Thursday, November 09, 2017

LAs and EAs: "Unsung Heroes" of a Legislative Session


As the special session continues, I thought it would be helpful for constituents and concerned citizens to learn a little bit about some of the staff that work in the State Legislature. As the son of a legislator and husband of a former House legislative assistant, I'm more familiar with the vital but unseen work that a legislator's assistant performs. I think that the general public is mostly unaware of the work load an assistant can be carrying, and sometimes needs a friendly reminder about how best to interact with "LAs" and "EAs".

For this, I reached out to Grace McMillan, a legislative assistant who has worked in both the House and the Senate, and operates TheHouseandSenate.com - a very informative website devoted to helping normal citizens navigate their state government.

    I’m glad to answer questions about the dedicated assistants who work at the Oklahoma State Capitol in the House of Representatives and State Senate. The House employs a combination of “session only” and full-time Legislative Assistants. The Senate employs full-time Executive Assistants.

    “Session only” assistants in the House of Representatives are just what the title describes: they work during session only, mostly four days a week, until session becomes very busy and Friday session days on the House and Senate floors become necessary. There are 101 House districts in Oklahoma, each served by a Representative who is up for election/re-election every two years.

    The legislative session in Oklahoma runs from the first Monday in February through the end of May. As Representatives gain seniority and duties become more pressing with possible committee chairmanship and/or leadership positions, they are permitted one full-time Legislative Assistant who serves in the office during the interim and session, or year-round.

    There are 48 Senate districts in Oklahoma; Senators serve four-year terms and have a larger constituency. Each Senator has a full-time assistant.

    Assistants in both Houses are very busy during session. The assistant is the first person the visitor sees when they enter the office. It is our job and truly our pleasure to take note of the concerns of every visitor to the office. We answer the busy phones and we have access to our legislator’s emails. It is the assistant’s job is to discover the reason for a phone call. If a constituent has questions, most of the time we can answer them or put the caller in contact with someone who can. We are glad to explain the legislative process and if we are given a bill number, we can explain where it is and what will happen next.

    Special session has had its own challenges because understandably, many concerned people’s lives are affected by legislation that is enacted in the Capitol at this time. The situation is very fluid and the news literally changes every hour as legislative leaders work to negotiate a budget deal.

    The most important thing we can tell our constituents is this: find out who your legislators are (you have one state Representative and one state Senator) and contact those offices. That is the most efficient, effective way to make your voice heard during these times. If you leave a voice mail or send an email, be sure to leave your name, your phone number and the city you live in. The name of the city you live in is how we know if you are in our district.

    Here are some very practical tips for constituents to make their email stand out from the thousands of “template” emails we see:
    • Send an email using your own email address, rather than a website form.
    • Use your own words without copying and pasting from a template.
    • Write a good Subject line. It’s the “title” of your email; good Subject lines help us file the email for future reference.
    • Include your name and address.
    • If you have a question that requires an answer, please ask the question obviously.
    • If you would like our help with an issue, include pertinent details, attaching pertinent information.
    Many constituents are tempted to contact all state legislators with their concerns; please know that each office responds to the constituents they represent, so you may be redirected. We will do our very best to understand your concerns and respond appropriately.

    Grace McMillan has served in the House of Representatives as session only and full-time Legislative Assistant, and currently serves in the Oklahoma State Senate as Executive Assistant. She is the webmaster and administrator of theHouseandSenate.com, a public website dedicated to the navigation of Oklahoma state government.

As Grace pointed out, many of the State Representatives have a "session-only" assistant, so during the interim full-time LAs handle the office-work for multiple Representatives. During this special session, it's important to remember when you call a legislator that the House LAs might be taking phone calls for as many as three or four different House members/districts.

The work of the House LAs and Senate EAs is a vital part of the governmental process, allowing legislators to hear from and serve their constituents in an organized and timely manner.

I reached out to both House Speaker Charles McCall and Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz for their comments on the work that the assistants do. When I receive a response from Speaker McCall, I'll update this post.
“The unsung heroes at the Oklahoma Capitol are the legislative staff and executive assistants. The Oklahoma Senate couldn’t function without them. Whether they are helping constituents solve problems and connect with state agencies, or providing research and tracking down data, the legislative staff and executive assistants make the job of an senator a little easier. They are honorable men and women who work hard each day to serve the state of Oklahoma.” - Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz.

When you contact your legislator, remember to be courteous and considerate to the person who answers the phone. They provide a great service to the State of Oklahoma.

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