Posts Tagged ‘CSG’

The Upcoming CSG-SSL Meeting: What You Must Do Now

June 11, 2013

By Heather Williams and Josh Fisher

Last Thursday afternoon, the Council of State Governments (CSG) released the Docket for its upcoming Committee on Suggested State Legislation (SSL) meeting that will be held in conjunction with its 2013 Leadership Forum June 21-24 in Washington, D.C. It is the second time the Committee is meeting for what is known as the 2014 Docket Cycle.

For those readers unfamiliar with CSG’s Committee on Suggested State Legislation, the Committee is a forum for widely distributing sample bills and enactments to be used by legislators and staff across the country as they develop similar legislation in their own respective states about a wide variety of state public policy issues. You can read more about the process in a previous blog post.

Members of the Committee look for unique or innovative legislative examples to “include” in the Annual Volume CSG publishes each year (and now also posts online). Bills and enactments are evaluated on established criteria: national or regional significance, timeliness, as innovative approaches to public policy, comprehensiveness and the language or style of the bill-essentially the architecture of the bill. Think of the bills and enactments included in the Annual Volume as legislative templates from which policymakers and staff can borrow.

This round of Docket consideration will be different in two important respects. The first is the number of new faces that will compose the Committee when it convenes later this month. Many new members were appointed to the Committee for a new two-year term in January by CSG Leadership, in large part a result of the high legislative turnover during the 2012 election cycle. For a number of members, it will be their first meeting. CSG also named Brydon Ross as the new Staff Director to the Committee earlier this year.

The second issue to consider is the short period of time between the Docket’s release last week and the meeting. There are now 11 days remaining before the meeting on June 22-an extremely limited amount of time to influence opinions about Docket items that will be considered at the meeting.

These issues create less than ideal conditions for private sector advocates looking to include or reject items proposed on the Docket. The new members on the Committee and limited time to educate these policymakers require a more disciplined and focused approach to several of the fundamentals of engaging this Committee.

Command of the Process – An expert understanding of the Committee process and how Committee members evaluate the Docket items is critical in this short period of time. New members may not know you, but they are likely to become very familiar with the unique manner in which the Docket items are considered. Absent a familiarity with the private sector representation around the room, SSL members will more likely expect the lobbying to be respectful of the specific criteria by which they are charged to evaluate the Docket items. “Inclusion” (even “rejection”) arguments should be developed within these criteria and not based on the commonplace policy arguments we typically use as lobbyists. Arguing outside of the criteria is almost always counter-productive.

Your Relationships – Every relationship you currently have counts. You will not have much time to build relationships with new members prior to the meeting, but you should use that time to reach out to existing relationships. Relationships with Committee members are important in the SSL process. The reason is simple: Committee members benefit from the subject matter expertise the private sector shares; this helps them to frame their understanding of the Docket items. And your past participation has also likely established credibility with the veteran members. Committee members cannot understand all of the issues before them on any given Docket and so they rely on private sector engagement. There are up to one hundred items on any given Docket (there are 81 items on this Docket).

Time Management – You need to begin reaching out to the relationships you have now. Find an opportunity to reach the members before the meeting, leveraging your trade association, in-state lobbyists and utilizing CSG hospitality events and CSG staff. Arrive at the meeting room early on the day of the event and use the limited amount of time-prior to the meeting or during meeting breaks-expertly and respectfully (their time is also limited). Develop the “elevator speech” for your inclusion or rejection arguments-not every policy issue lends itself nicely or neatly to a five minute pitch, but you will not have much more time than that during your member conversations. You will likely have even less time if called upon to speak to the Committee during its proceedings to clarify members’ understanding of the issue-again, prepare your remarks carefully and economically. Collateral with talking points-never more than one page-is important, given the volume of issues the Committee must review. A clear, concise, but brief explanation is critical especially if members are hearing about it for the first time.

Heather Williams and Josh Fisher will be attending the SSL Committee meeting during the CSG Leadership Forum.


Heather Williams works at Stateside Associates to help clients manage state and local government issues. As Vice President at the company she also manages client relationships with key Groups, including her “alma mater,” the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), where she served as National Finance Director.

Josh Fisher is Manager of State Issues. His work at Stateside Associates has given him an intimate knowledge of the legislative process in all 50 states. He works with clients on a wide range of state and local government affairs issues, recently joining the Health Care Issue Management Practice. He was most recently Manager of the Legislative Information Division at Stateside Associates.

