Lawmakers from around the country will meet in Indy this week. Here’s why it matters.

The National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit was held in Indianapolis Aug. 14-16. (Credit: Provided by NCSL)

Aug 14, 2023

The Gist

Lawmakers and their staff from around the country will flock to Indianapolis this week for the annual National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit, the largest such gathering of state politicians in the country. 

The conference gives Indiana lawmakers a chance to tout legislation they’ve passed because it’s based in-state, as well as generate ideas for new laws to pursue in the upcoming legislative session. This year, a sizable portion of the policies Indiana lawmakers will be boasting about hinge on the state’s recent education-related changes. 

Held in a different city each year, the summit is an opportunity for state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and across the country to collaborate on solutions to issues impacting the whole country. 

What’s happening

The bipartisan organization of lawmakers expects 5,000 attendees at the Aug. 14-16 convention held at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. NCSL predicted it will generate more than $4.8 million in economic activity and more than 11,000 room nights. Of course other conventions that visit Indianapolis, like the recent Gen Con are much larger.

Some notable Hoosiers will be speaking at the event including Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush, former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, former Indiana Fever basketball player Tamika Catchings and former Vice President Mike Pence. 

At least 60 Indiana lawmakers plan to attend, the first 40 of whom are paid for by taxpayer dollars. At least nine of those lawmakers will be participating in or moderating sessions as well, including:

  • Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, who will moderate a panel on energy. 
  • Rep. Bob Behning, R- Indianapolis, who will discuss how states can improve students’ ability to read.
  • Rep. Wendy McNamara, R- Evansville, who will speak on a session regarding juvenile justice. 
  • Rep. Jim Pressel, R- Rolling, who will speak on a panel about infrastructure projects.

This is Indiana’s chance to show off

Because this event is local, it provides Indiana lawmakers with a chance to show off the impacts of recently-passed legislation to their peers from other states. Much of that this year will focus on Indiana’s recently-passed education policy changes, some of which were unpopular with traditional public school advocates. 

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston, along with some Indiana-based school choice proponents, will participate in a session focused on K-12 school vouchers and charter schools. NCSL attendees will also have the option to visit an Indianapolis charter school. 

Both Indiana lawmakers and lobbyists will almost certainly boast about the massive expansion to school choice passed by lawmakers this past session, despite criticism of the plan among public school advocates. Roughly 97% of Indiana students can now use state money to attend the school of their choice and charter schools will receive millions of dollars more in future years because of the legislative changes. 

Pro-school choice lobbyists would like the policy to be replicated in other states. 

“We have a great success story to tell,” Huston said in a statement, “and I plan to share the good news about how years of strong conservative leadership have given us opportunities to cut taxes, empower families and students, boost economic development and improve government services."

Sen. Jeff Raatz, chair of the Senate’s education committee; Rep. Bob Behning, chair of the House Education Committee; Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner and other Hoosiers involved with the state’s education policy will also all participate in a panel about generating career pathways for students. During the past legislative session Indiana lawmakers passed a bill expanding work-based learning in high schools. 

Plus, Behning will speak at another panel focused on “the science of reading,” another education topic lawmakers passed legislation on during the legislative session.

But it’s not just education that Indiana lawmakers will be talking about. One session will enable attendees to check out Indianapolis’ trial network “to learn how bipartisan legislative accomplishments in Indiana and other Midwestern states have boosted economic development.” Both Rep. Carey Hamilton, D- Indianapolis, and Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, will participate in that session. 

Another session that Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, and Rush will speak at centers around how to reduce the use of jails and courts to address mental illness, another topic lawmakers focused on in the most recent legislative session.

“We are proud of the way Indiana is functioning right now and this is an opportunity to showcase it a little bit,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville. 

The conference could inform bills in the upcoming legislative session

Lawmakers could also use the summit to generate future ideas for legislation, which means the schedule could provide an early look into what state legislatures across the country will prioritize next session. 

“It's a unique opportunity to share information with other states while also learning from their experiences,” Huston said in a statement. “Our goal is to collaborate to see how we can craft better policy solutions that help Hoosiers and build on Indiana's momentum.”

Aside from education, here are some of the other major topics that will dominate the conference, and likely be center stage in statehouses come the 2024 legislative session. 

  • Workforce shortages: Around the U.S., states are struggling with a lack of skilled workers for various jobs. The problem is so widespread that multiple sessions are dedicated to the topic of workforce shortages in industries from education to health care, and what solutions exist. 
  • Mental health: In Indiana, lawmakers devoted $50 million per year toward mental health funding, but how to address dismal mental health and related substance abuse dilemmas in Indiana and other states is far from resolved. During the summit, lawmakers will be able to tune into sessions on how to reduce barriers to employment for people with mental health conditions, as well as a session regarding how to prevent overdoses.
  • Health care: The 2023 legislative session in Indiana was hyper-focused on health issues in general, with the expansion of Indiana’s public health system and the passage of legislation aimed at cutting health care costs. At the NCSL summit, lawmakers from around the country will talk about maternal mortality rates, the so-called Medicaid unwinding and lowering health care costs. It’s possible those issues will turn into more legislation.
  • Tech changes: Lawmakers will likely continue to grapple with how to regulate new technology in the upcoming legislative session. During the NCSL summit, there will be conversations regarding protecting children on social media, artificial intelligence, data privacy and broadband.

There also will be sessions dedicated to housing, elections and the well-being of children. 

Perhaps even more importantly, the summit gives lawmakers a chance to meet lawmakers from other states. That can pay off down the road. 

“Those relationships and conversations do help craft and create policy,” Bray said, “because the conversations surround … how did you handle that challenge and what were the pitfalls of moving forward with this kind of a policy?”

What’s next?

State Affairs will be watching the convention all week to bring you both daily and future enterprise content. 

Contact Kaitlin Lange on Twitter @kaitlin_lange or email her at [email protected]

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Header: The National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit will be held in Indianapolis Aug. 14-16. (Credit: Provided by NCSL)