2019 SLC News and Updates


Children’s Health and Safety Legislative Staff Workshop Photo
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February 8, 2019 | Atlanta, Georgia

Workshop
Children’s Health and Safety Legislative Staff Workshop

On Friday, February 8, 2019, legislative staff from Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia attended a policy workshop organized by the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC). Staff whose committee purviews include health and human services, public safety and criminal justice received briefings and participated in roundtable discussions about issues important to children’s safety and well-being, including foster care, sexual exploitation, school climate and behavioral health.

Staff heard from medical professionals and public health officials about the impact of the ongoing opioid epidemic on states’ foster care systems, followed by a comprehensive overview of the Family First Prevention Services Act, signed into law in February 2018 to improve child welfare outcomes across the nation. Staff also had an opportunity to hear from three Georgia-based experts about the state’s approach to addressing sexual abuse and exploitation of children, promoting safe and healthy school climates, and providing robust behavioral health services for all students.

Presenters included representatives from the Georgia Department of Education; National Alliance on Mental Illness; Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest operating foundation focused on reducing the need for foster care; and Georgia Cares, a statewide coordinating agency connecting services and treatment for child victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking.  


Speaker Pro Tempore Victor Gaston

April 11, 2019

Spotlight on Longevity: Speaker Pro Tempore Victor Gaston

In November 2018, Speaker Pro Tempore Victor Gaston was elected to his 10th term in the Alabama House of Representatives. He was unopposed in his re-election bid for House District 100, a seat he has held since 1982. With eight consecutive unopposed elections, Representative Gaston is believed to have the longest unopposed election streak of any state legislator in the South.

On December 8, 2010, Representative Gaston was elected to the speaker pro tempore position by his colleagues and currently serves as chair of the Mobile County Legislation Committee. Additionally, Speaker Gaston is a member of the following committees: Rules; Transportation, Utilities and Infrastructure; and Ways and Means General Fund.

In addition to his legislative service, Representative Gaston was an elected delegate to six consecutive Republican National Conventions. He served on the convention’s Rules Committee in 1988 and Credentials Committee in 2000. He also served two terms on the National Republican Legislators Board. He is a former member of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush

Representative Gaston’s career includes working as a teacher and administrator for Mobile County schools, as a timber farmer and serving in the U.S. military. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, his master’s degree from the University of South Alabama and his doctorate in education from Auburn University.

Representative Gaston and his wife, Jean, are the parents of two sons, Hank and George. They have been blessed with six grandsons; Jason, James, Cameron, Matthew, Noah and Charlie. He is an active member at Spring Hill Baptist Church.


Paperless Committee System

May 7-8, 2019 | Charleston, West Virginia

Legislative Staff Exchange
Paperless Committee System

On May 7-8, 2019, the Southern Legislative Conference arranged for legislative staff from the Georgia House of Representatives and the Office of Legislative Counsel to travel to the West Virginia Capitol to learn more about West Virginia’s paperless committee system. The Georgia House of Representatives is in the process of creating their own paperless committee system. The clerks of the West Virginia House of Representatives and Senate, along with staff from the Legislative Services Division, Legislative Automated Services Division and other offices gave demonstrations and presentations on the history and operations of West Virginia’s paperless system. Specific issues discussed include: access to the paperless system; software and hardware used; and how the bill drafting system works.


July 13-17, 2019 | New Orleans, Louisiana

SLC Annual Meeting Cancelled
Due to Hurricane Barry, the 2019 SLC Annual Meeting is cancelled. Registered attendees have been sent an email with details on registration, housing and travel. Please see the Annual Meeting home page for additional details.

July 25, 2019

2019 STAR Award Winners

The State Transformation in Action Recognition (STAR) Judges Panel – comprising state legislators, legislative staff and policy experts – reviewed application materials and presentations of the five finalists and voted online to select two winners of the 2019 STAR award: Kentucky’s MyPURPOSE and Tennessee Reconnect.


2019 STAR Award Kentucky
Kentucky Personnel Cabinet: MyPURPOSE

In 2017, the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet established a talent management strategy and vision to affect how the Commonwealth attracts, recruits, and retains talent. Launched in 2018, MyPURPOSE provides a visually engaging portal for external job applicants, the ability to quickly apply for jobs via mobile or desktop applications or through a LinkedIn profile, and a means for state agencies to customize job postings by including videos with job posts.

