RACSS Newsletter, Fall 2012
PDF Version (with photos)
Table of Contents
Chair's Column: Meet the RACSS Executive Committee
I’m pleased to serve as chair of the Research and Committee Staff Section for 2012-2013. I’m fortunate to be working with an Executive Committee of talented and experienced legislative staff. They all bring different perspectives to our activities and have worked together to create some excellent professional development opportunities for RACSS members. I’d like to introduce our Executive Committee members to you.
I’m the Director of the Research Division of the North Carolina General Assembly and have worked for the legislature for more than 20 years. I’ve served on the RACSS Executive Committee for the last four years and have been active in RACSS and the Legal Services staff section, as well as the NCSL standing committees. I am a graduate of the Legislative Staff Management Institute, class of 2003. Prior to joining the legislature, I served as an attorney in private practice.
Our vice-chair is Sabrina Lewellen, who serves as the Constituency Services and Research and Special Projects Manager for the Arkansas Senate. Sabrina served two terms as a Director on the RACSS Executive Committee and has been active with RACSS for many years. She is an attorney and a graduate of the Legislative Staff Management Institute, class of 2009.
Our Immediate Past Chair is Mark Mitchell, Committee Staff Administrator for the Local Government Committee for the Legislative Research Commission in Kentucky. Mark has been with the LRC since 1991 and has been a RACSS officer for seven years. He is a 2004 graduate of the Legislative Staff Management Institute.
Our Executive Committee Directors include Dave Bohyer, Director of Office of Research and Policy Analysis, in the Montana Legislative Services Division. Dave joined the Montana legislative staff in 1981 and has served as Director since 1987. He has more than 30 years of experience in the legislative and public policy process.
Charlotte Carter-Yamauchi is the Acting Director of the Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau and has served in the Legislative Reference Bureau since 1987. She is serving her second term as a Director on the RACSS Executive Committee. Prior to joining the Hawaii staff, she worked for the National Center for State Courts and was a prosecuting attorney for the City and County of Honolulu. Charlotte is a member of the Virginia and Hawaii Bars.
Bryant Howe is the Assistant Director of the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel and has worked for the Utah legislature for more than 25 years. Bryant served two terms as a Director on the RACSS Executive Committee and is currently on a one-year appointed term to fill a vacancy on the committee. Bryant served as faculty for the Research Track of the NCSL Skills Development Seminar for seven years. He received the Legislative Staff Achievement Award in 2003.
Sandra Norman-Eady is the Director of the Office of Legislative Research in Connecticut. She joined the General Assembly staff in 1988 and has served as the office director since 2009. Sandra is our newest member on the Executive Committee and she has also served on NCSL standing committees. She received her law degree from the University of Minnesota and is a graduate of the Legislative Staff Management Institute, class of 2000.
Sharon Wenger is a Principal Analyst with the Kansas Legislative Research Department, focusing on K-12 education issues. She has worked for the Kansas legislature since 2006 and previously was staff to the Legislative Division of Post Audit. She served on the executive committee of the National Legislative Performance Evaluation Society when working for the Audit Division and is also active with the Legislative Education Staff Network.
Cindy Ellison is a Senior Research Associate with the Texas Legislative Council, working on economic development and transportation issues. She has worked for the Texas Legislature since 1987 and is serving her first full term on the RACSS Executive Committee.
We all welcome your input on RACSS activities and look forward to serving as your officers for the coming year.
Legislative Summit Sessions - Chicago, Illinois
Below are details on RACSS sessions at the 2012 Legislative Summit in Chicago, Illinois. (see photos in the PDF version)
RACSS Business Meeting
RACSS Chair Mark Mitchell of Kentucky presided over the RACSS Business Meeting, where Walker Reagan of North Carolina was presented as the incoming RACSS Chair for 2012-2013 and members elected Sabrina Lewellen of Arkansas as the new RACSS Vice-chair. Mark also presented the 2012 Legislative Staff Achievement Award (LSAA) to John Q. Cannon of Utah. John was unable to attend and his colleague, Bryant Howe, accepted the award on his behalf. Members also discussed activities for the year, including the fall seminar in Madison.
