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What Legislators Do

Legislators are elected officials who develop laws for the federal government, or for local or state governments. 


Legislators typically do the following:

Legislators are members of the legislative branch of government, which is responsible for making new laws and changing existing laws. Legislators include members of the U.S. Congress; state senators and representatives; and city, county, and township commissioners and council members. For more information about government officials in the executive branch, including the President of the United States, state governors, and mayors, see the profile on top executives.

Legislators govern by proposing bills, holding votes, and passing laws. Most legislators serve on committees that oversee different areas of government policy. Legislators 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. Legislators confer with and debate colleagues about the merits of proposed laws and determine their colleagues’ level of support. In doing so, legislators must negotiate a compromise among different interest groups and review and respond to the concerns of the people they represent or the general public. 

Frequent public appearances at community and social events are customary for legislators. 

Legislators work in each level of government:

Federal legislators are members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. There are 541 U.S. Senators and Representatives. U.S. legislators work to 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. 

State legislators are senators and representatives in state governments. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 7,382 state legislators, ranging from 49 in Nebraska to 424 in New Hampshire. 

Local legislators include city, county, town, and township commissioners and council members. About 9 out of 10 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.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition