NCSL 2002 Annual Meeting: Summit for America; Nation's State Legislators Launch Campaign to Strengthen Democracy

State Legislatures, October-November 2002 | Go to article overview

NCSL 2002 Annual Meeting: Summit for America; Nation's State Legislators Launch Campaign to Strengthen Democracy


America's state legislators concluded their national meeting this summer resolving to address economic issues, protect democracy and engage citizens in the legislative process.

The National Conference of State Legislatures' five-day Annual Meeting in Denver, drew more than 6,000 state legislators, staff and others.

"Legislators from across the nation took home new ideas, new strategies and new concepts to use in addressing the most important issues on the minds of Americans," said NCSL President Stephen Saland, a senator from New York.

The opening session featured Republican and Democratic state legislative leaders as they discussed legislatures in the post Sept. 11 world, At the session, NCSL launched a national three-year Campaign to Strengthen Democracy project to help engage citizens with their governments.

NCSL released six major reports on fiscal issues, homeland security, ethics, welfare reform, health, and the initiative and referendum at the meeting.

RELATED ARTICLE: Reports Recommend Legislative Action

Homeland Security

Gathering information, appropriating funds, coordinating activities and educating the public are keys to preventing domestic terrorism, according to a report released by the National Conference of State Legislatures' Task Force on Protecting Democracy.

"The new National Strategy for Homeland Security recognizes the important role of state and local governments as the 'front line troops' in providing security against terrorism," said Senator Richard T. Moore, task force co-chair. The report provides states with a number of best practices for staffing programs as well as recommendations for the renewal of American's attitudes toward their government. The report also provides a series of recommendations to the federal government on how best to work with the states on the issue.

The task force also spent a great deal of time on the issue of civic engagement. The report recognizes an urgent need to encourage public education to prepare young people for their roles as active citizens in our democracy.

Positive Ethics Trends

The nation's state ethics commissions and committees believe that the ethical climate of state legislatures has improved, according to a report released by the Center for Ethics in Government, located at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The only report of its kind, "The State of State Legislative Ethics," provides the first comprehensive review of state legislative ethics and gives a detailed look at all 50 states' ethics laws. "The public is demanding a higher standard of conduct from its leaders in both the public and private sectors. Legislatures are responding by passing tougher ethics laws and establishing more internal controls to enforce these laws," says Center for Ethics in Government Director Peggy Kerns.

The report acknowledges that all 50 states have guidelines on disciplining a member of the legislature, protections for whistle-blowers, and disclosure requirements for lobbyists. It also noted an increase in ethics training for state legislators.

Initiative and Referendum Recommendations

Legislatures in the 24 states that allow initiatives should take steps to make the process more representative, according to the new report by the Initiative and Referendum Task Force, "Initiative and Referendum in the 21st Century."

"It is the task force's intent that the discussion and adoption of the reforms in this report lead to a more thoughtful lawmaking process, improve interaction between initiative proponents and legislatures, and ultimately produce better public policy and reinforce representative democracy," the report states. The task force found that "opportunities for abuse of the process outweigh its advantages and does not recommend that states adopt the initiative process if they currently do not have one. …

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