Conferences are valuable tools for legislators

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 1, 2007

July is a popular month for national legislative conventions. I just returned from one four-day session in Philadelphia. I am now preparing for an even larger convention next week in Boston.

There are three national organizations that serve legislators and legislative staff members. Ohio legislators automatically become members of the National Conference of State Legislatures upon taking office because the state joins the association. The other two organizations are the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Council of State Governments.

These organizations function much like any industry group. Each provides regular mailings on issues and legislative activities around the country. Each holds meetings throughout the year and has an annual meeting. These are good opportunities to get more detailed information about current issues from national experts.

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At the ALEC meeting July 24-27 in Philadelphia, I participated in the Natural Resources Task Force meeting as the Ohio Senate legislative representative. Represent-atives of the business community also serve on task forces. I was also able to attend sessions on energy independence and the USEPA’s new ozone standards and how they will affect our region.

The failure to meet the old standards was one of the reasons many residents of the district had to have their cars tested every two years as part of the E-check program.

Legislators pay their own way and then submit their expenses to ALEC for reimbursement, just like most business travel. No tax dollars are used to pay for legislator expenses or the conference.

Next up is the NCSL meeting August 5-9 in Boston. NCSL is a bipartisan organization that provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on pressing state issues. One of the biggest challenges is sorting through all the worthwhile sessions and deciding which ones to attend.

All too often the sessions I want to attend all start at the same time, so I invariably miss ones that I am sure would have been interesting.

CSG is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association representing all three branches of government. It is the oldest of the three major organizations. While the Council of State Governments is a national organization, MCSG is a regional affiliate that concentrates on issues more germane to 11 states and two Canadian provinces. The other members are Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Saskatchewan.

The mission of The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Office is to focus on those issues of greatest interest to policymakers in our nation’s heartland — providing state leaders with the resources and tools they need to effectively address today’s public policy challenges. That convention will be held in late August in Traverse City, Mich.

Whenever I attend these conferences I try to pick sessions that relate to my committee work in Columbus. I have found most of these conventions good opportunities to become better informed to deal with the issues working their way through the legislature.

Sen. Tom Niehaus represents the 14th District