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RELACS Report | Spring 2020

January 29, 2020

Staff Hub ATL

NCSL is excited to announce the Staff Hub ATL 2020!

Join your colleagues in Atlanta Oct. 7-9, 2020, for a collective gathering of legislative staff. During this meeting six of NCSL’s professional staff associations will gather, creating a dynamic atmosphere for learning, collaborating and networking. Over the course of three days, you will sharpen your skills and explore a wide variety of topics including research, evaluation, fiscal analysis, communications, bill drafting, editing, leadership and soft skill development. This professional development seminar is designed specifically FOR legislative staff BY legislative staff

  • Leadership Staff Professional Association (LSPA)
  • Legislative Research Librarians (LRL)
  • Legislative Information and Communications Staff (LINCS)
  • National Legislative Program Evaluation Society (NLPES)
  • National Association of Legislative Fiscal Offices (NALFO)
  • Research, Editorial, Legal and Committee Staff (RELACS)

This meeting is meant to foster cross-pollination and shared learning between professional staff associations, increase overall attendance at a staff-focused meeting, learn about different staff functions and staff roles in the legislature and ncrease synergy among the participating associations.

Nominate a RELACS Member for the 2020 Legislative Staff Achievement Award

Nominations for the 2020 Legislative Staff Achievement Award from the Research, Editorial, Legal and Committee Staff association (RELACS) are now being accepted.

Do you know a legislative researcher, editor, attorney, drafter, or committee staffer who does amazing work for their legislature? Or, is there a member of RELACS who has done extraordinary work for the association? Please consider nominating them for this year's award!

The Legislative Staff Achievement Award (LSAA) was instituted in 1997 by the Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee, as a means for the NCSL to annually recognize legislative staff or offices that have demonstrated excellence in supporting the work of a state legislature and strengthening the legislative institution, and in contributing to the work of NCSL. The awards have added meaning in that they are bestowed by the recipients’ peers through each of the NCSL staff organizations and the NCSL Staff Chair. 

Each staff organization may name up to two recipients—individuals, teams, or legislative offices—for recognition each year. Recipients of the awards are presented with a plaque at the RELACS business meeting at the NCSL Legislative Summit in Indianapolis the week of Aug. 10-13, and they are also recognized by the NCSL staff chair during the Salute to Legislative Staff luncheon at the Legislative Summit.


All members of the Research, Editorial, Legal and Committee Staff association (RELACS) are eligible for this award. Examples of accomplishments recognized by RELACS for the Legislative Staff Achievement Award include the following:

  • Exhibiting a high degree of professionalism, competence, and integrity in serving the legislature and the public.
  • Helping to improve the effectiveness of the legislative institution.
  • Supporting the legislative process and the mission of the legislature.
  • Contributing to the work of NCSL or the Research, Editorial, Legal and Committee Staff association.
  • Demonstrating expertise in a particular field.
  • Contributing to existing knowledge.

Nominations should briefly address how the nominee meets the above criteria.

Send nominations by Monday, April 20, 2020, to the NCSL liaison to RELACS: Kae Warnock

Thank you for considering the nomination of a deserving RELACS member!

SCOTUS Rules State Legislatures Can’t Copyright Statutory Annotations

By Lisa Soronen

In Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org the U.S. Supreme Court held 5-4 that non-binding, explanatory legal materials created by state legislatures cannot be copyrighted.

The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) contains various non-binding supplementary materials including summaries of judicial decisions and attorney general opinions and a list of law review articles related to current statutory provisions. The OCGA is assembled by the Code Revision Commission, which is a state entity; a majority of its member are state legislators. Lexis prepares the annotations and the legislature approves them.

Georgia argued that it may copyright these annotations. The Supreme Court disagreed in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The author of an original work receives copyright protection. According to the court, “[t]he animating principle behind [the government edicts doctrine] is that no one can own the law.” Per this doctrine, judges “may not be considered the ‘authors’ of the works they produce in the course of their official duties as judges,” regardless of whether the material carries the force of law. The court extended this same rule to legislators. The State and Local Legal Center did not file an amicus brief in this case.

