Book of the States 2004

These are challenging times for the state judicial branches. Funding has been cut, relations with the other branches of government are frayed, and election campaigns for judicial office can be injudicious. Significant innovation is occurring nonetheless. Effective practices in one  jurisdiction are being spread nationally. Reentry courts for felons released after long incarceration is one example of the reliance federal and state officials are placing on such court innovations.

Legislatures are vital, strong, effective institutions. They are where the people and their representatives come together to debate conflicting values and interests, set priorities and shape public policies. They are the political institutions closest to the people and drive representative democracy. This essay describes the organization and work of state legislatures, identifies the trends shaping state legislatures and the challenges confronting them and briefly describes the critical policy issues legislatures faced in the 2003 legislative sessions.

In what was once one of the fastest growing areas of state government, legislators now employ stringent criteria to determine when new professions should be regulated. Consequently, many emerging professions opt for credentialing in the private sector, although for some of these, a circular relationship is developing between private and public credentialing. Other trends and issues for professional regulators include new technological tools, shifting economic terrain, increased consumer involvement and international trade agreements.

The development of personal technology and the application of this new power in a mobile environment is a key technological trend in telecommunications. For legislators and other public policymakers, this trend commands attention because of what is being created: a vast social commons. In this environment, state government policymakers will be required as never before to pay attention to the information security and integrity of individuals.

Privatization continues to be a controversial management issue in state governments. In the past five years, 1997-2002, the extent of privatization activities in the states has largely remained the same as in the previous five years or slightly increased. The main reasons for privatization are a lack of personnel or expertise and cost savings. In most cases, privatized services account for less than 5 percent of agency services, while reported costs savings range from none to less than 5 percent. But many state agency directors surveyed seem to have no clear ideas as to how much has been actually saved from privatization. Nevertheless, privatization is likely to continue in the states in the next few years as in the past decade.