LSPA Newsletter Fall 2020

10/30/2020

NCSL Leadership Staff Professional Association

Founded in 1975, the NCSL Leadership Staff Professional Association (LSPA) has about 410 legislative staff members. The purpose of LSPA is to help staff become effective leaders and to provide a forum to share information. In an effort to expand our membership, LSPA amended the bylaws to be more inclusive. Sheron Violini, LSPA chair and deputy secretary of operations of the California Senate, invites all young and new professional staff to join LSPA.

One goal of LSPA is to provide support for legislative staff in leadership roles and to prepare new staff to fill those roles. This electronic newsletter features articles on a wide variety of topics written by and for legislative staff, as well as resources for leadership development and information about NCSL meetings and trainings across the nation. LSPA hopes that you will enjoy our newsletter enough to become a member and/or a contributor.

To join the LSPA membership and email list, please email NCSL liaison to LSPA, Megan McClure (megan.mcclure@ncsl.org)

Officers' Greeting

By Sheron Violini, California

Just a quick note to let you know that Josh, Justin and I have agreed to carry the leadership torch for the Leadership Staff Professional Association until we meet again. We know this is a very challenging time for all who are juggling remote work and family life. It is hard to stay connected because we are not meeting in person; however, it is important to try to stay in touch. Always feel free to send an email or check in on a virtual or social media platform, and keep an eye open for upcoming LSPA trainings and networking opportunities.

We wish you the best in navigating the upcoming holiday season. Stay healthy and safe! 

Your LSPA team-

Josh, Justin, Sheron and Megan

A photo of Justin Cajindos, LSPA 2nd vice chair from OklahomaA photo of Sheron Violini, LSPA chair from CaliforniaA photo of Joshua Nacey, LSPA 1st vice chair from Kentucky

Absentee Voting Changes in the States for 2020

Justin Cajindos, Oklahoma

Election Day has come and gone, though some states are still counting votes; it is clear a record number of voters all across the country took advantage of mail in voting or in person early voting. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states made changes to their voting policies and procedures. Much of the emphasis was on expanding access to voting by mail to accommodate concerns of many voters about the safety of voting in person on Election Day.

Many of the new procedures were already in place for this year’s primary elections. During the primary season, more than 26.6 million people voted by mail. Prior to the pandemic, five states already conducted all-mail voting: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington state. Joining them in mailing ballots to all voters this year were California, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont.

Other states opted to send vote by mail applications to all registered voters. A dozen states went this route, including Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Massachusetts. Overall, 34 states, plus the District of Columbia, now allow any registered voter to vote by mail.

Some states made temporary changes to their absentee voting procedures during the pandemic emergency. Oklahoma for example, allowed voters to include a copy of a valid ID with their absentee ballot affidavit instead of notarizing it.

In some states, counties were allowed discretion regarding the sending of absentee ballots or absentee ballot applications to every registered voter. In Montana, counties may choose to send ballots to every registered voter. In New Mexico, counties may send absentee ballot applications to every registered voter.

What was the effect of these voting procedure changes? There was a large increase in vote by mail in both the primary and general elections. Some states allow election officials to begin processing these votes prior to Election Day, but most states do not begin to count absentee ballots until polls close on Election Day. This led to major delays in vote counting and election results in some states, leaving the outcome of some state legislative races and control of some legislative chambers undetermined more than two weeks after Election Day.

In the upcoming spring legislative sessions, state legislators will have to revisit these voting changes, and decide whether to extend them, tweak the procedures, or make them permanent.

What Gifts and Opportunities are Created by the Pandemic?

Sheron Violini, California

From budget shortfalls to on-boarding staff and new Members, the Global Pandemic of 2020 has created chaos in many of our state capitols. As deputy secretary for operations for the California State Senate and chair of the Leadership Staff Association, I am writing this article to share with you the gifts and opportunities that COVID-19 created from my perspective. 

With the 2020 election behind us us we need to think carefully how we bring in new legislators and their staff. How do we maintain social distance while sharing important information about how the Senate works, such as the hiring process and other administrative functions?