According to the court, “the government edicts doctrine traces back to a trio of cases decided in the 19th century” and “reveals a straightforward rule based on the identity of the author.” In Wheaton v. Peters (1834), the Court held that judicial opinions can’t be copyrighted. In Banks v. Manchester (1888), the Court held a case syllabus or head note written by a judge can’t be copyrighted. In Callaghan v. Myers (1888), the court held that an official reporter could copyright explanatory materials it had written about a case.  According to the Court, “[t]hese cases establish a straightforward rule: Because judges are vested with the authority to make and interpret the law, they cannot be the ‘author’ of the works they prepare ‘in the discharge of their judicial duties.’”

The Supreme Court extended the government edicts doctrine to legislators acting in the course of their legislative duties because “[c]ourts have thus long understood the government edicts doctrine to apply to legislative materials.”

The court held Georgia’s annotations are not copyrightable because the author is the Code Revision Commission and it “qualifies as a legislator.” Even though Lexis did the drafting Georgia agreed the author of the annotations is the commission. While the court acknowledged that the “commission is not identical to the Georgia Legislature,” nevertheless it “functions as an arm of it for the purpose of producing the annotations.”

The court noted that “[s]ignificantly, the annotations the commission creates are approved by the legislature before being ‘merged’ with the statutory text and published in the official code alongside that text at the legislature’s direction.”

Finally, the court determined that the commission creates the annotations in the “discharge” of its legislative “duties” because “the commission’s preparation of the annotations is under Georgia law an act of ‘legislative authority’ . . .  and the annotations provide commentary and resources that the legislature has deemed relevant to understanding its laws.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissenting opinion, which Justice Samuel Alito joined in full and Justice Stephen Breyer joined in part, took the position that precedent stands for the proposition that materials lacking legal force, like the annotations in this case, may be copyrighted. 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also dissented. She concluded the OCGA annotations aren’t created in the legislative process because they aren’t “created contemporaneously with the statutes to which they pertain,” are “descriptive rather than prescriptive,” and are only “explanatory, referential, or commentarial material.” Breyer joined her opinion.

Twenty-two states, two territories, and the District of Columbia “rely on arrangements similar to Georgia’s to produce annotated codes.”

Lisa Soronen is executive director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to the NCSL Blog on judicial issues.

Legislative Staff Week | May 4-8, 2020

Next week, we will celebrate the good work of legislative staff, like you, who work behind the scenes to support state legislatures. From drafting bills to researching policy issues, your work is even more important and valued during these unprecedented times. From May 4-8 NCSL will recognize your important contributions in conjunction with Public Service Recognition Week.

Please give a standing ovation, or two, in recognition of a colleague's or team's resilience, leadership, innovation, collaboration or exceptional commitment during this critical time.

Get a jump start and submit your standing ovations today.

We will kick off the week with a special legislative staff podcast, "COVID-19: Resiliency and Readiness in Pandemic Times,'' available May 4.

Register for our May 8 webinar designed with you in mind. "Managing, Leading and Growing During Uncertain Times" will explore how strong leadership skills, agile management techniques and ongoing self-care are essential for navigating these uncertain times.

More announcements about Legislative Staff Week—including legislative staff profiles, social media photo opportunities and more will begin appearing on NCSL’s website next week.

NCSL Resources for Legislative Staff

NCSL strives to provide legislative staff with articles and online learning on policy issues and skills that can help you do your job more effectively. Here are a few items that may be helpful.

COVID-19 Resources Page for Legislative Staff

NCSL is committed to providing our members with timely responses to state research requests and the essential knowledge needed to guide state action. This page is updated daily to reflect new resources in policy areas ranging from education to health care costs and access. Check back often—resources will be updated as they become available.

