The Duties & Powers of a State Representative

by Susan Breen

State representatives are elected officials who serve in their state's House of Representatives. Along with state senators, they make up the legislative arm of state government. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 5,411 people worked as state representatives in 2010. Terms are usually for two years. Some representatives are paid salaries, others work as volunteers. Almost all hold other jobs in fields such as law, education and business. Specific duties are determined by each state's constitution, but generally parallel those of their federal counterparts in the U.S. Congress.

Enact Laws

A state representative's primary job is to create legislation. According to the Michigan legislature, during an average two-year session representatives will introduce 4,000 bills. About 600 to 800 of those will be enacted into law. "Hot issues" in 2010, according to the NCSL, were energy, immigration, jobs and employment, health care, agricultural issues and rural development. Representatives may work on laws that apply to the whole state or parts of the state.

Listen to Constituents

Every state representative is elected from a district. Many state constitutions require that the representative has lived for at least a year in her home district. Representatives maintain offices in their districts. There they meet with constituents and listen to their concerns, which might be about subjects ranging from farming to health care and everything in between. Some states allow the constituents themselves to introduce bills.

Amend the State Constitution

Representatives have the power to propose changes to the state constitution. In New Jersey, for example, a representative can propose an amendment which must then be approved by three fifths of the members of the New Jersey General Assembly and Senate. Following approval, it would then be put on a ballot for a public vote. In New York, some representatives are calling for a Constitutional Convention to amend the state's constitution.

Oversight

A representative has the power to oversee programs put into place by the executive branch. Representatives, working on committees, may hold hearings on policies and can subpoena witnesses. They may also challenge the head of the state executive branch, the governor.

Select House Leadership

One of the first decisions a state representative makes is who to choose for head of the House, a position generally known as speaker. Decisions are usually made on party lines, which gives the party with the most seats authority to establish an agenda.

Create State Budget

Only the state legislature has the power to appropriate funds to pay for the day-to-day working of the state. Representatives work on a new budget every year. They play an important role in determining where tax dollars will be spent and how much those taxes will be.

About the Author

Based in New York, Susan Breen has been working as a writer since 1981. Her articles have appeared in "The Writer" and "Writer's Digest" magazines. Her first novel, "The Fiction Class," was published by Plume/Penguin in 2008. Breen holds a Master of Arts in international affairs from Columbia University.

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