The first step in becoming a state citizen lobbyist is learning how your state government works.

Powers of State Governments

Share powers with the federal government, which are wholly derived from the Constitution

Have certain powers limited by Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution.  For instance, states cannot form alliances with foreign governments, declare war, coin money, or impose duties on imports or exports.

Are given all powers not granted to the federal government by the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which declares “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

Must administer mandates set by the federal government, which generally contain rules the states wouldn’t normally carry out.  These can include reducing air pollution, providing services for the handicapped, or requiring public transportation to meet certain standards.  The federal government is prohibited by law from setting unfunded mandates.  In other words, it must provide funding for programs it mandates, which it does through what is called grants-in-aid.  The federal government gives the states either formula grants or project grants (most commonly used).

State Constitutions

     The Basics

Each state has its own constitution that it uses as the basis for its laws, which must abide by the framework set up under the national Constitution.  Therefore, the basic structure of state constitutions resembles the U.S. Constitution in that they contain a preamble, a bill of rights, articles that describe separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and a framework for setting up local governments.


All state constitutions list the process required to amend them. The process is usually initiated when the legislature proposes the amendment by a majority or supermajority vote, after which the people approve the amendment through a majority vote. Amendments can also be proposed by a constitutional convention or, in some states, through an initiative petition.

The Legislature

All states have a bicameral or two-house (chamber) legislature, except Nebraska, which has a unicameral, or single house.

Upper House
Lower House
  • Senate
  • House of Representatives
  • General Assembly
  • House of Delegates (VA)
21 (DE) to 67 (MN) Members
40 (AK/NV) to 400 (NH) Members
4 Year Terms
2 Year Terms


Like the national legislature, each chamber in a state legislature has a presiding officer. The Lieutenant Governor presides over the Senate, but the majority leader assumes most of the leadership roles. The house elects a Speaker who serves as its leader. Leaders of each chamber are responsible for recognizing speakers in debate, referring bills to committee, and presiding over deliberations. States grant legislatures a variety of functions:

  • Enact laws
  • Represent the needs of their constituents
  • Share budget-making responsibilities with Governor
  • Confirm nominations of state officials
  • House begins impeachment proceedings; Senate conducts the trial if there is an impeachment.

  • Oversight - review of the executive branch. (e.g.,                             )


The Governor is a state's chief executive. A governor can serve either a two or four year term. Thirty-seven states have term limits on the governor.


  • Appointments - The Governor is chiefly responsible for making appointments to state agencies and offices. These powers include:
    •  The ability to appoint for specific jobs in the executive branch.
    • The ability to appoint to fill a vacancy caused by the death or resignation of an elected official

  • Chief of State - Chief Executive - draws up budget, also has clemency and military powers

  • Veto Power - Like the U.S. President, a governor has the right to veto bills passed by the legislature. Vetoes can be overridden by a two-thirds or three-fourths majority in the legislature.
    • In many states, the governor has the power of a                      .
    • In some states, the governor has the power of an                                                  .

Other Elected Positions within the Executive Branch

State governments often have other executive positions elected separately from the governor. Some examples include:

  • Lieutenant Governor: Succeeds the governor in office and presides over the senate.
  • Secretary of State - Takes care of public records and documents; also may have many other responsibilities.
  • Attorney General - Responsible for representing the state in all court cases.
  • Auditor - Makes sure that public money has been spent legally.
  • Treasurer - Invests and pays out state funds.Superintendent of Public Instruction - Heads state department of education.

state governments