The economy, education, health care, the environment, transportation and other issues dominated discussion during the five-day annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a national group that provides research and networking opportunities for state legislatures while lobbying for their interests on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers and staff spent most of their time at the meeting in workshops or committee meetings relating to specific areas of expertise, while many afternoons were spent in group sessions that featured renowned speakers like Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former Reagan speechwriter and author Peggy Noonan.
Certainly one of the most engaging series of meetings at the conference was held by the NCSL Transportation Committee. As a member of this committee and as Chairman of the Kentucky House Transportation Committee, I have a keen interest in and insight into road, driver safety, aviation, railroad, waterway and other issues under the committee’s jurisdiction. The effect these issues are having at the state and federal level captured my attention and that of my colleagues from across the nation in day-long seminars held during the July 20-24 conference.
The first meeting of the committee was a working group on public and private partnerships—including those for public transit—featuring experts from Harvard and transportation associations and agencies in Pennsylvania and Colorado. This was a perfect time to join with lawmakers from Alaska to Indiana for discussion on how successful public and private partnership legislation has been in their states, and how effective such partnerships can truly be.
Topics of the day tackled by the committee on July 21 included state involvement in aviation financing and administration, discussion of ignition interlock devices for drunk driving offenders, and NCSL policy resolutions on the REAL ID national ID card program that many states say will be one of the costliest federal mandates in recent history.
Real ID, in a nutshell, requires that states comply with federal controls on state driver’s licenses or other identification cards before the cards will be accepted for federal purposes after a certain date. As of right now, that date is Dec. 31, 2009.
Kentucky has not enacted any legislation so far concerning REAL ID and neither have many other states. The reason? Well, mostly, the cost. The federal Department of Homeland Security estimates that it will cost states up to $3.9 billion to implement REAL ID although Congress has only appropriated $150 million of that cost, leaving financially-strapped states with a massive unfunded mandate.
Recognizing the problem, the feds extended the state’s initial May 2008 REAL ID compliance deadline to Dec. 31, 2009 although that is little comfort to most states that are still unable to fund the mandate. NCSL’s policy resolution, approved last May, urges Congress to work with the organization and state lawmakers on alternatives to REAL ID that would be fully funded by the federal government, such as the proposed Providing for Additional Security in States’ Identification Act, or PASS ID.
I look forward to seeing how this resolution plays out in Washington in the months ahead, and will keep you informed of any progress.
One of our last actions as a committee during the convention was on July 22 when we met to discuss high-speed rail and its impact on American travel. This has become a hot topic, considering that the federal government has invested billions of dollars over the next few years in high-speed passenger rail. The committee learned about what federal funding is available for these projects and the states’ perspective on proposed intercity rail projects.
The meeting was a lot of work with some play--including a night out at the Phillies/Cubs baseball game on July 20, an opening social event on July 21 at the National Constitution Center near Independence Hall where the Constitution was signed, and a reception hosted by Kentucky to preview the 2010 NCSL Annual Meeting that will be held in Louisville next summer.
I was glad to be part of the Philadelphia experience, and I look forward to helping host my colleagues from across the nation here in Kentucky next year as we meet once again to help solve critical problems facing our states.