The members of the CSG West Legislative Service Agency and Research Directors (LSA/RD) Committee assembled in Bend, Oregon, September 28-30. Led by Joe Kolman, Research Director of Montana Legislative Services, and Jessica Geary, Director of the Alaska Legislative Affairs Agency, the respective chair and vice chair of the LSA/RD Committee, the directors discussed challenges facing state legislatures, shared best practices, and brainstormed innovative solutions.
Looking for new innovations and ways of operating
The role of a nonpartisan agency leader is unique, as such, participants focused on problem-solving everyday situations they face through a case study simulation led by Charlotte Carter-Yamauchi, Director of the Hawaii Legislative Reference Bureau. They also focused on the intersection of information technology and the legislative process in a roundtable discussion led by Brett Hanes, Legislative Administrator, Oregon.
The group explored other emerging issues and shared ideas for:
- Public comment procedures, including methods of bringing a broader array of voices to their respective legislative chambers through digital access while maintaining proper security measures.
- Implications of unionizing nonpartisan LSA offices, as well as the challenges and opportunities this would bring to legislatures.
- Employee exchange programs as a means for staff to do deep dives into how other states are tackling shared public policy questions and as an opportunity for continued professional development.
- Managing member engagement and protocols on virtual committee meetings, as well as accommodating staffers who want to continue working remotely.
Managing through “The Great Resignation”
“The Great Resignation” has made headlines in the wake of the pandemic, as employees have voluntarily resigned from their jobs at markedly elevated rates since the beginning of 2021. State legislatures have not been immune. Directors shared ideas for staff recruitment, retention, reward, and recognition, and several key themes emerged. Among these were leveraging online resources for recruitment, providing ongoing professional development or education reimbursement, incentivizing broader talent pools with relocation and tenure bonuses, and creating office-specific branded collateral to improve marketing outreach.
Employee burnout can also be a significant issue for teams after long legislative sessions. Thus, the group shared strategies to promote self-care and reduce stress. Some examples included staff appreciation weeks, shout-outs and appreciations during meetings, flex time after long work-days, and all-staff service-learning days to boost ties with the community.
Marketing legislative research
With modes of communication shifting increasingly towards the digital and short-form realm, the directors tackled the question of how to promote research to legislators in a way that is engaging and accessible. Megan Bolin, Deputy Director of the Utah Office of Legislative Research & General Counsel, and Misty Mason-Freeman, Director of the Oregon Legislative Policy and Research Office, presented strategies in their states, including tailored outreach to newly elected members and an emphasis on streamlining request processes to provide information to legislators more efficiently. Chair Kolman offered experience from Montana that incorporate data visualization in policy briefs and publications, which his team has found to be a valuable resource in enhancing legislators’ and the public’s understanding of policy questions.
Navigating communications in challenging times
The group considered the challenges to legislative institutions and nonpartisan offices posed by the era of increased political polarization and a year of high member turnover. The directors discussed ways to incorporate new member orientation programming, create clear communication channels with leadership, and regain trust from members in the nonpartisan nature of their work. Misty Mason-Freeman, Director of the Oregon Legislative Policy and Research Office, and Jill Reinmuth, Staff Director of the Washington Office of Program Research, highlighted innovations in their offices pertaining to language access services and post-pandemic hybrid workflows.
CSG West thanks everyone who traveled to Bend to engage with peers and for their work in states to maintain the strength of legislative institutions. Special thanks to Chair Kolman and Vice Chair Geary for presiding over a successful meeting and to Brett Hanes and Misty Mason-Freeman for serving as 2022 state hosts.
The 2023 LSA/RD training seminar will convene next Fall in Montana.