After months of political wrangling over their own state's problems, the nation's governors and state legislators gather next week for their respective annual meetings to exchange lessons learned and hear from national experts on upcoming challenges facing states.
In Seattle, about 35 governors are expected to spend July 17-19 at the 96th annual meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA), a meeting that will have a large emphasis on health care issues. Not on the official agenda is a closed-door session with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in which governors have been told to prepare to participate in a simulated bioterrorism attack.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is expected to gather 1,000 state lawmakers at its annual meeting and exhibition July 19-23 in Salt Lake City, and has more than 150 sessions on its schedule.
Both national groups represent the interests of state elected officials in Washington, D.C. During their annual meetings, legislators and governors decide what public policy stances the groups will push in Washington.
"This is the public-policy Olympics event of the year," said outgoing NCSL President and Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens (R), whose state hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. Taking over NCSL's presidency at the annual meeting will be Maryland Delegate John Hurson (D).
NCSL has dubbed its annual meeting the "New Legislative Reality" and plans sessions on Medicaid, identity theft, welfare reform, same-sex marriage and the consequences of federal mandates such as the No Child Left Behind Act.
Two of the key "new legislative realities" facing states are an expanding burden of unfunded federal mandates and a recent high turnover of legislative seats due to term limits imposed by voters in the 1990s, said NCSL spokesman Bill Wyatt.
The NCSL meeting will include sessions aimed at retaining legislative staffers and using technology to offset the loss of institutional knowledge in statehouses that are experiencing high turnover from term limits.
In addition to a mid-year fiscal report on states' budgets, NCSL will release an updated report on unfunded federal mandates.
"The more preemption from the federal government, the more challenging it becomes for states that already start their fiscal years 2.5 (percent) to 8 percent in the hole because of unfunded federal mandates," Wyatt said.
In Seattle, the governors' meeting - dubbed "A Vision for Tomorrow" - will focus on health care problems, including caring for the elderly and the uninsured, prescription drugs and Medicaid.
The meeting will open with a session on the demands of the nation's burgeoning aging population, which has been the focus of a year-long initiative by Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne (R), outgoing NGA chairman. NGA Vice Chairman, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D), will replace Kempthorne as chairman during the meeting.
Governors will discuss the uninsured with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and hear from the chief executive officers of Starbucks, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors about the challenges that businesses face providing health insurance to employees.
The governors also will participate in a simulated bioterrorism attack. NGA officials have not released details of the exercise, which will be closed to the press, but NGA spokesperson Christine LaPaille said the governors will simulate the decision-making process they would follow in a major biological or chemical terrorist attack.
"The questions they will be looking to answer are: If this is happening in your state, what would you do and when, where and how do you access federal resources?" LaPaille said.