Observations from the 2011 NCSL Legislative Summit

August 16, 2011

By Michael Behm, Senior Vice President

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Annual Legislative Summit in San Antonio, Texas ended last Thursday on a high note for the organization. The Summit was NCSL’s largest meeting since 2007, in terms of attendance and featured over 150 policy and working sessions. And the organization announced at its Executive Committee Meeting that it ended the 2011 fiscal year with a positive balance, despite earlier gloomy forecasts and a volatile national economy. NCSL’s Foundation for State Legislatures announced similar good news – it had exceeded its annual fundraising goals by nearly $200,000 this year and was aiming for an even higher, record fundraising goal for FY 2012.

Attendance at the meeting far exceeded those projections made earlier in the year, with well over 5,000 people registering. Among those registering – and perhaps a more important to the private sector – were a larger number of legislators and staff than had participated in the 2010 Legislative Summit. November’s elections brought a trove of new faces to the annual event, including many of the newly-elected Republican leaders – a number of whom had never attended an NCSL meeting.

The new attendees brought a level of energy that I haven’t sensed at an NCSL meeting in several years, the dialogue was spirited and I have to tell you that the meeting and sessions rooms were packed. Convention staff wheeled extra chairs into dozens of conference rooms throughout the week. One education session I attended, scheduled on the last day of the Summit, at the early hour of 8:00 AM – and after the famous, and sometimes raucous, late-night party that accompanies the Summit – was nearly full.

The new faces also brought a different political tone to the meeting. You could not avoid a distinctly conservative and business-focused vibe in the policy discussions and reception and hallway conversation. Chalk that up to the Summit being hosted in the big red (and unseasonably hot) state of Texas, or perhaps to the majority of state legislatures now controlled by Republicans, but a conservative-leaning theme defined much of the meeting dialogue.

Texas Governor and newly-announced Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry (R) helped to frame that tone on the second day of the Summit with a red meat speech to the nearly 1,500 attendees who crammed the convention center theater see him. The governor demanded more power for the states, less interference from the federal government and more focus on job creation, announcing that Texas’ low-tax, low-regulation and cost-cutting approach to governing created “40 percent of the net new jobs in this country” over the last two years. By contrast, Governor Perry argued, “government doesn’t create jobs, otherwise the last two years of stimulus spending would have worked.” Hinting at his weekend announcement speech, Governor Perry told the NCSL crowd that he stood ready to “work with [my] fellow governors to return power to the states – where it belongs.”

Many of the more popular sessions at the Summit continued with similar business-focused, conservative themes. Session titles such as the “Long Term Impact of Environmental Regulation on Industry and Consumers” and another called “Creating Jobs by Reducing Regulation” were standing room only. Conservative themes, but also very reflective of the policy debates occurring in the states during the latest legislative session.

Another policy session, “Renewable Energy Facility Siting: Examining the Roadblocks and Opportunities”, explored the many, mostly state and federal regulatory, challenges the states and their industry stakeholders face while exploring renewable energy generation opportunities. The serious budget challenges states are now facing from government employee pension liabilities were featured in another, animated session during the Summit, following on the debates in the states this spring. And yet another session, “Bringing Legislators to the Table: Examining Hunger in America”, perhaps more accurately examined private-public partnerships and the wide variety of corporate directed efforts – which more and more states now rely on – to address food insecure communities around the country.

If you attended the Legislative Summit, did you notice a more conservative political tone? What were your observations about the policy sessions and discussions? What would you like to see featured at next year’s NCSL Legislative Summit?

Major Changes Ahead for NCSL

June 23, 2011

By Michael Behm, Senior Vice President

Since late 2010, a working group – most of you have probably never heard of it – composed of legislators and staff within the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has been considering dramatic changes to the nearly 36-year old organization of state legislatures.

Among the initial – but still unofficial – recommendations of NCSL’s Working Group on Committee Structure and Policy Development Process: Cancel the 2012 Spring Forum due to declining attendance numbers and realign NCSL’s policy positions with its core principles in order to advocate on a much smaller, more focused, policy agenda. While the Working Group plans to release and discuss its official recommendations later this summer at the Legislative Summit, August 8-11 in San Antonio, Texas, senior NCSL staff have recently been providing a preview of its considerations to a small number of legislative and government affairs audiences.

The Working Group’s efforts are a response to a series of legislative focus groups commissioned by NCSL’s Executive Committee and held over the last two years to scrutinize and improve NCSL’s policymaking process, to become more responsive to its state legislative constituents and increase legislator participation in NCSL.

