The term “Senator” commonly refers to a member of the upper house of Congress. However, in the United States, the position of “State Senator” exists which is separate from the office of a congressional senator.
How is a state senator different from a US Senator?
The main difference between a state senator and a US Senator is in the geographical scope of their constituents. A US senator works at a federal level to influence legislation across their state and the whole country, while a state senator attends to the legislative concerns of a district within their respective state.
Naturally, there are far more state senators than there are congressional US senators.
What is a US Senator?
A United States senator belongs to the Senate—the upper house of the United States Congress. When people outside the US refer to a US senator, they typically mean a congressional senator.
Senatorial duties include approving or denying presidential appointments, passing or amending bills, impeaching the President and other high-ranking officials, and forming committees to study specific issues.
Two senators represent each of the 50 US States. Their terms last for six years, although a state’s two senators don’t begin and end their terms together, as the Senate is a “continuous body.” Every two years, the public elects new Senators, amounting to one-third of the Senate, while the remaining two-thirds are in the middle of their own terms.
US citizens directly vote for the Senators who will represent their state, unlike the President, which is voted in by a representative through the Electoral College.
A US Senator works in the bicameral legislature of the federal (nationwide) government—bicameral as they compose the United States Congress alongside the House of Representatives, which serves as the lower house.
What is a State Senator?
A state senator is also a senator—albeit rather than serving in the United States Congress, they work in the state’s own legislature. Most states refer to their local legislature as the apt State Legislature, or, alternatively, General Assembly.
Broadly, state senators field the same powers and responsibilities of congressional senators, except that the scope is devolved to within the state or district. For instance, the State Senate may impeach the state’s governor.
State senators are voted in by the people in their own districts.
Like the United States Congress, almost all states’ legislature is bicameral—with a Senate and House of Representatives as the upper and lower houses. The exception is Nebraska, whose citizens decided on a unicameral legislature composed only of the State Senate after a 1936 referendum.
Differences Between a US Senator and a State Senator
US senators serve, and are voted in by, the electorate of the entire state. By virtue of this, they represent and must respond to state-wide obligations, as well as national concerns, such as war.
In a state’s local Legislature, each district elects their own State Senator, who is primarily responsible only for representing the electorate of that district.
In both cases, the election of Senators is an example of direct democracy.
The Constitution stipulates that US senators can serve for two six-year terms, for a total of twelve years.
The length of a term for a state senator varies depending on the state.
- In thirty states, including Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, California, Wisconsin, Indiana and Iowa, the public official serves for four years.
- Twelve other states, such as Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, South Dakota and Arizona, have senators with only two-year terms.
- The remaining eight states, comprised of Delaware, Hawaii, Arkansas, Minnesota, Texas, Illinois, and New Jersey, have a 2-4-4 term system, where the senator may serve one two-year and two four-year terms every ten years, based on how the state’s Legislature is reapportioned (redistricted) after a ten-year period.
State senators are given several legislative powers to act in the interest of their constituents.
A State Senator or Assemblyman may:
- Introduce and vote for new legislation
- Approve nominations for State Governor
- Impeach high-ranking officials, including the governor
- Delay legislation by filibuster, or end a filibuster by cloture
- Decide how the state’s budget is managed
- Oversee the state’s public education system
- Handle issues regarding property rights and taxation
State senators may have additional or fewer powers depending on their state. The
The constitution also affords US Senators with many similar powers, as well as other federal duties. A Congressional US Senator may:
- Introduce and vote to declare war
- Investigate issues in the executive branch
- Decide to impeach the President and other high-ranking public officials
- Censure or expel another Senator as punishment
- Appoint officials such as committee members and Supreme Court Judges
- Approve, amend or change treaties
- Set or change the rules and structure of the Senate
State senators are members of their own State Legislature—which may be called different names in some states.
- In places like Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois and Ohio, it is called the General Assembly.
- Massachusetts and New Hampshire refer to their Legislature as the General Court.
- North Dakota has a Legislative Assembly.
US senators belong in the federal legislature—the United States Congress.
The state and national senate are the upper house of their respective legislatures. Except for the state of Nebraska, all legislatures are bicameral.
In American Samoa, an unincorporated territory, their state legislature is called the Fono, which is Polynesian for “council.”
Requirements for Eligibility
The Constitution (Article I, Section 3) provides only three requirements for running to be a congressional senator. The candidate must be:
- At least thirty years old
- A US citizen at least nine years
- A resident of the state they are running to represent during election time
Existing members of the Senate act as the arbitrator on whether a candidate is qualified to be a US senator.
