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We made history in Boston.

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Come to Boston and make history. That was the mantra of NCSL's 2007 Legislative Summit. And attendees did both in grand fashion.

More than 9,000 people--a record for an NCSL meeting--came to Boston to participate in the largest gathering of the year for state policymakers. More than 1,700 state legislators from all 50 states were on hand to hear from and share ideas with the nation's public policy leaders.

U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thanked state legislators for their part in making history. "Today I come to thank you for your leadership and work on these events of the past week to defend our country, grow our economy, strengthen our families, protect our planet and restore accountability," Pelosi said during the annual NCSL business meeting.

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State legislators, legislative staff and policy experts attended more than 200 policy sessions over five days. Discussions were held on current concerns such as the State Children's Health Program, the Real ID Act, legislative ethics and crisis preparedness.

David McCullough, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and author, told legislators the key to our future lies in teaching our children about the past. McCullough believes the only way to prevent our children from being "historically illiterate" is by doing a better job teaching our teachers.

"Our teachers are the most important members of our society. I don't think anyone is doing more important work than our teachers." McCullough said.

McCullough advised lawmakers to focus resources on children in the third through sixth fades when "it's not yet cool to be dumb," and to use textbooks that are less "dreary and boring."

Colleges and universities should look to the business community for answers and inspiration as they strive to meet America's needs in this global economy. That's what a panel of national higher education experts told NCSL's Legislative Summit attendees at the opening general session moderated by Jim Hunt, former governor of North Carolina.

University of Colorado President Hank Brown, Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, and Phyllis Eisen, a senior vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers, worried that as baby boomers retire, their replacements won't be adequately prepared to take their place.

"We don't need people with pieces of paper and degrees," Eisen said. "We need people who think differently. We need people who are flexible, agile and know how to learn and move from discipline to discipline. This agility and flexibility are what we're not seeing."

State legislators also heard from Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff on the Real ID Act. "There will be some state responsibility," he said. "Your motor vehicle office is always going to be funded by the state. We recognize that there is going to be an irreducible expense that falls on you and that's part of the shared responsibility [of securing driver's licenses.]"

Chertoff said Real ID is not a mandate. States can elect not to participate. But then, citizens of those states would have to use a passport instead of their state-issued driver's licenses as their federal identification.

"We were excited to have the secretary here," said NCSL President and Texas Senator Leticia Van de Putte. "However. what I heard from my colleagues was respectful cynicism at the department's inability to see how egregious this is to the states."

NCSL's Legislative Summit is the premier state legislative event of the year. "I look forward to the Legislative Summit each year as I come away with so many new ideas," said NCSL's new president. Delaware Representative Donna Stone. "This year's meeting has been no exception. The caliber of speakers and the breadth of issues that have been covered have made me, without a doubt, a more informed legislator."

Going Green

As lawmakers front all 50 states and around the world gathered in Boston for the 2007 Legislative Summit. the rising cost of energy was a key topic of the more than 200 policy sessions throughout the week. And as policymakers were debating the merits of energy policy, the lights above them were being fueled by wind energy.

Energy consumption for the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center during the week of NCSL's Legislative Summit was offset by 5,000 kilowatt hours of Renewable Energy Certificates. courtesy of Constellation NewEnergy.

"Bringing more than 9,000 people into a city for a conference like this takes a certain environmental toll," said NCSL Executive Director William Pound. "It is important that NCSL does its part in mitigating the environmental impact on our host city."

In addition to the use of renewable energy, recycle bins were set up around the conference facility and meeting attendees were encouraged to walk or use public transportation throughout the week.

This year's Legislative Summit began a five-year program to make the annual meeting more environmentally friendly. Conference planners will continue to seek ways to mitigate the environmental impact on host cities such as New Orleans in 2008 and Philadelphia in 2009.

Out With Unfunded Mandates

More than 234 years ago, colonists launched the American Revolution with the Boston Tea Party. So it seems fitting that the American revolutionaries of today kicked off their history-making event with a modern-day Boston Tea Party.

At the beginning of the 2007 Legislative Summit, four state legislators boarded a schooner berthed in the Boston Harbor and tossed overboard crates full of federal unfunded mandates and cost shifts. The symbolic event was staged to protest the federal government's decision to shift more than $100 billion worth of unfunded mandates to the states.

Later in the week. at NCSL's annual business meeting, state legislators took a more concrete stand against unfunded mandates, cost-shifts and federal preemption of state laws. State lawmakers enacted resolutions on many key policies being debated in Washington, D.C.

"NCSL is the voice of state legislatures in Washington, D.C.," said Delaware Representative Donna Stone, NCSL's new president. "That's why these resolutions are so important. Congress has a powerful constituency among state legislatures and they'd do well listening to us. The one-size-fits-all approach that Washington sometimes prefers simply doesn't address the needs of the states in most instances."

