In the United States of America, a state legislature is a generic term referring to the legislative body of any of the country's 50 states. The formal name varies from state to state. In 24 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 as the "Legislative Assembly."
Every state (except Nebraska) has a bicameral legislature, meaning that the legislature consists of two separate legislative chambers (or houses); Nebraska has a unicameral, or one-chamber legislature. In all bicameral legislatures, the smaller chamber is called the Senate and is usually referred to as the upper house. (Nebraskan legislators are referred to as senators for historical reasons; the new legislature was created by removing the section of the constitution specifying the lower house, effectively abolishing it and causing the Senate to subsume all legislative authority). The smaller, upper chamber usually, 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 United States Supreme Court decisions Reynolds v. Sims and Baker v. Carr in the 1960s, the basis of representation in most state legislatures was modeled on that of the U.S. Congress: the members of the smaller chamber represented geography and members of the larger chamber represented population. In 1962, the United States Supreme Court announced the one person, one vote standard and invalidated state legislative representation based on geography. (One person, one vote does not apply to the composition of the U.S. Senate because that chamber's makeup is prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.)
As a legislative branch of government, a legislature generally performs the same duties for a state the Congress performs at Federal level, and a general rule, the same types of checks and balances at the Federal level apply between the state legislature, the state executive officer (a 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 the Congress and they also retain the ability to apply to the Congress for a national convention to directly propose Constitutional amendments to the states for ratification. 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 a state's voters.
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 7,382 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 annual meeting, and other meetings, of the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is headquartered in Denver, Colorado and has a lobbying office in Washington, D.C. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization focusing on state legislatures, also has an annual meeting attracting many legislators.