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The Legislature as an Institution of State Government

The legislature is one of three branches of state government established by the constitution. The constitution says: "The powers of government shall be divided into three distinct departments: legislative, executive, and judicial." The constitution puts each branch under the control of officials elected directly by the people—legislators, the governor, and four other executive branch officers, and judges.

To each of the three branches the constitution grants certain powers, to be exercised by that branch exclusively, except as the constitution provides otherwise: “No person or persons belonging to or constituting one of these departments shall exercise any of the powers properly belonging to either of the others except in the instances expressly provided in this constitution.”  Minn. Const. art. III, sec. 1; art. IV, sec. 1; art. V, sec. 1; art. VI, sec. 1.

These constitutional provisions express a principle, called separation of powers, which is common to the federal constitution and all state constitutions. Under this principle, the power of the state is divided among three partly self-governing branches of government, each directly accountable to the electorate and substantially in charge of its own affairs.

The constitution also divides the legislature internally into two houses (called a bicameral legislature) and dictates the name of each house: “The legislature consists of the senate and house of representatives.” Other states use different names for some of these institutions: General Assembly, Assembly, House of Delegates, General Court. Only one state among the fifty—Nebraska—has a unicameral legislature. Minn. Const. art. IV, sec. 1.

October 2008

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