The New Laws You Probably Won't Read About Anywhere Else
The media often ignores legislation related to government management, so we tracked down some of the year's highlights.
In the spring and early summer, as legislative sessions end, summaries of new state laws pop up in articles and reports. They’re helpful for keeping track of legislation and provide a useful overview of emerging trends, but it’s rare for those lists to include legislative policies related to the management of government.
We’re talking about laws mandating performance reporting, restructurings or civil service reform. These kinds of mandates usually originate in the executive branch, but ignoring legislative input leaves out a big part of the story. So we decided to find some of the most significant pieces of management-related legislation passed and enacted into law in 2015.
One of the most dramatic intrusions of legislative power into management came in Texas where, after a massive 2014-2015 sunset review of health and human services, the state consolidated three of the five health and human service agencies, enacted contract reform and increased oversight of managed health care.
Several legislatures worked to promote evidence-based practices. In Minnesota, Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation requiring an examination of corrections and human services programs to determine their return on investment; Alabama required its community punishment and corrections programs to incorporate evidence-based practices in their work; and North Dakota passed a resolution to study the same thing.
Efficiency studies were also on some legislative agendas this year. Kansas approved $3 million to hire a consultant for a review and evaluation of the state’s government. Ohio established a new commission to review government spending, looking at fiscal year 2015 costs to find efficiency and cost savings. Meanwhile, a new Spending and Government Efficiency Commission in Nevada is tasked with finding ways to save money in public education over the next two years.
On the civil service front, Kansas will now let agencies exempt new employees from some human resource restrictions. These may include a reliance on clearly delineated job categories and definitions, the salaries that can be paid for them, and which prior jobs employees must have had to be considered for a promotion. In agencies that don’t maintain civil service rules for new employees, current employees can also elect to forgo civil service protection, often in exchange for a potential increase in pay and a change in job duties. Critics worry that the reform will result in more politically appointed positions and reduce professionalism.
Open records and transparency legislation were another hot topic in legislatures this year. Both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, signed legislation making the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey adhere to the public records laws of those two states. Observers have criticized the Port Authority in the past for a lack of transparency and accountability. Ed Barocas, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said that in the past, if a Port Authority official wouldn’t give an individual some information that was a matter of public record, “it was not clear that the individual had a right to challenge that.” Now it’s clear someone does have the right.
Michigan, meanwhile, changed its freedom of information laws to limit the fees that the state can charge for public documents and increase penalties for entities that delay or avoid making their documents public. There have been several articles highlighting previously startling charges for accessing documents -- such as the mother who was told it would cost her $77,000 to get school district emails that discussed her son. Maryland was similarly concerned about this issue and created a public information compliance board and appointed an ombudsman to deal with complaints about unreasonable fees as well as improve the public records system.
Beyond the actual laws passed, many legislatures assigned studies to inform the work that will take place in future legislative sessions. West Virginia’s Joint Committee on State Finance will look at spending transparency; Nebraska will examine the salaries of all judges in state; Oregon’s Department of Education will produce a report on how some school districts reduced dropout rates; and Idaho is undertaking a study of the state’s purchasing laws. These assignments might predict legislative action on management in coming months. Stay tuned.