The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) is a bipartisan non-governmental organization (NGO) established in 1975 to serve the members and staff of state legislatures of the United States (states, commonwealths, and territories). NCSL has three objectives: to improve the quality and effectiveness of state legislatures; to promote policy innovation and communication among state legislatures; and to ensure state legislatures a strong, cohesive voice in the federal system. All state legislators and staff members are automatically members of NCSL.
Eight Standing Committees, composed of legislators and legislative staff appointed by the leadership of the legislatures, serve as the central organizing mechanism for NCSL members. Each Committee provides a means by which state legislators can share experience, information, and advice on a variety of state issues ranging from policy to management.
Committees meet together twice each year at NCSL’s Fall Forum and NCSL's Legislative Summit to adopt state-federal legislative policies that will ultimately guide NCSLs' lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C. These committee meetings also serve as an opportunity for states to network and establish flows of information as well as experience-based suggestions from other states. In addition to the Capitol Forum and the Summit, NCSL builds the state legislative community by hosting various web seminars, leadership meetings, and access to relevant websites and online documents throughout the year.
Issues spanning multiple committee jurisdictions are tackled by NCSL’s Task Forces. Unlike the permanent Standing Committees, Task Forces are created for a specific period time and aim to develop positions on highly complex and controversial issues such as immigration reform and welfare. Task Forces are composed of 20 to 30 legislators and legislative staff who are appointed by the NCSL president or staff chair.
Day-to-day operations of the organization are in the hands of its Executive Director, William T. Pound. The organization is led by a legislator who serves as its president and by a legislative staffer who serves as staff chair. Twenty years after its founding, NCSL was led in 1994 by its first female president, former Congresswoman Karen McCarthy. Its first African-American president, Rep. Daniel T. Blue, served in 1998–99. The 2015–16 president of NCSL is Senator Curt Bramble of Utah, and the staff chair is Karl Aro of Maryland. Each year, NCSL’s presidency alternates between legislators of the Republican and Democratic parties.
NCSL has 8 standing committees whose membership consists of state legislators and staff:
These committees establish policy positions and coordinate lobbying efforts in Washington DC.
NCSL uses task forces to complement the work of the 8 standing committees. Composed of legislators and legislative staff, task forces are temporary and deal with issues that cut across the jurisdictions of multiple standing committees. Currently, there are 8 task forces:
In the most general terms, NCSL works to enhance the role of states in the federal system. NCSL opposes unfunded federal mandates and federal preemption of state authority, providing state legislatures with the flexibility to implement policy solutions. NCSL supports enactment of the Main Street Fairness Act, which would simplify existing sales tax collection laws. The Act would grant states the authority to require all sellers, including online merchants, to collect sales and use taxes, generating billions of dollars of tax revenue for state governments.
NCSL organizes two annual events for the general membership:
The Legislative Summit is the largest of these events, partly because it occurs in the summer when state legislatures are in recess. Its location varies year to year. The Capitol Forum always occurs in Washington D.C.