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Essay Questions

  1. How has the apportionment of state legislative upper chambers changed over the years? Name two court cases that are related to legislative apportionment.

    The upper chamber is now apportioned on the basis of population rather than geographical area.

    Baker v. Carr (1962)
    Reynolds v. Sims (1964)

  2. List the three major functions performed by state legislators singularly and state legislatures collectively.
    • Representation
    • Lawmaking
    • Balancing the power of the executive (or oversight)

  3. What are three legislative mechanisms for exercising legislative oversight?
    • Standing committees
    • Select committees
    • Task forces

  4. Discuss the characteristics of so-called "hybrid" legislatures.

    Legislators elected to hybrid legislatures "typically say that they spend more than two-thirds of a full-time job being legislators" and their salaries are noticeably higher than those of part-time legislators, but somewhat lower than those of members of full-time legislatures. Salaries are typically not sufficient to make a living on legislative pay alone, so additional outside employment is common among these state lawmakers. Hybrid legislatures tend to have intermediate-sized staffs, and they are typically found in states with moderate-sized populations.

  5. Describe the role and typical nature of a county commission.

    Counties function primarily as the administrative appendages of a state, and thus they implement many state laws and policies (such as carrying out elections) at the local level. The central legislative body in a county government is commonly a board of commissioners or supervisors. Typically, a county commission meets in regular session monthly or bimonthly, and its legislative responsibilities encompass the enactment of county ordinances, the development and approval of the county budget, and, in some states, the setting of certain tax rates.

  6. Describe the role and typical nature of a town board.

    Today, official town and township governments continue to operate in 20 states in three major regions. In terms of legislative process, many of these towns have a tradition of direct democracy through a "town meeting" wherein residents elect town officials, enact ordinances, and adopt a budget. Typically, all available voters are invited to provide input, offer amendments, and vote on township business.

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