Book of the States 2009

CSG’s Interbranch Working Group grew out of the realization that many state issues require the input and perspective of the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government. By bringing officials together from all three branches to help solve complex public problems, it has become the catalyst to share best practices and identify and monitor divisive issues across the states.

Congress first enacted statutes preempting regulatory powers of states and their political subdivisions in 1790, but the impact of subsequent preemption acts with a few exceptions was relatively minor until 1965 when a sharp increase in such statutes occurred and many statutes involved fields traditionally regulated by the states. Most preemption statutes involve civil rights, commerce, communications, environmental protection, finance, health, telecommunications and transportation. This article focuses principally upon the preemption bills signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The current economic crisis and the new Democratic majority in the federal government will produce significant policy changes relevant to state-federal relations, but, overall, American federalism will continue its contemporary coercive course in an evolutionary manner because that course has involved expansions of federal power that were augmented by crises in the past and by change-minded presidents supported by partisan majorities in Congress.

As our world shrinks and the enormity of specific policy issues grows, multiple states are finding themselves facing similar, if not identical, situations. While states must act to address current and emerging problems, they are not required to act alone. In fact, states may find that acting in cooperation with their neighbors affords significant opportunities for creative problem solving, economies of scale and the bolstering of state rights over a range of topics. Interstate compacts are not new, nor are they unfamiliar to the modern policymaker. However, the innovative ways in which interstate compacts may be used are evolving before us – seeking to tackle a host of issues not previously addressed by this interstate mechanism. As states struggle with nearly unparalleled financial downturns and revenue declines, interstate compacts are an efficient tool to promote cooperative regional or national action.

Fewer state constitutional amendments were proposed and approved in 2008 than in recent evennumbered years. Several amendments, however, generated considerable attention. Voters in three more states approved same-sex marriage bans, including the first measure to overturn a state court ruling that had legalized the practice. Two more affirmative action bans were proposed; one was approved, the other defeated, marking the first popular rejection of such a measure. Other notable amendments addressed abortion, voting rights, redistricting, gambling and investment of public funds in the stock market. Meanwhile, voters in three states rejected automatically referred measures on whether to call constitutional conventions.