Seizing Opportunities, Overcoming Obstacles: Insights from the Legislative Service Agency & Research Directors Annual Training Seminar

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.   

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CSG West Officers Gather to Set Priorities for 2023-2024 Biennium

CSG West officers join for a photo at the California State Capitol in Sacramento.
From Left to Right: Rep. Clark Kauffman (ID), Asm. Mike Gipson (CA), Sen. Bill Hansell (OR), and Rep. Mike Yin (WY)

The CSG West officers recently gathered in Sacramento, California, to identify policy committees for the 2023-2024 biennium and establish priorities to best serve Western state legislatures. Joining CSG West staff were Idaho Representative Clark Kauffman (Chair), California Assemblymember Mike Gipson (Chair-Elect), Oregon Senator Bill Hansell (Vice Chair), and incoming vice chair, Wyoming Representative Mike Yin.

Emerging from their discussions, the Housing Committee will be a new addition in 2023-2024, as issues around housing availability and affordability are a growing concern throughout the region. The list of policy committees and working groups established for the new biennium includes:

Agriculture & Water

Canada Relations


Energy & Environment



Legislative Oversight Working Group

Public Safety


Stay tuned for forthcoming announcements of committee co-chair selections and member appointments.  

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CSG West Mourns the Loss of Colorado House Minority Leader Hugh McKean

CSG West leadership, membership and staff are mourning the sudden loss of Colorado House Minority Leader Hugh McKean. During his tenure in the Colorado General Assembly, Leader McKean was an active participant in the organization’s programs and championed collaboration on key issues facing the West.

Over the last two years Leader McKean served as co-chair of our Westrends Board, which brings together policymakers to address economic and demographic trends affecting the quality of life in the region. He served superbly in this role, providing insights and appreciation for the unique issues that define the West. Leader McKean was also intrigued in the U.S. – Mexico binational relationship and in building partnerships that would further the common interests of both countries.

Leader McKean was widely respected by his peers from across the Western region. He was intentional in working across party lines, which is much needed in our current body politic. An alum of the Western Legislative Academy Class of 2019, he  embodied the tradition of leadership for which this program strives.

CSG West expresses its sincere condolences to the family of Representative McKean. His vision, knowledge, and curiosity will be deeply missed.

Leader McKean will lie in state at the Colorado Capitol today, with public viewing from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. The public is invited to attend funeral services for Leader McKean on Saturday, November 12, at 11:00 a.m. The services will take place at Resurrection Fellowship Church, 6502 E. Crossroads Blvd., Loveland, Colorado, 80538.

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CSG West Staff Connect With BLC Vice Chair in Baja California

CSG West Director, Edgar Ruiz, CSG West Director of Policy and International Programs, Martha Castaneda, and BLC Vice Chair, Diputado Roman Cota Muñoz.

Last month, CSG West staff attended a special event hosted by Border Legislative Conference (BLC) vice chair, Diputado Roman Cota Muñoz, in Tecate, Baja California, which is part of his legislative district in the Baja California Legislature.

The event was held at the University Theatre of the Autonomous University of Baja California Tecate campus where he presented his first year’s report to his community, highlighting his legislative efforts and accomplishments.

Diputado Cota Muñoz on stage at the theatre of the UABC speaking to his community of Tecate.

A video projected on large screens in the auditorium highlighted his nineteen bills, education scholarships, vision exams and free prescription glasses, as well as legal services for his community. Of his nineteen bills, eight were signed into law. He also talked about the incalculable potential the state of Baja California holds due to its geographic location along the U.S. – Mexico border in addition to its natural and cultural resources.

Diputado Cota Muñoz presenting the hard copy version of his first year’s legislative work to Diputada María del Rocío Adame, President of the Political Coordination Group in the Baja California state legislature.

Diputado Cota Muñoz currently serves as chair of the Committee on Migration & Border Affairs in the Baja California Legislature and was designated as vice chair to the BLC during the 2022 meeting in Riverside, California hosted by current chair, California Assemblymember Jose Medina. The visit also provided an opportunity for CSG West staff and Diputado Cota Muñoz to discuss plans for the fall 2023 BLC that will convene in Baja California. More details will follow.

Check out the introduction piece to Diputado Roman Cota Muñoz in the CSG West Regional Roundup this December, when he rotates to the position of chair of the BLC.

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State Legislators and White House Officials Discuss Transition to 988 Crisis Line Services

White House officials recently convened a meeting with bipartisan state legislative leaders, discussing efforts to address what was described as a “national mental health crisis.” The meeting focused on joint federal and state actions to implement 988 crisis line services, part of a comprehensive strategy announced in May.

Dialogue included state-led initiatives to support call center operations, incorporating follow-up behavioral health care, and broadening accessibility to services. State legislators also discussed current challenges presented by mental health workforce shortages. 

Among the participating legislators was Utah State Senator Daniel Thatcher, who in 2014 initiated the idea for a three-digit crisis line in his state. After garnering support from a range of federal and state officials, legislative colleagues, and healthcare workers, Senator Thatcher’s proposal resulted in the creation of the national 988 hotline this year. 

