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States across the country grapple with many similar issues. State governments nationwide attempt to spur economic growth, develop stable education funding policies, address access of vulnerable citizens to health care, and enhance their transportation infrastructure. Revenue volatility has been recognized as the “new normal” for state governments big and small, as well as rural and urban. Every state is attempting to develop reasonable tax policies and stable funding for vital state programs.
The federal system in the United States empowers states with the autonomy to develop solutions independently and tailored to their state. In 1932, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote a “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” As “laboratories of democracy”, states across the nation are developing and implementing new and innovative approaches to issues that face many legislatures.
During my time as a state senator I have had the privilege to meet, collaborate, and share ideas with other state legislators throughout the Midwest and across the country. I have been a presenter on livestock policy at the national meeting of the State Ag and Rural Leaders and invited to a roundtable on innovative drug access at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization International Meeting with the National Conference of State Legislators, among others.
I have been particularly active in the Council of State Governments, both within the Midwest region and nationally. I currently serve as a member of the national Shared State Legislation Committee (SSL) for CSG. Each year the committee produces a docket of legislation that is made available to legislators and bill drafters across the country. Bills are proposed by state legislators nationwide for inclusion in the SSL docket. The committee evaluates each bill and discusses it before deciding whether or not to include it in the national publication.
The criteria we use to evaluate each proposal reflects the intent to disseminate the best outcomes from the 50 state laboratories of democracy. For inclusion, the bill must address a current state issue of national or regional significance, provide a benefit to bill drafters, and provide a clear, innovative, and practiced structure and approach. Through creation of the volume, CSG is able to provide the benefit of experience and expertise from states across the nation to every legislator in the country. There is no need to “reinvent the wheel” for complex issues. Unlike “model legislation” developed by special interest groups to achieve their political purposes, the SSL docket is developed by legislators with the sole purpose of sharing ideas and strategies with their colleagues. During my years on the committee, I have been able to sit down at a table with my peers from across the country work through hundreds of innovative pieces of legislation.
Following each meeting of the group, I am struck by two things. First, states as diverse as Florida and Nebraska face many of the same challenges. Citizens have ever increasing expectations of their state governments, regardless of population size, location, or demographics. Second, Nebraska’s structure of state governance is very different from most states in a number of significant ways. While most obvious is that we are the only one-house state legislature, there are a number of striking differences in how state government is organized in Nebraska.
Over the next few weeks I will be writing about some of the unique structural aspects of Nebraska state government. In some cases, these differences provide a distinct advantage. In others, they prevent vital collaboration and information sharing that is needed to address complex state problems.
Compared to many states, participation by Nebraska senators in regional and national legislative groups is relatively low. That is a missed opportunity for Nebraska. If more senators listened and learned from our colleagues across the country, we would not find ourselves stuck on high center on so many important issues. Voters want their health care providers, engineers, and teachers to be up to date on the most current facts and information in their fields. I suspect they expect their lawmakers to be equally as proficient.