More than 6,000 people, including 1,200 legislators expected from all 50 states, will be at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) 2000 annual meeting in Chicago to discuss such issues as e-commerce, prescription drug price relief, sprawl and redistricting.
Attendees are in for more than just a steady drone of wonk talk, though. Tom and Ray Magliozzi, better known as NPR's irreverent "Car Talk" hosts, have prerecorded a session on restrictions on cell phones and driving, restrictions that 34 states have considered but none have passed.
The six-day event, which begins on Saturday, focuses on concerns of the states and showcases the growing responsibilities and power of state legislatures.
"For the last quarter century, state legislatures have changed pretty dramatically in their role in society and shaping public policy. You look at areas like welfare reform and healthcare, education reform, and states have definitely been the leaders in that. I think probably the biggest focus this year is just what a dramatic shift there's been recently in how state legislatures are perceived and the types of issues that they're dealing with," said Gene Rose, NCSL spokesperson.
The speaker roster also shows states' improved clout. Texas Gov. George W. Bush and U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk will be on hand to address state legislators, legislative staff, policy analysts and industry experts. Bush skipped a conference of his colleagues last weekend, the National Governors' Association summer meeting in State College, Pa.
Many of the topic states are addressing, such as access to prescription drugs and Internet taxation, are issues on which states are vying with Congress to determine public policy.
In addition to showing states' broadened power, the conference agenda reflects that it's an election year. Representatives of both the Republican and Democratic National Committees will be on hand to debate how to reform the presidential primary season. Term limits, which will affect a number of states in the upcoming election, will be discussed in the context of how to fill a void of institutional knowledge that they can create.
Redistricting, an issue of interest to both state legislatures and Congress since most states are responsible for drawing up Congressional districts, will be the focus of multiple sessions such as redistricting and race, how to draw redistricting maps, what software is available and how to use it.
Other topics that will be covered include what legislatures will look like in 25 years and how to better connect citizens with legislatures through the Internet.
NCSL will also release two reports at the conference: 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.
NCSL is a bipartisan organization that serves as a research resource and lobbying force at the federal level for state legislatures across the country.