups have an opportunity to participate in the lawmaking enterprise as it takes place within the legislature. Diverse perspectives and positions on issues from both organized groups and unorganized individuals should be welcome. Lobbyists, accordingly, are an integral part of the process. (The importance of participation, however, is not meant to suggest that direct democracy, by means of the initiative and referendum, is a desirable feature of the lawmaking process.)

b. The participation that counts most is that by legislators themselves. If a legislature is to perform its lawmaking function well, members must be able to play a role. Not every member, however, will choose to be active on every issue; some are better equipped and better positioned than others. Internal democracy requires that within the senate and house power be relatively dispersed.

c.  Although legislatures are essentially democratic bodies, with members substantially equal to one another, some members are "more equal than others." These are normally the elected and appointed leaders. Strong leadership, particularly at the level of the presiding officer, is essential if the legislative process is to work well. This requires individuals with strategic, problem-solving and consensus-building abilities-people who exercise primary responsibility for the functioning of the legislative process and the maintenance of the institution.

d. The processes of legislative decision making may be more or less partisan in nature. If the legislative parties are cohesive, the majority probably will play the decisive role on important issues, such as the budget. The majority party caucus will be a principal forum for deciding key issues. But the minority must also be accorded parliamentary rights. If the majority lacks cohesion, or has tended to dominate, as it does in essentially one-party states, decisions on key issues probably will be made on a more bipartisan basis. Either system can work, depending on the political culture of the state.

A major danger is that if partisanship is too heavily weighted in the process, minority members may find themselves almost completely shut out, the only role remaining to them that of mischief maker. Unrestrained partisanship can damage civility and undermine the legislature as a working institution, further eroding the trust and confidence the public has in it. The conduct of the legislative parties, therefore, merits close scrutiny.

e. Deliberation is an important feature of the legislative process. It necessitates give-and-take and an exchange of information and ideas. Deliberation provides the possibility that a number of legislators will be influenced by the discussion. The deliberative process is not restricted to the debate (or lack thereof) that goes on at the second reading stage on the senate and house floor. It is also a vital element of committee activity and continues in the frequent and unstructured exchanges in members' offices, leadership conferences, at lunch, and in the corridors of the state house or legislative office building. Deliberation as a standard is central to the very idea of a legislature.

f.   While deliberation involves the exchange of ideas, building consensus involves a more material exchange. It depends on the willingness of opposing sides to sit down at a table together and negotiate their differences. Generally, that means dealing, trading and compromise, so that as many participants as possible buy into a settlement. The overwhelming majority of laws enacted by a legislature are settled by some process of consensus building. On relatively few issues are lines so firmly drawn that negotiating is fruitless and battling it out is the only way to arrive at a decision. There is little doubt that one of the most important tasks of the legislature is to build consensus; a legislature that is effective in this regard is likely to be an effective legislature.

g. These processes not only work to make laws, they are also intended to address problems facing the state. If legislative processes are not related to state needs, they cannot entirely fulfill the expected lawmaking function. Ideally, we expect legislatures to solve problems and improve conditions in the state. At the very least, legislatures have to address problems.

 

2. Balancing Power

Constitutionally, legislatures are separate, co-equal branches (indeed, the legislature is the first branch of government and the executive the second) that share governmental power. So it follows that legislatures must balance the power of governors and the executive branch.

A good legislature, accordingly, has to be relatively independent of the governor. It must insist on participating in the initiation of policy and refuse to rubber-stamp executive proposals.

Independence was a watchword of the legislative reform movement of the 1960s and '70s. At that time it appeared that legislatures, except in about a dozen states, were dominated by governors. The development of legislative capacity and the legislative institution nourished a growing sense of legislative independence.

Legislative power may be requisite, but that does not mean that the greater the power imbalance in favor of the legislature, the better that legislature is.

More power for the legislature is not necessarily better once an appropriate balance is achieved. In other words, an imbalance in favor of the legislature is no better than an imbalance in favor of the governor. The legislature must truly be a co-equal branch of government.

Although we can measure the constitutional powers of governors and legislatures, their real power hinges as much on political factors and traditions as on constitutional and statutory ones. If we examine who initiates and enacts legislation and budgets, we should see in a general way how well the legislature is fulfilling its power balancing function.

