Legislators are members of the legislative branch of government, which is responsible for making new laws and changing existing laws. They are elected by the public to work for the federal government or for various other levels of government. They govern by proposing bills, holding votes, and passing laws. Frequent public appearances at community and social events are customary for legislators.
What does a Legislator do?
A legislator typically does the following:
Develop bills—drafts of laws that they want their fellow legislators to approve
Draft or approve policies, regulations, budgets, and programs
Debate and analyze the impact of proposed laws
Vote on bills and on motions to enact them into law
Collaborate and negotiate with other legislators to resolve differences and reach agreements
Seek funding for projects and programs in their district
Appoint nominees to leadership posts or approve appointments by the chief executive
Serve on committees, panels, and study groups for special policy issues
Listen to and address the concerns of people they represent
Invite and listen to testimony from people who are concerned about an issue or likely to be affected by a law if it is passed
Most legislators serve on committees that oversee different areas of government policy. They are expected to develop expertise in those areas, as well as keep up with current local, national, and international events.
Most bills are proposed and developed in committees. To make informed decisions, legislators also hear testimonies from private citizens, political leaders, and interest groups.
The work of legislators relies on meeting with, listening to, and forming relationships with others. They confer with and debate colleagues about the merits of proposed laws and determine their colleagues’ level of support. In doing so, they must negotiate a compromise among different interest groups and review and respond to the concerns of the people they represent or the general public.
Legislators work in each level of government. They represent the interests of the people in their districts, such as encouraging investment and economic development in their jurisdiction, while also considering the needs of the entire nation.
About nine out of ten legislators work in local government. Many small communities have legislators who are volunteers and receive no salary. (These workers are not included in the employment or salary numbers in this profile.)
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The working conditions of legislators vary by position and level of government. Although some legislators work only a few hours a week, others work long hours and have stressful schedules. Higher-level legislators travel often and may need to live away from home while the legislature is in session. Many spend a considerable amount of time meeting with people they represent and attending social functions in addition to their scheduled work hours.