In California, we are offering newly elected senators the option of attending an in-person briefing or a remote virtual training. This means we need to plan ahead so we can serve individual meals and gather all the information early so we can mail material to those attending remotely. Although the agenda may be similar to those of past years the mode of delivery will be different.

Traditionally the newly elected Senators meet in the historic Maddy Lounge in the State Capitol in Sacramento. Due to social distancing it is likely that the meeting will be moved to a larger space.  Arrangements will need to be made for administrative staff to be present virtually. In addition, the overview of the oath-of-office ceremony may look vastly different than in years past.

On-boarding staff is challenging, but the normalizing of virtual learning due to COVID-19 has made some aspects easier. With the Zoom platform we can host a virtual meeting and share a screen to walk the new staff through the internal intranet. Two years ago this wasn’t popular but has now enhanced our ability to train staff, especially those who work away from the Capitol.

For instance, when new staffers are hired today, I use Zoom and a shared screen to teach them where to find administrative documents and how to access general information. Just as important, I can guide them to the site where they can sign up for mandatory trainings. When questions are asked about other departments, I am able to provide a real-time demonstration of how to access information. It is a win-win that would not have been possible six months ago.

I encourage you to think outside the box and look for opportunities that might not have presented themselves in the past. Congratulate yourself for meeting the challenges presented by COVID-19 by creating new solutions to old problems. I am sure you will surprise yourself through innovation and your grit!

New Member Orientation 2020

By Stacy Householder, NCSL

Orientation leaders gathered via Zoom in August to discuss how to approach new member orientation in an unorthodox year! Many are gathering data, evaluating their options and exploring all opportunities before settling on a final decision. The discussion focused on whether orientations would be in person, virtual or a hybrid of the two. While most states are still undecided, some are exploring the hybrid version with general education being online (how to file bills, ethics and harassment training, etc.) and other aspects (such as tours, meeting mentors, moving into offices) being in person. Several states noted they are planning for different scenarios.  For example, one state shared that if members are able to meet in person, they have an agenda for that, but they also have a plan B for virtual meetings and a plan C for a hybrid model. The plans are in place now so a quick decision can be made at election time.

The overarching theme, as expected, is the integrity of the institution. The primary goal of all orientation leaders is for all newly-elected legislators to receive the full educational value of the orientation programs so they can be effective members upon starting session in 2021.

As a friendly reminder, NCSL is happy to help with programming for orientations. We offer top-notch sessions on being an effective legislator, including ethics, harassment, negotiation and media training and more!  We’d love to help with your orientation.

We Asked You

As we all began to come to grips with the reality that COVID-19 wasn’t going away as quickly as we had hoped, the LSPA Newsletter Committee asked you the following question:

  • If you are involved in the orientation of new legislative members after the upcoming election in November, how is your legislature planning to go about it:
  • How will the training be scheduled?
  • In person versus remote?
  • If in person what health precautions will be taken?
  • If remote, what platform are you planning to use?
  • What special features will you use to engage members and ensure the receive necessary information?

Here are your responses:

IOWA:

  • The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) conducts a two-day orientation for all new legislators between Election Day and the start of the new session.
  • Unclear
  • Ditto
  • Ditto
  • In addition to the LSA orientation, we will have individual conversation with our new senators to talk about committee assignments, clerks, etc.  
  • The LSA training covers a variety of topics. I have attached the agenda from 2018.
  • I am more worried about starting the new session during the pandemic than I am about training for new legislators.
  • Agenda (link to PDF)

ARKANSAS:

Arkansas House staff is planning for the 43rd biennial Institute of Legislative Procedure, which will take place during the first full week of December leading into the next General Assembly convening on Jan. 11, 2021. The plan now is to offer the Institute in person with more resources than usual provided virtually. Some of the programming is to be provided by recorded video, available for streaming at any time, in addition to live presentation. The Institute will focus on the basics of legislative process and service. Instead of promoting the institute to the entire House membership, this year wie'll encourage participation only by newly elected members, faculty, and leadership. All participants are to follow Arkansas Department of Health safety guidelines. The length of the Legislative Institute is to be reduced from four days to three.

