State Senator or Congressional Senator… What is the difference and why should you care?
By: Abel Morais
Senator Lesniak, Senator Booker, Senator Menedez, and Senator Weinberg, what do they all have in common? They all hold the title of Senator and are all from New Jersey. Sure, they are all Democrats, but that isn’t important here. Now, what are their differences? Well two of them are state Senators from Trenton and two of them are Congressional or federal Senators from Washington D.C.
Each State has a bi-cameral legislature just like the federal government, except Nebraska.
Meaning they have two houses in their legislature. They have an upper house called the Senate or State Senate, and a lower house called the House of Representatives, State Assembly, House of Delegates, Assembly, or General Assembly depending on the state. Here in New Jersey, we have a Senate and a General Assembly.
Just like the federal government, depending on which house they serve in, they get a title.
If they serve in the Senate they are called Senator. If they serve in the General Assembly they may be called Assemblyperson, Assemblywoman, or Assemblyman depending on about whom you are speaking.
But what are the responsibilities and duties of a federal and state Senator?
The Congressional or Federal Senate has the following powers and procedures:
- Censure – Punishment used against another member of the senate for their wrongdoings but does not remove them from office. (Article 1, section 5)
- Contested Senate Elections – the Senate judges their own “elections returns and qualifications of its one members. (Article 1, section 5)
- Declaration of War – The power to declare war is congress’s constitutional power, as the upper house they are given half of this duty.
- Expulsion – “punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.” (Article 1, section 5)
- Filibusters and Cloture – Filibuster is a political move to delay or block legislation. Cloture allows the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote.
- Impeachment – The Senate has the duty to conduct impeachment trials, acting as the judge and jury for the American people.
- Investigations – The Senate calls for investigations into issues within the executive branch.
- Nominations – The president appoints nominations for certain positions and the senate “shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States…” (Article 2, Section 2)
- Senate Rules – Determine the procedures for passing a bill and structure of the Senate that are set forth in the Constitution.
- Treaties – The Senate can approve treaties by a two-thirds majority and amend or change treaties.
- Voting – All actions taken on bills, resolutions, amendments, motions, nominations, and treaties by voting.
The NJ State Senate has the following powers and procedures:
- Voting – The Senate can introduce and vote on legislation.
- Nominations – Many gubernatorial nominations must be approved by the Senate.
- Impeachment – If there is a trial for impeachment in the state of New Jersey, it must be done by the Senate.
- Budget – The state budget is handled by the Senate and Assembly.
- Education – The state government is in charge of the public education system.
- Property – All property tax and rights issues are reserved to the state.
As you can see, some of their duties are very similar; voting procedures, nomination confirmations, and impeachment trials. Others, such as declaring war or public education, are only granted to either the central government or state government based on what the Constitution grants them.
The setup between the two Senates and how they are elected also varies. Regardless of if it is the federal Senate or state Senate, the upper house is smaller than the lower house, at least in the case of New Jersey.
Each state has 2 federal Senators to make up 100 Senators in total. Currently, at the time of this blog’s publication in New Jersey, they are Senator Menendez and Senator Booker. If you are not in New Jersey or reading this at a later date, you can go to senate.gov to find your federal Senators. The federal Senators are voted on by the entirety of the state, meaning no matter your location within a state you are all voting for the same two people. Each Senator serves a term of 6-years unless there’s a sudden vacancy and a special election is called.
In the New Jersey state Senate, there is 1 senator for every state district to make up a total of 40 state senators.
Since it is broken up by district, each person only votes for one state Senator. If you are in New Jersey, you can find out who your state Senator is by going to lesniakinstitute.org/njlegislator. The length of their term is 4-years with a 2-year term once every decade. Again, unless a vacancy happens or a special election is called, the time of the elections stays consistent.
A special and important note about New Jersey state Senators is that being a Senator is a part-time job. That is true for both houses in the New Jersey State Legislature. New Jersey isn’t the only one with a part-time legislature, only 10 states have a full-time state legislature. Before anyone asks, salaries for a state Senator in New Jersey is $49,000 a year compared to a federal Senator’s salary of $174,000 a year.
About The Author: Abel is the Administrative Assistant at the Lesniak Institute and is currently pursuing his master’s at American University.
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