By Karmen Hanson
NCSL’s policy experts provide a wide range of assistance to legislators and legislative staff.
From looking up bills and resources, to providing committee testimony, NCSL staff are often called on when time is of the essence.
It’s not uncommon to field a phone call from a legislator walking to a committee hearing or floor vote, wanting “Anything you have on XYZ, and can I get that within the hour? Thanks.”
Most of the time, NCSL staff are able to accommodate such requests on the most frequently asked topics such as education and transportation funding, excise tax rates, immunization requirements or diversion courts.
Thankfully, technology has made research easier and exponentially faster since NCSL’s early days 40 years ago. Seasoned staff tell tales of having only a handful of computers and word processors in the office, which required a sign-up sheet to use.
Answering an information request could have taken an hour or two of photocopying from beautiful hard covered statute books and then standing at one of the four FAX machines to make sure the 40-plus pages went through without jamming. And heaven forbid it jammed and you had to resend!
Now we have email, the magical internet, and 50-state and territory databases available at our fingertips. These days, the hard cover statute books in our library are more for decoration than use, although we still admire them and reminisce about the good old days of avoiding papercuts.
Providing a 30-minute testimony would require at least two days of travel, precious time out of the office, and the risk of missing luggage and handouts during transport.
Now we can magically beam ourselves through online video conferencing tools like Skype to not only instant message our colleagues across the country, but to appear “live and in person” on a committee hearing room monitor without the hassle of airports and cross-country travel!
Staff have been known to provide video technical assistance from their office, a conference or hotel room, or a quiet corner at the airport while on the road.
While being constantly connected may seem like a burden at times, it has allowed NCSL to provide a high level of service to our constituents at a moment’s notice.
While I could go on, I must get back to checking my email, cellphone, voicemail, Twitter and instant messenger for more information requests.
Karmen Hanson is a program director in NCSL's Health program.