Stateline Story

Fed 'Control' of States Needs To Change, Bush Tells NCSL

Speaking to nearly 5,000 state officials at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) convention Tuesday, Texas Gov. George W. Bush called for a change in the relationship between state and federal government.

"I want to move beyond the command and control attitude in Washington, D.C." he said.

Bush suggested that Washington use Texas as its template for change, but beyond proposing that the federal budget be moved from an annual to a biennial basis similar to Texas, he offered few specifics.

"The states are the laboratories of change," Bush said. "I am proud that I cut my eye teeth in politics at the state level. And I'm glad I come from outside Washington, D.C."

Bush, the putative Republican presidential nominee, was introduced by Texas State Rep. James E. "Pete" Laney, a Democrat who serves as speaker of the Texas House. Laney noted that policy making in the Lone Star State depends more on personality than power and said Bush's sense of humor had made their relationship smoother.

Bush called Laney a good friend, but quipped: "He'd be a better friend if he'd do what I tell him to do."

Bush's speech was largely a replay of familiar positions he has taken on the campaign trail with an emphasis on his education program in Texas, which he said he was particularly pleased to have worked with Democrats in the legislative leadership to pass.

On the environment, Bush was critical of federal involvement in redeveloping brownfields, old abandoned industrial sites usually located within city limits. He said the law is so complex that neighborhoods often give up on redevelopment and are left with no hope.

Other NCSL convention highlights:

  • Tom and Ray Magliozzi, otherwise known as NPR's "Car Talk" hosts, headlined the gathering via videotape Monday, discussing restrictions on using cell phones while driving. The NCSL, a bipartisan organization that serves as a research resource and federal lobbying force, is discussing how to deal with such issues as e-commerce, prescription drug price relief, sprawl and redistricting at a six day gathering in Chicago attended by more than 6,000 state policy makers and legislative staff. With one of the Magliozzi brothers wearing a bumper sticker on his forehead reading "Drive Now, Talk Later," the pair took calls from NCSL members in the format of their trademark radio show, including one from Massachusetts representative Jim Marzilli, who has introduced legislation on cell phones and driving in his state. Despite the interest in the subject that the large crowd showed, when the moderator, Washington Sen. Tracey Eide, asked how many legislators present had introduced legislation restricting cell phone use in cars in their states, only one man raised his hand. Thirty-four states have considered such restrictions, but none of these bills have passed.
  • Indiana House Republican Leader Paul Mannweiler, the outgoing NCSL president, identified Medicaid spending as an increasing concern of the states. "The Medicaid growth rate has matched the growth rate for K through 12 education, which has always been the primary responsibility of the states. So Medicaid once again is sort of raising its head as it did in early the '90s and is certainly something that the states are watching very carefully as we head into the next several years," Mannweiler said.
  • Women in Politics. The NCSL's Women's Legislative Network discussed the importance of women in politics recording their life stories in order to encourage other women to go into public service. Although it was agreed that women had made great strides in holding public office, members of the Women's Legislative Network said there is still room for improvement. Currently, 22.5 percent of all state legislative seats are held by women. Women hold 92 statewide executive elected offices across the country, including19 lieutenant governor positions, 11 attorneys general, and 14 secretaries of state.
  • Online Gaming. Gambling through the Internet presents new problems for states, said Wisconsin assistant attorney general Alan Kesner. While states have different ways of regulating gambling within their borders, Internet gambling can occur across state lines, complicating which state should do the regulating. "It really prevents a state from being able to effectively continue its own policy determinations," Kesner said. Federal legislation pending in both houses of Congress would prohibit gambling on the Internet.
  • Gun Safety. Seventeen states currently have laws designed to prevent children from getting access to firearms. California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin all have the so-called "safe storage" laws. The legislation generally requires adults to use something to lock the gun or store it in a place that is inaccessible to children. If a child were to get hold of a loaded gun that had not been stored properly, the adult owner is liable. In a contentious debate on Sunday reflecting the emotions of the issue, Yale University weapons expert John Lott Jr. argued that his research shows that states (and some cities) where such laws were passed actually saw an increase in crime. John Shanks, an ex-cop with the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, responded, "Outside of the world of academia, people are dying."
  • Managed Care Problems. One of the issues confronting the NCSL Conference is coupling Medicaid and Managed Care. Within the past year, managed care organizations have been pulling out of state Medicaid programs, leaving states with little or no options to choose from for Medicaid participants. Ohio and Vermont have had all HMOs pull out of their Medicaid plans.
  • Record Number of Exhibitors. Although not the largest NCSL annual gathering ever with 6,400 registered attendees, this year's meeting did see a record number of exhibitors. The 449 exhibitors showing their wares represent a 10 percent increase said NCSL Executive Director William Pound. Pound attributed decrease in turnout to the election year and political conventions, but said NCSL was pleased with attendance nevertheless. "I think it helped that we're first (before the conventions)," Pound said.

NCSL will release two reports at the convention: State Budget and Tax Actions, a preliminary report giving a rundown of the current fiscal year's tax action in 48 states, and State Allocation of Tobacco Settlement Funds FY 2000 and 2001, a report on how states have appropriated their tobacco settlement money.

For a look at the full agenda of the NSCL meeting, click on Legislators Set For Chicago.