A site of public gathering, legal debate, and gladiator standoffs, the Forum was the center of everyday life and the heart of ancient Rome, one of the earliest examples of representative democracy in the world.
Founded in 1975, today the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) rightly takes its place as one of the Big Seven organizations of state and local government officials. ‘The forum for America’s ideas’, as it has become known, was founded on the conviction that legislative service is one of democracy’s worthiest pursuits. As legislators tackle issues that are increasingly complex, NCSL provides essential guidance, training and support that ultimately strengthens America’s legislatures and bolsters lawmakers as they confront the issues of our time.
With its mission to advance the effectiveness, independence, and integrity of legislatures, the organization is a leading voice, known for its leadership and the provision of an open, bipartisan forum for lawmakers to share ideas.
How it all began
The 1970s were tumultuous. Leaving aside the colorful fashion choices and disco dance music that colors this decade, many remember it as a time of rising inflation, political upheaval and profound change.
By the early 1970s, discussions for a unified national organization for state legislators were already underway. At the time, most legislatures convened every other year and there were three competing national organizations: the National Legislative Conference which was founded by a group of legislative service agency directors in 1948; the National Conference of State Legislative Leaders formed by legislative leaders from some of the larger states in 1959; and the National Society of State Legislators, founded in the early 1960s by rank-and-file legislators.
It wasn’t until August 1974 that all three bodies voted to dissolve their organizations and the National Conference of State Legislatures was born, effective January 1st, 1975. Ohio Speaker, Charles Kurfess, described the merger as “the most important step we can take to convince the nation of the strength and quality of state legislatures.”
The forum for America’s ideas
Since then, NCSL has continued to grow and develop. In 1975, the organization launched its flagship publication, State Legislatures, to provide crucial updates on state actions and innovations in public policy to legislators, staff, lobbyists, and members of the public.
As well as being actively involved in the provision of training and professional development, it has launched a number of powerful initiatives aimed at tackling public distrust such as the Trust for Representative Democracy campaign which created the Legislators Back-to-School program. It also founded the Center for Ethics in Government to promote ethical behavior and the Center on Legislative Strengthening and Elections Program in 2017.
To function optimally, government requires trust. As Propylon CEO, John Harrington wrote in a previous article: “trust is vital for the success of its policies, programs and regulations.”
As we strive to realize our own ambition to develop software solutions that simplify the complex, allow laws to be enacted in a more efficient manner, and connect people to democratic processes, we at Propylon are proud to support the vital work of NCSL for many years as it works to build stronger states.