State Legislator: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

A state legislator is an elected official who works for a lawmaking body in his or her state. The breadth of a legislator's duties varies by state, but most don't do legislative work full-time. Age and residency requirements for becoming a legislator also differ by state.

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Job Description of State Legislators

State legislators serve 2- to 4-year terms in their states' house of representatives or senate, creating and ratifying state laws and regulations. Their work closely mirrors that of legislators in the U.S. Senate and House, only on a smaller, state level. State legislators debate, vote on bills and work in committees.

In many states, being a legislator is not a full-time job. According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), 16.4% of state legislators were working full-time as of 2007 (www.ncsl.org). In states where legislators did not work full-time, they received minimal compensation, and many had an additional occupation, most commonly as an attorney or a business owner, according to NCSL data. Some state legislators were retired. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, legislators were projected to grow by 6% from 2012-2022.

Salary Information

Salaries for state legislators vary widely by the activity of the legislator and his or her state legislative body. Legislators working full-time in the highly active bodies of California and New York, for example, made base annual salaries of $90,526 and $79,500 per year, respectively, as of 2013, according to NCSL data. The NCSL indicated that legislators working part-time and in the least active bodies received much less compensation; legislators in Mississippi, for instance, earned a minimum of $10,000 per year in 2013.

State Legislator Duties

When their legislative body is in session, state legislators create and process bills that will become state law if approved. They also form issue-related committees and subcommittees and debate and read bills and amendments on the legislative floor.

Education and Career Requirements for State Legislators

Because it is an elected position, there are no guidelines for becoming a state legislator beyond age, citizenship and residency requirements, which vary by state. According to NCSL data from 2009, the majority of state legislators were 50-64 years old, but some, about 4%, were between 20 and 34 years old.

The NCSL also reports that state legislators can come from a variety of backgrounds, including clergymen, teachers, accountants and doctors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics adds that many would-be legislators seek local support by taking part in volunteer and community service work (www.bls.gov).

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