When Walter Foran's father headed the New Jersey Senate in the 1930s, a state legislator's job was somewhat simpler.

"They would meet for a couple of hours on a Monday night, cook a turkey in the governor's office and pass a few bills, and that was it," said Foran, 63, now a Republican senator himself.

The growing demands of Foran's job reflect the changes that have swept most state legislatures. For years, New Jersey was a low-service state dominated by rural interests. But when Newark was torn by riots in the summer of 1967, Assembly Speaker Alan Karcher recalled, the legislators realized they had to respond.

"Suddenly there was a great deal of federal money available for urban aid, and New Jersey was out in front in getting it," he said. "Some of these programs weren't all that productive, but they developed a certain clientele."

As the budget grew, however, the legislature remained a backwater. The lawmakers had no desks, no mailboxes and no district offices. Closed meetings were held in crowded rooms, sometimes even in the washroom. Votes were not recorded, programs almost never examined and cabinet officers rarely summoned to defend their budgets.

Each legislator was assigned to a committee that had no professional staff and held few hearings. It took months to get a bill drafted, but this hardly mattered because much of the legislation was written by lobbyists.

All that has changed. The Office of Legislative Services, created in 1975, now has 210 employes to conduct research, write bills and audit state programs. There are more committee hearings, more budget sessions and more than 6,000 bills introduced every year. The legislators recently took over the old courthouse next door to make room for all their offices, plus a new television studio.

But while they now run a more polished operation, they also have to respond to a broader array of special interests.

Sprinkled throughout the $6.2 billion budget are funds for four public television stations, a travel and tourism bureau, a women's hotline, mosquito control, technical assistance for displaced homemakers, a hunters' fund, an affirmative action program, a physical fitness council, an outdoors magazine, a night school for foreign students, demolition of abandoned buildings in Newark and a Commission to Study Sex Discrimination in the Statutes. There are also a dozen panels to regulate plumbers, planners, barbers and marriage counselors.

Most legislators are pleased with the higher standards. But some, such as Foran, still long for the old days.

"There's nobody in his right mind who reads and understands all these bills," he said. "A lot of it is garbage. We have a department of energy -- what the hell good is that doing us other than passing regulations that bother motorists? Why do we need a community affairs department and a department of this-and-that? Why can't we have two or three people with a secretary to handle block grants coming in from Washington?"