LSPA Newsletter Spring 2021

6/17/2021

 

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

As spring comes to an end and we look forward to a more “normal” summer, we want to express our deepest gratitude to LSPA Chair Sheron Violini as she retires from the California Senate and embarks on a new and exciting journey! Sheron’s dedication and perseverance has been invaluable to LSPA over the years, and she will be sorely missed. We wish her all the best as she delves into the world of professional coaching and helps make the world a better place in a new arena!

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

Your LSPA team,

Josh, Justin and Megan

 

Upcoming Events

NCSL Base Camp
Aug. 3-5, 2021
In a dynamic online setting, NCSL Base Camp brings together policy experts on a wide range of topic areas to educate policymakers and legislative staff.

NCSL Legislative Summit
Nov. 3-5, 2021│Tampa, Florida
The Legislative Summit is NCSL’s premier annual event, providing a platform for legislators, staff and other public policy professionals to learn from the nation’s foremost experts, as well as each other, about solutions to the country’s most pressing issues. Watch for registration and hotel details later this month.

50 State Bill Information Service Training
Recurring │ Every third Wednesday of the month
NCSL, in partnership with State Net/LexisNexis, provides access to a searchable legislation database containing the full text of every bill in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Congress for the current session. State legislators and legislative staff have exclusive access to this resource.

LSPA Annual Business Meeting 
Monday, August 2nd 12:30 p.m. ET/11:30 a.m. CT/10:30 a.m. MT/9:30 a.m. PT 
The annual LSPA Business Meeting will be virtual this year. Held the week of NCSL Base Camp Executive Committee Membership will be finalized, LSPA Staff Achievement Award recipients will be celebrated, meet your LSPA peers before Base Camp, and much more. Keep an eye out for the agenda, meeting link and additional information. Please pre-register to attend.   

Lots in store for staff at NCSL Base Camp!

This year's NCSL Base Camp is chock full of sessions designed just for legislative staff. Whether it's policy specific topics like qualified immunity for police or federal infrastructure legislation to soft-skills like boosting emotional intelligence, retaining great staff and how to identify and manage burnout, Base Camp has the training to help you be the best legislative staffer and leader you can be! All of this is capped off with the Salute to Legislative Staff an encouraging and empowering keynote along with recognition and celebration of the 2021 legislative staff achievement award recipients! Join your colleagues online Aug. 3-5 for this can't miss event for legislative staff. View agenda.

LSPA Officer Nominations Open

The Nominations Committee of the NCSL Leadership Staff Professional Association (LSPA) is seeking candidates for the LSPA Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is composed of 13 members—the LSS Chair, First Vice Chair, Second Vice Chair, nine Directors elected by the membership, and the Immediate Past Chair. 

Will you consider offering your time and talents to our great staff association by serving on the LSPA Executive Committee? Elections will be held during the LSPA Business Meeting, Monday, Aug. 2nd at 12:30 pm E.T, prior to the start of NCSL Base Camp 2021,  August 3-5, 2021. 

Executive Committee members select a site and prepare the agenda for the annual LSPA Professional Development Seminar, and determine the direction and actions of the Leadership Staff Professional Association. LSPA provides a forum for professional development for its members and interaction with counterparts in legislatures across the country.     

To be considered for one of the Executive Committee positions, please e-mail Mechelle Evans, chair of the Nominations Committee, your letter of intent. My contact information is listed below. If you have questions, please contact me or the NCSL liaison to LSPA, Megan McClure by telephone or e-mail. 

Riding the Waves of Change

By Sheron Violini, California

As the summer months get underway and the world reopens, I want to say thank you for all the constituent and legislative services you provided during these challenging times. As legislative staff you have done an exemplary job of helping your bosses and constituents ride the wave of change during unprecedented times.

As we migrate back to the office, I am sure you will agree there is a lot to consider. What are you going to wear? How about the challenges of finding child care or a pet sitter? One must also locate a lunch box and figure out what to eat, because a lot of the restaurants are closed. For example, in Sacramento, Ambrosia Café, a staff favorite, is gone. I will miss the tri-tip sandwich and deviled eggs!

Will remote work, social distancing and mask wearing be a thing of the past? These unanswered questions could make you and your colleagues anxious to return to the office.

I think you will agree there is no magic bullet to unwind the past or predict the future. But we can try to be more mindful about how we respond. How? Rick Hansen, author of “Resilient,” recommends a daily meditation. There are free apps, such as Insight Timer, that might be helpful. Find something to anchor your attention. This could be an image or a word, or you could focus on your breathing. A simple practice could be incorporated by putting your feet flat on the floor, taking a deep breath and feeling the temperature of the air as you exhale through your nose. Hansen says a one-minute mediation is good, but a 10-minute meditation is better. This practice can help steady the mind and reduce anxiety. 

