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You want to know what? NCSL is ready and waiting to answer just about any question.

Anyone who has worked in or with a state legislature knows that topics can range from the mundane to the bizarre. NCSL has seen them all. People call to ask about elections, state laws on methamphetamines, state budget conditions and eminent domain policies. They also call when they want to know how many states prohibit Internet hunting, whether states prohibit legislators from marrying lobbyists, or if any states allow NASCAR license plates.

At NCSL, we take on all comers. Staff experts answer 10,000 information requests each year, the majority from legislators and legislative staff. These questions are our highest priority. If we don't have an answer, we'll do our best to find someone who does.

ASKING A QUESTION

Legislators and staff can submit questions through a form on our website or by contacting staff in the Denver or Washington, D.C., offices. We might not always have a 50-state comparative chart for your question. But, depending on needs, legislators and staff can expect to receive any relevant NCSL reports or briefs as well as some background information about a topic. Trained NCSL staff also can search databases for statutes, bills and administrative codes from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. If we can't find specifically what you're looking for, we can refer you to another contact who may be able to help.

HOW TO DO IT

With 150 policy staff spread between two offices, it can be difficult to navigate NCSL and find the correct person to answer your question. Our seasoned staff will happily route a misdirected call to the appropriate staffer, but some tips may help you get the best and quickest response to your question.

1

Find the right NCSL office. Staff in our Denver office work on issues in the states. Our Washington, D.C., staff tackle federal concerns. If you want an update on a bill in Congress, information about federal agency regulations or federal programs, or the latest on an NCSL lobbying position, the best place to start is in D.C. For most other issues, the NCSL expert will likely be in Denver.

2

Use your NCSL staff liaison. NCSL assigns at least one person to act as a staff liaison with each state or territory. Identify the staff assigned to you and use them as a resource. Your staff liaison can help narrow your question and route you to the appropriate person for a response. If you don't get a prompt or adequate answer, your staff liaison also can help follow up.

3

Call NCSL standing committee staff. NCSL maintains 11 standing committees that consider both state and federal issues. Researchers from both NCSL offices staff the committees and are intimately familiar with the range of topics being considered. To find out more, go to http://www.ncsl.org/ stand comm/standcomm.htm.

4

Explain the issue. When you ask for a 50-state chart on what other states have done on a particular issue we may be able to offer alternative solutions to your problem or provide other relevant information to help you with your legislation.

5

Get registered. Not all NCSL materials are available to the general public. State legislators and staff can get access to all secure material by registering and getting an NCSL password. Registration also provides members with the ability to search for all legislator contact information, committee assignments, and leadership positions. The online directory allows users to search key state legislative staff and NCSL staff. Most important, registration allows you to submit information requests directly to the appropriate staff. It's easy to do. You use your first and last names and assign your own password. Try it out at www.ncsl.org/public/register.htm

6

Contact us early. NCSL staff have answered urgent information requests from airports, at rest areas, from cars, while on vacation, early in the morning, late at night, on weekends, and even from home while on bed rest. We've helped legislators and staff who've called from committee hearings, press conferences and from the floor of their chamber. But, for the best response, ask your question as soon as you can. NCSL research may help you sharpen your focus or open up new possibilities. Let us know how soon you need the information and tell us exactly what you need.

7

Know what NCSL offers. Manning the phones at NCSL are more than 150 professionals who specialize in every policy area from abandoned newborns to youth violence. When you call with your question, chances are good that an NCSL staff member has researched it before and already has an answer.

We try to answer all the questions we get from legislators and staff. But sometimes there are limits to what we can say. Because NCSL is bipartisan, we provide information from all sides of contentious issues. We don't answer questions that require a subjective response. We don't rank state laws or give you our opinion on whether a state should pass a bill. And, although many lawyers work at NCSL, we don't offer a legal opinion about a specific case.

NCSL staff have expertise in tracking bills, analyzing statutes and examining legislative approaches to problems. More than 60 percent have advanced degrees including eight with Ph.D.'s, 22 attorneys and 45 with master's degrees. Their collective experience comes from previous work in local government, state and federal agencies, governors' offices, Congress and of course, extensive work within state legislatures. All that education comes in handy because with so much information already available via the Internet, and in particular through the NCSL website, requestors now contact us with hard questions that can't be easily answered through Google.

IT'S CONFIDENTIAL

It is NCSL policy to keep all requests confidential. A legislator, a chamber or a party may be working on an issue, and it could affect dynamics if we were to reveal their interest in the topic.

NCSL wants to foster an environment that encourages legislators to ask questions on any topic. We know you can do your finest job when you have the best information. So go ahead, ask about any controversial or unpopular issue. Your secret is safe with us.

A lot has changed at NCSL in the last 30 years. But one core value has remained the same. We work for state legislatures. Our professional researchers and staff are here to answer all your questions from the common to the unique. So make the most of us. And let us know how we're doing. Are we responding to your needs? Do you have tips for improving our responses? We want to make sure your experiences with us are positive and productive so that you can better serve the people that matter the most.

These Are Worth a Chuckle

* Have any states or the federal government established regulations for facilities that keep cryogenically preserved heads? We couldn't find any, but did find a federal facility in Arizona.

* Has any state rounded off the value of Pi through legislation? No.

* How many state legislatures are in the United States? We think you can answer that one.

* How many jurisdictions require by statute that service stations provide free air to fill tires? Two. California and the Virgin Islands.

* Do any states make parents liable for teens who have sex in their house? No.

* Has any state honored U2's Bono for his humanitarian work? Not yet.

* Do any states have laws that allow patients to charge doctors when the doctor is late to an appointment? None that we could find.

* Which state has a unicameral legislature? A favorite because it was an early morning question to settle a bet between two "happy" college students. At stake: pizza and a case of beer. The answer, Nebraska.

Today's Hot Questions

* What are states doing about eminent domain? On June 23, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case Kelo v. New London that eminent domain could be used for economic development and that state legislatures were the appropriate venue for determining what constitutes public use. Since then, we have received numerous requests asking how states have responded. The answer: 32 out of 46 state legislatures in session since Kelo have passed either statutes or constitutional amendments restricting the use of eminent domain for economic development.

* How many states have data security breach laws or legislation? Thirty-five.

* How many states have raised their minimum wage above the federal minimum wage? Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have rates above the $5.15 federal amount.

* How many states do redistricting of legislative lines by a commission? Twelve--not including Iowa, which has its own unique process.

* What are states doing to provide property tax relief?. With house values up 50 percent over the past five years, many lawmakers are worried about the implications for property tax values. States are taking two approaches: targeted immediate relief for seniors and/or low-income populations, and structural changes to replace local property tax revenue with state sales taxes or other state-level revenue sources.

* How many states have instituted GPS tracking for certain convicted sex offenders released from prison? Twenty.

* How many states prohibit the use of cell phones while driving? None completely ban cell phones in the car. Four states--California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York--and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of hand-held phones while driving. A dozen states prohibit or restrict cell phone use by teen drivers. Altogether, 28 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws related to cell phone use in cars.

Blake Harrison and Matt Sundeen are NCSL staffers who answer a lot of information requests.
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Title Annotation:National Conference of State Legislatures
Author:Sundeen, Matt
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Words:1611
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