State legislatures are the lawmaking bodies of the 50 states in the United States of America. They are the legislative branch at the state level of government, and (generally) perform many of the same duties on the state level that the U.S. Congress performs on the federal level. As a rule, state legislative branches are checked in power by a state executive officer (a governor) and a state judiciary, though the degree to which this is so varies from one state to the next. In some states, particularly older ones, the state legislature is called by other names, such as General Assembly or General Court.
A state legislature will usually go into session shortly after the first of the year and remain in session — for several months in states where the legislature is part-time and year around in states where the legislature is full-time — considering matters referred to it by the governor of the state or introduced by members. Business and other special interest organizations often lobby the legislature to obtain or favorably influence legislation. State legislatures approve or rewrite the state's budget recommended by the Governor.
Every state except Nebraska has a bicameral legislature, meaning that the legislature consists of two separate legislative bodies (or "houses"); Nebraska has a one-house, or unicameral legislature. Prior to the Voting Rights Act, many state legislatures were organized so that each body represented citizens according to a different principle; for example, by small single-member districts in the lower chamber and at large by county in the upper. Since the "one man, one vote" principle embodied in the Voting Rights Act was definitively applied to state legislatures (but not to the U.S. Senate these upper chambers were based on), those states have been forced to adopt other systems for electing members to the upper body, most commonly by adding periodic reapportionment to the existing scheme in that body. For example, in Vermont, state senators were formerly elected at large, two to a county – regardless of that county's size. Now, they are elected at large, from senatorial districts of comparable population. It is often possible in such systems to elect different majority parties in the two chambers.
State legislatures elected the U.S. Senators from their states until the ratification of the 17th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1913
There are about 7500 state legislators in the United States. The legislatures employ many staff aides to help prepare and analyze legislation, to review and amend submitted budgets, and to help solve constituent problems with state government.
State legislatures have generally grown in importance over time, especially in the states without term limits. Longtime Pennsylvania state legislator Mark B. Cohen has said: "The biggest change during my tenure in the legislature has been the rise of the individual legislator. Time and again, individual legislators have shown that they have answers for pressing problems that command the support to be enacted into law."
Many members of state legislatures 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.