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Who Represents You in State Government? 
The New Jersey Legislature


NJ Center for Civic & Law-Related Education, 2007


       Grade Level: Upper Elementary

       New Jersey Standards:

       6.18 A7: Use effective strategies for locating information
       6.1.12 A6: Apply problem-solving skills to national, state, or local issue and propose reasoned solutions.
       6.2.4 A4: Recognize national, state, and local legislators and government officials and explain how to contact them for help or to express an opinion.
       6.2.4 C2: Discuss how governmental bodies make decisions and explain the impact of those decisions on school and community life.

       Objectives:

       1. Identify how the New Jersey legislature is structured and the main job of the New Jersey legislature
       2. Identify the three New Jersey legislators who represent a specific state legislative district
       3. List the qualifications needed to be a legislator in New Jersey
       4. Explain how a bill becomes a law
       5. Investigate a local problem and draft a proposal to correct the problem

       Lesson Length: 2 to 3 Class Periods
       Materials:
       Access to computers and the website www.njleg.state.nj.us
       Handout 1: Facts about the NJ Legislature
       Handout 2: My Legislators
       Blank paper to draw a “How a Bill Becomes Law” flow chart

       Lesson Overview:

       Students will investigate the role of the legislature, its structure, and the legislators who represent the district they live in. Then, they will follow the steps in how a bill becomes a law.
       Finally, they will identify a problem in their community and draft a proposal to solve the problem.

       Introduction/Anticipatory Set:
       New Jersey’s government is structured similarly to the U.S. government. There are three branches of government: the Executive branch headed by the governor; the Legislative branch made up of the General Assembly and the Senate; and the Judicial branch composed of the New Jersey Supreme Court and the lower courts. Which of these three branches proposes and enacts (makes) the laws? Who are the three people who represent you and your family in the legislative branch of state government? How does one get the job of a legislator? How does a bill become law? These are some of the questions we will be answering as we learn about the legislative branch of the New Jersey government.

       Activities/Procedures:
       1. Divide the class into pairs or groups of four (depending on the number of computers available.) Send them to the NJ legislative website: www.njleg.state.nj.us. Once they have found the website, have them click on the Kid’s page and then click the “What is the legislature” bullet. Distribute Handout 1: Facts about the NJ Legislature and have students find the answers.

       2. Use question 12 from the NJ Facts handout to start the discussion about what legislative district the students live in and who represents them. Ask if anyone knows the legislative district in which their town/city is located. Ask if anyone knows the names of their Assembly persons and Senator. If the majority of the class doesn’t know, go to NJ Kid’s page, find the “Members” section on the side menu and click “Find Your Legislator.” Once on the page, have students search by municipality. They must follow the directions on the page to find the names of their legislators. (Click on the appropriate first letter of their town/city name. Find the name of their town/city in the list that appears. The town’s district is listed in parentheses. Write down their legislative district number on handout 2, question 1. Then, click on the town’s name. On the next webpage find the district number for their town/city. Click on the district number and the names of their legislators will appear. Write their legislator’s names in the appropriate areas of Handout 2.
       Mention to students there are multiple ways to find who their legislators are. Tell students to return to the “Find your Legislator” webpage. (Under Members on the left side menu). Once they are on the page, look at the right menu choices and click “Interactive Map of Legislative Districts.” A map of New Jersey divided into its legislative districts will appear.
       Tell students to click on their district number and their legislators’ names will appear.

       3. Explain to students that the main job of the legislature is to enact (make) laws. Ask the following questions:
  • Do you think law-making should be a simple process? Why or why not?
  • Does anyone know what you call an idea for a law that has been submitted to the legislature? (a bill)
  • Do you know what steps a bill must go through to become a law?

       Let’s go back to the NJ Kid’s webpage to find out. Have students click on “How a Bill Becomes a Law” and click on “Bill” to follow the steps. Give students a piece of blank paper and have them draw a flow chart that illustrates the steps.
       4. Divide the class into small groups of 4-5 students. Ask students to brainstorm a list of community problems. Then ask each group to choose one of the problems and draft a proposal to correct it. Provide the following format for students to use.

       Step 1: Identify problems in the community.

  • What do you know about the problem?
  • Does a law already exist to correct the problem? Is it effective? Should it be changed or replaced?
  • Are their groups that would support a new law? Resist?
  • What level of government could best deal with the problem?

       Step 2: Select one of the problems

       Step 3: Gather information about the problem.

  • Go to the library and research the problem
  • Find newspaper articles that address the problem
  • Interview people (mayors, environmentalists, lawyers, community members, community organizations, interest groups, professors, legislators, people who work in community or government agencies that deal with the problem) to get their ideas on how to solve the problem

       Step 4: Draft a bill to solve the problem

  • Use the information you gathered to write a proposed law that will address the problem

       (Steps adapted from We the People: Project Citizen, developed and published by the Center for Civic Education, Calabasas, CA. Free classroom sets of materials may be ordered by contacting the New Jersey Center for Civic and Law-Related Education at 732-445-3413.)

         Closure:
       Students will provide background information about their problem to their classmates and read the draft of their proposed law.

       Assessment:
       Teacher will grade Handouts 1 and 2 and give a group presentation grade.

       Extension:
       The class may want to present their proposal to the appropriate local or state governmental body: the local school board, city council, a state legislator, or other appropriate groups. Perhaps their idea might become the basis for a new rule or law!

       
Handout 1

       Facts about the New Jersey Legislature

       Directions: Use the information from the NJ Kid’s Page section What is the Legislature to answerthe questions.

       1. What is the job of the NJ legislature?____________________________________
       2. How many members are in the legislature?_______________________________
       3. How many legislative districts are there in NJ?____________________________
       4. How many houses make up the legislature?_______________________________
       5. What are the names of the houses?___________________ __________________
       6. How many members are in each house?__________________________________
       7. How do the legislators get their jobs?____________________________________
       8. How are the majority and minority party determined in each house?_____________________________________________________
       9. How does the NJ legislature differ from the U.S. Congress?____________________________________________________________
       10. What are the qualifications to be a state senator?__________________________________________________________________
       11. What are the qualifications to be a member of the General Assembly?__________________________________________________
       12. How many legislative districts does New Jersey have? ______________________
       13. How many representatives does each district have? ____________:
       Two____________________________ and one ___________________________
       14. When does the legislature meet?_______________________________________
       15. Where does the legislature meet? ______________________________________


Handout 2

New Jersey Legislators from My District

       Directions: Using the information accessed from the NJ Kid’s Page, find the names of your elected legislators and the district they represent. Write the information in the appropriate area below.

       1. In which legislative district is your community located? # ___________
       2. My state senator’s name is _____________________________________.
       5. His/her political party is _______________________________________.
       6. The names of the two members from the General Assembly who represent my district are:
       a) ________________________________________
       His/her political party is ____________________________.
       b) _________________________________________
       His/her political party is _______________________
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