MyPURPOSE also created an internal portal for state employees, which provides access to promotional opportunities and professional development. State employees can take advantage of a catalog of more than 1,400 curated courses for personal and professional growth, at no cost. Since going live in July 2018, MyPURPOSE has seen:

  • 74,000+ registered users (candidates and employees),
  • 207,000+ training registrations/completions, and
  • 2,500 candidates hired.

2019 STAR Award Kentucky
Tennessee Higher Education Commission: Tennessee Reconnect

Tennessee Reconnect is an initiative to help more adults return to higher education by providing a last-dollar scholarship that pays any tuition and fees charged at community colleges that are not covered by other sources of grant aid. These scholarship awards, on average, are approximately $1,000 per student.

In fall 2013, former Governor Bill Haslam announced his “Drive to 55,” with the goal that 55 percent of Tennesseans would hold a postsecondary credential by the year 2025. At the time, 36 percent of Tennesseans met this benchmark. Following the success of programs serving younger age groups, updates and modifications were made to Tennessee’s free college framework to serve adults.

Tennessee Reconnect was developed in response to the needs of employers across the state. In focus groups, they stated that there were numerous job vacancies that could not be filled, as applicants for these jobs did not have the appropriate training or skills, particularly in technical fields. With this scholarship program, Tennesseans of all ages can earn the relevant, marketable credentials necessary to succeed in the labor market. Since implementation, state-wide postsecondary degree attainment has increased to 43 percent.


2019 Carter Hellard Award

August 14, 2019 | Atlanta, Georgia

2019 Carter/Hellard Legislative Staff Award

The Carter/Hellard Legislative Staff Award is given annually to a staff member who has demonstrated excellence and dedication in service to state legislatures in the South. Betsy Howerton, deputy legislative counsel for the Georgia General Assembly, was selected by the members of the Legislative Service Agency (LSA) Directors Group as the winner of the 2019 Carter/Hellard award. Speaker David Ralston and Legislative Counsel Rick Ruskell nominated Howerton for the award.

Howerton joined the Office of Legislative Counsel in 2002, having previously worked for Georgia’s Department of Transportation and Department of Education. In addition to serving as deputy legislative counsel, Howerton is the staff attorney for the House Committees on Education, Health and Human Services and Code Revision.

In his nomination letter, Speaker Ralston described Howerton as someone “who is always a pleasure to work with and provides much needed expert advice on complex issues our state seeks to address and improve upon. She handles these arduous tasks without any indication that the pressure has been too much, because she handles it all with grace.”

Marcia Johnson, chair of the LSA Directors Group, presented the award to Howerton in a ceremony at the Georgia State Capitol on August 14. Among those present were Speaker Ralston, Legislative Counsel Rick Ruskell, Director of the House Budget and Research Office Martha Wigton, SLC Director Colleen Cousineau and Research and Publications Associate Nick Bowman.


Seal of Oklahoma

August 29, 2019

Legislative Employment Opportunity

The Oklahoma Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) Oversight Committee is seeking a highly motivated, talented and credible professional to fill the LOFT Director position. The Director will oversee state agency budget analysis and performance evaluations as necessary to assist the Legislature in its oversight of executive branch agencies.

LOFT is a new office created by Oklahoma State Senate Bill 1 in 2019 to ensure fiscal and program integrity. It will be similar to the Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office at the federal level. For the full job description and application information, please click here.


Electronic Filing of Regulations

September 9-10, 2019 | Richmond, Virginia

Legislative Staff Exchange
Electronic Filing of Regulations
The SLC arranged for legislative staff from the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research (BLR) to travel to Richmond, Virginia, to learn more about the state’s Regulation Information System (RIS), a web-enabled application to file regulations and rules with the Registrar of Regulations for publication in the Virginia Register of Regulations. Arkansas House Bill 1429 (2019) requires BLR to compile, format and index the codification of all state agency rules. Staff members from the Division of Legislative Services briefed their Arkansas counterparts on the development and main functions of the RIS and also provided a demonstration of the system.

