Thursday, September 25, 2014

Generosity of Heart. Generosity of Spirit. Generosity of Pocketbook.

It has been a tremendously busy year for us here in the Nevada Senate.  While my Twitter feed has been active and remains a great resource for staying up-to-date on what's going on in my office, this blog has not been updated in quite a while.  The reason: every time I thought to post on the blog, we were so busy actually doing things that there was no time to report on them!  I don't have a Public Information Officer -- indeed, the Nevada Senate only has three permanent staff.  Given all of the programs we have undertaken over the last four years, there aren't enough hours in the day to do all of our work and write long-form stories about them as well.  I have resolved to write more concise stories for the blog going forward, and to do so much more frequently.  Allow that to serve as words of contrition from your faithful Senate correspondent.

The Nevada Youth Legislature held its annual training this month.  We alternate these trainings between Carson City and Las Vegas, and this year was Las Vegas' turn.  It was here that I observed a generosity of heart, spirit and pocketbook and I wanted to share that with you today.

The training very nearly didn't happen.  Only days before, word broke of the Governor's negotiations with Tesla, and a Special Session was in the offing.  Fortunately, the timing of the Special Session gave us a few days between our long-planned training in Las Vegas and the anticipated start date in Carson City, giving me the time I needed to execute this important event that had been months in the making!

Our biggest concern about possibly rescheduling the training extended beyond re-scheduling our guest speakers.  So many people from the community had demonstrated a Generosity of Heart by agreeing to participate in the day's training.  Justice Michael Cherry of the Nevada Supreme Court had graciously agreed to swear in our Youth Legislators. Constance Brooks, Russell Rowe, and Nick Vassiliadis served on a panel discussion about the role of lobbyists in the legislative process. Several former Youth Legislators agreed to participate in working groups to help our Youth Legislators refine their BDR ideas.

No, our biggest concern may have been just ensuring that all 21 of our Youth Legislators may be available some day in the future!  These are 21 active, engaged high schoolers with multiple extracurricular activities.  We had given them this date months in advance and had asked them to schedule themselves around this training.  Cheer practices, football games, and community organizations had to go on hold for the day so the important training and team-building could occur.  No... we needed to move forward with the training as planned.

It was the Youth Legislators themselves who demonstrated a Generosity of Spirit by being engaged throughout the day.  If you need inspiration on the future of humanity, take a look at the video.  It's terrific.  21 Youth Legislators, representing (literally) every corner of our state, all asking good questions, preparing vigilantly for their future roles proposing legislation to the Nevada Senate and Nevada Assembly.  Pretty heady stuff.

It was Senator Valerie Wiener, founder of the Nevada Youth Legislature and Chair of the Nevada Youth Legislature Foundation Board of Directors, who demonstrated a Generosity of Pocketbook as the day's events concluded.  She announced, with no fanfare, that she was in the process of closing out her campaign account from her political career, and that she had written a check for $15,000 to the Nevada Youth Legislature.  There was no press release, no trailing television cameras... and, as Executive Director, I had absolutely no advance notice.  All I could do was to sputter out a few words of appreciation and send off a dumbfounded tweet.  Senator Wiener has been our guiding light as the Nevada Senate has undertaken the wonderful role of coordinating this program, and it is the purity of her generosity that I find so exhilarating.  She isn't supporting this program for professional or political gain.  For Senator Wiener, this is personal: a personal commitment to a program that will become her legacy.

Generosity of Heart.  Generosity of Spirit.  Generosity of Pocketbook.  Is it any wonder that I find this program so inspirational?

Monday, September 9, 2013

The 2013-2015 Nevada Youth Legislature

The Nevada Youth Legislature will have its first official meeting of the 2013-2015 biennium tomorrow.  The Nevada Youth Legislature is comprised of 21 high school students appointed by State Senators to represent the youth of their districts.  The Nevada Legislature has empowered its Youth Legislature to propose one actual bill or resolution at each session; we are one of only two states in the nation that empowers its youth leadership entity in this manner (Maine is the other).  My office staffs the Nevada Youth Legislature on a volunteer basis as part of our focus on education and our advocacy of participatory democracy.  (No public resources are expended on direct costs for this program; the program is funded through grants and through donations from individuals.)  It is a labor of love for us – these are truly inspirational young people.

