State Government


Three Branches of State Government

State government is modeled after the federal (national) government and consist of the same three branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial

Every state except Nebraska is organized as a bicameral legislature, meaning they have two separate legislative chambers, House of Representatives (House of Delegates) and Senate.

We come in contact with state government when we . . .

  • obtain a driver's license or record,
  • register a vehicle,
  • obtain a birth or death certificate,
  • register a corporation or limited liability company,
  • play the lottery,
  • pay state income tax,
  • pay sales tax,
  • apply for unemployment compensation, and
  • apply for a professional license (such as attorney, pharmacist, chiropractor).

Legislative branch make all state laws. It consists of the House of Representatives (or House of Delegates as in the case of Maryland and Virginia) and the Senate. 

Twenty-five states refer to the legislative branch as State Legislature or Legislature. Nineteen states refer to the legislative branch as the General Assembly. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the legislative branch is called General Court, and in North Dakota and Oregon, it’s called the Legislative Assembly.

The Executive branch carry out and enforce state laws. It includes the Governor and his Cabinet, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor of State, Attorney General, Treasurer of State, State Board of Education. There may be other departments included in the Executive branch depending on the state.

The Judicial branch interpret state laws. It is made up of the state’s Supreme Court, courts of appeals, municipal courts, county courts, and other courts. 

State Constitution

States have their own Constitution modeled after the U.S. Constitution that outlines their powers and limitations and defines those powers reserved to the States and were not delegated to the federal government in the U.S. Constitution.

The Tenth Amendment (Amendment 10) of the Bill of Rights states “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.” 

A state’s constitution outlines how many members to serve in each legislative body

California – Assembly members 80 + 40 Senators

Georgia – House of Representatives 180 + 56 Senators

Maryland – Delegates 141 + Senators 47

New York – Assembly members 150 + 62 Senators (currently)

Ohio - House of Representatives 99 + Senators 33 

Virginia – House of Delegates 100 + 40 Senators

Check out Ballotpedia to search for more information about your state government.

States Exclusive Powers

Under U.S. Constitution, some powers belong exclusively to the states:

  • provide schooling and education
  • provide protection (police)
  • provide safety (fire departments)
  • issue a driver’s license
  • approve zoning and land use

Why some States are called Commonwealth

Four states, as contained in their constitution, are called Commonwealths: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. However, there is no difference between the commonwealths and the other 46 states. Click here to keep reading about Commonwealths.