About the Legislature

What is the legislature?

Branches

The legislative branch is one of three branches of government, along with the executive branch (the governor and state departments and agencies, like the Department of Natural Resources), and the judicial branch (the courts). The legislature passes laws, while the executive branch puts them into action, and the judicial branch makes sure that laws are constitutional and punishes people who break the law.

Houses

The Wisconsin state legislature is made up of two houses: the Wisconsin State Assembly, and the Wisconsin State Senate. Every citizen of Wisconsin is represented by two legislators, elected by the people in their area: one in the Assembly, and one in the Senate. You can use this site to find out who your legislators are.

Districts

Wisconsin is divided into 33 Senate districts, each of which is represented by one senator. Each Senate district is divided into three Assembly districts, for a total of 99 Assembly districts, each represented by one representative. Each district must contain about the same number of people, which means that urban districts are usually much smaller than rural ones.

Elections

Elections for the legislature are held every other year, in November of each even-numbered year. Representatives serve two-year terms, and senators serve four-year terms. This means that at each election, every representative and half of the senators are elected. The other half of the senators are elected in the next election, two years later. To see who’s on the ballot in your district, see the Government Accountability Board's site

Laws

Legislators pass three main kinds of law:
  • The Wisconsin Constitution describes what Wisconsin’s government should look like. For instance, it describes the borders of the state, the houses of the legislature, and the governor’s ability to veto laws. The constitution is the basis for all other laws in Wisconsin. If a law contradicts the constitution, it’s considered ‘unconstitutional’, and can’t take effect.
  • Wisconsin statutes are ordinary state laws that affect everyone.
  • The Wisconsin administrative code governs state departments and agencies, such as the Department of Natural Resources.

To learn more about the way the legislature passes laws, see our page about following the process.

Service Agencies

The legislative branch also includes service agencies which help the legislature in its mission.

More questions?

If you have more questions about what the legislature is, or how it works, please contact the Legislative Reference Bureau.