We flew our 15 Clark County members up to Northern Nevada last month.  All 21 Youth Legislators stay at the same hotel and engage in an intensive two-day training seminar at the Legislative Building.  This year, they were sworn in by Chief Justice Kristina Pickering, heard a presentation on Executive/Legislative branch relations from Attorney General Catherine Cortez-Masto, and held a session on the floor of the Nevada Senate presided over by Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki.  Former Senator Valerie Wiener, who founded the program in 2007, continues to serve as a mentor and chairs the NYL Foundation Board of Directors.

We will hold monthly meetings over the next two years, with a variety of engaging guest speakers.  Assemblymen David Bobzien and Pat Hickey and Senator Justin Jones will speak to the group this month on the topic of constituent relations.  For the first year, these meetings will be focused on training, while in the second year, the meetings focus more on whittling down to, selecting, and shaping the legislation that will be proposed at the Legislative Session to come.

All of these young people are outstanding in their own way; they have emerged from a competitive application process, with as many as 12 applicants per district.  Each has been appointed, either by the State Senator for the district in which they live or for the district in which they go to school.

This is a program that should make us all proud as Nevadans.  If you would like to support this program, either monetarily, as a guest speaker, or by providing developmental opportunities for these outstanding young people, please contact my office anytime.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Introducing Channel 21: The NV Senate's New Communications Channel

These last few months have seen a variety of developments in the Senate's continuing campaign to make the legislative process more accessible, more understandable, and more relevant to its nearly three million constituents, the residents of Nevada.

But no effort has been more central to this push than Channel 21.

Channel 21 Brings Senate Communications Into the 21st Century
Channel 21 is a brand new communications channel that we are using to communicate news and information about what's happening in the Nevada Senate.  Its name reminds us that we live in a 21st Century world with 21st Century communications.  We hope to use this channel to share developments about Nevada's 21 Senators and all they do to create good public policy in our state.  Oh and by the way, Channel 21 (at least one of its five feeds) can be found on Channel 21 on our internal cable feed here at the Legislative Building.

Five feeds?  You read that right.  Because you see, Channel 21 is actually five different streams of information, each with its own focus and purpose.

Outside my own office, a Channel 21 monitor serves as a "Welcome to the Legislature," with general news and information about what's happening here in the Legislative Building.  Our custom-built homepage includes a news ticker, weather, building calendar information, and rotating content that gives visitors a basic orientation to the legislative process and key dates on the upcoming calendar.  We suspect that this is among the first things many visitors will see when they enter the building, so this monitor is a jargon-free zone.

Outside the Senate Chamber, a Channel 21 monitor focuses on the Senate's floor sessions.  Here, during floor sessions, you'll see live video and an up-to-date agenda viewer for the day's session.  In between floor sessions, you'll see information here explaining what the different orders of business in a typical floor session entail, and a glossary of some of the more popular motions and language of parliamentary procedure.
Jargon Alert! The monitor outside chambers describes parliamentary language.

On the second floor, you'll find a Channel 21 monitor that provides introductory information for each of Nevada's 21 Senators, as well as a map that shows you how to get to their offices.  Our introductory slides detail each Senator's committee assignments too.

Speaking of committees, the Channel 21 monitor in our central lobby on the second floor is focused on the committee process.  Here, during morning and afternoon committee meeting times, you'll find a screen that shows live feeds of all four Senate committee rooms, so at a glance you can see which committees are currently in session, and who is speaking in each committee room.  We've also developed an agenda viewer that shows you the committee agenda for each of the day's meetings.

The fifth Channel 21 feed is one you can see yourself right now, on Apple/QuickTime or Windows Media Player.  This feed, which is seen on monitors in each Senator's office and on our online stream, is designed to be viewed by visitors to Senate offices and the Senate website.  We've optimized this content to be viewable on a variety of smaller screens - so no small text fonts here.

Channel 21's Lobby View Shows 4 Committee Rooms at Once
Channel 21 is a labor of love for us in the Senate because it marries our technological focus with our staff-wide push to promote participatory democracy.  The system is maintained by the Senate's Technology Clerk, a new Front Desk position whose focus is to help deliver quality information to the public on the legislative process.  All members of the Senate staff are asked to contribute ideas and content.

We hope you find the system useful, and invite you to tweet us feedback and suggestions to improve the system by using hashtag #c21nv.  We're monitoring that hashtag and hope to include your great ideas in our future content.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Introducing SenArts

The Legislative Building is a great place to work.  Even though, as a Las Vegas resident, it's a bit of a commute for me, I still take tremendous pride in calling the Legislative Building in Carson City my primary workplace.  The Legislative Building is prestigious without being ostentatious.  It is appropriately formal while not being off-putting to visitors.  But more than anything, the place is consequential.  Whether you find yourself on the right or on the left, Republican or Democrat, we can all agree that what happens in the Legislative Building... Matters.  With a capital "M."

