Approximately 60 of the country's 300 Hispanic state legislators will meet in Washington, D.C. this weekend to discuss education, health care, housing and economic development with members of Congress and business and academic communities.
The second National Summit of Hispanic State Legislators, March 27-30, is sponsored by the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL), a coalition representing leaders in 32 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is modeled after the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL).
NHCSL president and Kansas state Sen. Paul Feliciano, Jr. (D-Topeka) said he initially feared the meetings would be cancelled because of the war with Iraq, but he expects turnout to be at least par with last year's inaugural summit held in Puerto Rico. The summit, scheduled to begin Thursday evening (3/27), is an opportunity for states with little Hispanic political representation to discuss how state and national policy affects the country's largest and fastest growing minority population, which numbers more than 46 million people, Feliciano said.
"Outside the large states like California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and New York, most states have very few (Hispanic legislators). This gives us an opportunity to collaborate on common issues on a nationwide basis," Feliciano said.
Education will top the agenda. NHCSL, in conjunction with an education task force of legislators and the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, a Latino think tank in Claremont, Calif., plans to unveil a policy paper they hope will serve as a "blueprint" for states to adopt policies to close the performance gap that exists for Hispanic students in public schools. They also hope to address the high drop out rate among Latino students.
"In my community we have about a 62 percent drop out rate, I am looking forward to helping Kansas incorporate these plans," Feliciano said.
This year's summit is dedicated to the late Connecticut state Rep. John S. Martinez (D-New Haven), who was killed in a car accident last year while serving as NHCSL president. In memoriam, the meeting will highlight the Connecticut "fatherhood initiative;" legislation drafted largely by Martinez that aims to help reunite dead beat' fathers with their families.
The summit will also host workshops and plenary sessions addressing Latino's access to health care, minority business contracting, banking reform and ways to help Hispanic small business owners. Leaders will also discuss policy regarding Latinos in the criminal justice system, such as equality in DNA testing and prisoner rehabilitation.