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What Is State Government? - Powers, Responsibilities & Challenges

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  • 0:01 State Governments
  • 1:51 Structure
  • 4:10 State Constitutions
  • 5:18 State Officials
  • 6:31 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

The United States has a federal government and each of the 50 states has a state government. This lesson explains the organization of state governments, and explores the powers and responsibilities of state governments.

State Governments

Have you ever stood in line to get or renew a driver's license? If so, then you've dealt with your state government. For most people, we have more contact with our state and local governments than we do with our federal government. State governments control much of our everyday dealings. Under the U.S. Constitution's Tenth Amendment, states possess all powers not specifically granted to the federal government. State governments oversee such things as:

  • Driver's licenses
  • Vehicle registration
  • Driver's records
  • Birth certificates
  • Death certificates
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Licensing for professionals, such as attorneys, pharmacists, and chiropractors

Each of the 50 states has a state government system. Several states had a state constitution and an organized government even before the U.S. had its Constitution. A state constitution is a document that lays down governmental structure, political processes, and limitations on the use of power by a state. As you'll see, state governments in the United States are well developed and detailed.

Though it can be a challenge, it's important for state governments to work well with one another. State governments must also work well with the federal government. For example, state governments often work with the federal government on large public works projects, like interstate highways, that are of benefit to the states. The federal and state governments must cooperate and compromise with one another regarding the logistics of the project and payment for the project.

Structure of State Governments

Let's take a look at the structure of state governments. Keep in mind that the states can organize their governments most any way they choose. However, all state governments use the same structure as the federal government. This means that the states each have three branches of government:

  • The executive branch
  • The legislative branch
  • The judicial branch

Let's first explore the executive branch. This branch of state government includes the governor of that state and other elected officials like the lieutenant governor, state attorney general, state auditor, and secretary of state. Like the federal executive branch, a state's executive branch is responsible for executing the laws that are created by the state's legislative branch and defined by the state's judicial branch.

A state's legislative branch includes the elected representatives of that state. The states use a bicameral system, meaning each state has two legislative chambers, much like the federal legislative system. For example, Texas has a state legislature comprised of 31 state senators and 150 state house representatives.

Like other states, Texas' legislative branch meets in the state capitol building. This branch of state government is responsible for creating state legislation that can become state law. They are also responsible for approving the state budget and initiating tax legislation. Also like the federal government, this branch has the power of impeachment, which can be used as a check and balance on the executive branch.

A state's judicial branch is that state's court system, including the state Supreme Court justices. A state's Supreme Court heads up that state's judicial branch. The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting and defining issues of state law. For example, a case of burglary in Colorado will be heard and decided in the Colorado state courts using the state laws of Colorado. Most cases are heard in state courts, rather than in the federal court system.

State Constitutions

Now, let's take a closer look at state constitutions. Remember that these are the official legal documents that dictate a state's governmental structure and political processes, as well as the limitations on that state's use of power. Each of the 50 states has its own state constitution.

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