Technology

States Legislate in Response to News Headlines

In the current 24/7 news cycle, scandals often lead to bills in several statehouses.
by | January 2012
 

News travels fast. That cliché has never been more true, and it’s having an effect on state policymaking.

Given the explosion of Web and social media sources, legislators seem nearly as likely to know about what’s happening in Arizona or Wisconsin as in their own state capitols. That’s one reason why similar-sounding bills are commonly introduced by the dozen each year. “Everything is nationalized or has the potential to be nationalized,” says Connie Campanella, president of the lobbying group Stateside Associates.

Traditionally, legislators have gained some sense of what their colleagues elsewhere are up to through personal networking or associations such as the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the American Legislative Exchange Council. “Most ideas I’ve heard put to use from other states still normally come from regional or national meetings of organizations like NCSL,” says Arkansas state Sen. Steve Harrelson.

But Harrelson says he’s Facebook friends with legislators from other states and follows many of his colleagues on Twitter. Those are useful not only for picking up on the ideas being propagated elsewhere, he says, but for gauging immediate reaction from constituents as well.

Legislatures are reactive institutions and one of the main things they respond to is news. Old hands around state capitols used to talk about the “60 Minutes rule,” referring to the fact that a controversial matter highlighted on the CBS news magazine show could quickly trigger legislation to address the matter in states. Now, word spreads more quickly and anytime a scandal becomes an Internet sensation, you can bet people in various capitols are jumping to prepare a policy response.

“You can be sure that any idea that shows up in New Jersey today will be in California tomorrow,” says Steve Markowitz of MultiState Associates, a government relations firm.

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