Summary of Personal Staff Survey
From June 2009 to January 2010, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) surveyed state legislative chambers in an effort to learn more about personal staff in state legislatures. Specifically, NCSL wanted to know what legislatures, or legislative chambers, employ personal staff and how these staff are hired, their responsibilities, their conditions of employment, and how they are trained.
NCSL defines personal staff as:
Staff that work directly for a state legislator or as part of a small team reporting directly to a legislator. The legislator provides supervision and direction of the staff’s work product. Their workplace might be located at the capital or at a district office.
The survey was sent to a diverse group of respondents, including clerks, secretaries, human resource officers, staff directors, staff to presiding officers and staff to legislative caucuses. As a way to filter responses, and ensure that the information being provided is about personal staff, each respondent was given NCSL’s definition and asked if “legislators serving in your chamber employ personal staff, according to NCSL’s definition?” If the respondent answered no, no further questions were asked. If the respondent answered yes, additional questions were asked, including questions about:
- The personal staffing structure in their chamber or legislature (how many personal staff per member);
- Where personal staff conduct their work (the capitol, in the district, or both);
- Who gives initial, and final, approval for personal staff hires;
- A classification and salary system for personal staff, if utilized;
- Benefits, compensation and time-off for personal staff;
- Training and continuing education for personal staff; and
- Personal staff job titles and responsibilities.
The survey was sent to 99 chambers in 50 states. 61 chambers indicated that legislators serving in their chamber employ personal staff. 29 chambers indicated that legislators serving in their chamber do not employ personal staff. Nine chambers did not complete the survey.
GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT PERSONAL STAFF
Staffing Structure and Hiring
Personal staff work for an individual member of the legislature and, in general, are hired by the member. Typically, one personal staff member works for one member. However, depending on the size of the member’s district, two to three (or more) personal staff members can work for one member. Also, one personal staff member can work for two to three (or more) members. In other states, the personal staffing structure depends on how much money is allocated to the member to employ personal staff. In the Louisiana Senate, for example, each senator is provided with a set amount of money to hire their legislative assistants. They can choose to hire one legislative assistant or divide their allocation between two legislative assistants.
The most common personal staffing structure is one personal staff to one member. Seventeen chambers have this structure. In 11 chambers, two personal staff are assigned to one member. Nine chambers allocate money to members to hire personal staff. Below is a complete breakdown of the personal staffing structure:
- In seventeen chambers, one personal staff member is provided to one member;
- In eleven chambers, two personal staff are provided to one member;
- In nine chambers, members are allocated money to hire personal staff;
- In eight chambers, one personal staff member is provided to two members;
- In six chambers, one personal staff member is provided to three (or more) members;
- In four chambers, three (or more) personal staff are provided to one member.
Six chambers have a staffing structure that is unique, not constant per member or their members have staffing are outside of the perimeters of personal staff. For example, in the Colorado House, the personal staffing structure is dictated by the maximum number of hours personal staff are allowed to work. Colorado representatives can hire up to two legislative aides to work a total of 420 hours, per legislator, per legislative session.
Members in 39 chambers have primary responsibility for hiring their staff. In the remaining 22 chambers, legislative leaders, upper-level management staff, or an administrative committee has primary responsibility for hiring personal staff. The Alabama Senate and California Assembly allow the member to recommend staff they would like to hire; however, the secretary of the senate and the Assembly Rules Committee, respectively, are the hiring entities.
24 chambers allow members to give final approval in hiring their aides, while 37 chambers require legislative leaders, upper-level management staff or an administrative committee to give final approve for hiring personal staff.
Year-round vs. session-employee
In 40 chambers, aides work year-around for the member. In nine chambers, personal staff are session-only staff, and personal staff in 12 chambers are year-around employees and session-only staff. In the Oregon Senate and House, Virginia Senate and Washington Senate, the personal staffing structure is two personal staff to one member; however, in each of these chambers, one aide is a year-around employee and the other is a session-only employee.
Where Personal Staff conduct their work
Personal staff can work in a member’s capitol office, a member’s district office (if allowable) or both, depending of the member’s preferences. Typically, a member’s district office is supported by the Legislature, either through funding or oversight, and staffed by individuals that are paid by the Legislature.
Personal staff in 37 chambers work only in the member’s capitol office, while in three chambers, personal staff work solely in the member’s district office. Personal staff in 21 chambers can work in the member’s capitol office or district office, depending on the member’s preference.
A defining characteristic of personal staff is that the member provides supervision and direction of the staff’s work product. Among a diverse list of responsibilities, personal staff provide direct support to a member as they prepare for session, hearings or meetings and assist the member as they work with constituents. Of course, the duties and responsibilities of each personal staffer depends on the chamber they work in and the member, or members, they work for.
