Legislative Council

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Legislative Council

Research and support arm of state legislatures and assemblies. Council members research legislative issues, draft legislative proposals, prepare legal opinions, and provide general support services. Also called legislative counsel.

State legislatures depend on research staff to investigate and craft legislative proposals. These staff members are generally grouped into one body called a legislative council, but the terminology varies from state to state. They usually are nonpartisan bodies composed of lawyers and other professionals who work year-round with legislators. Staff members are expected to be politically neutral and impartial on all issues. Individuals may be assigned to general topical research areas or to specific legislative committees.

Legislative council staff members serve on standing committees, create research documents, prepare implementing legislation, draft amendments, prepare reports on proposed administrative rules, and respond to research requests from legislators and legislative staff as well as other governmental agencies and the public. When the legislature is not in session the legislative council focuses on research projects that are of interest to legislators. Councils often publish reports on major issues that are of topical concern. Because federal laws mandate state compliance on a host of topics, legislative councils also must continually review federal regulations to determine their effect on current state laws and pending legislation.

In addition, legislative councils serve as the institutional memories of state legislatures. Long-time staff members with particular expertise in a field are valuable as turnover occurs in legislative bodies. The often arcane procedures involved in drafting bills are usually left to legislative council members, who take legislative ideas and directions and craft them into statutory language. In many states the legislative council is responsible for the publication of the legislative session laws as well as the codified statutes and administrative regulations.

During legislative sessions, council members sit with legislators in committee meetings and give both private and public advice. As legislation is proposed, these staff members provide analysis as to the policy and budgetary effects these proposals would have on state government. The production of fiscal notes is a major task for council staff, as legislators need to know what impact a new program would have on the state budget in terms of both spending and revenue.

In some states the legislative council is a two-tiered organization. The first tier is composed of a group of legislative leaders (e.g., senators); the second tier consists of the staff. The legislative members of the council set policy and research directions for the staff to follow. The form and function of a legislative council is mandated by individual state statutes.

Further readings

Dye, Thomas R. 2000. Politics in States and Communities. 10th ed. New York: Prentice Hall.

Moncrief, Gary F., Peverill Squire, and Malcolm E. Jewell. 2000. Who Runs for the Legislature? New York: Prentice Hall.

Rosenthal, Alan. 1998. The Decline of Representative Democracy: Process, Participation, and Power in State Legislatures. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

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