WASHINGTON HOUSE DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS:

  • The institution reaches out to all new member to congratulate them and sends them materials and dates for the numerous training dates. The caucus also reaches out to new members, answers their initial questions, provides them with caucus training dates, hiring information, caucus activities.  I act as their staff mentor to help coordinate their policy work, committee assignments, caucus dynamics, and training.
  • The caucus trainings will be done remotely.  I understand that the majority of the House institutional trainings will be done remotely as well. 
  • We have been using Zoom and Teams as an institution. The caucus has also prepared a welcome videos and some introductions.
  • The caucus typically breaks up training into bite size pieces with lots of room for questions. We also do some trainings with new member and their new staffs together so they all hear the same information. We provide materials that are emailed out and we store them in a OneNote as a reference. We include some trainings that are hypotheticals and have also done some roleplay scenarios with more senior members there to act out the parts and talk through the nuances of the scenario. It’s a fun way to start building relationships with more senior members.  
  • For the caucus it is the staff resources, getting the office up and running, getting up to speed on the issues, and best practices for managing time and relationships. We do weekly check-ins during session and get into details about budgeting, providing testimony, navigating the Senate, stakeholder management etc. This is also a great time to address questions and specific issues that have come up in their week. 
  • Lots of things. How do we recognize the honor of being elected to serve your constituency without the in person swearing in at the Capitol, or having an office?  How do we make it special while they are still literally still sitting in their living rooms? How do we help them build relationships when there are no opportunities for side conversations or casual chatting? How do we help them build a successful legislative office team remotely? How do they learn by watching and listening when everyone is just sitting in their little Zoom box? I am particularly worried about staff interaction and members feeling they don’t know who to contact about problems when normally we are all in a big room together. 

Virtual Internship Resources

Yet another unanticipated casualty of the pandemic? Internships and page programs. These programs offer invaluable opportunities for experience in the legislative environment and integral outreach and connections for youth interested in expanding their knowledge and participation in American government. How can you keep these programs running when you're unable to house interns or pages in the capitol?

Resources for Creating Quality Virtual Internships:

We Asked You

Does working remotely or on split or hybrid schedules presents challenges for bringing in students to serve as interns during sessions.

  • If your office normally hosts interns, what are your plans to continue (or not) hosting them while maintaining health and social distancing practices and making sure they are getting the educational experiences interns expect?
  • How are you going about interviews and the selection process?
  • If they will be working remotely:
    • What types of work will they be doing?
    • How will you monitor their work?
    • Does this affect the types/quality of candidates you are receiving?

ARKANSAS HOUSE:

Because the House of Representatives has had limited experience with interns, the issue of accommodating them during the upcoming session should be nonexistent. The plan now is to not have student pages present during session as a means of limiting the number of people circulating in the Capitol and on House premises.

IOWA:

  • We moved all our interns to remote work. Unless something changes, I expect we’ll do the same for the 2021 session.
  • Our communications director interviews and selects the interns, who work almost exclusively on communications projects.

MASSACHUSETTS (OFFICE OF THE SENATE MAJORITY LEADER):