Records Retention: What to Keep and How to Keep It
This session covered the legal requirements and critical needs for preserving legislative documents, with presentations on the requirements in Idaho, Montana and North Carolina. RACSS Chair Mark Mitchell moderated the session, with presentations from Kristin Ford, from the Idaho Legislative Reference Library; Sonia Gavin, of the Montana Legislative Reference Center; and Walker Reagan, head of the research division for the North Carolina General Assembly. PowerPoint presentations are available online.
RACSS Roundtable: Looking Ahead: Nonpartisan Staff Roles
Nonpartisan staff offices have faced significant challenges in the last decade, as the legislative environment has become more partisan and resources more scarce. Join RACSS officers in an informal discussion about how staff roles have evolved and will continue to adapt in the future. Walker Reagan, director of the Research Division for the North Carolina General Assembly, facilitated this session, which featured Brian Weberg, director of NCSL’s Legislative Management program. Brian gave an overview of the challenges facing nonpartisan staff and more than 50 legislative staff in attendance had a lively discussion about challenges staff are facing in their legislatures.
RACSS: Issue Orientation Programs for Legislators
Staff help new legislators hit the ground running on day one of their legislative sessions. This program showcased new member and issue orientation programs from Idaho, Maryland and Nevada. Sabrina Lewellen of the Arkansas Senate moderated the session, with presentations from Mike Nugent, research director in Idaho; Karl Aro, executive director of the Maryland Department of Legislative Services; and Pepper Sturm, deputy research director for the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau. Handouts and the PowerPoint presentations are available online.
Helping the Public: Constituent Services Programs
Members learned about the challenges and best practices in providing constituent services, from staff in Arkansas, Illinois and Nevada. Bryant Howe, deputy director of the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, moderated the session. Speakers were Mark Gordon, with the Senate Republican Staff in Illinois; Sabrina Lewellen, head of constituency services for the Arkansas Senate; and Beverly Mobley, with the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau. The handouts and PowerPoint presentations are available online.
Researching the History or Intent of Legislation
Legislative history is often used to determine why a law was passed and what legislators meant by the language they used. This session provided guidelines for researching state legislative history and intent, with overviews from staff in Colorado, Tennessee and Texas. LRL Chair Mary Camp, director of the Texas Legislative Reference Library, moderated the program. Speakers were Debbie Haskins of the Colorado Office of Legislative Legal Services; Mark Kuster, with the Texas Legislative Council; and Eddie Weeks, Legislative Librarian for the Tennessee General Assembly. The handouts and PowerPoint presentations are available online.
Avoiding Bias and Preparing Balanced Research
Maintaining a neutral position in our work is a challenge in today’s supercharged political environment where the line between opinions and facts is easily blurred. This session featured staff from Kansas, Tennessee and Utah who offered advice on best practices to maintain nonpartisan integrity. Pepper Sturm, deputy research director with the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau, moderated the session. Speakers were Jerry Howe, of the Utah Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel; Eddie Weeks, Legislative Librarian for the Tennessee General Assembly; and Sharon Wenger, of the Kansas Legislative Research Department. Handouts and the PowerPoint presentations are available online.
RACSS Dutch Treat Dinner
One of the best parts of any meeting is getting together with your colleagues from other states. Whether it’s sharing war stories, comparing office procedures or just getting to know one another, it’s great to spend time with other staff who know what you do for a living. Close to 30 research and committee staff gathered at Trattoria No. 10 for a fun and informal evening at our annual Dutch Treat Dinner.
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RACSS Fall Seminar — Super PDS in Madison
(see photos in the PDF version)
RACSS was one of six staff sections to meet jointly in a “Super PDS” in Madison, Wisc., in October 2012. This marks the first time six staff sections have held a joint fall seminar. The logistics were a bit challenging and required a lot of coordination between the groups, but the end result was a fantastic meeting, with high energy and lots of professional development opportunities.
All six staff sections shared several plenary sessions and a joint reception. The remainder of the seminar featured individual sessions for each staff group, with some joint programs where there are common interests, such as research and drafting.
The six participating staff sections were the Leadership Staff Section, Legal Services Staff Section, Legislative Information and Communications Staff, National Association of Legislative Information Technology, National Legislative Security and Services Association, and the Research and Committee Staff Section.
