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State legislatures normally have had only very few, basic constitutional procedural requirements regarding the passage of legislation. Most state constitutions stipulate that laws can be enacted only after bicameral passage of identical measures, followed by presentment to the chief executive. There may also be requirements that bills receive “readings” on three or more legislative days before passage. Practically speaking, most legislative procedure is determined by internal rules of each chamber. These rules refer to bill referral to committees, methods of bringing bills to the chamber floor, procedures for disciplining members, etc.
Many of the early state constitutions did not provide a means by which the governor could block legislation through a veto. This reflected an anti-executive power bias that carried over from the opposition to the king in colonial times. Gradually, however, the powers of governors increased, and among the most important powers of the governor was the power to veto. In the 1990s, North Carolina’s governor was the last to gain the veto power. The veto power varies dramatically among the states, particularly regarding which measures are subject to veto and the ease with which the legislatures can override the veto. Many states now permit an item veto for appropriation bills, but not for other legislation. Proposed constitutional amendments approved as joint resolutions by the legislature cannot be vetoed by the governor, but instead in most states today go to the electorate for approval. In several states vetoes can be overridden by margins much smaller than the two-thirds requirement necessary for overriding presidential vetoes. In some states, only a simple majority of those elected to serve in each chamber is needed to override the governor’s veto.
In the early 20th century, many states began to adopt direct democracy mechanisms, such as the initiative, that permitted citizens and interest groups to propose new statutory laws or new constitutional amendments without going through the legislature. This has led to the adoption of new laws that would have not gained legislative approval and new institutional changes that dramatically changed legislative careers.
One of the notable changes associated with the initiative process is the adoption of legislative term limits placed within state constitutions. The limits prevent elected officials, often legislators, from serving beyond a specified number of terms in office. Gubernatorial term limits have been more common for years, but only more recently have term limits on state legislators become common. These limits have generally been opposed by state legislators whose careers would be altered by the constraints. Opponents of term limits have also said that the restrictions reduce the professionalism of their elected office and shift the balance of power from legislators to the governor and legislative staff.
For much of American history, state legislatures could be characterized as “amateur” public institutions. Legislators were not well-paid, had few resources for legislative research, constituency service, or administrative agency oversight. They worked as part-time volunteers who did not expect to remain in office for an extended period of time. During the 1960s and 70s in particular, most but not all state legislatures increased legislative salaries (or legislator per diem payments), adopted longer legislative sessions, increased legislative staffing, and created legislative research bureaus to help with bill drafting and analysis of proposed bills or policy problems. This seems to have led to more member stability and longer legislative tenure. It may have also motivated activists in the term limits movement, who distrusted professional, career politicians. Scholarly research on this topic has found that professionalization of state legislatures has led to more African-Americans and fewer women entering the chambers. It may have also increased the size of the Democratic Party share of the legislature, at least outside the South, though the effects of professionalization appear to vary by party. The imposition of term limits does not have appeared to have ended political careerism, since many term limited state legislators pursue other offices, including congressional seats. Legislative professionalism as well as one party dominance has also been found to particularistic, such as local legislation and special bills, which are apparently aimed at boosting chances for re-election.
Finally, it should be noted that the role of state legislatures has changed because of actions of the federal government. Under the national supremacy clause, discussed above, federal law prevails when it is in conflict with state law. This practice, known as preemption, has been used throughout much of American history. More recently, however, state laws have been invalidated through preemption not only when laws enacted by Congress conflict with laws enacted by state legislatures but also when federal agency interpretations of how or whether to enforce laws may conflict with laws enacted by state legislatures. Intergovernmental grant programs may also lead to a “work around” the state legislatures. For example, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act provided that state chief executives, not legislatures, would approve the creation of state health insurance exchanges.
While very influential in national politics early on in U.S. history, the addition of particularly the 17th Amendment, but also the 16th, 19th and 26th Amendments have weakened the role of state legislatures in national politics. What is more, federal preemption by not only laws enacted but also federal agency interpretation of laws has weakened the role of state legislatures in national politics.
Since their inception, the state legislatures have served as the proverbial “lab of democracy” both across states and for the federal government. The variation in design, rules, and procedures has served as an opportunity to study institutional arrangements and their effects. Many of the features in the U.S. Congress were taken from practices in state legislature and states often adopt successful reforms from other states. Their variation in designs is an opportunity to learn and strengthen political institutions in the United States.
James C. Clinger is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at Murray State University. He is the co-author of Institutional Constraint and Policy Choice: An Exploration of Local Governance and co-editor of Kentucky Government, Politics, and Policy. Dr. Clinger is the chair of the Murray-Calloway County Transit Authority Board, a past president of the Kentucky Political Science Association, and a former firefighter for the Falmouth Volunteer Fire Department.
Dr. J. Drew Seib joined the faculty at Murray State University in the Fall of 2012. He teaches courses in American politics and research methods. Dr. Seib is the advisor for the Murray State Chapter of Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society. Dr. Seib received his Ph.D. and M.A. from Southern Illinois University with an emphasis in American political behavior. His dissertation, Frantic Voters: How Context Affects Information Searches, was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant. Dr. Seib received his B.A. from Westminster College in Fulton, MO, triple majoring in political science, Spanish, and international studies, and minoring in European studies.
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 See Gerber, Elisabeth R., Lupia, Arthur, McCubbins, Mathew D., and Kiewiet, D. Roderick. Stealing the Initiative: How State Government Responds to Direct Democracy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 2001.
 Carey, John M., Richard G. Niemi, and Lynda W. Powell. 1998. “The Effects of Term Limits on State Legislatures.” Legislative Studies Quarterly, 23(2): 271-300.
 Squire, Peverill. “Legislative Professionalization and Membership Diversity in State Legislatures.” Legislative Studies Quarterly. Vol. 17, No. 1. (1992): 69-79 .
 Meinke, Scott R., and Edward B. Hasecke. “Term Limits, Professionalization, and Partisan Control in U.S. State Legislatures.” The Journal of Politics 65, no. 3 (2003): 898-908.
 Sanbonmatsu, Kira. 2002. “Political Parties and the Recruitment of Women to State Legislatures.” The Journal of Politics, 64(3):791-809.
 Carey, John M., Niemi, Richard G., and Powell, Lynda. Term Limits in the State Legislatures. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (2000).
 Gamm, Gerald, and Kousser, Thad. “Broad Bills or Particularistic Policy? Historical Patterns in American State Legislatures.” The American Political Science Review 104, no. 1 (2010): 151-70.
 For an early example, see Gibbons v. Ogden). 22 U.S. 1. (1824).
 See, for example, Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387 (2012)
 Fahey, Bridget A.. “Consent Procedures and American Federalism.” Harvard Law Review Vol. 128,(2014): 1564-1629.
 see Berry, Frances Stokes, and William D. Berry. 1990. “State Lottery Adoptions as Policy Innovations: An Event History Analysis.” American Political Science Review 84(2): 395–415.