 

3. Representing Constituencies

One of the major roles of a legislature is representation-representing various constituencies, mainly people in each lawmaker's electoral district, but also organized groups and individuals elsewhere in the state.

The question is, how well does the legislature perform its representational tasks?

a. The constitutional system and the legislature ought to provide for substantial political equality, that is, "one person, one vote." This standard, enforced by state and federal courts, is generally met, although the political gerrymandering that accompanies redistricting is often used to benefit one party and incumbents in their re-election efforts.

b. A variety of groups who previously lacked membership should be present in the ranks of legislators today. Women, African Americans and Hispanics most notably need opportunities to serve as well as to be represented. The problem with such descriptive representation, as it is called, is that it can be applied to all types of groups (and not just those specified above). It is not easy to know just where to draw the line; nor is it easy to know just how close the percentages of minorities in the legislature should come to the percentages of minorities in the state.

c.  As part of its representational function, the legislature must provide service to constituencies and constituents. Constituent service is normally the job of individual members who appreciate the importance of doing a good job in this area if they hope to be re-elected. Service includes responding to constituents' requests for information, help and case work, as well as taking care of the district's interests with respect to state-aid formulas, local projects and public expenditures.

d. The legislature has to ensure that citizens, as well as groups, have access-access to members, to committees, and to the general process. The legislature must be open and provide information on agendas and proceedings. Legislatures' outreach efforts, including C-Span, help.

e. The legislature also has responsibility for civic education, especially on representative democracy, the legislative institution and the legislative process. In order to provide civic education, legislatures have to tell the public it is their job to represent diverse constituencies, various interests and differing values, and it is their role to engage in conflict, build consensus and achieve settlements. Citizens must have a sense of what representative democracy entails if they are to participate and advocate responsibly. It is up to the legislature to provide them with that sense.

f.   The legislature has to be responsive, at least to some degree, to what citizens want, as well as to what the legislature determines they need. Assuming that responsiveness is part of the representational function, we have to figure out how legislative enactments-at least on major issues-square with public demands and with public needs.

 

4. Facilitating Factors

Two sets of factors contribute substantially to the ability of a legislature to perform well. One can be called capacity, the other institutionalism.

Capacity in the broadest sense is the resources, the wherewithal for the legislature to do its job. In the parlance of legislative reform, the amount of time in session and in the interim period, the size of the professional staff, the adequacy of facilities and technology add up to legislative capacity. How much staff is needed? How should it be organized? Is a full-time legislature better than a part-time one?

Questions like these deserve attention, although I doubt that the answers are the same in every place. Whether the legislature is more professional or more amateur may not be critical either. Just what combination of resources or how much of each type is optimum or sufficient probably varies from state to state?

A vital part of a legislature's capacity is the quality of the legislators themselves. In considering quality, we have to deal with the issue of professional versus citizen legislators-that is, those who are relatively full-time careerists on the one hand and those who are essentially part- and short timers on the other. In just about every legislature, some of each type exists.

But in some legislatures (for example, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and Pennsylvania) professionals predominate, while in others (for example, Montana, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming) citizens predominate. It is not possible to say that one type of member is more desirable than another for a legislature, or just what mix works best.

Quality also applies to the personal characteristics of legislators, and especially of legislative leaders. The reputations of legislatures in California (during the late 1960s and early 1970s) and Florida and Minnesota (during the 1970s and 1980s) were based in large part on the substantial number of able, intelligent, energetic, dedicated and politically skillful individuals who served at the time. These members made a marked difference in the performance of the legislature. Legislators with such characteristics clearly contribute to legislative performance everywhere.

The integrity, or the ethics, of the legislature is an integral part of capacity. Although we do not define legislative goodness strictly in terms of the ethical behavior of members, the ethics of the capitol community and the type and enforcement of ethics laws are among the factors that affect how legislators function. Legislatures characterized by integrity are likely to do better than those were the ethical conduct of members is over the line or too near the line. Legislative integrity in deed and in spirit matters not only to the public, but also to the overall ability of the legislature to fulfill its representational responsibilities.

Institutionalism is related to a combination of factors that pertain to a legislator's identification with the senate or the house and with the legislature as a political institution. Three of the most important ones are concern, community and continuity.