  • If your office normally hosts interns what are your plans to continue (or not) hosting them while maintaining health and social distancing practices and making sure they are getting the experience and educational experience intern expect?
    • We usually have one or two interns from a local college that includes full-time co-ops as part of its curriculum. Thus, we have at least one Northeastern University student with us for six months, five days a week, full time. The new co-op session began June 1 and we hired two NU students to work remotely with us (one undergrad and one graduate student).  We did all the interviewing remotely and they have worked remotely - we have never met in person although we work with them every day!
    • Our communications director is their "official" supervisor, so she checks in with them once per day via Zoom, phone call or text. In the beginning it was Zoom so they got to know each other better and as time has gone on and they are more comfortable, it is enough to have daily check ins via phone or text. 
    • We have weekly Zoom staff meetings of which they are part of, and we include them in almost everything we do. Pretty much everything being done at the State House right now is remote so any briefings, events, meetings, etc. are on Zoom or Teams.  We have them join us at meetings where appropriate and they participate in many briefings and take notes when staff cannot. It's actually quite helpful to have two more people in the office to cover the many briefings that have popped up due to the crisis.  
    • One need we know we had going into this time of year (and has been compounded by the pandemic) is a larger social media presence. We interviewed candidates with those skills in mind. One of them had quite a bit of experience and she has created graphics that we are using on social media regarding wearing masks, washing hands, etc. She has also created graphics for bills and budget items we are advocating for. They are also working to update the senators’ websites and drafting constituent e-newsletters.  This work requires them to work closely with everyone in our office to help with the various aspects.  They also are learning a ton about the history of the work of the office, past accomplishments, the bill and issue priorities, the district, etc. It's actually working out quite well that this has been such a focus at a time when it would be difficult for them to get to know us and our work.
  • How are you going about interviews and the selection process?
    • This process was mostly the same but remote.  We received resumes through Northeastern University's co-op office and set up interviews with the most qualified.
    • We had many more resumes and candidates to choose from this time around, which makes sense. We usually have a fairly limited, but always highly qualified and skilled, pool of candidates because our internship does not pay and many students need to get some type of payment (many of them work part time as well). This time around, because of the pandemic, it was clear there were a lot of students who couldn't work, didn't know where they would necessarily be, given that colleges hadn't made a lot of decisions yet (this was back in April/May), and just needed to know for sure that they would have a co-op in place come June. We had a record number of applicants and interviewees and it was hard to decide. In the end, since we knew we would be focusing on our website, social media and other communications, we hired based on applicants having experience in those areas in addition to the usual interest in and experience with public policy, politics, law, social justice, etc. 
  • They will be working remotely: What types of work will they be doing?
    • They are researching bills, drafting testimony, updating our website, drafting constituent e-newsletters, creating graphics for social media, responding to constituent emails and calls, updating our constituent database, attending meetings and briefings, drafting correspondence, including support letters and recommendation letters, drafting talking points, etc. Pretty much everything our interns did before!
  • How will you monitor their work?
    • Their work is quite tangible, so it needs to be reviewed and edited.  We work closely with them and it's working well. 
  • Does this affect the types/quality of candidates you are receiving?
    • As explained above, we got more and thus better candidates than usual because students' schedules and lives were so uncertain. They couldn't count on having a job or obtaining a co-op, so we had more applicants than we usually have. 
  • One last thought: one of our interns was based in Seattle from June through August until she moved back to the Boston area. While there was a time difference, she was flexible as were we and it did not present a problem. We had to be conscious to schedule meetings at a time that wasn't too early for her, but she was willing to get up early and we were willing to move meetings so the flexibility on both sides worked great!

State Budget Outlook

Erica MacKellar, NCSL

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting closure of many non-essential businesses had a dramatic effect on state revenues across the country. However, some states were hit harder than others, and there are some promising signs that revenues might be rebounding quicker than expected.

States that rely heavily on tourism faced quick and steep revenue declines as many people followed stay-at-home orders and cancelled travel plans. In Nevada, the state’s unemployment rate was over 30% at the height of the pandemic in April, and Florida faces a $2.7 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2021. Energy producing states have also faced challenges as the energy sector took a significant hit at the start of the pandemic. Earlier in the year, Wyoming was projecting a $1.5 billion shortfall, a staggering amount for a state with a small budget.

While some states face challenges, many others are experiencing higher than anticipated tax collections, and are cautiously optimistic the revenue ramifications of the pandemic might not be as devastating as first thought. Connecticut was able to revise its projected shortfall from $2 billion to $1.2 billion after collections came in higher than expected. In Kentucky, forecasters had projected just 0.3% general fund revenue growth for the first quarter of FY 2021, but revenue growth increased 5.8%. Idaho was budgeting for a revenue drop in FY 2021, but has instead exceeded pre-pandemic forecasts and now expects a sizable surplus to end the year.

