Jan | Feb 2014


A State Policymaker's Cookbook for Legislation

by Brydon Ross
State policymakers looking for an innovative policy response to an issue they face can find it in The Council of State Governments’ cookbook for state policy—Suggested State Legislation.
The program, commonly known as SSL, is one of the oldest tools CSG offers in its efforts to serve the states. The program was born following the nation’s entry into World War II. The federal government partnered with CSG to devise a set of policies that could be adopted nationwide to help shore up civil defense.
That process eventually morphed into today’s SSL program. The SSL Committee, chaired by Mississippi Rep. Bobby Moak and Jerry Bassett of the Alabama Legislative Reference Service, meets twice a year to consider bills for inclusion in that year’s volume. The committee, which includes only public sector members, considers topics that are the most challenging and complex issues facing state leaders.
The subject matter for SSL is broad and diverse, which is a key to its continued interest, relevancy and staying power. All told, the SSL Committee deftly handles dockets routinely exceeding 100 to 125 bills in 26 different subject areas ranging from conservation to emerging telecommunications issues. Only a select number of bills meet the high standards set by the committee.
Although a bill may be accepted for inclusion in SSL, that doesn’t mean CSG officially endorses the legislation. It simply means the committee deems a particular policy response an innovative way to address a specific situation in need of a solution.
To be considered, a bill must be a public law and must address a policy issue or problem in a new or innovative way. The SSL Committee does not draft legislation for adoption in other states; it only considers bills that have been adopted in at least one state.
Committee members often say they would not vote for a bill as legislation in their home states, but recognize the legislation might be of use in other states and support its inclusion in SSL.
Members take pride in removing their partisan hats at SSL sessions and focusing on the potential usefulness or novel drafting of a bill that sets it apart from formulaic and worn legislative responses.
Policymakers and the public can easily access the bills included in SSL on CSG’s website, www.csg.org/ssl where 25 years of data is readily available in a searchable format by dockets, previous meeting minutes and subject matter.
Each year’s volume is compiled from the adopted bills at SSL Committee sessions into a user-friendly document that strips out the parochial references to state code, thereby providing clean text for legislators seeking a reference point to address issues in their own state. The SSL volumes really are a legislative cookbook where leaders can mix and match successful ideas or policy ingredients to make their own specific recipe.
CSG’s Web portal also allows those interested to search for policy trends and provides a snapshot of the most compelling issues facing states over time.