Upcoming Webinars

  • NCSL Bill Information Service: For legislators and legislative staff only (this webinar is held on a monthly basis as an introduction to the NCSL Bill Information Service).
  • April 30: Using Data to Comply with the Voting Rights Act 
  • May 5: Redistricting Criteria: Traditional and Emerging
  • May 6: COVID-19: Mobilizing a Safe and Adequate Health Workforce
  • May 6: COVID-19: How’s It Changing Elections?
  • May 7: Using Millions of Maps (and Statistical Tests) to Evaluate Plans
  • May 7 NRI Spring Webinar Series: New WOTUS Rule & States Response to Jurisdictional Changes
  • May 8: Managing, Leading and Growing During Uncertain Times
  • May 12: Developing a Dialogue: Public Input and Legislative Outreach
  • May 13: COVID-19: Ensuring Adequate Health Care Facilities
  • May 13: What to Consider When You’re Expecting More Absentee Voting
  • May 14: Building in Bipartisanship
  • May 19: A Demographer Looks Ahead
  • May 20: Moving to All-Mail Elections: Promises and Challenges
  • May 21: Successfully Handing Off to Election Officials 
  • May 21 NRI Spring Webinar Series: Solar on Agricultural Lands–Preserving Pollinator Habitat and Soil Health

LegisBriefs in 2020


  • Taking Note: Examining Policies’ Effects on Public Health | Vol. 28, No. 14
  • Tackling Record Student Loan Debt | Vol. 28, No. 13
  • Joining Forces to Purchase Pharmaceuticals in Bulk | Vol. 28, No. 12


  • Governing the Growing World of Early Childhood Education | Vol. 28, No. 11
  • Stabilizing the Individual Health Care Market | Vol. 28, No. 10
  • The Evolving World of Redistricting Technology | Vol. 28, No. 9
  • Regulating Private Water Wells | Vol. 28, No. 8


  • Limiting Political Activity for Nonpartisan Staff | Vol. 28, No. 7
  • Trends and Incentives in Workforce Development | Vol. 28, No. 6
  • Tapping into Telehealth to Expand Care | Vol. 28, No. 5


  • Addressing the Data Gap in Disability Employment | Vol. 28, No. 4
  • Improving Election Accuracy With GIS Technology | Vol. 28, No. 3
  • Improving Responses to Sexual Assault Survivors | Vol. 28, No. 2
  • Strengthening Student Loan Oversight | Vol. 28, No. 1

Archived Webinars and Podcasts

  • The ABCDE Method: A Tool for Maximizing Productivity — Hear from renowned NCSL trainer Curt Stedron, in this 30-minute webinar, 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 to adapt and implement the ABCDE Method on multiple levels in her office. 
  • Make Your Mark: Practical Tools to Expand Your Personal Presence: Presence. You know it when you see it. Yet did you know there are specific nonverbal skills that create "presence"? By increasing your awareness of your nonverbal communication, you can change how others perceive you. In this presentation, Rachel Beohm will give you concrete tools to communicate a positive, powerful presence.
  • Keys to an Effective Message – Story Principles, Focused Messaging, and Communication Styles — It’s crunch time in the legislature and you are finishing up a big, complex project. Now you need to distill all that work into a summary to share with colleagues or constituents. Communications coach Marianna Swallow will guide you through the steps to develop an effective message. She shares the keys to understanding different communication styles, identifying the main takeaway of your message, and using story principles to engage your audience.
  • 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.
  • Mindfulness: Legislative Staff Elixer: Working in state legislatures is a very demanding job. State legislative staff serve in an institution where workload changes can come often and swiftly. The shifting nature of legislation and the mixture of public opinion, rules, procedures and process make session work stressful. But for the estimated 30,000-plus legislative staff that work in legislatures during session, most will tell you the work is rewarding.

Suddenly, we’re editing bill drafts from home

By the Wisconsin LRB legislative editors

On March 12, 2020, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued Executive Order 72, declaring a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 24, 2020, Governor Evers issued Emergency Order 12, the “safer at home” order, which effectively closed nonessential businesses in the state. Emergency Order 28, issued April 16, 2020, extended the safer at home order until May 26, 2020. At the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB), we had been watching COVID-19 make its way to our part of the world, but business continued as usual until the week of March 16, 2020, when many LRB employees began telecommuting. In the days preceding that week, preparation emails were flying, laptops were programmed to access remote desktops, and Skype groups were formed. But we still didn’t know how editing bill drafts, legal memos, research memos and research publications from home would work. Frankly, we were old-fashioned in how we did our work: We relied heavily on paper, pens, printers, forms and two-person proofreading. We didn’t know that in a virtual world, our bill drafting system could do even more and that we could adapt.

