Gary VanLandingham: June 2, 2009

The Times They Are A-Challenging

By Gary VanLandingham

To paraphrase the old Bob Dylan song, the waters around us have grown and we often feel that we are swimming to avoid sinking like a stone. Virtually all states are coping with the worse budget crisis in at least a generation, and legislative staff are being asked to quickly identify policy and budget options that legislators can consider in addressing the situations in our states. The pressure is on us to do more with less and to get answers to tough questions in very short periods of time.

Fortunately, we can use the resources available through NCSL to help meet this challenge. NCSL’s newly redesigned website is much easier to navigate and provides a huge amount of information on policy options being considered by the 50 states. The website’s new search functions allow users to easily search the site to obtain briefing papers, examine legislation that has been filed in every state, and identify and contact NCSL staff with expertise on virtually any topic. The website also enables legislators and staff to use listservs to contact peers throughout the nation to share information.

The Legislative Summit, which will be held in Philadelphia in July, will provide an unsurpassed opportunity for legislators and staff to participate in a wide range of sessions addressing key policy issues facing state legislatures as well as the opportunity to network with colleagues who are grappling with the same issues that confront our own states. As many states face travel restrictions, we will post recordings of many Legislative Summit sessions on the website so that this information can reach the maximum number of legislators and staff. Please check the website starting in late July to view these sessions and download copies of materials that were distributed and discussed.

Also, watch for expanded webinars that will be offered during the coming year. The Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee has been working to increase NCSL’s capability to host these programs, and the Foundation for State Legislatures has allocated funding to obtain the needed equipment and software to produce the programs. The webinars will enable staff and legislators to participate in high quality professional development programs without having to leave our offices.

Finally, please support a new initiative to help address the nation’s critical shortfall in civics education. Legislative staff in nine pilot states will work with public schools to support Project Citizen, which teaches students how they can examine and help resolve public problems. In this program, staff will work with a group of students as they select a problem to research, identify and assess policy alternatives, and present their proposed solution to government officials. This effort will supplement the very successful America’s Legislators Back to School program in which legislators visit schools to talk about representative democracy and the legislative process.

As always, if you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me or any of the legislative staff officers. Hope to see you in Philly!