THE SOUTH »
Keys to Serving Membership
By West Virginia House Speaker Rick Thompson, 2012 CSG/SLC Chair
During the course of the year, the Southern Office/Southern Legislative Conference, SLC, has examined myriad challenges facing the region and sought innovative strategies to inform and educate its members about solutions. With budgets stretched and economic recovery advancing slowly, the resources provided by the Southern Office/SLC to its members reach far beyond the traditional annual meeting.
In an effort to provide members with firsthand knowledge and experience on issues of importance to the region, targeted committee chairs and legislative leaders from the 15-member region have participated in our Public Officials Educational Initiative Program, a program fully funded by the SLC and at no cost to the member states. From fly-ins to Washington, D.C., to collaborate with their regional CSG counterparts on federal issues impacting the South, to partnering with the Canadian government on technical tours to the oil sands in Alberta, Canada, to briefings in Panama on the economic impact the expansion of the Panama Canal will have on Eastern seaboard and Gulf Coast ports, this program provides policymakers the opportunity to expand and broaden their knowledge on a number of complex issues that are germane to their state’s economic prosperity.
Through the use of our website, we are able to provide to our members the latest research and publications produced by the staff of the Southern Office. Additionally, through our “Question of the Month” feature, many of the responses to inquiries from members of both the legislative and executive branches—a service provided to all member states—may be viewed on the website. The website offers a host of archival information as well and is easily accessed without the cumbersome feature of login credentials.
Increasingly, webinars have become an important tool for policymakers at all levels of state government. With programs specific to the region, SLC webinars serve as a valuable resource for gathering additional information on innovative approaches to creating practical solutions.
Leadership development opportunities continue to be a hallmark of the CSG family. The Center for the Advancement of Leadership Skills—CALS—program and the Legislative Staff Exchange Program—LSEP—serve as conduits for policymakers and legislative staff to enhance their professional and personal lives. The Southern Office/SLC is able to offer full scholarships to all participants selected for these programs.
In May, chairs of energy committees from select states traveled to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to explore and examine the oil sands and the integral relationship with Canada with regard to improving energy independence. In September, transportation committee chairs visited the Panama Canal and held briefings with government officials regarding the expansion of the Panama Canal and its economic impact on Southern states.
Between annual meetings, the SLC coordinates fly-ins on specific issues to present state interests from a Southern perspective to federal policymakers in Washington, D.C. Full travel scholarships are provided to legislative participants. In June, Southern Office and other CSG staff arranged legislative participation of transportation committee chairs at the Transportation Policy Academy in Washington, D.C.
The SLC staff assists policymakers and legislative staff with spot research requests, as well as succinct policy briefs and in-depth reports on an array of issues. During the past year, publications included ”Business License Regulations in Selected SLC Member States”; ”Healthcare Reform: Exchanges and the Expansion of Medicaid”; ”Public Pensions: Emerging Trends”; ”The Stafford Loan Crisis in Perspective”; ”Tuition Deregulation in Higher Education”; ”Latest State Unemployment Rates”; and ”Exports Soar in 2011 to Record Heights, West Virginia Leads the Nation.”
The SLC and the national office host webinars on a wide range of policy issues, providing policymakers with an opportunity to hear from national experts and other policymakers without leaving town. Available free to legislators and their staff, webinars offer an opportunity to engage in discussions on pressing topics and emerging concerns and connect with state policy leaders throughout the year. In October and December, webinars focused on Higher Education Finance Reform and Pension Reforms in the South.
The Center for the Advancement of Leadership Skills (CALS), in partnership with the Andrew Young School of Public Policy at Georgia State University, provided leadership training focusing on communication, conflict resolution, consensus building and critical decision-making skills, in Atlanta, Ga., Sept. 22–26. Unique among leadership programs, CALS offers full scholarships for candidates from the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government.
This year’s 66th annual meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference, hosted by the West Virginia Legislature, responded to its members’ directives to focus on the South’s unique strengths and competitive advantage. From education to energy, agriculture to economic development, health care to investing strategies, policy leaders spent valuable time listening to policy experts, engaging in deliberation and seeking solutions to the region’s challenges.