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The Real ID Act, a measure setting federal standards for state-issued driver's licenses and identification documents, was once again at the forefront of state legislators' policy agenda. Legislators enacted a policy resolution that calls on Congress to fix and fund the Real ID Act by Dec. 31, 2007. If Congress fails to provide a good faith $1 billion of the $11 billion in total costs, state lawmakers will begin to call for the act's repeal.

State lawmakers also renewed their call for Congress to endorse state efforts to simplify the state sales and use tax system. Over the past seven years, states have removed the burden to interstate commerce that has prevented them from collecting sales taxes on remote sales. The new voluntary collection system has generated more than $100 million in new revenues. State lawmakers in Boston endorsed a resolution supporting congressional efforts that would give states the ability to require Internet, catalogue and other remote retailers to collect sales taxes regardless of the retailers' physical presence in a taxing jurisdiction.

State legislators also endorsed a policy on fiscal federalism that details a series of principles for fundamental federal tax reform that should be adhered to by the federal government. The resolution reaffirms that federal and state tax systems are inextricably linked and any federal tax reform should be done in consultation with state governments.

The resolutions enacted in Boston will guide NCSL's lobbying activities in Washington, D.C., over the coming years. NCSL is the only organization that represents state legislatures on Capitol Hill mad with the administration.

Give Them Some Applause

Several key leaders within the legislative community were honored recently at the 2007 Legislative Summit in Boston.

North Carolina Speaker Joe Hackney received the 2007 Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award. The award is given annually by NCSL and the State Legislative Leaders Foundation to a state legislative leader who has demonstrated leadership, integrity, compassion, vision and courage in an effort to make his or her legislature a stronger institution.

Speaker Hackney was recognized for restoring integrity to a chamber tarnished by scandal. He sponsored new ethics legislation during the 2006 session and is responsible for a greater openness in the legislative process through changes he made in the committee system. Speaker Hackney is also credited with helping to bring wireless laptops to the chamber so that legislators can bring democracy closer to the citizens.

The New Jersey Legislature was awarded NCSL's 2007 Online Democracy Award, a recognition given to a legislature, legislative chamber or legislative caucus whose website stands out for making democracy user-friendly. New Jersey's recently redesigned website was recognized for its ease of navigation, depth of content, and openness and availability of information for the public.

Welcome New Officers

Representative Donna Stone, a Republican from Delaware, became the first woman to succeed a woman as president of NCSL. She follows after Texas Senator Leticia Van de Outte, who became NCSL's past president.

As a bipartisan organization, NCSL alternates the position of president between the two major political parties each year.

North Carolina Speaker Joe Hackney, a Democrat, will serve as president-elect until next year's Legislative Summit in New Orleans. And Georgia Senator Don Balfour, a Republican, was elected to serve as NCSL's vice-president.

NCSL also counts legislative staff among its members. The nation's more than 30,000 legislative staffers chose Sharon Crouch Steidel, director of the Virgini.a House Information Services, to serve as NCSL's 2007-2008 staff chair. Gary Van Landingham, director of Florida's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, was elected to serve as staff vice-chair. Last year's staff chair, Steve Miller of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau moves on to become the immediate past staff chair.

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Legislative Summit Participants Vote

If the selection of the 2008 presidential party nominees were up to the attendees at the Legislative Summit, it would be a match up between Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton and former Republican Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

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Participants were given the opportunity to vote for their preferences for 2008 presidential candidates. On the Democratic side, Senator Clinton led the field with nearly 31 percent of the vote followed by John Edwards's 26 percent and Barack Obama's 20 percent. Governor Romney lead the Republican contenders with 36 percent of the vote followed by Fred Thompson's 23 percent and Rudy Guiliani's 16 percent.

Straw poll voters were also asked about the greatest threat to democracy. Overwhelmingly (42 percent), straw poll voters said that public cynicism is the single biggest threat to representative democracy. Money in politics was also a concern (24 percent).

Straw poll voters cast their ballots over a two-day period on electronic, touch-screen Diebold voting machines courtesy of LHS Associates of Massachusetts.

A Serious Purpose

"When a cabinet secretary and the speaker of the House of Representatives comes to our conference to talk to us, it says that we have an importance ... and NCSL does have that importance."

GEORGIA SENATOR NAN ORROCK

"Conferences can truly be productive if those who organize and attend them are serious about their purpose. Such appears to be the case with the National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit held in Boston week."

EDITORIAL IN THE FREDERICK NEWS POST, FREDERICK COUNTY, MD.

"When we gather in this type of forum, the emphasis is on knowledge and policy, rather than partisan positioning. It gives you a renewed faith in the process that you can carry back to your state. What we learn here helps us do a better job."

"VIRGINIA SENATOR EMMETT HANGER

"Today's issues are complicated, [so] NCSL's importance continues to grow. It is critical that we get together and talk about how we might collectively resolves important issues."

GEORGIA SENATOR BILL HAMRICK
COPYRIGHT 2007 National Conference of State Legislatures
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Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:1979
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