Section 2 | Elements of the NCSL Committee Structure
What’s It Called?
The structure is known as the NCSL Standing Committees. The December and spring meetings are known as the Fall Forum and Spring Forum.
The standing committees integrate the organization’s consideration of federal and state issues. The committees are composed of legislators and legislative staff and have responsibility for exchanging information and ideas about state approaches to policy matters and for guiding NCSL’s lobbying work in Washington, D.C. The following are the eight committees that make up the committee system.
Budgets and Revenue
Communications, Financial Services and Interstate Commerce
Labor and Economic Development
Law and Criminal Justice
Natural Resources and Infrastructure
The structure has officers with responsibility for its overall operation and a set of officers for each committee. The overall officers:
Legislator Co-Chairs (one from each political party)
Legislator Vice Chairs
Legislative Staff Vice Chairs
The legislator Co-Chairs of the NCSL Standing Committees and the Staff Co-Chairs of the NCSL Standing Committees serve as ex officio members of the NCSL Executive Committee.
The officer line-up for each standing committee:
Legislator Co-Chairs (one from each political party)
Legislator Vice Chairs
Legislative Staff Vice chairs
Responsibilities of Overall Officers
The overall legislator co-chairs and overall legislative staff co-chairs share in providing direction to the Standing Committees. One of the legislator co-chairs presides at the Legislative Forum (formerly the Fall Forum) business meetings and at the policy directive and resolution adoption portion of the NCSL annual business meeting. The legislator co-chairs, staff co-chairs and vice chairs share in presiding over Steering Committee meetings, with the understanding that a legislator co-chair or vice chair presides over portions of the agenda regarding federal policy directives and resolutions. The legislator co-chairs, legislative staff co-chairs and vice chairs share other presiding responsibilities, including topic briefings and plenary programs. The legislator co-chairs and vice chairs, along with the NCSL legislator officers, oversees the organization’s lobbying effort.
The overall vice chairs substitute for the overall co-chairs when they are unable to preside or attend to other duties. The legislator vice chairs assist the co-chairs in guiding the organization’s lobbying activities, planning programs for the forum and summit, serving as liaisons to particular committees and developing and implementing strategies for improving attendance and participation in the Standing Committees. The legislative staff vice chairs are likely to divide their responsibilities between overseeing programming and outreach.
Responsibilities of Committee Officers
The legislator co-chairs and staff co-chairs of each committee share in guiding the committee’s activities and share in presiding over committee programs, with the understanding that a legislator officer presides over consideration of policy directives and resolutions. Both work closely with the NCSL staff assigned to the committee to plan programs and develop and implement outreach strategies. Although the legislator co-chairs have a preeminent role in guiding the committee’s lobbying activities, the staff co-chairs will participate in these discussions as appropriate.
NCSL staff identify opportunities for testimony at congressional hearings and ask legislator committee officers either to testify or to identify an appropriate member of the committee to testify. Legislator officers are asked to help lobby Congress and the administration and to approve letters, statements for the record and other communications.
The role of vice chairs varies by committee. Among the options available for using vice chairs:
Using the vice chairs (at least the legislators) as a kind of steering committee or sounding board regarding the committee’s lobbying work;
Assigning responsibilities for major issue areas within the committee’s jurisdiction;
Assigning one or more vice chairs to take the lead on outreach to committee members and potential members;
Taking the lead for certain work products, including policy statements, reports and option papers;
Presiding over various elements of the committee’s program;
Representing the committee with NCSL task forces working on issues within the committee’s jurisdiction;
Chairing committee work groups and subcommittees.
During its review of the committees in 2005-06, the NCSL Executive Committee was particularly interested in assigning vice chairs to each of the major issues within a committee’s jurisdiction and noted that this could be especially effective for committees that with especially broad jurisdictions, such as the Communications, Financial Services and Interstate Commerce Committee or the Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee.
The Steering Committee for the NCSL Standing Committees is composed of the following:
Legislator (overall) co-chairs
Legislative staff (overall) co-chairs
Legislator (overall) vice chairs
Legislative staff (overall) vice chairs
Legislator co-chairs of each committee (16 total)
Legislative staff co-chair of each committee (16 total).
The total number of members of the Steering Committee may vary a little from year to year (depending on the number of overall vice chairs).
Committee vice chairs are not members of the Steering Committee. They are encouraged to attend meetings of the Steering Committee. The co-chairs of a committee should designate a vice chair to represent the committee in their absence. Voting in the Steering Committee on matters of public policy is limited to the legislator officers.
There is more on the Steering Committee roles and responsibilities in the Steering Committee section of this manual.
How Officers are Appointed
The new NCSL President, President-elect and Staff Chair appoint the officers of the standing committees. The legislator choices must be approved by their presiding officers before the appointment is official. Legislative staff choices are also cleared with the appropriate authority before they can become officers. Legislator officers serve a term of 2 conference years; legislative staff officers serve a term of one conference year. A conference year runs from one Legislative Summit to the next Legislative Summit.
Almost all the co-chairs and most of the vice chairs are legislators and staff who have been active with the committee over the previous year or longer. The president, president-elect and staff chair weigh many factors when making their choices, including party affiliation, region, gender and race. Efforts are made to ensure that legislators from term-limited states are represented among committee officers. Some of the vice chair positions are used to encourage certain legislators, staff and legislatures to become more active in the organization.
How Members are Appointed
Legislator members of the committees are appointed for two-year terms following the fall elections. The presiding officer or other appointing authority of each legislative chamber receives a letter from the NCSL President and President-elect asking for new appointments. The letter contains a matrix with information about legislators currently appointed to the committees and a short description of the committee’s jurisdiction. In chambers in which the presiding officer remains the same after the elections, their appointments continue until the presiding officer replaces them. Presiding officers are encouraged to appoint more than one legislator to each standing committee. Presiding officers may make changes to their appointments anytime during a biennium.
Legislative staff members to the committees are appointed by their staff directors or other appointing authority. They typically serve until they are replaced or resign.
Role of Legislative Staff
The NCSL Executive Committee expects legislative staff to play a full role in governance, planning, programs and discussions in the committees. The only exception to this is that the NCSL by-laws prohibit staff from voting on matters of public policy. The Executive Committee wants legislative staff to participate in discussions about proposed policy directives and resolutions, to serve as resources and to offer their perspectives. Voting on policy directives and resolutions, though, remains a prerogative of the legislators.
The Standing Committees meet three times each year—once in Washington, D.C., once in a location outside of Washington, D.C. and once with the NCSL annual meeting. For the coming conference year, the meeting schedule is as follows:
Aug. 12-15, 2013
Dec. 4-6, 2013
Task Forces, Subcommittees and Work Groups
NCSL uses task forces, work groups and advisory committees to deal with a variety of issues, including taxation of electronic commerce, military and veterans affairs, international issues and energy supply. The Executive Committee has expressed a preference for integrating the work of these task forces and working groups more closely with the standing committees. Among the options for consideration:
Placing one or more officers of standing committees on the task force;
Drawing from the membership of a standing committee to create a working group or advisory committee;
Encouraging or requiring these groups to meet in conjunction with the fall and spring forums;
Creating subcommittees of standing committees instead of task forces.
Balancing State and Federal Issues within the Committees
An important responsibility for committee officers is to ensure that there is an appropriate balance in a committee’s focus between state and federal issues.
One of the primary responsibilities of the standing committees (except for Legislative Effectiveness) is development of the policy directives and resolutions that guide the organization’s state-federal work. The committees are also expected, when appropriate, to produce work products with a state focus—for example, issue options, training materials, surveys and issue briefs.