RACSS sessions included:
A View From the Bench: Discussion With a Supreme Court Justice
Avoiding Problems in Drafting and Editing
Best Practices for Writing Bill Analyses
Confidentiality of Drafting and Legislative Records (CLE)
Elections and Voter ID
Electronic Bill Drafting and Tracking Systems
Negotiation and Compromise in the Legislative Arena
On the High Wire: The Editorial Balancing Act
Publishing Statutes and Legislative Publications in the Electronic Age
Strategic Planning for Legislative Agencies
Thinking Skills for Legislative Staff
U.S. Supreme Court Update: Looking Forward and Looking Back
In addition, all six groups participated in plenary programs and events:
Are You Hyper-Connected?
Decoding Body Language
Negotiation and Compromise
Lessons Learned From Large Events at Capitols
Social events include two concurrent RACSS Dutch Treat Dinners, a Joint Reception and Tours at the Wisconsin State Capitol, and a reception featuring technology for legislative environments.
Following are some reflections on the Super PDS and professional development, from RACSS Officers and Executive Committee members.
Sabrina Lewellen, Arkansas Senate:
Personally and professionally, when any staff section of NCSL can financially support a Fall Seminar, I think it is extremely instrumental and impactful. First, because it follows the annual Legislative Summit, updated material can be readily shared and even further discussed to meet the specific needs of the staff section. Second, the smaller numbers can lead to a higher individual impact and understanding of resources and information shared during sessions. Finally, because some states have limited travel, especially to larger conferences, fall seminars provide an additional opportunity for staff to travel and receive tools they can share with their colleagues in their respective states, thereby further expanding the seminar’s impact.
I’m excited to have attended the recent Super PDS Fall Seminar in Madison, Wisconsin. For me, the size of the seminar expanded my networking capabilities and, without question, I found the knowledge gained invaluable.
Charlotte Carter-Yamauchi, Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau:
The sessions at the Super PDS were generally quite good. There was a lot to choose from, with a good mix of professional development programs with general appeal to all attendees, such as the one on Decoding Body Language by Janine Driver, who was highly entertaining despite being a little unorthodox in her presentation, to those that were more narrowly targeted to one or more sections, such as "Solving Drafting Problems" or "Confidentiality of Drafting and Legislative Records" for LSSS and RACSS attendees. Of all the sessions, I particularly enjoyed Lisa Sorenson's engaging "Update on the U.S. Supreme Court." Her comments were insightful, as well as informative. I only wish she had a longer time period for her presentation.
It was wonderful to have the opportunity to attend professional development sessions tailored specifically to the legislative environment, but the most valuable part of the Super PDSs" was the opportunity to meet and network with a wide variety of staff in other states. It's enlightening to learn how folks handle issues in other jurisdictions and find some useful takeaway to try back home. Even more than that, however, is the opportunity to really connect with people who understand the type of environment in which we work and to forge new friendships across state and party lines!
Mark Mitchell, Kentucky Legislative Research Commission
The energy and fanfare of the annual Legislative Summits can be daunting. Media and a diverse groups of attendees, such as legislators and the different individuals from the various staff sections, all crowded into the meeting space attending various legislative, executive and informational meetings. It all adds to the energy and the spectacle. It can prove daunting indeed, especially for newer staff. Where does one need to be at a particular moment? Are we in the right place? What do “LSS”,” LSSS”, “RACSS”, and “LSCC” stand for? NASA uses fewer acronyms. By the way here’s a link where you can see all these NCSL acronyms. We researchers sometimes enjoy the more directed, quiet moments. Staff section professional development seminars provide an avenue that is just right. During these specialized seminars, we can anticipate and focus on the development needs of the people most closely doing our jobs. Of course, even within our own “research” designation, we still have people with different levels of experience. The very diverse nature of state governments’ structures still present challenges in curriculum. Nevertheless, these types of seminars present an opportunity to dig down with more “on point” seminars. They give us chances to meet, in a distilled environment, colleagues from other states who are facing challenges similar to those we face. I value the friendships that I have made over the years in my involvement with NCSL and RACSS, and those friendships sometimes help me sleep at night in the knowledge that I can call upon a broader base of expertise and contacts to do my job.
Sharon Wenger, Kansas Legislative Research Department
There is nothing like connecting to colleagues in other states to help me know that I am not alone in meeting the pressures of working for a state’s legislative representatives. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the professional development seminar in Madison, Wisconsin, but my Kansas co-workers who attended told me that the seminar was packed with information and kept them busy, almost too busy, because finding time to see the sights and spend money in Madison was one opportunity they wished not to miss.
