2.2 Structure and Design of U.S. Government

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Federal and State Government

The Structure of State Government

According to the U.S. Constitution, every state has responsibilities to its people. To carry out these responsibilities, each of the 50 states has created a government structure much like the structure of the national government. For example, each state has a constitution. Like the U.S. Constitution, state constitutions describe the structure of the governments they create.

Like the national government, each state government also has three branches—a legislative, an executive, and a judicial branch. In 49 of the 50 states, the legislature has two houses. Nebraska, with its one-house legislature, is the exception. In every state, the legislature is responsible for passing laws and deciding how money collected by the state will be spent.

Each state executive branch is headed by a governor, who is elected by the state’s citizens. The job of the governor is to make sure the state’s laws are enforced. Other state executive officers help the governor do this work. So do various departments and agencies that also report to the governor.

The responsibility of the state judicial branch is to interpret the laws. State courts deal with both criminal cases, in which someone breaks the law, and civil cases, in which there is a dispute between citizens or groups. In every state, a state supreme court tops the court hierarchy.

Together the state government branches, with the guidance of their constitutions, provide many services. They offer education, administer public welfare programs, protect the environment, and help maintain the highway system. In addition, states are involved in regulating banks and public utilities. They also safeguard citizen health by establishing standards for things ranging from restaurant cleanliness to water purity. 

Why should you care about how state government works? A former governor has a quick answer.