It seems to me that Nevada's Legislative Building has fallen short in one key area: as a showcase for the arts.  Sure, we have long had art displays, but until now they've seemed almost an afterthought.  As an unrepentant legislative nerd, I have visited many state Capitols across the country; I visited two, for example, over this past summer on a family vacation to New England.  Most Capitols, besides housing legislatures, serve as a hub for the arts, embracing the arts as a vital outlet of a state's creativity and potential.  Over the last couple of months, with the help of several key partners, we have begun exploring new ways to showcase the arts in the Senate areas of the Legislative Building.  What we've discovered along the way is the unbounded potential and tremendous spirit sometimes laying untapped within our own legislative staff.

Introducing SenArts.  Under one umbrella, the Nevada Senate will be promoting the arts in a variety of ways:

  • Better signage and didactic materials.  We are developing a common strategy for conveying information about what you're looking at. We'll be including information on the artist, title of the piece, and the medium for each piece.  This information has been displayed sporadically (if at all) on our existing art displays, even though we have all of this information in our databases.  My office will be producing brochures about art displays within the Legislative Building.
  • An improved collection.  A few months ago, we sent out a solicitation to major banks, law firms, and other major businesses asking if they would like to donate artwork (on a temporary or permanent basis) to the Senate, to be shared with visitors to the Legislative Building.  Several community partners have already come through with donations -- we'll be recognizing these businesses and individuals in the months to come.  In an era of downsizing, sometimes artwork just needs a new home.
  • A better organized experience for visitors.  Before, art exhibited for sale by Nevada artists and pieces in the Senate's permanent collection were commingled.  In 2013 and going forward, these areas will be separated.  My office will be developing explanatory materials -- including a web gallery -- for those who rarely (if ever) make it to the Legislative Building.
  • Better arts-related programming during Session.  We'll be augmenting the Legislative Exhibition Series (or "LXS") with new programs during Session.  Primarily geared toward legislative employees -- but open to the public -- these programs will include talk backs with artists and opportunities for Q&A.
  • Special exhibits and displays.  This is what I'm most excited about.  We have asked staff within the Legislative Building to don their thinking caps and help us display our current art collection more effectively.  I want to single out one employee, Tony Mariskanish of LCB's Buildings Unit, for special recognition here.  Tony has taken seven silk art pieces that have been hung anonymously on the second floor for twenty years, and brought those pieces together into a dramatic and beautiful new display on the second floor.  You can find Tony's display just south of the central elevator bank.  Next time you're in the Legislative Building, stop by and take a look; some long-time legislative employees have told me in recent weeks that it's their new favorite place in the building.  And best of all in these lean economic times... the display didn't cost a thing.  It was just about taking what we already had, unlocking the creativity of our staff, and delivering a celebration of the arts.  You may vaguely remember seeing these pieces before, but you won't soon forget what Tony has done with them.

The Legislative Building is a great place to work, but it will be even better when we have fully implemented this exciting initiative.  I would like to thank Susan Boskoff of the Nevada Arts Council and Peter Barton of the State of Nevada's Division of Museums and History for their advice and guidance.  I would also like to thank our partners within LCB's Facilities and Buildings units, who have embraced this initiative.

If you have artwork you would like to donate to the Senate, please call our office or drop me an email.  We look forward to welcoming you back to the Legislative Building next Spring, and sharing the good work that can be done to promote the arts without hurting our state's budget.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Senate Recruitment for 2013 Underway!

The Senate today launched its recruitment campaign for the 77th Regular Session.  This is the culmination of several months of planning, as we have rewritten many of the job descriptions and restructured the Senate to modernize job titles and update qualifications.  Director of Senate Staffing Shelle Grim-Brooks deserves a great deal of credit, as she has worked quite hard to get us to this point.  You can apply for Senate jobs here.

One of our goals for our 2013 recruitment is to achieve a higher standard of diversity for the Senate workforce.  For example, the Senate needs to hire more Spanish-speaking personnel in order to meet the needs of our Spanish-speaking constituents.  Besides language, we hope to recruit a diverse workforce in terms of age, race, and ethnicity too.  While we have a relatively small workforce -- just under 100 employees -- our workforce in the Senate should reflect the rich diversity of our state.

