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State Legislator: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a state legislator. Learn about job duties, education requirements, job outlook, and salary to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a State Legislator?

State legislators have a vote and an impact on the issues that face their states. Usually they hold a bachelor's degree in a related field like law, history, public administration or even liberal studies. They run for office, serve on various committees, and work to pass legislation that will affect the citizens of their state in some capacity. The table below outlines the general requirements for this career.

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree
Educational Field of StudyPolitical Science
History
Public Administration
Key ResponsibilitiesCreates and enacts laws, policies, and regulations; studies proposed legislation; meets with constituents
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 5% for all legislators*
Average Salary (May 2018)$47,620 for all legislators*

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Type of Work Do State Legislators Do?

Most states have an upper and a lower house in its legislative branch of government; an assembly and a senate, for example. This legislative body develops state laws, regulations and policies introduced and voted on legislators. Typically, state legislators, also known as state lawmakers, are elected or appointed to represent an area or district of the state for a term defined by a state constitution.

As a legislator, you'll have an office in your state's capital district and one or more offices in your legislative district. You'll study proposed legislation and meet with constituents and representatives of various interest groups. You may draft bills to be presented for a vote by legislative committees, each house chamber and by the full legislature. In many states, legislators serve part-time or for the portion of the year when the legislature is in session. During other periods you may travel your district to attend events and meet with constituents to gain insight on local issues. You'll also be working on political activities such as your re-election campaign.

How Do You Become A State Legislator?

Each state's constitution defines residency, citizenship and minimum age requirements for legislators. Active involvement in your community not only helps to prepare you for this job but also helps to establish name recognition, develop contacts, and gain media exposure. You may volunteer and serve in leadership positions for community organizations. Service as an elected official on the local or county level is a common background for state legislators.

Affiliation with and involvement in a political party is usually required to become a legislator. You'll need to obtain the endorsement of your party, often through primary elections, and then run for office in the general election. An option may be to run as an independent candidate. In either case, you'll need to secure a spot on the ballot through a nominating petition with the signatures of a prescribed percentage of registered voters in your district, as defined in your state's laws or constitution.

No particular educational path is required to serve as a state legislator. You may find courses in government, political science, public administration, and history relevant. Many state lawmakers are lawyers, but a wide array of professional backgrounds are represented.

What Is the Path for Advancement?

Some popular legislators serve for decades in the state legislature. Some states, however, have term limits that dictate how long a legislator may remain in office. According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), as of 2017, 15 states had such limits (www.ncsl.org).

Some legislators run for office in the upper house of the state legislature directly, but many may advance from the lower house to the upper house. After service in the state legislature, you might decide to run for the United States Congress or Senate. Legislators may also go on to serve as lieutenant governor or governor.

What Might I Expect to Earn?

Salaries for legislators vary by state. As of May 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the average salary for all legislators, including those at the local and tribal levels, was $47,620. Some states pay legislators by the day; others pay by the term. States may pay per diem fees to legislators to cover lodging and other expenses while they are working in the state capital away from their legislative districts.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A similar career to explore could be that of a lobbyist. These professionals educate legislators about laws they need passed or stopped. Another career could include working for a company as a consultant, director or manager, and these jobs also require bachelor's degrees. In some cases consultants can find work in government either at the state or federal levels.