SLC Georgia Cyber Center Delegation
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September 12-13, 2019 | Augusta, Georgia

Fiscal Affairs & Government Operations Committee Delegation
Georgia Cyber Center

A delegation of legislators from the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) traveled to Augusta, Georgia, to visit the Georgia Cyber Center (GCC), the single largest investment to date in a cybersecurity facility by a state government. The GCC is a unique public-private partnership involving the state and federal government, military, academia, law enforcement and private sector. The Center is designed to meet the growing demand for trained cyber security professionals in Georgia, the Savannah River region and across the nation.

Participants received briefings from representatives of Augusta University and Augusta Technical College, both of which are located on the GCC’s campus and directly involved in providing cyber security education and training programs to students. Delegation members also received a briefing from the special agent in charge of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who discussed the evolution of crime in cyberspace, and from the director of the Cyber Workforce Academy, which is tasked with developing a cyber security workforce at the GCC.

Participants also toured Fort Gordon in Augusta – home to the U.S. Army Cyber Command, National Security Agency Georgia and the Cyber School of Excellence – which played an integral role in the creation of the GCC and continues to be an important source of economic growth for the Augusta metropolitan area.

Delegation participants included Representative Manly Barton, Mississippi, chair of SLC’s Economic Development, Transportation and Cultural Affairs Committee; Representative Giovanni Capriglione, Texas; Representative Fredrick J. Love, Arkansas, vice chair of SLC’s Human Services and Public Safety Committee; Senator Kerry Roberts, Tennessee; Senator Wil Schroder, Kentucky; and Senator Ryan Weld, West Virginia.


Congratulations to the 2019 CALS Class
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October 5-9, 2019 | Little Rock, Arkansas

Center for the Advancement of Leadership Skills - Class of 2019

The Southern Legislative Conference of The Council of State Governments recently convened the 13th annual Center for the Advancement of Leadership Skills (CALS), a leadership development program for new and mid-career state executive, legislative and judicial branch officials..

The 2019 program convened in Little Rock, Arkansas, and included leaders from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The interactive sessions focused on topics including communication styles and group dynamics; managing conflict and difficult discussions; leading across generations; and building a culture of ethics and excellence.

Brandon P. Fleming, assistant debate coach at Harvard University and founder/CEO of the Harvard Diversity Project, delivered the closing keynote on how debate empowers emerging leaders. For more information on CALS, visit http://www.slcatlanta.org/CALS/.


SLC Delegation on Medical Marijuana Regulation

October 29-30, 2019 | Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Delegation
Medical Marijuana Regulation

A delegation of legislators from the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) traveled to Oklahoma City to study the state’s medical marijuana industry. Using Oklahoma as a case study, participants had an opportunity to learn about the challenges and opportunities that arise from the legalization, regulation and implementation of medical marijuana programs.

Participants received briefings about the 2018 ballot initiative and subsequent legislation that enabled the state’s medical marijuana program, as well as the regulations and licensure requirements that have been implemented to monitor the growth, distribution and usage of medical marijuana. Participants also learned about the impacts of medical marijuana legalization on the state’s agriculture sector and various challenges it poses for law enforcement agencies. Officials from the Legislature, Department of Health, Farm Bureau and Bureau of Narcotics briefed delegates on these issues.

Participants also had the opportunity to tour one of the state’s medical marijuana growing operations and processing facilities, followed by a visit to a medical marijuana dispensary, both in Guthrie. The sheriff of Logan County attended a luncheon with participants to share his perspective on Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program, how it can be improved in the future, and what other legislators can learn from the state’s experiences.

The delegation was hosted by Senator Casey Murdock, Oklahoma, acting chair of SLC’s Agriculture & Rural Development Committee. Delegation participants included Representative Danny Crawford, Alabama; Representative Micah Gravley, Georgia; Representative Richard Health, Kentucky; Senator Chuck Hall, Oklahoma; Representative Ron Travis, Tennessee; Senator Katrina Shealy, South Carolina, chair of SLC’s Human Services & Public Safety Committee; and Senator Danny Verdin, South Carolina, past chair of SLC’s Agriculture & Rural Development Committee.