Geographic diversity has also been a challenge.  While I'm a Northern Nevada boy at heart (having grown up in Reno, with much of my family and many good friends still there) I do live in Southern Nevada, along with nearly two-thirds of the population of the state.  While it is difficult to pick up and move to Carson City for a six-month period during a Legislative Session, it is not impossible! We had a handful of staff do this in 2011, and I'd like to see even more do this in 2013.  Some Senate staff from outside the Carson City area crashed with friends or relatives, while others shared apartments with friends and coworkers.  It can be a great adventure and an eye-opening experience.

Working for the Nevada Legislature can be very fulfilling.  The ability to get up to speed on the important issues confronting our state, along with the contacts you can build, makes employment with the Senate the kind of opportunity that can lead to bigger and better things.  The time you spend on the staff of the Nevada Senate is an investment in your future.  Whether you are reading this from Las Vegas, Henderson, Elko, Reno, Carson City or points in between, I strongly encourage you to consider embarking on a unique chapter of your career.  Click here to learn more.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Cultivating the Political "Major Leaguers" of the Future

Jon Ralston has famously dubbed the Nevada Legislature the "Gang of 63."

As a baseball fan, I prefer to think of the Nevada Legislature as the "big leagues" of Nevada politics. Our league has produced some Hall of Famers (like Bill Raggio, the Cal Ripken of the Senate, and Speaker Joe Dini, who acted as the "Manager of the Year" for 16 years in the Assembly). The Nevada Legislature has launched the career of many U.S. Congressmen, Senators, and Governors, as well as eight Justices of the Nevada Supreme Court.

If the Nevada Legislature is the big leagues, it is my great pleasure to work to cultivate our minor league farm system. Working with young people is a highlight of my job. uLegislate, our legislative simulation, has been very well received thus far. We welcomed nearly 100 high school students in April and we'll welcome 200 participants to the Nevada Senate in May. Many of these sessions are available for viewing on the Nevada Legislature's website. Watch the legislative calendar and you'll get to watch students and adults alike "learning by doing" in a one-hour legislative simulation where they debate model legislation.

But the "AAA" minor league for the Nevada Legislature -- where the prime talent can be found -- is at the Nevada Youth Legislature. This program, created by the Nevada Legislature in 2007, has won many prestigious awards and serves as a national model for involving young people in the legislative process. Senator Valerie Wiener was the early champion for this program, and last year was elected Chairman of the Board of Directors for the newly-established Nevada Youth Legislature Foundation. I was very pleased when she asked me to serve as Executive Director on a volunteer basis. The Nevada Youth Legislature is a terrific program that complements my focus on making the legislative process more accessible, understandable, and open to the public. I truly enjoy working with Senator Wiener to help build this important organization.

Following a competitive application process, every Nevada Senator appoints a high school student for a two-year term. Once appointed, these Youth Legislators serve as emissaries for their Senate Districts, communicating needs and concerns on behalf of their constituencies. They receive training on the legislative process, on effective public speaking, and on negotiation strategies. These training sessions are well received by the students, who report back that they use their new skills in myriad ways in their high school careers.

As a body, the Nevada Youth Legislature is empowered by law to consider and propose legislation. Every fall in odd-numbered years, the Youth Legislators each conduct town meetings within their own districts to generate ideas for legislation. Each Youth Legislator then works with LCB staff to create a bill summary on an issue of concern. Those 21 bill summaries are debated and narrowed down to 7, and ultimately, down to 2 finalists. Once the Youth Legislature identifies the two finalist issues, the full Youth Legislature considers those two issues, hearing from lobbyists, constituents, and other concerned parties. The Youth Legislature then votes on one final bill topic, which is then fleshed out as a full-fledged Bill Draft Request (BDR) by the LCB's Legal Division. Once approved, this BDR is submitted to the Nevada Legislature at its next biennial session.

We have had three official sessions of the Nevada Youth Legislature in the last six months. Senator Wiener and I continually marvel at the intelligence, compassion, care, and seriousness with which the Youth Legislators acquit themselves. The level of discourse is high, and the preparation and consideration of these young people truly impressive. I admit to being a cynic and a skeptic on some matters -- but time spent with these young people will wash the cynicism away from even the most jaded of political observers. The Nevada Youth Legislature will propose legislation in 2013 to amend the Nevada Constitution to "lock" the Millennium Scholarship Account so funds for that program cannot be used for any other purpose. The selection of this topic reflects the value and importance of this program to the young people represented in this body.

13 of our 21 Youth Legislators will be graduating from high school this year. This will create new opportunities for our "AA" players (who are currently honing their craft in student councils, on debate teams, and by leading student clubs and organizations) to step up to the "AAA" level. We will be appointing 13 young people to one-year terms this summer to complete the terms of our graduating seniors. If you know of a young person who may be a good fit for the program, advise them to watch the Nevada Youth Legislature website for more information and for application materials, which will be posted soon.