Higher than anticipated tax collections are a positive sign for states, but many experts urge caution. Many of these tax collections reflect the large federal stimulus funds directed to state and local governments, and there is uncertainty around further federal aid. It is also unclear whether collections will continue to climb if states roll back reopening plans as COVID-19 cases surge across the country. For now, favorable tax collection reports are softening the blow to state budgets, but states face mounting uncertainty about whether that trend will continue.

We Asked You

All states are looking at significant budget shortfalls: How is your legislature handling or approaching these unfortunate circumstances and difficult decisions?

Here are the responses:

ARKANSAS:

Regarding budget preparations and revenue forecasts, Arkansas may not have realized as much of a financial downturn as other states. Leadership, however, remains watchful moving into budget hearings beginning in October.

 

WISCONSIN:

Wisconsin’s financial outlook is a bit better than what we expected about four months ago. In April, our Governor publicly stated that he expected state tax collections to decline about $2 billion. At the end of August, our Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that tax collections declined $112 million, or less than 1%, in FY 2019-20. While this is good news, we expect most of the impact of the pandemic to show up in the second year of our fiscal biennium (FY 2020-21).

The preparation for this, at the legislative level, has been happening for some time. We passed a state law a number of years ago that requires half of any unexpected growth in revenues to be set aside in a rainy day fund (savings account). This fund is now up to nearly $700 million. While not huge in the grand scheme of a $36 billion annual budget, this will be helpful to offset declines in revenue. We also have a state law that requires a statutory balance each fiscal year. Basically, a minimum amount of general fund revenues has to be set aside before calculating whether the budget is balanced. This provides some additional cushion in the event of revenue volatility. In the current fiscal year, that set-aside is $85 million. State law requires it to increase by $5 million each fiscal year.

At the end of the day it’s a lot of wait and see what happens to revenues.

NCSL’s Bill Information Service Training

Amber Widgery, NCSL

NCSL has partnered with LexisNexis State Net to provide legislators and legislative staff access to NCSL’s Bill Information Service (BIS) a 50-state searchable database containing the full text of every bill in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Congress for the current session. You can also search the bill archive for legislation in previous sessions going back more than a decade.

Bills are searchable by (1) bill number, (2) term or phrase, (3) author or sponsor, or (4) location/state. You can term search within your search results or sort by status, legislative stage, or content type. Bills, amendments, executive orders and ballot measures are all included in the BIS. Information on bill status is updated throughout the day and search results can be e-mailed with links to the most recent bill text.

The BIS also provides additional legislative resources, such as session calendars and deadlines, weekly session schedules with links to upcoming committee hearings and other state-specific resources.

You must have an NCSL account and be logged into the NCSL website to access the BIS here. Register for an upcoming live training on how to use the BIS here.

BIS Quick Guide - PDF

LSPA Fall Leadership Development Series

Join Sheron Violini, deputy secretary for operations with the California Senate and current LSPA chair, in a series of interactive online workshops meant to foster self-exploration and develop the skills necessary for effective leadership. These sessions are designed to be useful whether you’re new to the legislature or a seasoned staffer with extensive legislative exterience. Trainings are offered free for NCSL members.

There's one final installment left in this three-part LSPA Fall Leadership Development Series!

Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020
Noon PT / 1 p.m. MT / 2 p.m. CT / 3 p.m. ET

Everyone talks about meditation and mindfulness, but what do they mean? What we are really talking about is mental fitness. How do you remain calm and positive in the face of adversity? This 45-minute discussion will provide tips for your toolbox to help you reduce stress and increase happiness in your life. The presentation will touch on the power of positive emotion. Join us for a fun and engaging discussion. Plus, you can win a prize. Now, doesn’t that make you happy!?

Training provided by Sheron Violini, California Senate, credentialed by the International Coaching Federation ACC.

Please email megan.mcclure@ncsl.org to receive a registration link for this training.

And don't worry if you missed these trainings. Archived videos will be available shortly and Sheron has assured us there will be more quality leadership development trainings for coming this Spring and Summer!

