Our lives are affected daily by government, quasi-government and private bodies most of us are never aware of. Not that we necessarily need to be most of the time. But, occasionally, one draws my attention and I start poking around for more information. The latest subject of such inquiry is the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Legislatures of all 50 states belong. NCSL’s prime role seems to be to research issues in support of members while being a clearing house of information between and among them. According to its mission statement, NCSL exists to “ensure(s) state legislatures a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system.” In other words, it’s a watchdog and lobbies Congress.

NCSL holds four main positions: (1) minimizing federal government effect on state laws without providing funding of federal mandates; (2) reminding the feds to “resist the temptation to preempt state laws;” (3) being vigilant that Congress pass no legislation and adopt no regulations violating the integrity of the intergovernmental fiscal system;” and (4) assuring “states be allowed maximum flexibility in crafting solutions to domestic problems.”
All of that sounds pretty good. But closer examination is worrisome. At least to me.

The plain fact is, in sessions since the 2010 national elections, many legislatures across this country have been engaged in “social engineering.” In the Northwest, Idaho is a prime example. In the Midwest, it’s Wisconsin. I’ve tried to ignore such claims by more liberal voices, but the evidence is overwhelming. They are.

In Idaho and Wisconsin – throw in Ohio and Michigan – union busting by legislation has made front page news. As it should. New attempts to curb or eliminate abortion have also surfaced, often using very similar-sounding bills. Social programs like Medicaid have been cut using all sorts of excuses even though Medicaid at the state level – such as in Idaho – draws two dollars of federal money for every one put up locally and recipients are pretty-well disenfranchised without the aid.

These are not, by far, the only examples. But they are valid ones. And if you look at the legislation used to accomplish these “engineering” goals, the similarity is very evident. That’s because the source seems to be the NCSL. It’s almost “fill in the blanks.”

States have used NCSL originated bills for years because NCSL has researched the subject matter and has had staff create sample bills that can be shaped locally depending on the different state laws. Most of the time, that has been a quite helpful – and quite economic – tool because of NCSL’s clearinghouse role with information from all 50 states.

NCSL has a governing body and a committee system filled by members of legislatures of the states. So, it could be argued, whatever political tilt states reflect so, too, does NCSL. Sounds like representative government at its best.

But what about member states like Idaho, Alabama, South Carolina and Utah where one party so dominates the legislature that it is the only voice heard? Idaho’s legislative leadership, for example, is so overwhelmingly far to the right of center that any representative member sent to an NCSL committee or board will reflect only that view. Moderates need not apply. Liberals certainly not!

As I follow the activities of the National Conference of State Legislatures, I’m finding more positions out of the mainstream and more of its work output representing far more conservative positions than the general public.

Take the issue of increasing taxes. Most polls show Americans favor raising taxes on the wealthy. As high as 70%. Most also favor tax reform to even the load. Yet no such bills came out of the NCSL this year. What did show up were legislative samples of bills to cut, reduce or eliminate some taxes and curtail or end abortion. So, if the NCSL has been the originating source of some of these bills in the various legislatures this year, it would seem the current membership has moved it away from bipartisan representation and into a more conservative role than most of us.

The NCSL may still be a worthwhile organization providing valuable research and good information to the 50 states. But this year’s showing of nearly identical bills in the various legislatures – bills to change the social fabric of a nation if enacted unilaterally – is a concern.

You may never have heard of the National Council of State Legislatures. But we might all be better served – and more informed – if more people heard of the group. And kept an eye on it.

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