The Voice: Spring 2021

 
 

Chair's Corner

Hello LINCS Members!

I am sure we can all agree the legislative session is already a stressful time for legislative staffers, but the pandemic has certainly added even more challenges. Since the start of the pandemic last year, my colleagues and I in the Georgia House of Representatives quickly got to work to determine how we could conduct our business in a safe and effective way.

Fast forward to March 2021, and the Georgia General Assembly is more than half-way through our 40-day legislative session, and it is certainly not “business as usual” as we once knew. In the Georgia House, we have 180 members, and in order to adhere to social distancing while we are in session, our members are spread out throughout three different Capitol locations: the House Chamber, the House gallery and a committee meeting room down the hall from our Chamber. Members seated in each of these locations are required to wear masks.

Members who are seated in the House gallery and the committee meeting room are using tablets to request to speak and cast their votes “virtually,” while members in the House Chamber use their voting machines at their desks. We have installed microphones at each member seat in the once public gallery so those members can address the body as they wish. We have also implemented an audio/video function that allows members in the Chamber and gallery to hear and see the members in the committee room and vice versa.

House members and staff are required to participate in COVID testing twice a week through a partnership with one of our local universities. We have eliminated the House page program and greatly reduced the number of interns this session to attempt to cut down on the number of people in Capitol work spaces.

House members also now have the option to participate remotely in most House committee hearings. Our committee rooms are equipped with interactive Zoom technology so that members and those testifying can do so remotely if they do not wish to attend a committee meeting in-person. 

With all of these safety measures in place, the Georgia House of Representatives has been able to carry on with this year’s legislative session almost seamlessly. 

I hope all of our LINCS members are safe, well and getting through this year’s session in your respective states. Please reach out to me, Jennifer Stewart, or the rest of the LINCS executive committee any time.

-- Betsy Theroux, LINCS Chair


Welcome: LINCS Newest Executive Committee Member!

Camille Taylor currently serves as the media services specialist and photography coordinator for the Georgia House of Representatives’ Media Services Office. Before joining the House Media Services Office, she worked as an assistant for a state legislator during her first legislative session in 2018. She was recently nominated to serve as a director of the LINCS Executive Committee.

In her current role, Camille provides media support to all 180 elected House members, manages the House social media accounts and assists with the House media credentialing process. This unique opportunity in a nonpartisan press office has allowed her to produce content across the political spectrum on behalf of both parties.

Creativity has greatly contributed to Camille’s professional development. In 2017, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Georgia with a concentration in jewelry and metals, and she has won several juried exhibition awards for her multimedia work. When she’s away from the State Capitol, Camille is active in Atlanta’s art scene as a contemporary painter.

Originally from Texas, Camille resides in the heart of Atlanta with her husband and rescue pup.


Utilizing Legislative Interns

By: Aundrea Peterson, Utah Senate

During the 2021 General Session,  1,216 bills were requested, 767 were numbered and the Legislature passed 503 pieces of legislation. Some may look at Utah’s short 45-day legislative session and wonder how legislators are able to attend committees, meet with constituents and lobbyists, debate policy on the floor and represent entire communities, all while sponsoring bills of their own. The short answer? Interns.

The Utah State Legislature offers a paid internship program for university students across the state. Each fall, students apply to the program through their respective schools. Once selected, interns are assigned to legislators based on previous experience and skillsets and political leanings.

Interns in Utah have the unique experience of being the sole personal staffer for an individual legislator, working hand-in-hand with limited full-time staff members. Interns become responsible for researching public policy issues, scheduling meetings, tracking legislation, drafting correspondence with constituents and performing other legislative-related duties. These responsibilities provide interns with the opportunity to apply what they have learned in their college classrooms to the legislative process as they develop invaluable skills they can carry into the workforce.

“This is not an internship where you just make copies and get coffee,” said Victoria Stephens-Carr, former intern for Senator Evan Vickers. “Senator Vickers has given me the chance to showcase my potential and use my skills to address issues that are important to the communities that he represents in Utah.”

Utah legislative interns get to shadow their senators as they debate bills on the floor, attend committees, meet with constituents, stakeholders and lobbyists, experiencing firsthand the nuts and bolts of the legislative process.

Interns are relied upon to keep lawmakers on schedule, organize meetings and complete various legislative tasks. Interns are usually at the Capitol before the sun comes up and leave late at night, helping lawmakers stay on top of all their responsibilities. They play a crucial role during the general session by providing much-needed assistance in helping the legislative session run smoothly and efficiently. Interns are essential to Utah’s legislative process. Their work with legislators, constituents, stakeholders and lobbyists provide invaluable experience for the interns while helping legislators with their tremendous workload during the general session.

The Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel coordinates and builds relationships with nine of Utah’s institutions of higher education, which assist immensely with recruiting efforts. Each institution recommends students for the internship program each year to fill the 93 full-time internship positions available each general session.

Utah has a part-time citizen Legislature that remains efficient and is consistently ranked as the best-managed state in the country, in large part to having interns be immersed in the legislative process. It helps Utah keep productivity high while offering on-the-job training for the next generation.

 

Legislative internships are mutually beneficial because they provide interns with valuable, firsthand experience in the legislative process and they provide state legislatures with bright, enthusiastic people who are excited to learn about the intricate world of public policy. Learn more about NCSL’s Legislative Internship Program here.


How to Structure a Winning Communications Team

By: Emmanuel Brantley, D.C. Council

A solid communications strategy is an integral part of any legislative operation. Without a strong presence across traditional and digital media channels, it can be very difficult to inform and engage constituents. What is lesser known, or perhaps unrecognized, is the level of skill and agility required of communications staffers. As the completion of a single communications task can often require varied skill sets, we must ask one question: what is the best way to structure our communications team?

Whether assembling a new team, upskilling current staff or independently managing an operation with part-time help, a communications team in a modern legislature should ensure that the following roles are filled. We should also note that staffers will often fill various roles.

  1. Strategic Thinkers—The communications operation will begin with this group, which usually consists of lawmakers, chiefs of staff, communications directors, and those who must consider the big picture. Discussions should bring clarity on long-term objectives and goals, available and required resources (both financial and personnel), and timelines, to name a few. These individuals may also be the last to approve materials and messaging before they are disseminated to the public to ensure consistent messaging throughout. Their deliverables will include communications plans, budgets, staffing decisions, and many of the communications materials listed below.

 

  1. Wordsmiths—Wordsmiths include our communications directors, press secretaries, and speechwriters. These individuals are often the first-line defenders of the communications strategy as they are responsible for crafting the messages that the digital nomads will later present. Like strategic thinkers, wordsmiths should be mindful of how word choice and delivery may impact overall goals and objectives. They must ensure that language is coherent, tells a complete story, and remains consistent over time. Their deliverables include talking points, prepared speeches, website copy, opinion editorials, public statements, and press interviews.

 

  1. Digital Nomads—No communications operation is complete without photographers, videographers, graphic designers, and web developers, to name a few. No one in the communications profession will deny the power of the pen, and all will agree that visual stimulation is required. These tech gurus capture the legislature's moments, memories, and emotions and present them in decorative form. These individuals may also work with the wordsmiths to develop and maintain a robust, engaging social media presence and interactive websites. Their deliverables include photos, video clippings, and social media posts.

 

  1. Message Amplifiers—Message amplifiers are vital, and a state legislature would be no more than a fixture of the constituent's imagination. They include our audiovisual technicians, network providers, and many digital nomads. These individuals record and broadcast our legislative meetings on the airwaves and ensure that audiovisual equipment is situated correctly and functioning. They provide the public with "backstage passes" to the legislature! They hold the most neutral positions on the team and are not required to engage actively in daily discussions regarding politics or public relations. Message amplifiers may also help to produce podcasts and maintain audiovisual archives. Their deliverables include fully functioning audiovisual equipment during legislative sessions, live broadcasts, and audiovisual archives.

 

The work of a communications team is vast and varied! By structuring a team to fulfill these four roles, every legislature, or legislator, is guaranteed success.


Managing Up

By: Emmanuel Brantley, D.C. Council

For the most part, staffers generally take direction from chiefs and directors. However, many individuals in these positions sometimes do not understand the intricacies of navigating public discourse, managing digital platforms or equipment, or engaging the press, but are full of ideas!

This creates an interesting dynamic in which the communicators must manage up or serve as advisors rather than simply execute tasks. Advising can prove challenging during times of crisis or when they must present counter opinions. It can also seem nerve-wracking when you may not have grasped all the moving parts, but it must be done. After all, managers are human, and they need help!

