The Selection of Committee Chairs

5/27/2009

A committee chair serves as the parliamentary head of a committee. The chair sets the committee’s agenda, determining when—or in many states, whether—bills will be considered. Other responsibilities of a committee chair typically include: 

  • Calling the committee together to perform its duties.
  • Presiding and maintaining order over meetings.
  • Deciding all questions of order subject to appeal.
  • Supervising and directing the staff of the committee.
  • Preparing, or supervising the preparation of, reports of the committee for submission to the body.
  • Taking custody of all papers referred to the committee and transmit them to the clerk of the chamber as required. 

Because committees play such a key role in the legislative process and significant power frequently is given to the chair, committee leadership selections are carefully considered by the body's designated "appointing authority." But who is the appointing authority?  

Most often, it is the presiding officer of a legislative assembly. In 63 of the nation's 99 legislative chambers, committee chairs are appointed by the president of the Senate or the speaker of the House.

Chambers Where Committee Chairs Are Appointed by President of the Senate or Speaker of the House
Alabama House Louisiana Senate and House Ohio Senate and House
Arizona Senate and House Maine Senate and House Oklahoma House
Arkansas House Maryland Senate and House Oregon Senate and House
California Assembly Massachusetts Senate and House Pennsylvania House
Colorado House Michigan House Rhode Island Senate and House
Connecticut House Minnesota House South Dakota House
Delaware House Mississippi Senate and House Tennessee Senate and House
Florida Senate and House Missouri House Texas Senate and House
Georgia Senate and House Montana House Utah Senate and House
Hawaii Senate Nevada Assembly Vermont House
Idaho House New Hampshire Senate and House Virginia House
Illinois Senate and House New Jersey Senate and General Assembly West Virginia Senate and House
Indiana House New Mexico House Wisconsin Assembly
Iowa House New York Assembly Wyoming Senate and House
Kansas House North Carolina House  

Sometimes, another legislative leader—such as the president pro tem, the speaker pro tem or the majority leader—selects the committee chairs. This is true in 16 chambers.

Chambers Where Committee Chairs are Selected by Another Legislative Leader
Colorado Senate Iowa Senate North Carolina Senate
Connecticut Senate Michigan Senate North Dakota Senate and House
Delaware Senate Missouri Senate Oklahoma Senate
Idaho Senate Nevada Senate Pennsylvania Senate
Indiana Senate New York Senate South Dakota Senate

In 13 chambers, standing committee chairs are appointed by a committee—such as a committee on committees, rules committee or management committee.

Chambers Where Committee Chairs Are Appointed by a Committee
Alabama Senate Minnesota Senate Washington Senate and House
California Senate and Assembly Montana Senate Wisconsin Senate
Kansas Senate New Mexico Senate  
Kentucky Senate and House Vermont Senate  


There are other ways in which committee officers are selected. In some legislatures, a vote of the Senate or House is necessary.

  • In Alaska, the appointment reports made by the Senate and House Committees on Committees must be accepted by a vote of the respective chamber. 
  • In the Hawaii House, the majority party designates the standing committee chairs and vice chairs; the resolution with the appointments of all committee officers and members must be approved by a vote of the body, however.
  • The Nebraska Unicameral Legislature selects committee chairs by secret ballot on the floor. 
  • In the South Carolina House, each standing committee elects a chair from its membership. 


Seniority also may be the basis for committee chair selections. 

  • In the Arkansas Senate, the chair is the committee member from the majority party who has the most seniority.
  • In the South Carolina Senate, the chair is the committee member from the majority party who has the most committee seniority.
  • In the Virginia Senate, the chair is the committee member from the majority party who has the most seniority.  

For more information, contact:

Brenda Erickson
Legislative Management Program
NCSL, Denver
303-364-7700