By Thom Little, Ph.D.

Welcome to 2024! A new year means a new legislative session for all but the four states who have biennial sessions (so those of you who serve in Montana, Nevada, North Dakota feel free to stop reading now). As legislative leaders with annual sessions return for the 2024 legislative session, many are busy preparing an agenda that members of their caucus can support. Given that state legislatures are constitutionally mandated to make the laws that govern their state, this is a critical function for the people who lead them.

Last November, I was asked by leaders in the Alaska House of Representatives to assist them in developing such an agenda for the House Majority Caucus (19 Republicans, 3 Democrats and an Independent). In considering how best to do this, I talked to leaders in several other states about how they developed policy agendas for their caucuses. The approaches were quite varied and I thought they might be of interest to legislative leaders in the 46 states kicking off their 2024 sessions in the coming weeks.

The Personal Approach
One leader I spoke with indicated that he takes a very personal approach to the task, meeting individually with each member of his caucus to discuss the issues that he or she is interested in. He then takes that information and looks for common themes among the members of the caucus that can be developed into a cohesive agenda. This approach also allows the leader to improve caucus efficiency by encouraging members with similar interests to work together to produce one bill instead of producing competing legislation. This approach also allows the leader to identify those who might be willing and able to carry particular pieces of legislation for the caucus agenda.

The Survey Approach
A similar, but a bit more formal approach was shared by another leader who had his staff develop a comprehensive online survey to determine member interests and look for common patterns. The survey begins by asking members to select their top five issues from a list of more than twenty issues. They are then asked to select their top three priorities within various issues that are likely to be front of mind (taxes, education, health care, public safety, state budget, economic development and abortion). According to the leader, this information was used to determine issues where a caucus consensus was likely and also served as a way of “keeping members in line” because he could reference those results if a member pushed back against the agenda that their responses generated.

The Retreat Approach
A third approach is the one that Kelley Packer, a former Idaho legislator, and I facilitated in Alaska. The leaders of the House Majority Caucus invited all 24 members of their caucus to gather for a two-day retreat (19 attended) to discuss issues and develop an agenda of issues that members could agree to. Obviously, this approach requires a bigger commitment from the members because they are being asked to give of their valuable time. However, it also allows for a much more robust and interactive conversation so that members can air their differences as well as find common ground. For this retreat, Kelley led them in an exercise that helped them identify the most significant issues facing the state and then I facilitated conversations about each of those issues to seek areas of agreement. The retreat resulted in the identification of several short-, medium- and long-term goals for the 2024 session.

The District Approach
A fourth approach that requires a very significant commitment from leadership was mentioned by another leader. This leader made an effort throughout the year, before the election and between election day and the opening session, to visit with members, especially new members, in their districts. This allowed the leader to really understand the members and their districts as well as build relationships with members, especially those newly elected so that she could develop an agenda that met the electoral as well as policy needs of the caucus members.

Interestingly, a couple of senior leaders shared that they did not meet formally or informally with the caucus members, but, based on their experience and long-term relationship with the members of their caucus, felt confident they could put together an agenda that would reflect the interests and needs of their members.

So, if you are working on a caucus or institutional agenda, you now have some options! If you have further questions, feel free to email me at