Additionally, Dr. Judson Brewer, author of “Unwinding Anxiety,” offers an app, free for the first five days, that provides small hacks and accessible brain-based techniques to help individuals achieve greater awareness. His app provides a commonsense approach to help Olympic athletes and government and business leaders understand the underlying roots of anxiety. I have found his work very helpful. Try it and let me know what you think.

As a free alternative, I encourage you to get back to nature by taking a 15-minute daily walk or visualizing a happy experience. Another way to process returning to work is to notice your feelings. Ask yourself what are you curious about or what is possible? As a leader, it is important to remain thoughtful and to avoid projecting anxiety onto your team.

As your teams come together again, you might want to have a pre-Zoom meeting to find out what is on their mind. Perhaps, ask each staff member how they are doing, do they have any specific challenges and how can you provide support. It will be important to be authentic. I encourage you to be vulnerable. Although silly, I shared with my team that, for me, coming back to work meant one-ply toilet paper. Yes, this brought levity to returning to the workplace and it started the conversation. And, remember, toilet paper was a big deal in 2020! 

I think everyone can agree that working from home and returning to work will invoke both positive and negative emotions. I encourage you to have compassion for yourself and for your colleagues who are returning to the office. I leave you with the Taoist Farmer’s Luck Stallion story to consider as you move forward.

In closing, I want to thank you for supporting NCSL and our staff association. In the coming months, you will have the opportunity to elect new leadership for the Leadership Staff Professional Association. I encourage you to support their efforts and become engaged in what NCSL has to offer. Best of luck to you as you return to the office.

Sheron Violini, deputy secretary of operations, California Senate
Chair, Leadership Staff Professional Association (LSPA)
ACC International Coaching Federation

Term Limits for Leadership Positions

Taylor Huhn, NCSL

On Jan. 13, 2021, the Illinois House of Representatives elected a new speaker. While a change in leadership at the top of a statehouse is always significant, this change was notable because it ended the tenure of the longest-serving leader of a state legislative chamber in modern U.S. history. After 38 years as speaker, including the last 24 years consecutively, Representative Michael Madigan (D) stepped down from his leadership position. His streak of holding the speaker’s gavel was one for the record books, but it also opened a conversation on whether term limits are needed for leadership positions. 

The Illinois General Assembly staked out its position on the issue of leadership term limits quickly after the end of Madigan’s tenure. In one of his first moves as the new speaker, Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D) led a successful push to amend the House rules, creating a term limit for the positions of speaker and minority leader. The Illinois Senate made a corresponding rule change to place term limits on the president and minority leader. As a result, legislators may hold these leadership positions for a maximum of five two-year terms. 

Does this shift align with other states, is it a nationwide trend or is Illinois an outlier? The answer is complicated. The two chambers in Illinois certainly fall into a small minority of legislatures across the U.S. with formal term limits on leaders. Only 10 of the 99 chambers, including the two in Illinois, have formalized term limits on leaders. Of these, the Maine Senate and House are unique in having codified leader term limits in statute. The others have all done so by chamber rule. 

Beyond those chambers with formal limits, 11 other chambers have placed limits on leaders through customs, traditions or internal caucus rules. However, these term limits may turn out to be malleable, as demonstrated in Kansas this year, where Speaker Ron Ryckman was elected to a third term—a first for the chamber.  

The position of lieutenant governor/senate president also comes into play when considering term limits on leaders. In 25 states, the senate president is a lieutenant governor, who is an executive branch official, not a member of the legislature. In 14 of the 25 states, the number of terms a lieutenant governor may serve is limited, so the length of time these individuals serve as senate president also is restricted. However, it should be noted that lieutenant governors who serve as senate presidents may not necessarily be the “top leader” of their chamber. In Arkansas, for example, the lieutenant governor holds the title of Senate president, but the president pro tempore of the Senate serves as the chamber's de facto leader. 

Term limits on legislators themselves also play a role in limiting the tenure of leadership positions. Fifteen states currently have term limits for legislators, and while the precise rules of these limits vary, they might effectively serve as limits on leaders themselves.  

In all cases of term limits (or lack thereof) for leaders, nothing is set in stone. Traditions can be flexible, and chamber rules can change. Take the Massachusetts House, for example, where term limits on the speaker have come and gone twice since 1985.   