The White House meeting was held in conjunction with Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, as suicides in the United States accounted for more than 45,000 deaths in 2020, and preliminary data suggest increased numbers in 2021.

A readout from the meeting, including western legislators in attendance, can be accessed here. For additional reading about Utah’s role in creating the 988 crisis line, click the story below. 

Utah’s Involvement in the Three-Digit Mental Health Hotline: The Origin Story of 988

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Colorado River Basin States and Tribal Leaders Begin Historic Negotiations

For the first time, the four Upper Colorado River Basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico recently began formal meetings with six tribes to jointly negotiate water management of the Colorado River.

The thirty federally recognized tribes along the Basin hold rights to roughly 25% of its water supply. Historically, the river’s water management decisions have been led by federal and state governments without formal input from tribal leaders.

State and tribal negotiations will seek to establish a framework for future river operations, which are currently shaped by the 2007 Interim Guidelines set to expire in 2026. This becomes increasingly relevant as significant conservation measures have been implemented to combat the region’s drought crisis, which tribal leaders assert they have not been adequately consulted.

Click below to learn more about the historic negotiations and their potential impact on water policy in the Basin.

Learn More

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CSG Justice Center Celebrates 20th Anniversary

This year the CSG Justice Center celebrates its 20th anniversary, a significant milestone for an organization that has become a go-to resource for state officials that helps foster research-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. CSG West applauds the Justice Center’s contributions in the public safety space and their engagement with officials across the country, and at all levels of government, in this important work.

In the past year alone, the Justice Center has successfully launched the Reentry 2030 and Justice Counts initiatives, in addition to comprehensive toolkits associated with the juvenile probation system and community responder programs. Most recently, the Justice Center welcomed five new leaders to its Advisory Board leveraging extensive backgrounds in justice, behavioral health, and state legislation. 

We invite you to view the following stories from the recent issue of CSG Current State, featuring key moments from the Justice Center across 20 years.

20 in 20: 20 Significant Moments in the 20-Year History of the CSG Justice Center

Asked & Answered with Megan Quattlebaum, director of the CSG Justice Center

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Legislative Leaders Past and Present Convene to Discuss Civility, Overcoming Differences

Washington Senator, CSG National Chair and former CSG West Chair (2017), Sam Hunt, addresses assembled leaders

As a part of this year’s Annual Meeting in Boise, and in celebration of 75 years, CSG West convened a collection of leaders to engage in dialogue around issues facing legislatures today. In addition to officers, committee co-chairs, and leading private sector partners, CSG was fortunate to welcome a number of past chairs whose service spanned several decades.

With so much experiential wisdom at hand, the questions posed to the attendees all drove towards a common theme: how have you as leaders navigated difference throughout your careers to form relationships, uphold the values of the institutions you serve, and done it all despite increasing polarization at the state level?

States across the West are grappling with redistricting and high member turnover rates as the new biennium approaches. The importance of civility in legislatures has never been more important as the region navigates the intersecting challenges posed by the pandemic, drought, inflation and public distrust in government, among others.

Though the individuals in the room represented a broad range of constituencies and came from all walks of political life, they all agreed on one thing: It is of paramount importance to see and appreciate the humanity in legislative colleagues. As one member put it, “the time for civility isn’t when it’s easy or convenient—the time for civility is when being civil is the last thing you feel like doing.”

Speaking on her career in the Wyoming House, former Representative Rosie Berger (Chair, 2012) recalled feeling at wits’ end with colleagues that categorically voted differently than she did. Then she made a point to visit each of the state’s districts and came to understand the values and communities that shaped the votes of her colleagues. The trip may not have shifted her priorities, but it was an invaluable experience in building empathy, and taught her that bridging gaps always starts with being a listener first.

Former Wyoming Representative and CSG West Chair (2012), Rosie Berger, speaks to the group

In Hawaii, Senate President Ronald Kouchi and Senator Brian Taniguchi (Chair, 2002) spoke about a common convening room at the Capitol, where there would be crock pots of food and guitars available for members after working hours. Having a physical place where people could break bread and make music together helped to re-establish humanity in what is invariably an intense and personal process. The tradition is one that was lost in the wake of the pandemic, and both hope to see its return as a part of building goodwill.

Former Colorado Senator Nancy Todd (Chair, 2015) attested that when lawmakers are unable to connect in person, to have a cup of coffee or share a meal, it limits their ability to see life beyond the walls of the capitol when making decisions. Getting caught up in minutiae and playing into charged topics of the day is an easy trap to fall into, especially when one does not take the time to get to know colleagues on a personal and intentional level.

The key to collaboration, the consensus was, is going beyond seeing red and blue, and going beyond barbs and platitudes. Sharing moments of joy is important. Putting people first– understanding their families, their communities, the values shared on both sides — those are the ways to overcome bitterness and division.