States vary in what a candidate needs to be qualified for state senator. In general, all states require a person to meet a minimum age and length of time as a resident of their district and state. Furthermore, it is inherently understood that the person must be a US citizen and a registered voter.
Eligibility requirements for state senators may vary. Based on the state, this can include the following:
- A minimum age of 18-30 years old
- A resident of the state for 1-7 years
- A resident of their district for 6 months to 5 years
- US citizenship
- Voter’s registration
Outliers exist, such as Rhode Island, which only requires someone to be a state and district resident for at least 30 days to be eligible for the state senate.
The requirements in places like Maryland, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Connecticut do not specify that a candidate has to be a US citizen or a registered voter, but it is nonetheless upheld in practice.
A state senator in the General Assembly or Legislature works as part of their state’s legislative branch. The state’s chief executive officer is the Governor, with the second-highest official being the Lieutenant Governor.
In the federal government where US senators work, the President serves as the highest chief executive, followed by the Vice President.
Since 2009, the annual salary for a US congressional senator was $174,000. In the earliest years of the country, a senator would earn six dollars per diem (each day).
State senators are generally paid less than that of a US senator.
The average state senator salary ranges from $7,200 in Texas to as high as $95,432 in Pennsylvania and $110,000 in New York. In other states, such as Iowa, Indiana, Connecticut, Florida, Delaware, Missouri, and Oregon, the annual salary can range from $20,000-$50,000.
Most states have hybrid or part-time legislatures, where the public official may treat being a senator as a full-time job, or as a part-time job alongside another occupation.
Full-time state senators are paid more.
State senators vastly outnumber congressional senators by 22:1. The total number of state senators is 2,207, with each state electing an average of 40 legislators to their upper house.
These numbers also account for members from the United States’ unincorporated territories, such as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the Virgin Islands.
In contrast, the US Senate is only composed of 100 members.
Comparison Chart: US Senator vs State Senator
|Areas||US Senator||State Senator|
|Constituents||State-wide||District within a state|
|Term Limit||Up to twelve years with two six-year terms||Most have four-year or two-year terms, or can serve for 2-4-4 years.|
|Powers||Pass or veto laws, declare war, impeach the President, appoint committees and judges||Pass or veto laws, approve gubernatorial nominations, impeach officials, manage state budget|
|Legislature||United States Congress||State Legislature, General Assembly, or General Court|
|Requirements for Eligibility||At least 30 years old, US citizen for nine years, and resident of their State.||At least 18-30 years old, and a citizen of their state or district for a varying minimum duration.|
|Executive Officer||President, Vice President||Governor, Lieutenant Governor|
|Annual Salary||$174,000 (2023)||$7,200-$110,000|
|Number||100 (2023)||2,207 (2023)|
How are a US Senator and State Senator similar?
A US senator in Congress and a state senator serve the same function within their respective legislatures.
They are both members of the legislative branch of the US government—one simply works at the federal level, the other at the state and district. As legislators, they can pass or veto bills, impeach executive or judiciary officers, direct the government’s budget and spending, and form committees for a particular concern.
Both a US senator and a state senator are elected directly by the public, and have term limits to restrict the time they have in power.
Why is the Senate called the Upper House?
Calling the Senate of a legislature as its “upper house” originates from the British parliamentary system, where it refers to the House of Lords, in contrast to the House of Commons.
The House of Lords historically had fewer members and more restricted powers compared to the House of Commons. Both can introduce bills, but the lower house is usually the one to do so, while the upper house reviews it for approval or veto.
The British parliament has served as the model for bicameral legislatures in most other countries; as such, the practice of calling the smaller chamber the “upper house” remains.
Which State Senate has the most senators?
Minnesota has the distinction of possessing the most state senators—with 67 members to represent 5.7 million residents. This number translates to around 85,200 citizens per senator.
The next three largest State Senates are from New York, Illinois and Georgia, with 63, 59, and 56 senators, respectively.
The United States legislative branch has a federal body—in the United States Congress, and state-wide bodies—in the Legislature or General Assembly of each state.
The key difference between a US senator and a state senator is a matter of constituents: a US senator is elected by a state’s voters to represent their interests, while a state senator is voted in by the citizens of their district within a state.
Consequently, there are many more state senators than congressional senators—with 2,207 versus 100.
US senators are paid more, but state legislators in places like New York also have relatively high salaries—compare the annual Senate salary of $174,000 to a New Yorker legislator’s pay of $110,000.
Both types of senators wield powers such as deciding legislation, impeaching executives or judges, managing budgets, and creating committees. Additionally, only a congressional senator can declare a state of war.