As Illinois and other states experiment with leader term limits, lawmakers will have to continue grappling with questions similar to those surrounding legislator term limits: Do the limits lead to increased accountability and fresh ideas, or do they curtail experience and devalue institutional knowledge? Illinois lawmakers may already be signaling their answers to these questions, as the House recently passed a bipartisan bill to strengthen the new term limits on leaders by codifying them in statute. Ultimately, the actions by legislatures in Illinois and across the country may determine whether or not Speaker Madigan will maintain his place as the longest-serving state legislative leader in modern history.  

We Asked You: Virtual Office Hours/Town Halls

In April 2020, we asked you:

  1. Do you have virtual office hours or something similar available to lawmakers in your chamber, caucus or office?
  2. Are you planning to provide opportunities or guidance for legislators who are interested in trying something similar?
  3. Any tips for making this type of outreach successful and meaningful for constituents?
  4. What should someone interested in implementing virtual office hours keep in mind as they plan?
  5. What platform are you using?
  6. Are staff available to support and run the office hours and what roles do they play?

 

Here are the responses we received:

ALASKA HOUSE:

  1. My boss, House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, has always done “Coffee with Chris” on Tuesday mornings during the interim. Usually, he makes himself available at a coffee shop in the district for constituents to come in and chat. Since the pandemic, he has been holding these virtually. He held a few in person when Anchorage’s hunker-down orders were lightened, but he continued to hold them virtually as well, even if he did have them in person. Generally, only the same few people attend, but he finds real value in being able to say in all his communications that he makes himself available on a regular basis. Holding these virtually allowed him and his constituents to become used to the virtual platform and now for the first time, he has continued “Coffee with Chris” throughout session, which was never possible before because Juneau is about an hour and a half plane ride from Anchorage.
  2.  Most of our members have embraced the online platforms and have figured out how to do it without leadership's formal guidance. Sometimes people still come to me to ask for advice, and I have given some informal guidance on the topic, but nothing formal or uniform, and usually just a discussion about the pros and cons of each platform.
  3. I think that the most meaningful thing to constituents is that a legislator is ready and willing and wanting to meet with people. Even if people don’t want to actually meet with their legislator, they appreciate knowing they could and will remember that. I would think carefully about which platform you chose and make that play to your boss’ strengths. For my boss, I always say that you might disagree with him, but if I can get you face to face, you’ll like him. For that reason, we use Zoom because it’s interactive. Other members are very good at giving speeches or playing to an audience without necessarily needing to interact with that audience, in which case Facebook Live might be more their speed.
  4. Make any office hours consistent, predictable and sustainable for the legislator. I would also make it as easy as possible to access the office hours.
  5. Zoom, which we purchased. Teams was also an option and available for free through the legislature, but they have some firewalls on our accounts, so we chose to go with Zoom. Plus, people are pretty familiar with Zoom now, so it removes some technophobia issues.
  6. Whenever possible, the boss tries to do it. There have been only a handful of times over the 12 years he's been in office that a staffer has stood in for him. With Zoom, a staffer has been hosting the meeting to keep the boss from having to worry about it (he’s a bit of a luddite when it comes to technology).

COLORADO SENATE MAJORITY CAUCUS:

While we haven’t explored virtual office hours, the senators in our caucus have consistently held virtual town halls to remain accessible and provide information to constituents.

  1. We’ve made an instructional video to show senators and their aides how to access all of the tools to make their town halls successful, and I’ve also offered to provide additional training to the senators and aides should they need it.
  1. Our senators have frequently had guests ranging from House members from overlapping districts to members of executive agencies join to provide relevant information. Town halls with people from the Department of Public Health and Environment to talk about things such as testing protocol, or with folks from the Department of Labor to talk about accessing unemployment benefits are examples of guests that I think were especially informative for constituents.
  1. Secure any guests well in advance, have a narrow focus, have any panelists get on the call 10 to 15 minutes in advance to head off any technological issues.
  1. Mostly Zoom, which gives you the option to broadcast on Facebook and YouTube as well. You can also record the virtual town hall on Zoom and post it on social media afterward so that constituents who weren’t able to make it to the live town hall can access it later.
  1. Senators’ aides are trained on how to run town halls, and I have also helped moderate them when needed. For the most part, staff play a background role and may help with Q&A portions, but senators and panelists are largely in control of the questions they answer.

MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE:

  1. Our office has been hosting monthly virtual office hours since September 2020.
  2. Office hours at the State House are led by individual offices, so we do not have plans to provide official guidance to others.
  3. We make appointments with constituents so that it is easier to coordinate. I send press releases to the local media and post multiple times on Facebook with a newly created Canva infographic.
  4. They should be aware that a lot of individuals in high-need areas do not have reliable access to the internet, so in addition to virtual offices, we have organized in-person, socially distanced office hours during times of good weather.
  5. We are using the Zoom platform.
  6. Yes, we have two staffers, who lead constituent services, run the office hours alongside the representative. They take notes and then follow up with the constituents.

Raising Awareness About Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Selena Saucedo, NCSL

Conversations about evolving employee culture aren’t new, but recent events are spurring private and public sector employers alike to commit to examining and improving their workplaces. State legislatures have undertaken diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in different forms to educate legislators and legislative staff.

Training is one approach legislatures have taken to integrate DEI into the legislative environment. Some states offer or require training on diversity and/or anti-discrimination for legislators and/or legislative staff.

The Alabama Legislature offers several legislator trainings, including diversity training. Non-discrimination or anti-discrimination training is required for Minnesota senators, New Jersey legislators and partisan staff, and Wyoming legislators.

In at least six states, the legislature or a legislative chamber offers implicit bias training for legislators or legislative staff. Implicit bias training is offered to staff in the California Senate and to legislators and staff in the Connecticut General Assembly and New York Legislature. The Maine Legislature included implicit bias training for legislative staff last year, and the Vermont General Assembly has required bias training annually for legislators and staff. The Washington Senate has offered bias training to staff and last year partnered with the House to offer training to the entire legislative branch staff.

Read the full NCSL LegisBrief: Raising Awareness About Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

50-State Bill Research Just Got Easier: NCSL’s Bill Information Service Updated With New Search Capabilities

Amber Widgery, NCSL

NCSL has released a new way to search for legislation in the Bill Information Service, an exclusive benefit for legislators and legislative staff. Now, with more than 1,000 ready-to-use topic searches, finding bills is easier than ever. The new topic searches cover policy areas from A to Z, including agriculture, education, energy, labor and employment, law and justice, taxation and more!

Search legislation by:

  • Bill number
  • Term/phrase
  • Topic
  • Author (sponsor)
  • Location (committee, chamber, etc.)

Search now

Haven’t Logged In Yet?
Register for NCSL’s next training to learn more about the 50-State Bill Information Service and the new topic searches.

Get a Head Start!
NCSL policy experts have done some of the legwork for you, compiling pending and enacted legislation on trending and perennially popular topics. In addition to the Bill Information Service, check out these bill-tracking databases organized by topic. View the databases

Learning About LSPA’s Role on NCSL’s Staff Advisory Committee

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

Have you ever heard of NCSL’s Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee, the LSCC for short? It’s a 49-member staff committee that advises 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 members of the LSCC and attend its quarterly meetings. Sheron Violini (California) and Josh Nacey (Kentucky) are members of the LSCC by virtue of serving as chair and first vice chair, respectively, of LSPA.

The LSCC is chaired by NCSL’s staff chair, one of the organization’s three staff officers. 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 30,000 full- and part-time staff who are employed by America’s state legislatures and ensures that NCSL continues to provide high-quality programming, networking and services to help staff do their jobs better and support the legislative institution.

Below are 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 to recognize legislative staff for their contributions to their professional staff associations, their legislatures and NCSL. Last year, 23 staff, along with one legislative agency, were recognized on the national level with a Legislative Staff Achievement Award.
  • 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. Today, the program counts more than 800 staff graduates. The LSCC oversees this long-standing leadership development program. The 2021 LSMI program will take place Aug. 20-27. Applications are now being accepted!
  • 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 the 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.

LSPA 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.

  • Parliamentary Procedure
    This guide provides basic parliamentary information in an easy-to-read format. It is not a comprehensive parliamentary manual, nor does it cover every nuance of legislative procedure. Rather, it serves as a primer on parliamentary fundamentals.
  • NCSL State Policy 101 Video Series
    NCSL’s “State Policy 101” series offers legislators and legislative staff more than 25 educational sessions on key, cross-cutting policy issues. Whether you are new to the legislature or are looking to build your knowledge in a specific area, these sessions will prepare you for future success.
  • NCSL Daily Development:
    This limited series of resources on a common theme is relevant to every level of the legislative world: legislators, legislative staff and leadership.
  • NCSL Young and New Professionals Group
    The mission of the NCSL Young and New Professionals Group is to engage, educate and support the state legislative leaders of tomorrow through targeted professional development, networking opportunities and recognition.
  • NCSL LegisBriefs:
    Each two-page report gives you a wealth of insight into the issues that affect the states. Concise. Easy-to-read. Informative. For people who want to know all sides of emerging issues.

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