Four Decades Strong: The Trials, Trends and Topics of '75
Before getting too worked up about today's bitter partisan divide or stagnant incomes, consider 1975. The U.S. economy was in a recession, thanks to the Arab oil embargo. The federal deficit was growing, state I budgets were shrinking and inflation and unemployment were high. Public confidence in elected leaders was in the tank. Watergate and the fall of Saigon had rocked the country to its roots.
The National Conference of State Legislatures held its first annual meeting that year in Philadelphia. Nearly 2,000 attendees heard keynote speaker Louis Harris say that "public apathy and alienation have reached their peak in 1975."
Attendees drafted 145 policy recommendations addressing some of the most critical national issues, including lowering the federal deficit, conserving energy, opposing federal wage laws for state and local employees, giving legislatures a role in overseeing law enforcement block grants, repealing state fair trade laws, reforming medical malpractice insurance, boosting federal welfare spending and overhauling state pension and retirement systems. Attendees also called for bans on "Saturday Night Special" handguns and aerosol sprays containing fluorocarbons.
In 40 years, there's been progress on many fronts. The federal deficit is actually shrinking, air quality is better and violent crime is down. But as the following excerpts from the early issues of State Legislatures magazine show, some issues are like weeds. They come back every year.
Prescriptions for Soaring Hospital Costs
"Now more than ever, Americans are finding they can't afford to get sick. Since health care price controls expired on April 30, 1974, average costs have risen more than 13 percent and hospital charges are up 16 percent." June/July 1975
State Marijuana Laws
"Oregon passed the nation's first marijuana decriminalization law nearly two years ago.... On June 18, 1974, Maine became the second state to make possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil rather than a criminal offense. Possession of less than 1.5 ounces would be subject to a fine of up to $300, but would not result in a jail sentence or criminal record. While liberalizing bills are pending in nine other states, only in California and Colorado is there possibility of passage this year." June/ July 1975
Prayer in School
"Despite the fact that official prayer in schools has been banned since 1962, some state and local governments have continued the practice .... In Connecticut, the General Assembly has passed a bill which requires a period for daily meditation in public schools." June/July 1975
Not a Shredder Left
"California's Governor Edmund Brown, Jr., has had three paper shredders removed from his office. The shredders, left over from the previous administration, 'simply have no place in an open government,' according to Brown. At the same time, the governor ordered a halt to the policy of giving free brief cases to state employees, declaring they only 'encourage the blizzard of state paperwork.'" June/July 1975
Gun Control: The Controversy Continues
"America has the highest homicide rate in the world. Every three minutes someone in the United States is killed or wounded by a firearm .... As the casualties increase, so does the debate over handgun control." June/July 1975
More May Still Mean Less
"Americans were earning more money than ever last year, and still getting poorer. The Bureau of Census estimates that because of 'substantial inflation,' the ranks of America's poor increased by 1.3 million, or 5.6 percent. That brings the number of citizens living below the poverty level to 24.3 million, or 12 percent of the population." August/September 1975
Pay Toilets: Relief is in Sight
"Americans are increasingly tired of paying an admission price for necessary body functions. A nationwide trend has begun to ban pay toilets in public restrooms. …