Survey respondents indicate that the most common responsibilities for personal staff are scheduling for the member, managing the member’s office, constituent services and writing constituent correspondence. Editing and managing the member’s website, on the other hand, was the least common responsibility for personal staff. The most common to least common responsibilities are ranked below:
- Scheduling for the Member
- Managing Member’s Office;
- Constituent Services (casework, congratulatory letters and resolutions, letters of recommendation, etc);
- Writing Constituent Correspondence;
- Tracking or monitoring legislation;
- Managing or supervising other staff;
- Writing newsletters, memos, talking points, speeches;
- Coordinating Press for the Member (initiating press releases, scheduling press opportunities, etc);
- Policy and Legislative Research;
- Providing Strategic or Political Advice; and,
- Editing and Managing Member’s website
PAY & BENEFITS
While members seem to have significant control in hiring their staff, in many chambers, they have limited control in determining the salary of their staff. Seventeen chambers allow members to determine the salary of their staff; however, three of these chambers (Alaska Senate & House and Wisconsin Senate) require the member to follow a pre-determined salary schedule. Members of the California Assembly and Pennsylvania House can recommend salaries for their staff, but the Assembly Rules Committee and house leadership, respectively, must approve the salary.
In 26 chambers, presiding officers, legislative caucus leaders and upper-management legislative staff determine the salary of personal staff. Sixteen other chambers use various ways to determine the salaries of personal staff. Eight of these chambers use a legislative instrument (chamber rules, resolution, or legislation) to determine the salary of personal staff. In the Colorado House, an Executive Committee approves the aide program for members each year, including the aide(s) salary.
Thirty-four chambers indicate that a classification system exists for personal staff, and in nine of these chambers, the classification system is certified by the presiding officer or his/her designee. In three chambers, the chief clerk or secretary certifies the classification system, while the human resource officer certifies the classification system in six chambers. The classification system in the remaining sixteen chambers is certified by various individuals and methods. For example, all members serving in Iowa Senate & House and the Missouri House certify the personal staff classification system, by a vote of the entire body.
Personal staff in 55 chambers are eligible to receive employee benefits and aides in 51 of these chambers have the same benefit package as other legislative staff. In the Iowa House and South Carolina House, member’s personal staff do not receive any benefits, while aides in the Colorado House only have membership in the state’s retirement plan. Only the primary legislative assistant to Louisiana Senators may receive the Senate’s benefit package.
Personal staff in 48 chambers are eligible for annual leave and 49 chambers provide personal staff with paid sick leave.
New Employee Orientation and Training
Personal staff work in a challenging legislative environment where work place demands leave little time for staff to learn key strategies for making their office work smoothly and effectively. Furthermore, the fast-paced environment can prohibit long-serving personal staff from effectively mentoring new personal staff. Training can help to fill the void.
Thirty-eight chambers require personal staff to attend a new employee orientation and training session. Thirty-one of these chambers hold mandatory training sessions about the legislative process. Twenty-six chambers require new aides to learn more about their state’s ethics laws and rules. Additional topics covered in new employee orientation and training sessions are:
- Thirty chambers require computer and information technology training;
- Sixteen chambers require personal staff to take a training course about office management;
- Fourteen chambers require personal staff to take a training course about constituent services and casework;
- Fourteen chambers require personal staff to take a training course about press and communications;
- Ten chambers require training about research techniques;
- Nine chambers require aides to attend a writing course; and
- Seven chambers hold mandatory trainings about their state’s campaign finance laws.
In addition, seven chambers require new staff to attend orientation and training sessions that cover their own chamber’s policies, procedures and protocols. The Michigan House, for example, holds weekly employee orientation sessions that include a review of the following House policies:
- Harassment training;
- Electronic Timecards;
- Employment Status;
- Obtaining self-service payroll statements;
- 401(k) benefits; and
- Other office resources.
In general, most new employee training for aides are provided by the chamber’s human resource office or the chamber’s clerk or secretary. Human resource offices in fifteen chambers, and clerks and secretaries in seven chambers, administer new employee training. An Operations, Personnel, or Administration Committee in six chambers also has this function.
Continuing Education Sessions
Continuing education is one way to assist legislative staff in keeping their skills sharp and to enable them to learn new strategies and techniques to maintain an effective work environment. Twenty-two chambers provide continuing education courses for personal staff. Of those chambers that do offer continuing education for aides, ethics training (14 chambers), computer training (13 chambers) and training about the legislative process (12 chambers) are the most common topics taught. Other topics taught, include:
- Eleven chambers offer continuing education courses about constituent services and casework;
- Ten chambers teach staff about office management;
- Nine chambers provide training about press and communications;
- Six chambers offer writing courses; and
- Four chambers provide training about their state’s campaign finance law.
Survey respondents were asked to list all titles that their chamber use for personal staff. Legislative Assistant, Administrative Assistant and Legislative Aide are the most common titles used for personal staff. The Legislative Assistant title, for personal staff, is used in 34 chambers. Constituent Services Aide, Receptionist, and District Aide, are the least used titles for personal staff. Below, personal staff titles are ranked, from most common to least common:
- Legislative Assistant
- Administrative Assistant
- Legislative Aide
- Executive Assistant
- Chief of Staff
- Communications Director
- Research Assistant
- Legislative Analyst
- District Coordinator
- Press Secretary
- Constituent Services Aide
- District Aide