The most immediate, visible change is the cancellation of the 2012 Spring Forum. According to staff, this decision was academic. The April timeframe in which it has been held during the last two years is horrible. Forty-one states were in session during the meeting this year; 38 states were in session during the 2010 meeting – resulting in poor attendance numbers and Standing Policy Committees failing to meet quorum requirements. Lengthy sessions lasting late into spring were once the exception, but they are now becoming the rule.

The Working Group did decide to return to a three meeting schedule in 2013, along with a Spring-like Forum, but the meeting will be rescheduled for a later date and will likely be re-oriented. All of that said, the decision has its risks. This is the first large seasonal forum that NCSL has ever cancelled and scratching any large event can send mixed signals about an officials Group’s health. NCSL and the other Groups all compete for private sector sponsorships and busy state policymakers. The face time with policymakers is a value proposition to the private sector and now there is one less meeting, which will create some grumbling. And one legislator mentioned to me that by taking an NCSL meeting out of the “seasonal rotation,” you risk losing those legislators and staff who have routinely attended the meeting in the past…possibly for good.

Aligning NCSL’s policymaking process with its core federalism principles regarding state flexibility, unfunded mandates and state sovereignty is the first serious effort in NCSL’s history to redesign the policymaking process and reduce NCSL’s overwhelming number of policy positions. The consequences of these changes will be much longer in term than the Spring Forum cancellation. By my count, the Group currently has over 190 policy positions. The Working Group concluded – but anyone could have – that the number of NCSL policies is now unwieldy as guidance for its federal lobbying efforts. Many policies conflict or are duplicative, some are now antiquated or otherwise irrelevant to NCSL’s mission and the sheer volume dilutes NCSL’s lobbying influence on the Hill, according to staff.

Add to that private sector and legislator concerns that some policymaking reflects individual ideological or political agendas, rather than serving a broad states’ agenda. Additionally, all of this policymaking demands a huge time commitment of the legislators during any one of the three NCSL meetings in which the Standing Policy Committees convene – time that many legislators believe could be better focused on developing a smaller, stronger group of advocacy positions, attending other, perhaps more valuable, issue sessions and networking with the attendees.

The question of how to achieve this realignment with the core principles is still a work in progress, according to staff. Empowering the Executive Committee with setting NCSL’s priorities at the beginning of each biennium, and directing the committees accordingly, is one preference of the Working Group, according to sources. More changes will necessarily affect the decision and policymaking process, the role of the Executive Committee and those rules associated with the General Business Meeting and perhaps another change to the Standing Policy Committee structure.

The Working Group has of yet been less than conclusive about changes or restructuring to the 12 Standing Policy Committees, according to staff. The current committee structure resulted from a 2002 consolidation of the Assembly on State Issues (ASI) and Assembly on Federal Issues (AFI) committees. Since that time, there are fewer policy committees and meetings, but many more policies. Legislators participating in the focus groups voiced concerns about less time to address emerging state and federal issues and “best practices,” along with an inability to more closely focus on obtaining grant deliverables for NCSL. The focus groups, I am told, voiced support for two-year Committee appointments to ensure that legislators are more knowledgeable about subject matter and committee process and to encourage member continuity. More will follow on the committee structure as the Working Group evaluates the number of Standing Policy Committees, their issue jurisdictions and respective policymaking role.

In the interests of disclosure, I am the Vice President of the Board of Directors of NCSL’s Foundation for State Legislatures. I can tell you that the Working Group is serious about its effort to improve NCSL for both its legislative members and private sector participants. I can also tell you that change of this sort likely has few fans or supporters – even among Working Group members – but it reflects the “new normal” in this climate of cash-strapped states and travel-restricted policymakers. And I also know that the Working Group is interested in your ideas about implementing this change – ideas that I can help you direct to the right NCSL staff or feed directly to the Working Group members. If you are interested in the list of Working Group members, please email or call me.

In the meantime, if NCSL is important to your government affairs program, these proposed changes should trigger several questions:

  • What can I do to adapt to this change and the loss of a significant meeting from the 2012 Groups schedule and where does my organization fit into these changes?
  • Will fewer meetings – even one – translate into a lesser ability to influence the process and build/nurture valuable legislative relationships?
  • Will I have new rules to learn when the policymaking processes change?
  • And where will I find more time to participate with NCSL “in-between” the meetings in order to ensure that the staff and legislators know me and respect the resources and expertise of my organization?


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