by Carrie Abner
The separation of powers among the three branches of government is fundamental to the American system of governance—a notion cited by some of the nation’s Founding Fathers as necessary to avoiding tyranny—yet, the development and implementation of policy often requires the efforts of all three. When a lack of understanding and trust exists among state officials across the branches, state policy and programs can pay the price.
As the only organization representing all three branches of state government, CSG, in 2005, established an Interbranch Awareness Working Group, which later became the Interbranch Affairs Committee, that seeks to foster collaboration and understanding among and between the branches of state government.
We asked the 2017 CSG Interbranch Affairs Committee co-chairs why interbranch cooperation is so important and how the states are helping to promote more multibranch approaches to public policy. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Is a certain level of interbranch awareness and cooperation important for state policymaking?
“The more we understand and appreciate the perspectives of others—whether it is of individuals or other branches of government—the better we can carry out our own duties and responsibilities. This is true not just in state government, but in all aspects of life. As author Stephen R. Covey said, ‘Seek first to understand and then to be understood.’”
“My tenure as chief justice of Kentucky has taught me that interbranch collaboration is essential to the efficient and effective operation of state government. Each branch is dependent upon the others to advance its interests and fulfill its responsibilities. Our citizens do not benefit when we operate in silos. …Our courts would not be able to protect neglected children without the assistance of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. And the Department of Corrections would find its prisons overpopulated without the cooperation of judges and pretrial officers. Similarly, a collaborative relationship with the legislative branch is necessary to ensure … funding for court programs.”
“If one were to explain policymaking to a class of students, the discussion would be akin to building a house—layer upon layer. First, the foundation is laid, which represents the seed of the policy that will require the input, development and cooperation of both members and staff in the legislative branch. It is an absolute certainty that the administration will accept, modify or deny the policy based on budgetary restrictions, history or positioning. A challenge to the policy could very well require a legal opinion.
Interbranch cooperation … is a process that is consuming yet necessary. The results, however, benefit the people, and that is the ultimate goal.”
2. What is at stake when there is a lack of understanding between the branches?
“A lack of understanding between the principals of each of the branches leads to state government inefficiency and confusion at best and a disregard for constitutional outlined duties with a slide toward chaos and tyranny at its worst.”
“Without a proper appreciation for the responsibilities and limitations of each branch, government leaders lack sufficient knowledge to successfully exercise their own authority.”
“Simply put, a lack of understanding among the branches results in one of two things: failed legislation or ineffective legislation.”
3. What are some benefits of greater cooperation among the three branches?
“State governments that put a priority on cooperation and consistency tend to fare better over time and their citizens are well served. One of the best things that a state can provide is certainty. Certainty that the courts will rule in a fair and impartial manner; that the legislative process will be open, transparent and consistent; and that the executive branch will follow the rule of law in interpreting and carrying out legislative and judicial directives while at the same time providing leadership and vision to an entire state.”
“Cooperation and understanding among the three branches leads to a greater appreciation of the unique jobs we each have to do. Getting to know our counterparts on an individual basis also provides for an easier and more natural working relationship, which can lead to greater opportunities for collaboration.”
“Without a doubt, the benefits of interbranch cooperation and working together lie in stronger, more effective legislation.”
4. Can you share an example of how your state is improving interbranch relations?
“One practice of Utah governors and leaders of the Utah Legislature over the years that has helped to increase understanding and enhance collegiality is standing meetings set in advance. These are held with the governor and the lieutenant governor and the leadership of the majority and minority parties and key staff each week throughout the legislative sessions. These meetings serve as a good time to address concerns and explore possible ways to resolve several complex issues or to at least identity which participants should be working on possible solutions.”
“Over time, we have found places where the work of our branches intersect and their roles become intertwined. For the judicial branch, this is most pronounced in matters involving families and juveniles. These cases necessarily involve the courts and several executive branch agencies, including the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Education. Several years ago, leaders from each of these groups began meeting to identify and address these points of intersection. We continue to meet regularly and have found these collaborative efforts to be particularly meaningful for addressing the significant impact that the opioid epidemic is having on Kentucky’s families and children.”
“Representatives of (Tennessee) state departments, the governor’s staff, the attorney general’s staff and the Administrative Office of the Courts have worked together for a more efficient flow of the legislative process. We continue to improve on our communication and interworking.”
5 As the nation’s only organization
serving all three branches of
state government, how can CSG
help move the needle forward
in this area?
“Oftentimes, there is a tendency to see the perspective coming only from the top of one’s silo. CSG helps participants to gain the perspective that comes from another’s position.”
“CSG provides a forum for interbranch collaboration that no other national organization offers. The Henry Toll Fellowship is just one of the many unique opportunities presented by CSG. … As one of the few judicial branch participants in the program, I learned to work with representatives from the legislative and executive branches on the common issues facing our branches. And I realized there are opportunities to change the way the judiciary is perceived and to educate the other branches on the work we do.”
“CSG does an excellent job at present. Its Capitol Ideas publication does a remarkable job, as well as the work of its Southern Legislative Conference.”