The Wisconsin Legislature
The legislative process can seem intimidating and confusing. The important thing to remember is that you do not have to be an expert in political science to be able to advocate for change you believe in.
The following information is a simplified overview of how the government is structured and works. For an in-depth look at the process, our Advocacy Resources lists a variety of sources for additional information.
Wisconsin State Government
The state government, like the U.S. federal government, is divided into three separate but equally important branches:
Each branch has very specific duties as authorized by the Wisconsin Constitution.
The Wisconsin Legislative Branch
The Wisconsin Legislature is separated into two "houses" or "chambers." The Wisconsin State Assembly, or "lower chamber," and the Wisconsin Senate, or "upper chamber."
The State Assembly consists of 99 State Representatives, each representing a single Assembly District (numbered 1 to 99.) Similarly, the Senate is comprised of 33 Senators, each representing one Senate District (numbered 1 to 33.) Each Senate District contains three Assembly Districts.
Members of the State Assembly serve two-year terms, while Senators serve four-year terms. A new Legislature is sworn in each January of odd-numbered years. Wisconsin is one of ten states with a full-time legislature, although many legislators work in other positions as well.
The Wisconsin Executive Branch
The Executive branch consists of a governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general and superintendent of public instruction.
According to the Wisconsin Constitution, the governor must carry out the laws passed by the legislature. Yet he has the unique ability to exercise a large amount of influence over many aspects of government, including the legislative process. The most visible example of this influence is the governor's submission of the biennial budget to the Legislature in the form of a bill. He also has veto power, and the ability to call the legislature into a special session.
The governor is elected in even-numbered years, opposite the presidential election.
Because of the large amount of influence the governor has over the legislative process, it is often useful to contact the governor's office regarding proposed legislation. Like the Legislature, the Office of the Governor has a full-time staff dedicated to constituent services.
The Wisconsin Judicial Branch
The Judicial Branch consists of:
- The Wisconsin Supreme Court, a seven-member court with justices serving 10-year terms
- A Court of Appeals, organized into four districts with judges serving six-year terms
- 248 Circuit Courts with judges also serving six-year terms
The purpose of the judicial branch is to interpret the laws passed by the legislature and carried out by the governor. By doing this, the judicial branch creates what is known as common law.
It's important to stay up-to-date on the decisions being made by the Judicial branch because the decisions made in the courts can affect every aspect of our society.