BOS 2015

THE BOOK OF THE STATES 2015

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 » State Constitutions

Chapter 2 » Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations

Chapter 3 » State Legislative Branch

Chapter 4 » State Executive Branch

Chapter 5 » State Judicial Branch

Chapter 6 » Elections

Chapter 7 » State Finance

Chapter 8 » State Management, Administration, and Demographics

Chapter 9 » Selected State Policies and Programs

Chapter 10 » State Pages

 

The half-day introductory workshop established by The National Institute for Civil Discourse entitled, “Building Trust through Civil Discourse,” was an outgrowth of an effort by The Council of State Governments Midwest, which brought together two legislators from different political backgrounds and different states for a workshop at its annual regional conference in Cleveland, Ohio, in July 2012. Rep. Ted Celeste, a Democrat from Columbus, Ohio, and Rep. Scott Raecker, a Republican from Urbandale, Iowa, teamed up to facilitate this first session for legislators from the Midwest region. CSG promoted the session in its materials about the annual conference, but did not have any idea how much interest there might be in the program.

The 2014 mid-term elections magnified the polarization between the political parties in Washington, D.C., and between blue and red states. In that respect, the elections signaled continuity in American federalism. Despite their congressional victories, lacking the presidency,  Republicans are not in a position to effect major intergovernmental change. Increased Republican strength in the states will heighten state-federal conflicts over core Republican issues, while predominantly Democratic states generally will support federal policies endorsed by President Barack Obama. Whether one regards this state of affairs as obstructive or constructive federalism depends on one’s point of view.

The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves powers to states in three broad spheres—a sphere most commonly controlled by local governments, a sphere controlled by state governments, and a shared state and local government sphere. Each state historically followed the English Common Law Ultra Vires Rule, and the state legislature exercised plenary powers over its political subdivisions.

Although constitutional amendment activity was lower in 2014 than in recent even-numbered years, several of the 72 approved amendments attracted significant attention. These include amendments relaxing legislative term limits in Arkansas, creating a bipartisan redistricting commission in New York, eliminating a judicial merit selection commission in Tennessee, strengthening the right to bear arms in Alabama and Missouri, guaranteeing a right to farm in Missouri, and barring state and local officials from enforcing unconstitutional federal directives in Arizona.

The movement to add environmental bills of rights to state constitutions is important as one manifestation of a wider environmentalism that began to sweep the country in the 1970s, but also because it sheds interesting light on state constitutions and constitutional processes. The states proved to be more hospitable for this type of constitutional reform than the federal because state constitutional traditions diverge substantially from the national model. In particular, the argument is that the openness of state constitutional processes to their political environment facilitated the effort to place environmental rights, as well as a variety of other environmental provisions, in state constitutions.   

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