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Legislature

Qualifications, Terms, And Compensation Of Legislators

Members of the U.S. Congress are chosen to represent a particular state. Each state may elect two U.S. senators. The number of U.S. representatives a state may elect is determined by the population of the state, with a minimum of one.

Every state uses a district system to choose its state legislators. Under this system the state is divided into districts, often along county lines, with one or more legislators representing each district.

The applicable national or state constitution sets the qualifications for individuals who are eligible to serve as legislators. These rules are generally not restrictive, including only age, citizenship, and residency requirements. U.S. citizenship is a universal requirement, as is a certain period of state residency. A legislator must live in the state or district from which he or she is elected. Every state requires that members of the lower house of the state legislature be at least 21 years old. The U.S. Constitution requires members of the House of Representatives to be at least 25 years old, and members of the Senate to be at least 30 years old.

Congressional terms are six years for senators and two years for representatives. Terms for state legislators vary, but generally are either two or four years. Over the years there has been a push toward setting term limits in the U.S. Congress—that is, restricting the number of terms a U.S. legislator may serve. State legislatures have a higher rate of turnover and therefore do not generally face this issue.

Legislators are compensated for their services at various rates, and many state legislators are considered underpaid. Legislators also receive reimbursement for their expenses, including mileage to and from their home district and the location of the legislature. Legislators usually have the authority, by virtue of powers given to the legislature, to raise their own salaries. But they are often reluctant to do so for fear of a negative public reaction.

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