by Karl Kurtz
Sixteen years ago, a group of legislative staff, part of NCSL's Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee (LSCC), published a Model Code of Conduct for Legislative Staff. The group spent two years working together to find common ground and ways to reconcile differing practices from state to state.
Peggy Kerns, director of NCSL's Ethics Center, says, "This is a really valuable document. We use it all the time in our ethics training. It has stood the test of time. It's genuinely a model of how to develop an ethics code."
Butch Speer, clerk of the Louisiana House of Representatives, says, "In 1993-94, I was honored to chair the task force charged with drafting the model code. I had the good fortune to have a team of dedicated and enthusiastic legislative staffers from across the country representing the different disciplines of legislative staff. Cooperatively, we worked through many hours crafting a model code that speaks to the mission of legislative staff as well as to specific principles of conduct that express the highest ideals of our professions."
In January of 2012, LSCC adopted an amendment to the model code to incorporate new language about the importance of civility, inspired by a civility intiative undertaken by 2010-11 NCSL President Sen. Richard Moore, Massachusetts. The civility section reads:
A legislative staff member respects the rights of individuals to hold different opinions, and speaks truthfully without accusation or distortion, and avoids heightened rhetoric when serving the legislature.
Comment: A legislative staff member who demonstrates civility chooses words carefully and understands that staff actions or communications reflect directly upon legislators, and ultimately, the legislative institution. The actions of a legislative staff member reflect upon the legislature as an institution, and staff, by default, represent the institution. Civility requires an acknowledgement of opposing views and the right of others to hold those views. It does not suggest or require acceptance or agreement with those opinions. A civil staff member understands that attempts to distort the opinions or reputations of others oftentimes result in a reciprocal effect upon the institution. A civil legislative staff member is careful to remain civil in his or her own interactions, and thus serve as a positive example of maintaining and promoting civility within the legislative institution.