The first step to managing up is to—surprise, surprise—communicate often! You should be in constant communication with your principal to demonstrate knowledge of trends and best practices and understand their goals and priorities. Doing this will allow you to more quickly break down any mental or emotional barriers that could otherwise stifle collaboration. It will also help establish the trust needed to form a bond and great rapport. When engaging, be mindful of how you chose to present information and the quirks that the principal—or even you—bring to the table. In short, watch your usage of trigger words, don't press sensitive spots, and tread carefully when needed. You don't want misperceptions concerning your behavior or ability to engage stakeholders to impede success.

You will also want to step into your principal's shoes by anticipating their needs and addressing their fears. When they see that you have not only assessed the landscape from their perspective but accounted for this in your work plans and strategy development, they will not only grow more comfortable, but they will begin to give greater weight to the decisions you make and delegate more appropriate tasks to you. Additionally, this will also free up their plate, as they can now use that extra time to accomplish the millionth item on their daily to-do-list.

Once these things happen, you will undoubtedly be an even more valuable team member and will be freer to share your thoughts and ideas. In fact, you will become one of the most prized employees.


Legislative Staff Achievement Awards 2021

Call for Nominations

Do you know a colleague who deserves recognition for outstanding work? Please let us know! LINCS is accepting nominations for the 2021 Legislative Staff Achievement Award, created by the NCSL Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee in 1997. The award is designed to recognize those who demonstrate excellence in supporting the work of a state legislature and strengthening the legislative institution.

All members of LINCS are eligible and nominations may be submitted by the nominee or by other LINCS members. The LINCS executive committee will review the nominations and select the winner(s), who will be notified in June. Please submit an email describing how the nominee meets one or more of the criteria below to Jennifer Stewart by Friday, May 7, 2021.


Learning about LINCS’ Role on NCSL’s Staff Advisory Committee

By: Angela Andrews, NCSL’s liaison to the Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee

Have you ever heard of NCSL’s Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee, or the LSCC, for short? It’s a 49 member staff committee that serves in an advisory capacity to NCSL’s Executive Committee. Its purpose is to coordinate the work of the nine professional staff associations of NCSL, promote professional development opportunities for legislative staff and review and evaluate NCSL’s services for staff.

The officers of each of the professional staff associations serve as a member of the LSCC and attend its quarterly meetings. Betsy Theroux (Ga.) and Will Tracy (Ark.) are members of the LSCC by virtue of serving as chair and vice-chair, respectively, of LINCS. Tim Bommel (Mo.), former LINCS chair, is a member of the LSCC because of his role on NCSL’s Executive Committee. The LINCS voice is strongly represented on this committee!

The LSCC is chaired by NCSL’s Staff Chair, one of NCSL’s three staff officers, and this year the staff chair is Martha Wigton, director of Georgia’s House Budget and Research Office. You can learn more about how the LSCC is organized here.

The LSCC represents the more than 25,000 staff employed by America’s state legislatures and ensure that NCSL continues to provide high-quality programming, networking and services to help staff do their job better and support the legislative institution.

Some examples of NCSL’s programs, services or publications supported by the LSCC:

  • The Legislative Staff Achievement Awards were created by the LSCC in 1997 as a way to recognize legislative staff for their contributions to their professional staff association, their legislature and NCSL. Twenty-three  legislative staff, along with one legislative agency, were recognized on the national level with a Legislative Staff Achievement Award in 2020.
  • The Legislative Staff Management Institute (LSMI) is the nation’s premier leadership and management development program for legislative staff. It was envisioned by two NCSL staff officers more than 30 years ago and the first class graduated in 1990. The program still operates today, and more than 800 staff have graduated from it. The LSCC oversees this long-standing leadership development program.
  • LSCC members provide their expertise in assisting NCSL with drafting and publishing documents that support legislative staff and the institution. Recent examples include updating NCSL’s Guide for Writing a Personnel Manual and Model Code of Conduct for Legislative Staff.

Read more about how the LSCC supports you, and your role in the legislature, by reading the 2019-2020 LSCC Annual Report.


NCSL Resources

LINCS Comms Shop

This is your source of information about how states around the country handle communications issues and functions. We compile information from our own research, and from responses we get from requests for information from our members. If you have any questions or wish to update information from your own comms shop, please contact Jennifer Stewart. 


Questions? Suggestions? 

Do you have a question for your fellow LINCSters?

For any and all communications-related questions, you can always ask NCSL or post your questions to the LINCS listserv. Please contact the LINCS Liaison Jennifer Stewart for more information on how to get your questions answered by your peers!

Suggestion Box
Have an idea for a future issue of The Voice? Want to contribute a short feature?

Contact LINCS Secretary Emmanuel Brantley