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RELACS Report | Winter 2021-22

December 14, 2021

RELACS in the New Year

By Fred Messerer, RELACS Chair

With the beginning of session pending, it’s that time of year to see what’s in store for RELACS in 2022. And as Carolyn Leigh wrote, first for Tony Bennett and then Frank Sinatra, the best is yet to come!

Webinars will be the name of the game for 2022. The RELACS Program Committee, with its chair Betsy Howerton of Georgia, and the webinar subcommittee, helmed by Julie Pelegrin of Colorado, will be meeting in the new year to line up first-class online programming for all. So, if you have an idea for a webinar or, even better, want to teach a webinar, please let Betsy and Julie know!

Speaking of Georgia, for the first time since the Santa Fe PDS in 2019, we will be meeting in person! RELACS and all the other professional associations will be at Staff Hub in Atlanta, Oct. 10-12. Mark your calendars and get in your travel requests early! This will be a great time to reconnect with colleagues from across the country.

The pandemic has shed some light on changes we need to make to the RELACS bylaws and to make sure RELACS can take full advantage of both in-person and online business meetings. Led by our immediate past chair Jamie Shanks of Tennessee, we will be having a RELACS bylaws review committee to review all our bylaws and make recommended changes to the Executive Committee for our business meeting at the NCSL Summit in Denver this summer.

Bylaws won’t be the only thing on the agenda for our summer business meeting. We will have three director vacancies on the executive committee. For those of you who want to be more involved in RELACS, being a director on the executive committee is a great way to serve.

Finally, what hasn’t Wendy Jackson of Wisconsin done for RELACS? Well, for 2022, we’ve decided to give Wendy a bit of a break. We are very pleased to welcome her fellow Wisconsinite Staci Duros as the new editor of the RELACS Report.

Season’s Greetings to all and here is to a wonderful 2022!

50-State Bill Research Just Got Easier!

NCSL’s Bill Information Service Updated With New Search Capabilities

By 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.)

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.

Pivoting and Revising

A person who revises statutes or code may be called a revisor or a reviser. Kentucky is one of the states that uses the ‘er’ spelling.

By Erica Warren, Assistant Reviser of Statutes, Legislative Research Commission, Kentucky

We typically think of state legislatures as institutions ruled by rules—constitutional provisions, parliamentary procedures, rules of decorum, as well as years of historical precedence. But one thing that the pandemic has taught us is that even staid institutions like state legislatures can pivot and find new ways to operate when required.

Like your jobs in your state legislature, the “how” of my job as an assistant statute reviser changed dramatically over the past two years. We went from revising bill drafts on paper that were carted in a physical paper file from office to office to editing documents that were wholly uploaded and transmitted online.

The pandemic also required many quick pivots by the officers of RELACS and NCSL. I credit past chairs, Anne Sappenfield and Jamie Shanks, current chair Fred Messerer, and our stalwart staff association liaison Kae Warnock with leading RELACS through the necessary decisions we had to make in 2020 and early 2021.

Like seemingly everything else in life, the pandemic required us to adjust things that had worked perfectly well beforehand because we did not foresee the situation we found ourselves in, such as RELACS not meeting in person for over a year at a time.

That is why one of the RELACS committees for this business year is reviewing and revising the RELACS bylaws. Our current bylaws were adopted in 2016 when the Legal Services and the Research and Committee Staff Sections merged into one professional association at the NCSL Legislative Summit. For example, the bylaws presume there will always be an NCSL Legislative Summit during the summer months and a fall professional development seminar.

The Bylaws Review Committee is just one committee of RELACS for this business year of RELACS. The others are Program Planning Committee; Webinar Subcommittee; RELACS Report Editorial Board; RELACS Exploratory Committee on a Mentorship Program; RELACS Exploratory Committee on Scholarships for Teaching; Nominations Committee; and Awards Committee. The exploratory committees are looking at ways to address emerging needs of legislative staff across the country and how RELACS can best address them, because new issues continuously require us to pivot and revise the way we do things.

Participating on a committee is a great way to get involved with RELACS and NCSL and meet other people who do jobs similar to yours. If you would like more information or are interested in participating, let me or Kae Warnock know and we will get you involved.

What Can RELACS Do for Your Legislative Teams?

An open letter to directors of legislative services agencies.

By Fred Messerer, Principal Deputy Legislative Counsel II, California, and RELACS Chair

As the director of a legislative services agency, you may not be familiar with RELACS. We’re the professional association within NCSL that represents RELACS. As the chair of RELACS, one of my missions for 2022 is to increase outreach among the legislative staff in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories and commonwealths of the United States. Which begs the question: What can RELACS do for your legislative teams?

NCSL is the only nationwide legislative organization that guarantees that legislative staff are members of the organization’s executive committee. As part of that representation, each professional association, including RELACS, has a seat on the Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee (LSCC), which oversees the legislative staff division of NCSL, coordinates the work of the nine professional associations, promotes staff development, and reviews and evaluates NCSL services to legislative staff. RELACS, in turn, has its own executive committee plus committees that handle programming, webinars, mentorship, and staff achievement awards, just to name a few. This is what makes RELACS so effective—it is run by legislative staff for legislative staff.

Every fall RELACS puts on a professional development seminar (PDS). The RELACS Executive Committee and our program committee work with NCSL staff to gather the best presenters possible. Our goal is to have a session at each PDS that matches the skill sets of every RELACS member, whether they’ve been with their legislature for six months or 25 years. For your newer staff members, we’ve given classes on statutory construction/interpretation, research, editing, and legislative ethics. For your more senior staff, we’ve covered legislative litigation and subpoenas, recodification, dealing with difficult people, best practices for being a legislative manager, the day-to-day struggles for editors, visualization strategies for researchers, and integrating training and technology. RELACS has something for everyone. 

RELACS understands the budget constraints facing many of our members. Not every state can send a representative to the PDS every year. We produce The RELACS Report, an online list of articles on research methods, tips for committee staff, legal issues, statutory construction, grammar and punctuation, and other topics. Additionally, we offer a robust collection of webinars! Here is a list of the most popular RELACS webinars over the past few years:

  • Inside the United States Code, 159 registrants, 497 additional views
  • 2021 An Editing Odyssey, 105 registrants, 60 additional views
  • Editing in an E-World: Sharing Solutions Discovered During the COVID-19 Pandemic, 74 registrants, 82 additional views
  • Redesigning Written Reports for Interactive Viewing, 298 registrants, 87 additional views
  • Supreme Court Elections Cases, 147 registrants, 239 additional views

The overall strength of RELACS is because of our members. The networking opportunities we offer are unmatched by any other nationwide organization. If a bill drafter in Nevada is having difficulty with word choice, an editor in Wisconsin can answer their question. If a researcher in Montana wants a lead on effective presentation techniques, a lawyer in Georgia can help. And when I'm looking for advice as RELACS chair, there is an amazing mentor in Kentucky named John Snyder who will always take my call - and yours too.

Did I mention that we do all of this without collecting any additional dues? That’s right. RELACS does not charge dues to any of its members. You are automatically a member of RELACS because your legislature is a member of NCSL.

For 2022, RELACS is extending a warm invitation to all members, especially those we don’t see very often, to take advantage of our many offerings. Your staff can sign up through the “create account” feature at, and for more information about RELACS, they can view it on our NCSL web page. We would greatly appreciate it if you could circulate our information to your legislative teams. All researchers, editors, lawyers, and committee staff are welcome to join.

Thank you!

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