In the weeks between the issuance of Emergency Order 12 and the enactment of 2019 Wisconsin Act 185—state government’s response to the public health emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic—on April 15, 2020, the legislative editing team helped to prepare extraordinary session legislation. We did so while maintaining the same high-quality, timely work on memos, publications and other bill drafts. We did this work as we learned how to thrive in a drastically different work environment. We worked long, odd hours and experienced stress, but we did not fail. We also learned several strategies for surviving in a virtual, paperless environment. Some states already use these strategies, but they are new to us at the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. For example, Arkansas has been using Adobe documents to show editing markup for years; Virginia editors use more than one computer screen. We’re curious about what strategies other legislative editors have employed recently.


Be adaptable. Remember when your job with the legislature was completely new and you had to learn to operate in a new sphere? Transitioning to telecommuting—overwhelming and unsettling!—is like starting a new job. When you’re forced outside your comfort zone because of contingencies outside your control (like a global pandemic), embrace the discomfort by thinking up novel ways to perform your duties. This can be done by leaning on the technology at your fingertips.

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is designed for virtual editing. We learned to use Adobe Acrobat to mark drafts with the Red Pen Tool, comment on drafts using the Comments feature, and share images of pages using the Snapshot Tool. (A stylus would make using Adobe Acrobat Pro DC easier, but many of us are getting by with a mouse or finger.)

A powerful compare routine is invaluable. When we started editing drafts from home, and drafters started drafting from home, the chance for typos and mechanical errors grew exponentially, and rushed time frames did not always allow for editing for substance. We learned to use our already powerful compare routine in new, amazing ways. For example, to fix issues and get sign-off from the drafter without losing speed or quality, we used the compare routine as follows:

  • Check out the draft and export a copy as a backup. Open the checked-out draft and correct the typos and mechanicals as you edit. Run any normal routines, save changes and close.
  • Run the compare routine between the edited, checked-out version and the unedited, exported version. Create a PDF rendition of the compare output.
  • Email the compare output PDF to the drafter for review. (In Wisconsin, the compare PDF shows deletions in red and insertions in blue. In effect, it is self-explanatory for changes that are not intended to be substantive, which is a time saver, since you don’t need to take time to write explanations or call to discuss changes with drafters.)
  • While the drafter reviews the PDF, proofread your work.
  • For redrafting legislative proposals, encourage drafters to type directly into the new version (gasp!). Key, here, is making sure the drafter is working in the new version and not the original version of the redrafted draft. Using this method, the editor can check out the new version, export a copy of the previous version, and run the compare routine to see the changes that need editing.
  • Responsiveness cannot be overrated. Timely responsiveness is a courtesy in an office environment, essential in a virtual one. This is not something we didn’t already know, but the urgency of it was new.

Use email more efficiently. Because in a virtual office you may be communicating via text, email and Skype all at once, use a specific, unique phrase in the subject line of an email to aid the reader. For example, in the subject line, write “Please clarify Section 2 in 19-6089/P2” instead of “Draft for your review” to help the drafter prioritize the email. To help with organization, also include in an email a numbered list so the drafter can easily identify the questions to which he or she is responding.

Set up a Skype chat room for your editing team. Skype for Business allows for immediate communication among team members, and the thread disappears after closing the chat. One downfall is that the blinking Skype icon can be distracting. So we learned to be more sensitive and minimized Skype chatter when another team member had an urgent draft to edit. One important advantage is that Skype has helped us keep morale high and laugh from time to time. Overall, Skype has been an effective way for a coordinator to communicate editing needs and for editors to collaborate and ask for help.

Use Skype or Zoom for collaborating or two-person proofreading. While we know this is a great idea, we haven’t had time to use Skype or Zoom for more than general communication and meetings. However, we know that we could use Skype or Zoom for two-person proofreading and will test it. We are also aware of the “share my desktop” feature in Skype and Zoom, which would be useful when looking at specific language or resolving technical issues.

“Paperless” doesn’t mean you can’t use notes and checklists. The next time you must leave your physical office for the foreseeable future because of a pandemic, grab post-it notes, checklists and notepads. We learned to write down changes on a separate sheet of paper and check off the changes as we make them to ensure none are missed. We can’t mark edits like we have in the past, but we can use our own notes and checklists to edit thoroughly.