Concern has to do with a sense of, identification with, or dedication to the legislature, all of which are likely to promote the performance of balancing power and making law. For a legislature to be good, it needs members who care about its well-being and who engage in institution-building activities (or at least do not engage in activities that are institutionally harmful or destructive). Members who are institutionally inclined will defend the legislature against criticism they believe unjust and will discourage colleagues from running against the institution in order to win office.

Community encompasses the culture and norms of the legislature. It requires some level of agreement on the need for civility and some manifestation of collegiality. Informal socializing among legislators helps to build community. In most places such interaction has been in decline in recent years; nonetheless, it remains an element of institutionalism, and one that seems to facilitate the performance of legislative functions.

Continuity is probably as important to institutionalism as anything else. Some continuity of Continuity is probably as important to institutionalism as anything else. Some continuity of membership and staff not only provides for greater knowledge and skill on the parts of lawmakers, but it promotes institutional values. It takes a while for most new members to identify with and develop concern for the legislature as an institution that merits their support.

Continuity does not require extremely low turnover of membership, but only that some members serve for a decent period of time. By requiring that everyone turn over with relatively brief regularity and by discouraging legislators from identifying with an institution they are passing through, term limits run counter to institutional continuity. The 18 states that currently limit terms are at a disadvantage when it comes to having a good legislature.

 

5. Assessing Legislatures

This model of the good legislature is based on three principal legislative functions-balancing power, representing constituencies and lawmaking. The factors that facilitate performance of these functions are capacity and institutionalism.

Some might suggest a different model, but on the basis of what I have read and observed of legislatures, I think this is as good as any place to start thinking about what makes a legislature good.

It will not be easy to bring to life the categories discussed here; it is virtually impossible to measure the several dimensions of the good legislature and to rank the legislatures of the 50 states on goodness. (What is most measurable is probably least significant and what is probably most significant is least measurable.)

Uprooting a legislature from the political culture of its state cannot be done. What serves well in Vermont might not serve well in California, and vice versa; and what serves well in Iowa might not serve well in Florida, and vice versa. Comparing legislatures across states is tricky business; giving legislatures numerical scores is impossible business.

But even if measurement is beyond our ability, it is about time that we figure out roughly what a good legislature is and roughly how well our own legislature is measuring up.

 

What Parts Make Up Your State Legislature?

49 of the 50 states have bicameral state legislatures. This means that the legislature is divided into two chambers, an arrangement analogous to the US Congress's division into the Senate and House of Representatives. (The state of Nebraska is an exception, as it has a unicameral legislature, that is to say its legislature has only one chamber.)

In most state legislatures, the lower (larger) chamber is called the House of Representatives or state assembly, and the upper (smaller) chamber is called the state senate.

Generally speaking, members of the lower chamber serve two year terms; members of the upper chamber usually serve four year terms and have additional duties with regard to gubernatorial appointments.

41 states call the lower chamber of their legislatures the House of Representatives. California, New York, and Wisconsin call their lower chamber the State Assembly. The state of New Jersey uses the term General Assembly. Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia all have a House of Delegates. The upper chamber of every bicameral state legislature is called the State Senate.

 

What Is the Main Purpose of State Legislatures?

What is the role of the state legislature? The main task of every state legislature is to craft and pass state laws. State laws are only applicable in the states where they are passed. They do not affect federal law, nor can they contradict the U.S. Constitution or any law passed by the U.S. Congress.

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, together with the 15th Amendment, specifically prohibits states from infringing upon federal authority. The right of individual states to pass their own laws has been a source of controversy throughout American history, especially with regard to the issues of slavery and civil rights.

When a state passes a law that contradicts the Constitution or federal law, the Supreme Court has the authority to strike down the law. For instance, in 2003, the Supreme Court struck down all state sodomy laws in its decision in Lawrence v. Texas. (Sodomy laws made it illegal for gay men to have sex.) State legislatures have a number of other duties besides legislation.

These include the confirmation of important state officers and oversight of the state government.

The elected members of state legislatures are meant to stay in close contact with the people that they represent. Because elected state officials represent a much smaller constituency than elected federal officials, ordinary citizens often have a greater opportunity to affect political change in their own states than they do at the national level. Citizens are encouraged to share their opinions on specific bills and issues.

 

What Does the State Legislature Do?

