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Spending time on the west coast

Tony Bennett has recorded many popular songs and among those is one of my favorites, &uot;I left my heart in San Francisco&uot;.

I learned this past week just how meaningful that expression can be.

The annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures was held in San Francisco.

As the appointed Senate delegate from Alabama to the Southern Legislative Conference, I had a special reason and responsibility to attend this important meeting.

The structure of the NCSL Annual Meeting is such that there are three general sessions, to which everyone attending is invited, and some fifty-five different breakout sessions, each on different topics and generally with prominent speakers.

The breakout sessions often run concurrently so you have to pick and choose which topics are more important as far as your local state issues are concerned.

On Tuesday morning, the Deputy Secretary of the Federal Homeland Security office spoke at the first general session.

He updated all delegates on the status of terrorist activities in America and the response our federal government is making to those activities.

Tuesday afternoon I attended a breakout session entitled &uot;Budgeting for Performance: Is it Possible?&uot;

A number of states are using performance measures, but few include the measures in budget bills.

I have long contended that we need to put our performance expectations into law.

I believe we would see better budget results.

The late afternoon session on Tuesday was entitled &uot;Drunk Driving: The Highway Killer is Back&uot;.

After steadily declining during the past two decades, drunk driving deaths are again on the rise.

This session dealt with the causes of this increase and what state legislatures can do about it.

We examined recent trends in alcohol-related crashes and explored innovative approaches to reducing drunk driving.

On Wednesday, I attended a session entitled &uot;Keeping Highly Qualified Teachers in the Classroom&uot;.

In the next decade, 2,400,000 more teachers will be needed in the nation’s classrooms.

The federal government has mandated, in the No Child Left Behind Act, that every teacher must be &uot;highly qualified&uot; by the 2005-2006 school year.

This session dealt with what is meant by highly qualified and it took a look at the challenges related to recruiting and retaining such a teaching corps.

An additional Wednesday session dealt with Tort Reform.

While doctors, insurers and others call for tort reform, state and federal policy makers also are considering how to ensure that people who are injured due to negligence receive fair compensation.

This session discussed the balance needed to bring this about and it considered preemption issues raised by medical malpractice legislation.

A session I found interesting on Thursday was &uot;Insurance Regulation: A Time For Change&uot;.

Before going to the NCSL meeting, I had just received a comprehensive report from the Alabama Trial Lawyers Association advocating insurance reform so I was particularly mindful of the subject matter when I saw this on the agenda.

This session examined the issues confronting state insurance regulation in the integrated financial market place.

It explored congressional activity related to insurance regulation and reviewed proposals to reform the state systems and forestall federal action.

On Friday the general session speaker was Melinda Gates, wife of the famous computer wizard, Bill Gates.

She jokingly stated that there were two and a half college degrees in her family – she had two and Bill had one-half.

Apparently he dropped out of college.

Her talk dealt with the importance of modernizing our schools and libraries with modern technology.

I guess that does not come as any surprise.

There were many other important sessions that I would like to have attended, but time did not permit.

There was a session on &uot;Medicaid Spending&uot;, a very timely topic for any Alabama Legislator, one entitled &uot;Taxing Simply, Taxing Fairly&uot;, which is our most current issue in Alabama and there was a round table discussion on &uot;Public vs. Private Managing of State Services&uot;.

I think all of these would have been interesting and helpful.

I took some time in the evening and on Friday afternoon to enjoy the beautiful city of San Francisco.

I went out to Alcatraz Island (no, they did not keep me), and I ate a wonderful meal in Chinatown, the largest concentration of Chinese Americans in our country.

For what it’s worth, I paid for my airline ticket as well as all the expenses incurred by my wife, Rosalind, who accompanied me on this trip.

I think you can tell that programs such as this are invaluable to serious legislators, but there has been some criticism lately of legislative spending and I wanted to try to be a good example in these difficult financial times.

Until next time, remember &uot;I’ll go with you or I’ll go for you&uot; to help you solve any problem related to state government.

Senator Wendell Mitchell can be reached at 334-242-7883, or by writing to P O Box 225, Luverne, Alabama 36049.