Oklahoma to Arkansas Staff Exchange
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November 4-5, 2019 | Little Rock, Arkansas

Legislative Staff Exchange
Bill Conflicts Report

The SLC arranged for staff from the Oklahoma Legislature to travel to Little Rock, Arkansas, to learn more about the Bureau of Legislative Research’s (BLR) bill conflicts report, an online tool that identifies when introduced legislation conflicts with existing state law. While seeking out models for their system, BLR staff visited West Virginia in 2016, under the auspices of the SLC’s Legislative Staff Exchange Program, to learn about the state’s nationally recognized code conflict software. Staff members from BLR briefed their Oklahoma counterparts on the creation and main functions of the bill conflicts report and provided a demonstration of the system.


SLC Fiscal Officers' Delegation to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

November 7-8, 2019 | Dallas, Texas

Fiscal Affairs & Government Operations Committee Delegation
Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

A delegation of fiscal officers from the Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) traveled to Dallas, Texas, to visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and receive briefings on the state of the economy.  One of 12 regional Reserve Banks in the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas serves the Eleventh Federal Reserve District, encompassing Texas, northern Louisiana and southern New Mexico.  The Eleventh District is one of six that consists of all or parts of SLC member states. 

Under the leadership of President Robert Kaplan, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has established itself as an expert on the implications of technology-enabled disruption for businesses, the workforce and education.  

The experts at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas engaged participants on a variety of important economic and fiscal topics and trends.  Participants began the delegation with briefings on the background and role of the Federal Reserve system, as well as information on its partnerships with both public and private sector community leaders. 

Participants also discussed the national economic outlook and future recession risk, as well as the effects of technological innovation in disrupting the workforce and challenging existing education policy.  Bank economists also briefed delegates on the influences of immigration policy and changing demographics on economic growth, as well as the United States-Mexico economic relationship, the anticipated impact of the new USMCA trade agreement, and energy market trends.

Delegation participants included Senator Steve Livingston, Alabama; Representative Clay Pirkle, Georgia; Representative Steve Rudy, Kentucky; Representative Patsy Hazlewood, Tennessee; and Senator Craig Blair, West Virginia.


2019 Transportation Chairs Consortium
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November 12-13, 2019 | Atlanta, Georgia

2019 Transportation Chairs Consortium

Officers of transportation and infrastructure committees from across the South convened in Atlanta for the 2019 Transportation Chairs Consortium to discuss important transportation and infrastructure issues facing the region. Representatives from 10 SLC states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia – participated in the two-day event. 

The Consortium was organized by the SLC to provide participants an opportunity to discuss state-specific and regional policy issues, including the status of infrastructure in the South; successful transportation funding initiatives; technological impacts on transportation and infrastructure; U.S. ports’ and waterways’ contribution to regional economic growth; and effectively utilizing public-private partnerships for transportation expansion and modernization. Presentations were given by the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Georgia Ports Authority, Georgia Department of Transportation, and AT&T.

Participants also discussed transportation policy with each other during scheduled roundtable discussions, allowing them to identify common transportation and infrastructure problems, share best practices and impediments, and review recently enacted legislation. In the process, it provided participants with a better understanding of other states’ efforts and successes, along with existing challenges.

The Consortium, provided solely by the SLC, was hosted by Senator Steve Gooch, Georgia, and Representative Nathaniel Ledbetter, Alabama, vice chair of SLC’s Economic Development, Transportation & Cultural Affairs Committee. Other participants included:

  • Representative Lynn Greer, Alabama
  • Representative Mike Holcomb, Arkansas
  • Representative Geraldine F. Thompson, Florida
  • Senator Brandon Beach, Georgia
  • Abby Day, Policy Analyst, Georgia
  • Senator Ernie Harris, Kentucky
  • Senator Jimmy Higdon, Kentucky
  • Representative Ken Upchurch, Kentucky
  • Senator Doug Libla, Missouri
  • Representative Becky Ruth, Missouri
  • Senator Micheal Bergstrom, Oklahoma
  • Representative Ronny Johns, Oklahoma
  • Rick Fulmer, Staff Attorney, South Carolina
  • Senator Larry Grooms, South Carolina
  • Representative Tommy Stringer, South Carolina
  • Representative Dan Howell, Tennessee
  • Senator Becky Massey, Tennessee
  • Delegate Jim Butler, West Virginia
  • Senator Charles Clements, West Virginia