A View from the Top: State Legislatures Gathered a Group of Leaders to Talk about the Challenges That the Global Economy and Immigration Pose against a Backdrop of Federal Mandates, the Loss of Institutional Memory, and a Decline in Decorum and Ethics. Here's What They Had to Say
IMPORTANCE OF LEGISLATURES
State Legislatures: How would you describe the legislature's relationship with other branches of government and do you think it has become more or less important?
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown: It's as important now as it's ever been, particularly in light of where we are on the national level. People are disillusioned with partisan politics. At the state level, we have the opportunity, particularly as leaders, to set the tone for how the parties work together, solve problems, break through the logjams and accomplish things.
Speaker Greg Curtis: The legislative role is ever increasing. In an era of communication, people are becoming more aware of what legislative bodies are doing, and they're looking for accountability. People want to see what their legislator is doing to resolve issues that are important to them.
NCSL President-Elect Senator Leticia Van de Putte: In school we were taught about the legislative branch, the executive branch and the judicial branch. It's a great balance and it's so easy and structured. But for the last decade, it has no longer been a triangle. It's almost like we're connected by a bungee cord. And given any issue or dynamic that occurs, I find the legislature having to pull more.
Speaker Pro Tem Steve Freese: Legislatures decide how to implement national policies, and whether they are successful or not is up to the states. We are the stewards of the programs and we are the ones responding to a variety of issues when it comes to how those policies will be applied.
THE BROAD VIEW
SL: In the words of columnist Thomas Friedman, "Globalization is changing everyone's domestic politics." How can legislatures, and specifically you as a leader, play a role on the global stage? And what are the consequences if you don't?
House Republican Leader Roy Brown: Oil and natural gas are the driving force for most economies. Montana has a very rich coal environment that creates a tremendous opportunity on the global stage. We are competitive because of the freedoms we have for people to innovate and grow and expand. As long as we don't make our tax policy so restrictive that we can't continue to be entrepreneurs, I think the United States will continue to be competitive in the world market.
Freese: Globalization has affected us in a huge way. Two years ago it was the cost of prescription drugs. A global economy allowed people to go to Mexico or Canada and buy the same drugs at a substantially lower price. People want to know why the Legislature is not doing something about these kinds of issues.
Van de Putte: Globalization demands an educated workforce that can compete with New Delhi and Beijing and their educational systems and students. Technology has enabled us to be one marketplace and our education system must improve to meet new demands.
Curtis: We do not reward excellence in education. We don't fund it, we don't demand it, and we don't encourage the education system to move children forward. If we dick we would have every ability to compete at the global level in math and science. Part of our responsibility as leaders is to be innovative and courageous and say we've got to change the curriculum requirements. We also need to fund our research universities and use the science and technologies that come out of them to be able to compete, and be able to grow the economy.
THE FEDERAL IMPACT
SL: How do federal policies--including the No Child Left Behind Act--affect your own state?
Van de Putte: The problem is an extreme amount of unfunded mandates and preemption. More state legislatures are not only uncomfortable about it, but are breaking under the financial strain. It's a total reversal of that 10th Amendment balance we've always had.
Lisa Brown: What we hope is a great economic opportunity for the whole Northwest--the upcoming Olympics--is really somewhat in jeopardy because of the financial consequences of the western hemisphere travel initiative. …