Warming temperatures and the smell of fresh-cut grass in the air remind us that spring has sprung and a new baseball season has begun. Having observed our legislative minor leaguers this spring, I can report that the future is bright. The Nevada Youth Legislature is one program that instills hope in this political observer, and I'll be rooting for these young people as they graduate and lay the groundwork for their ascendance to the "Major Leagues" in the not-too-distant future.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Senator Bill Raggio: In Memorium

On behalf of Senate staff past and present, I would like to add my voice to the chorus of recognition honoring Senator Bill Raggio for his lifetime of public service.  Senator Raggio passed away today at the age of 85.  With 38 years of service, Senator Raggio will likely forever hold the distinction as the longest-serving Senator in the history of the Nevada Legislature.  But the story of Bill Raggio is about much more than longevity.  It’s about the respect and admiration that he earned, with colleagues and staff alike.

Mike Archer last year wrote “A Man of His Word: The Life & Times of Nevada’s Senator Bill Raggio,” the definitive and authorized biography.  Mike served as a Senior Finance Committee Proofreader in the 2011 Session.  He has worked for the Senate for nearly ten years.  Last year, Senator Raggio did a book signing in the Legislative Building, upon publication of that book.  The line that formed for that book signing told you all you needed to know about the respect and admiration Senator Raggio earned – and just how widespread that sentiment was.  I saw Senate, Assembly and Legislative Counsel Bureau staff in that line.  I saw lobbyists – committed conservative Republicans and committed liberal Democrats alike – in that line.  I even remember a few current members of the Assembly and Senate were good naturedly standing in line, as a sort of simple tribute and show of respect.  We are very fortunate that we had the opportunity in 2011 to honor Senator Raggio while he was still with us and in relatively good health.

Sherry Rodriguez serves as Assistant Secretary of the Senate.  In that capacity, she is responsible for coordinating closely with the Majority Leader on bill referrals and parliamentary matters.  This morning she said, “Senator Raggio has touched so many lives not just here inside the Legislature but throughout the entire State of Nevada. His presence will forever be felt inside the Senate Chamber as we remember him and his eloquent way of speaking. Anyone who knew him could feel his love and passion he held for the great State of Nevada.  During his career Senator Raggio dealt with many tribulations and triumphs but he always stood steadfast for what he felt was best and what he felt was right for the people of Nevada, putting aside the influence or threats of others. Most of all he leaves behind a legacy of what a true Statesman is and should be.  Senator Raggio will truly be missed by all and especially those of us who were fortunate to work closely with him inside the Senate Chamber."

I think Sherry’s words speak for many on the Senate staff.  Let me let you in on a secret: even though the Senate staff is sworn to be nonpartisan, we still have our favorites.  Many Senators serve their terms with good humor, dignity, and a sense of decorum.  Some, like Senator Raggio, exceed even this standard and bring esteem to the institution with their dedication and selfless devotion to the process.  Senator Raggio loved the Senate like few others.  His hard work reflected tremendously on the institution.

The story of Senator Raggio is about much more than longevity, but longevity is an important aspect of the story.  To serve for 38 years in the Senate is quite an accomplishment; to serve as Senate Majority Leader for 10 regular sessions and 9 special sessions – setting records that will likely never be surpassed – is literally unprecedented and shows the kind of political acumen that became a Raggio hallmark.  Jan Thomas, who served as Secretary of the Senate from 1981-2000, said today that, “Senator Bill Raggio was indeed a gifted man who deeply cared about the people whom he served and all of humanity in general,” while Claire Clift, who served as Secretary of the Senate from 2001-2010, said, “he had a keen wisdom and insight into the integral elements of governance that made the Senate an outstanding example of what a bipartisan, deliberative body could yield when working together.”  My two predecessors worked with Senator Raggio for nearly thirty years altogether.  More than most, they had the measure of the man.  The admiration of both women speaks volumes to the quality of this Senate icon.

Throughout his illustrious Senate career, Senator Raggio was beloved by his Finance Committee staff (a committee he chaired for 18 years) and by his personal staff.  Particularly, the Senate staffs’ condolences go out to Dale Raggio, who for many years served as his Executive Assistant and worked closely with staff of the Nevada Senate.  We will miss Senator Raggio, but the Nevada Senate – an institution that Senator Raggio loved – has been molded by his wit and wisdom forevermore.