Attending professional development trainings and seminars always provides perspective on our jobs and, as important, I always come away with contacts in other states that I can call or email to help me compare my state’s activities with others. I staff the education committees in the Kansas Legislature, and I have counted on my education colleagues in other states innumerable times to help when I need information quickly. It is making these connections with our counterparts in other states that help us do our jobs more effectively.
Cindy Ellison, Texas Legislative Council
Gaining new perspectives from staff in other states who do what we do is so valuable! A RACSS fall seminar provides an opportunity to learn about and share best practices for the things we do every day, including analyzing bills, conducting state surveys, and researching legislative history. Just as important is the opportunity to establish contacts in other states to share with coworkers. Ask me about my business card collection representing legislative researchers from across the nation! My coworkers and I have used it to contact staff in other states about legislative processes, among other topics. The productive working relationships I have formed through RACSS also help us with policy issue research.
One thing I would like to see discussed at a RACSS fall seminar is how technology has changed the way legislative researchers do their jobs. Here in Texas, for example, information services staff developed a software program to create a side-by-side comparison of the House and Senate versions of a bill. We used to compare the versions manually by exporting bill text into a table and carefully lining it up. Now we simply enter the two versions we want to compare, and the program lines them up for us. Adding a third column to show how a conference committee resolved the differences between the two versions is far less complicated, increasing our productivity at a very busy time of the session. I'm eager to learn about (and copy!) technology enhancements for legislative research in other states!
In a similar vein, I think it would be helpful to have a discussion about how we can use technology to increase the visibility of the research products that we work so hard to produce. The Texas Legislative Council is on Facebook and has a Twitter account. The Texas Legislative Reference Library uses Pinterest to share information. How have legislative research agencies in other states used social media to advertise their products?
Legislative Staff: Not in it for the Money
By Brian Weberg, Director, NCSL Legislative Management Program
State legislatures across the country are ramping up for the 2013 session with a focus on preparing new members, new committee chairs and new leaders for another challenging year of debate and policy making. New member orientations, briefings and trainings are taking place in just about every capitol. Operating largely below the radar in each legislature is a cadre of legislative staff--hard-working public servants who make it their business to ensure that the new year gets off to a great start.
Most of us at NCSL work closely with state legislative staff, and we have a special and privileged view into their work and workplaces. We witness their high level of competence, skill, knowledge, education and experience. We are also inspired by their remarkable level of engagement, dedication and loyalty to their work and to the legislative institution. And we know that for many, if not most legislative staff, salary increases and promotions that slowed down or stopped four or five years ago have been slow to return. Yet legislative staff seem to carry on, bringing their talent and passion to each new legislative session.
How do they do this? Or, perhaps, the more appropriate question is why? How do high-functioning professionals like legislative staff find motivation in an era of stagnant pay and benefits?
Dan Pink offers some clues in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. Pink says that research shows that for jobs similar to those held by legislative staff, money only gets you part of the way there. The three keys to motivating and engaging employees, according to Pink, are what he calls Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Now, he also adds a caution that money remains important as a motivator, but only up to a point. People need to feel fairly compensated, but beyond that threshold, money's impact on motivation brings declining returns. Beyond the fair pay threshold, employees respond more to the intrinsic rewards delivered by being self-directed (Autonomy), applying advanced skills to tough challenges (Mastery) and by making a contribution to a larger good (Purpose).
Pink has prepared this clever video summary of his book.
I think Pink's analysis explains a lot about why and how legislative staff remain so engaged in their work, even during tough economic times. It also provides staff managers and legislative leaders with three important benchmarks they can use to measure and improve the motivational conditions of their workplaces.
At this time of year, when the focus is appropriately on the members and their needs, maybe a bit of time can be carved out to assess whether staff have what they need to bring their very best efforts to the difficult and challenging tasks ahead. As economic conditions improve, legislatures should check to be sure that their pay levels do not lag behind the local job market. But they also should not ignore, according to Dan Pink, the powerful motivational opportunity presented by promoting and encouraging employee autonomy, mastery and purpose
Reprinted from NCSL’s Blog, “The Thicket,” December 18, 2012
Christmas Celebrations in State Capitols
As we celebrate the holiday season, you can view the decorations in state capitols on NCSL’s flickr page. The Christmas Tree in the Nebraska State Capitol Rotunda is pictured in the PDF version of the nesletter.