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Party composition also matters for the overall legislative agenda. The party in power will elect party members to the top leadership posts in the state house and senate, and it will determine who sits on each of the committees. Committees are chaired by members of the majority party, and the composition of these committees is skewed toward members affiliated with the party in power. This gives the majority party an advantage in meeting its policy objectives and relegates the minority party to the position of obstructionists. In addition, while Republicans and Democrats are both concerned about education, health care, transportation, and other major policy areas, the two parties have different philosophies about what is in the best interest of their citizens and where funds should be allocated to meet those needs. The result is vastly different approaches to handling pressing public policy problems across the states.

As a whole, state legislatures have become progressively more professional. Political scientist Peverill Squire , at several points throughout his career, has measured the degree of state legislative professionalism with a ranking across the fifty states.

Peverill Squire. 2007. “Measuring State Legislative Professionalism: The Squire Index Revisited.” State Politics&Policy Quarterly 7, No. 2: 211–227.
Legislative professionalism is assessed according to three key factors: state legislators’ salary, the length of time they are in session, and the number of staff at their disposal. Members of professional or full-time legislatures tend to consider legislative service their full-time occupation, and they are paid enough not to require a second occupation. They also have larger staffs to assist with their work, and they tend to be in session for much of the year. On the other end of the spectrum are citizen, or part-time, legislatures. Representatives and senators in these legislatures do not enjoy the same perks as their counterparts in professional legislatures. Generally, salary is much lower and so is staff assistance. Members typically need to seek outside employment to supplement their income from legislative work, and the legislature will meet for only a brief period of time during the year.

Between these two extremes are hybrid legislatures. Their members are compensated at a higher rate than in citizen legislatures, but they are still likely to need outside employment to make an income equal to what they were making prior to taking office. These representatives and senators will have some staff assistance but not as much as in a professional legislature. Finally, members in hybrid legislatures will not consider their service to constitute a full-time occupation, but they will spend more than part of their time conducting legislative business. As [link] shows, California, New York, and Pennsylvania are home to some of the most professional legislatures in the country. On the other hand, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wyoming, and South Dakota are among the states that rank lowest on legislative professionalism.

National Conference of State Legislatures. 1 June 2014. “Table 2. Average Job Time, Compensation and Staff Size by Category of Legislature,” http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/full-and-part-time-legislatures.aspx#average.

A map of the United States titled “Level of Professionalism Within State Legislatures, 2008”. California, Pennsylvania, and New York are marked “Full-time, high salary, large staff”. Alaska, Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Massachusetts, are marked “Full-time, moderately high salary, moderately large staff”. Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginal, DC, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Hawaii are marked “Hybrid”. Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Kansas, Mississippi, Georgia, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine are marked “Part-time, moderately low salary, moderately small staff”. Montana, Wyoming, Utah, North Dakota, South Dakota, and New Hampshire are marked “Part-time, low salary, low staff”.
This map illustrates the degree of professionalism within state legislatures. States in purple and green tend to meet full-time and have larger staff and salaries, while the opposite conditions exist in states colored in orange and red. States in blue fall somewhere in the middle of these conditions.

Like the other indicators discussed above, legislative professionalism also affects the business of state legislatures. In professional legislatures, elections tend to be more competitive, and the cost of running for a seat is higher because the benefits of being elected are greater. This makes these seats more attractive, and candidates will tend not to run unless they perceive themselves as well qualified. Since the benefits are more generous, elected officials will tend to stay in office longer and develop more policy expertise as a result. This experience can give professional legislatures an edge when dealing with the governor, because they are likely to be in session for about the same amount of time per year as the governor and have the necessary staff to assist them with researching and writing public policy.

Peverill, “Measuring State Legislative Professionalism: The Squire Index Revisited.”


Governors are called upon to work with the state legislature in the lawmaking process, to be the head of their political party, and to be the chief spokespersons and crisis managers for their states. State constitution or state statutes give many governors the power to veto legislation, pardon or commute the sentences of convicted criminals, author a state budget, and call a special session of the state legislature. The three key functions performed by state legislatures are lawmaking, constituency service, and oversight. Legislatures differ in size, diversity, party composition, and level of professionalism across the fifty states.

Questions & Answers

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