As the region looks forward to the next batch of legislative members, states face fresh challenges and opportunities.

Nevada Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe-Moreno, co-chair of the CSG-West Health Committee, highlighted that generational differences have pushed institutions in different ways. As younger and more diverse members are elected, the challenge for leadership will be to integrate new ideas and approaches while ensuring that decorum and institutional knowledge of the lawmaking process remains intact.  

Former Idaho Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis (Chair, 2003) reflected that legislatures, when at their best, feel like a gathering of trusted friends. He remarked that mentorship was a key component of his own career in the Senate, both as a mentor and a mentee. He would often share his list of “20 things a good leader should know,” one of which was: someone may be your opponent, but they should never be your enemy.

CSG West has been a proud host of regional cooperation for 75 years. Incoming Vice Chair, Wyoming Representative Mike Yin, remarked that CSG is a forum where legislators can show up with no need to know someone else’s policy priorities or political party, and there is a true spirit of collaboration. We thank all the members that participated in this leadership forum and in each of the sessions at this year’s CSG West Annual Meeting in Boise.

CSG current and former Chairs gather in celebration of the 75th Annual Meeting

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LCRG Focuses on Water Supply, Investment and Sustainability Along Columbia River Basin

Under the leadership of Oregon Senator Bill Hansell, chair of the Legislative Council on River Governance (LCRG), CSG West hosted the annual meeting of LCRG August 9-11 in Boardman, Oregon. LCRG brings together state legislators from the four Columbia River basin states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho to address shared concerns and exchange dialogue.

Congressman Cliff Bentz, who represents Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and includes the community of Boardman, joined attending policymakers and other key stakeholders during the forum’s welcome reception. Congressman Bentz, who served as a member of LCRG when he was in the Oregon Senate, highlighted the importance of state and federal cooperation to meet the needs of the Columbia River basin, as well as his efforts in Congress.

The forum’s substantive sessions commenced with keynote remarks from the chair of The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), Kat Brigham, who was recently appointed to the inaugural Secretary’s Tribal Advisory Committee (STAC) for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Ensuing panel discussion focused on water sustainability efforts in the Mid-Columbia Region. J.R. Cook, Director of the Northeast Oregon Water Association, emphasized the need for interstate collaboration and co-investment, while asserting that federal assistance is needed to secure a target of 150,000 acre-feet of mitigation water. CTUIR representative Chris Marks discussed transboundary water management challenges and opportunities along the Walla Walla River Watershed, and Office of Columbia River (OCR) Director Tom Tebb illustrated water supply development projects for both instream and out-of-stream uses, as well as key highlights  from the Yakima Basin Integrated Water Management Plan. Tebb also discussed opportunities to leverage federal investments in the Yakima Basin following the passage of The John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act, a federal land conservation bill that received bipartisan support and was signed into law in 2019.

Columbia River region leaders gather for a roundtable discussion of issues and opportunities at the Sustainable Agriculture and Energy (SAGE) Center

Other key areas of focus included global and local irrigation projects and trends, with IRZ Engineering President Fred Ziari underscoring the impact of global population growth on irrigation market demands. Participants also learned about Aquatic Gas Optimization in connection with improved sustainability of fish and hydropower during a session led by Merck Animal Health Fisheries Scientist Nick Porter.

This year’s LCRG included a tour and dinner hosted at the Umatilla County Fair, in addition to a dairy and farm policy tour at Threemile Canyon Farms, whose community of over 300 team members employ sustainable farming practices and advanced technologies to meet the needs of a growing population. 

The leadership of LCRG, pursuant to the program’s bylaws, will rotate to Montana. In the coming weeks, CSG West staff will work with the LCRG delegates from Montana to solicit their recommendation of chair, as well as location for the forum’s meeting in 2023. 

CSG West offers a special thanks to current LCRG Chair, Oregon Senator Bill Hansell, whose engagement, collaboration and leadership was integral for a successful meeting.

Oregon Senator and LCRG Chair, Bill Hansell, with wife, Margaret Hansell

PowerPoint presentations (in PDF format) from the 2022 LCRG speakers can be accessed at the links below. For questions about LCRG, please contact Jackie Tinetti, Policy Analyst, at [email protected].

Walla Walla River Watershed Transboundary Water Management: Challenges & Opportunities

Office of Columbia River Overview

Mid-Columbia Region (Northeast Oregon Water Association)

Global Irrigation Trends and Technologies

Threemile Canyon Farms

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Wyoming Invests in Community Supervision, Behavioral Health Supports

In 2019, more than half of all prison admissions in Wyoming were due to probation and parole revocations, highlighting the need to address ineffective and costly responses to supervision violations. To tackle this issue, the Wyoming legislature appropriated over $3 million to the Department of Corrections between 2019 and 2020 to improve community supervision practices through changes to the state’s incentives and sanctions system. House Enrolled Act 53, which mandates these changes, is one of five pieces of legislation enacted in 2019 and 2020 as part of Wyoming’s participation in the Justice Reinvestment Initiative. 


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