Share work you might not under normal circumstances. In the crisis of editing an urgent, complex, messy draft, we learned to divide the draft between two or more editors to meet the deadline. When a draft is “split” so that one editor can help another, the assisting editor can do more than just flag problems in the part of the draft that he or she takes. The assisting editor can resolve problems with the drafter; type fixes into an exported copy of the draft; copy and paste the contents of the fixed, exported copy into an insert; and check that insert into the draft’s digital folder. The primary editor can then copy from the assisting editor’s insert and paste into the checked-out copy of the draft in place of the original, unfixed version of that same material. We have also divided editing tasks such as checking cross-references, checking non-statutory provisions, and reading only the plain-language analysis to make sure the analysis reflects what the draft does.

If possible, use more than one computer screen. In fact, we have not been able to do this, but we have wished for more than one computer screen. There are times when an editor must work with three or more documents at once—without paper, this is incredibly difficult. In a perfect, virtual world, another computer screen would help.

Create a healthy home work environment. Wear sound-protection headphones, like what you would wear if you were operating a chainsaw or jackhammer, to minimize noise distraction from your family or housemates. You can also listen to music by wearing earbuds inside the headphones. If necessary, you can drape a sheet over yourself and your workspace to minimize visual distractions. (Just kidding!)

Look on the bright side. You’ve heard this many times during the past many weeks, but it’s essential to mention the importance of positivity. In Wisconsin, the legislative editors are a close-knit team. We support each other through this stressful, bizarre time and offer to help whenever possible. We show gratitude and practice forgiveness. We try to look on the bright side. After all, we’re thankful for a job we can do from home. And we don’t miss commuting to the office.

RELACS Will Offer Several Virtual Meetings in 2020

RELACS will present a multi-part series of interactive webinars and virtual meetings—beginning in July—geared toward legislative staff who conduct research, draft and edit legislation, examine legal issues, and staff legislative committees.

The first two programs in the series are:

Supreme Court Roundup: Part 1

Tuesday, July 28, 2020 | 3 p.m. ET/ 2 p.m. CT/ 1 p.m. MT/ Noon PT

The U.S. Supreme Court had an exciting term with groundbreaking cases and a pivot to virtual oral arguments. Tune-in for this popular program and hear the State and Local Legal Center Chief Counsel and Executive Director Lisa Soronen discuss the most meaningful and impactful Supreme Court cases with state impact. This will be the first of two distinct programs and will focus on the biggest cases decided this term.

Speaker: Lisa Soronen, executive director, State and Local Legal Center (SLLC).

Supreme Court Roundup: Part 2

Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020 | 3 p.m. ET/ 2 p.m. CT/ 1 p.m. MT/ Noon PT

The U.S. Supreme Court had an exciting term with groundbreaking cases and a pivot to virtual oral argument. Tune-in for this popular program and hear the State and Local Legal Center Chief Counsel and Executive Director Lisa Soronen discuss the most meaningful and impactful Supreme Court cases with state impact. This will be the second of two distinct programs and will focus on cases granted for the October 2020 term.

Speaker: Lisa Soronen, executive director, State and Local Legal Center (SLLC).

These webinars are open to all legislators, legislative staff and NCSL partner organizations.

Another Webinar of Interest: To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the American's with Disabilities Act, NCSL and the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED) partners are sponsoring a series of webinars the week of July 20 including one on how state legislatures have been addressing ADA in renovations:.

Friday, July 24, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET — The ADA’s Impact on Accessible Legislatures 

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, discover how some legislatures have made their buildings, websites, webcasts and chambers more accessible—from wheelchair access and large print to hearing loops and assistive technologies. Learn what civic leaders must consider when creating accommodations for people experiencing barriers to access.

Future Programs: Subsequent programs will include discussions on constitutional issues that may affect remote sessions; emergency powers and legislative oversight; bill drafting; keeping legislative staff engaged; using electronic tools efficiently in online editing; and other topics. Visit the RELACS Virtual Meetings page to see the full list of upcoming programs.

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