Structure of the Michigan Legislative Branch

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

What does the Michigan legislature branch do? This lesson examines the structure and responsibilities of those elected to be the voice of the voters, from lawmaking to oversight of other areas of government.

Legislators in Lansing

When you form an image of the Michigan legislature in your mind, what do you see? Your image should include the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing and legislators conducting business inside. The city of Detroit is often the first image that comes to mind when Michigan is mentioned, but Michigan's elected officials represent people from contrasting environments, from the more heavily populated Lower Peninsula to the unique culture of the rural Upper Peninsula.

The Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing in the 19th century
A 19th century drawing of the State Capitol building in Lansing

Let's add some focus to that picture in your mind as we consider the structure and powers of the Michigan legislature.

A Bicameral System

Like all other states except Nebraska, Michigan has a bicameral legislature. Think ''bi'' as in ''two'' chambers, or houses: a Senate and a House of Representatives. This should sound familiar because there are two legislative chambers at the national level too.

As of 2016, the Michigan Senate is 38 members while the House numbers 110. Senators and Representatives are selected by vote, and represent his or her district during the legislative process. Senators serve 4-year terms (maximum of 2 terms), while Representatives serve 2-year terms (maximum of 3 terms).

Legislative Leaders

Some members of the legislature take on particularly important roles. While we won't cover all of them here, the following are leadership positions that a person can hold:

Lieutenant Governor: Not only is this person next in line to govern the state if something happens to the governor, he or she also has the role of President of the Senate. The Lieutenant Governor is only able to cast votes in the Senate in the instance of a tie.

Speaker of the House: This person presides over the state House of Representatives, leading the session and dealing with administrative concerns.

Majority Leader: The dominant political party (e.g. Republicans or Democrats) of each of the two houses chooses a leader to assign duties and appoint members to committees and other assignments.

Minority Leader: The selected leader of the less-represented party in both houses.

Turning Bills into Laws

Did you know that only a small percentage of bills proposed in the legislature ever become laws? While thousands of bills will be considered in a year, only hundreds will make it through the process, around a quarter of the total proposed!

Ideas for laws can come from a variety of sources, including initiatives. Initiatives are legislative ideas that have originated from the public, who petition the state government to address an issue. In some cases the public will be able to vote on whether a law is acceptable, such as when there is a referendum on the ballot.

More than Lawmaking

The biggest job for Michigan legislators is to be lawmakers for the state, but there's more going on than just debating and creating laws.

Legislators help create the state budget, the plan for how to use the funds that the government acquires through taxation, federal money, and other revenue. They'll also work on amendments to the state constitution, which if approved are proposed to the voters in the next election.

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