State legislatures usually go about their business in much the same way as the United States Congress. State legislatures create and pass laws according to the following steps:

1. A state legislator from either the upper or lower chamber of the legislature drafts an idea for a law, known as a bill (the member who creates the bill is called its sponsor).

2. The sponsor introduces the bill to their chamber (whether upper or lower).

3. The bill is referred to a committee. State legislatures are divided into various committees that oversee certain areas of the state's government, including agriculture, education, transportation, healthcare, etc. Committees can change, amend, or kill bills. If the committee recommends a vote by the whole chamber, the bill proceeds.

4. The bill is voted on by the chamber in which it was introduced (upper or lower). If the bill fails, it must be taken up again by a representative and the process restarts.

5. A bill that passes the vote of the chamber in which it was introduced is then referred to the other chamber, where it will follow the same process.

Bills that are brought up and passed by representatives in one chamber must be brought up and passed in the other chamber before they are sent to the governor for executive signature. Just as laws passed by the federal Congress supersede laws passed by state legislatures, laws passed by state legislatures supersede ordinances (local laws) passed by city, town, and county legislatures. In other words, local laws cannot contradict the state constitution or laws passed by a state legislature.

 

What are the Examples of State Legislature?

State legislatures vary across the country in terms of their official names, the length of time they stay in session, the number of legislative districts they use, their party affiliations, and the way it operates.  

For example, state legislatures in most states are called “Legislatures;” for example, the Alabama Legislature, the Oklahoma Legislature, the Nevada Legislature, and Montana State Legislature are common names.  

In some states, however, the state legislature is referred to as the “General Assembly,” such as the Virginia General Assembly and the Pennsylvania General Assembly. 

In the states of Massachusetts and New Hampshire the term “General Court” is used to designate the state legislative branch.  For bicameral state legislative bodies, the upper house is most typically called the “Senate,” but the terms used for the lower house vary widely across the states. 

Historically, most of the original American colonies were governed by unicameral legislative systems until a gradual process of adoption of bicameralism started and picked up momentum.

The bicameralism movement was based on respect for the British model of bicameralism of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Today, as noted previously, virtually all (49) state legislatures in the U.S. are bicameral, and only Nebraska has maintained a unicameral legislature.

Another difference between state legislatures concerns time status — some states have full-time legislatures meeting frequently on an annual basis, while other states have part-time legislatures that meet biannually and infrequently.  

Many rural states tend to have a part-time legislature, while the states with larger populations are likely to have full-time legislatures.  Texas is an exception in this regard, with the second-largest population and a part-time legislature.

The National Council of State Legislatures has categorized the 50 state legislatures into three basic groups: full-time legislatures, hybrid legislatures, and part-time legislatures.  Full-time legislatures “…require the most time of legislators, usually 80 percent or more of a full-time job.”

These legislatures typically feature large staffs and their members are usually paid salaries sufficient to make a decent living.  Full-time legislatures are typically found in the states with highly urbanized populations.

 

State legislature Facts

A state legislature is a legislative branch or body of a political subdivision in a federal system.

Two federations literally use the term "state legislature":

· The legislative branches of each of the fifty state governments of the United States are known as state legislatures. Six territorial legislatures also exist.

· The legislative branches of the twenty-eight state governments of India are known as state legislatures. In addition, three union territorial legislatures also exist.

Other federations use other terms for the same concept:

· Australia - The legislative branches of the six states are known as state parliaments. In addition, two territorial parliaments also exist.

· Austria - The legislative branches of the nine states are known as the Land tag.

· Brazil - The legislative branches of the states are known as legislative assemblies.

· Canada - The legislative branches of the ten provinces are known as provincial legislative assemblies. Three territorial legislatures also exist.

· Germany - The legislative branches of the sixteen states are known as the Land tag.

· Malaysia - The legislative branches of the thirteen states are known as the state assemblies.

· Nigeria - The legislative branches of the 36 states are known as the houses of assembly.

· Russia - The legislative branches of the federal subjects are referred as the regional parliaments.

· Switzerland - the legislative branches of the 26 Cantons are known by several names in each of the four official languages of the country.

 

Often Asked Questions


What is the role of a state legislature?

The main role of a state legislature is to design, draft and pass laws for the state. Legislatures have other duties, as well, including government oversight.

 

What is legislature in simple words?

A legislature is a governmental body that makes laws. For instance, the US Congress and British Parliament are both legislatures.

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