State Legislator: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

State legislators do not require any formal education. Learn about the job duties, citizenship and age requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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State legislators are elected to serve as lawmakers and members of a legislative body. Most legislators possess a bachelor's degree, although no formal education is required. They do have to meet their state's age and residency requirements.

Essential Information

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, and for most of these professionals, legislating is a part-time job. While there are no official education requirements, age and residency requirements for becoming a legislator differ by state.

Required Education Although no formal education is required, many legislators have 4-year degrees
Other Requirements Must be elected into the position; age and citizenship requirements vary by state
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -1% (decline) for all legislators
Median Salary (2015)* $20,500 for all legislators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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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, job growth for legislators is projected to decline by 1% from 2014-2024.

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 $100,113 and $79,500 per year, respectively, as of 2016, 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 2016. The BLS reported in 2015 that the median annual income for all legislators was $20,500.

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 2015, the majority of state legislators were 50-66 years old, but some, about 5%, were millennials (between 18 and 34 years old).

The NCSL also reports that state legislators can come from a variety of backgrounds, including small business owners, attorneys, and educators. 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).

The responsibilities of state legislators varies by state; they may process bills that will become state law, form issue-related committees, and debate bills on the legislative floor. Many legislators possess at least a bachelor's degree. Legislators in some states earn far more than the $20,500 median salary reported as of 2015; California legislators earned a base annual salary of $100,113 in 2015.

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