NCSL's Young and New Professionals Network

Are you a young or new legislative staffer? Join NCSL’s YNP (Young & New Professionals) Network for access to relevant legislative resources, career development and connections to your peers serving in similar roles throughout state legislatures! Email YNP@ncsl.org to join for free.

 

 

 

New 2020 Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure is Now Available

 

 

 

Mason’s Manual is the only parliamentary manual designed specifically for state legislatures and addresses problems and concepts in the context legislators are likely to deal with them. Not only is the 2020 edition available in time for the 2021 legislative session, but for the first time ever, it is offered in both print and digital formats. Accessing parliamentary laws, rules and procedures has never been easier.

 

Legislative Staff Training Resources

Training new staff can present myriad challenges and logistical issues. How do you train someone when you already have your plate full with your daily duties? How do you train staff in the middle of a session? Or on a shoestring or nonexistent budget? Below is a list of NCSL resources to help you train new and old staff without overstretching your time, ability and budget.

Archived Webinars
  • NCSL now has a directory of archived webinars and other recorded presentations that will be of particular interest to legislative staff. 
  • Legislative Staff Webinar Directory: A comprehensive and regularly updated list of archived NCSL webinars for legislative staff across a wide array of subjects, including COVID-19.
  • The ABCDE Method: A Tool for Maximizing Productivity: This quick 30-minute webinar, sponsored by NCSL's Young and New Professionals Group (YNP), is designed to give you one more tool in your productivity toolbox. Hear from renowned NCSL trainer Curt Stedron, as he explains the concept behind and how to use the ABCDE Method to increase not only personal but also office-wide productivity. Then hear from Heather Koszka, capitol office director for California Senator Brian Jones (R), as she explains how she was inspired by Stedron's presentation of the method and how she has adapted and implemented the ABCDE Method on multiple levels in her office.
Upcoming Webinars
Podcasts
  • COVID-19: Communicating in a Crisis: This podcast is one in a series NCSL is producing to focus on how states are taking action in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The podcasts and a new webinar series look at public health responses, workplace issues, education and childcare, the economy, elections and continuity of government.
    On today’s episode, we talk with two legislative veterans about communicating in a crisis.
  • "Tackling Sexual Harassment in the Legislature": Sexual harassment, spurred primarily the #metoo movement, has been front to the forefront of every sector—including government. In this episode of "Our American States," hear from three experts to get a sense of what types of changes are happening in state legislatures and to find out what types of best practices they should consider.
  • Brain Science for Legislators and Staff: Working in the legislative arena is not always easy. There are long hours, long stretches of sitting at a desk, a need to multitask and often a lack of sleep. NCSL's Stacy Householder shares six brain rules designed to help legislators and legislative staff be more effective. Her recommendations are based on research and its relevance for those working in legislative chambers.
Magazine Articles
  • Toolbox for Legislative Staff: A collection of all of the Staff Toolbox articles from State Legislatures magazine.
  • "Reorient Your To-Do List to Unlock Your Productivity Potential": The start of a new legislative session offers the chance for a fresh start. To do things differently this time around, to create new (ideally good!) habits and routines. To make better use of time with the hope of feeling slightly less depleted at the end of the session.
  • "Yes, No, Maybe So": Monthly feature on ethics questions pertaining to state legislatures.
Blogs
Other Resources

LegisBriefs

If you need to be informed, you need LegisBriefs. Concise. Easy-to-read. Informative. For people who want to know all sides of the emerging issues. Each two-page report gives you a wealth of insight into the issues that affect the states. Examples of recently published LegisBriefs:

November 2020 

October 2020 

September 2020 

August 2020 

July 2020 

The main LegisBrief homepage and archives can be found here.

Contact

Photo of Megan McClureMegan McClure, research analyst II
NCSL Liaison to the Leadership Staff Professional Association
303-856-1355 | megan.mcclure@ncsl.org

 

Photo of Sheron VioliniWe want to hear from you! Email your suggested topic
to be included in future issues to Sheron Violini,
deputy secretary for operations, California State
Senate at sheron.violini@sen.ca.gov