July | August 2017







Elected Officials Play Important Role in Sustaining Interstate Compacts

By Dan Logsdon, manager, National Center for Interstate Compacts
Recent trends show a growing interest by states in using interstate compacts as a means to address a wide range of issues such as occupational licensure, land use and criminal justice. This emphasis on state-driven solutions to national policy issues is resonating with state officials, especially legislators.
According to interstate compact veteran, North Dakota state Rep. Kim Koppelman, interstate compacts are “a very good mechanism for states to solve problems and deal with issues that cross their borders without kicking the ball to Washington to solve the problem for them.”
Interstate compacts are typically created through the work of broad coalitions of stakeholders and empower states to solve national and regional policy problems. These compacts are among the best tools for cooperative state action that can stave off rigid, unfunded and unilateral federal mandates. On average, every state has enacted approximately two dozen interstate compacts.
Interstate compacts are an important mechanism to help states solve regional problems, but according to Rick Masters, special counsel to CSG’s National Center for Interstate Compacts, efforts to sustain these coalitions after the initial arrangements are key to long-term success.
Masters and his co-authors state in The Evolving Law and Use of Interstate Compacts, “Without some champion of the compact, states may fail to appoint new members … agency officials may fail to meet for a period of time and then become disinterested in reinvigorating the compact.”
Masters said state councils set up by both the revised Interstate Compact for Juveniles, or ICJ, and Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision, or ICAOS, “call for a state legislative branch representative who would be involved with the state council for each state that is a member of both compacts.” 
Both the ICJ and ICAOS are 50-state compacts that help govern probation and parole aspects of our criminal justice system, but for smaller compact agencies with a more limited mission it can be a struggle to get their message to legislators.
According to Jeff Litwak, general counsel to the Columbia River Gorge Compact, a lack of resources forces an agency like his to be more strategic about outreach efforts to state lawmakers.
“There are just not enough bodies for us to stay in touch with everybody that we need to—that’s a problem that is somewhat unique to compacts,” Litwak said.
To solve the issue of resources, Litwak said he leverages outside groups. “We do land use planning—we have a specific geographic community that we operate in and we have some interest groups that watch what we do and we try to get those folks to say nice things about us to legislators at budget times,” Litwak said.
In addition to leveraging outside groups, it is crucial for compact commissions and agencies to maintain relationships with legislative sponsors and coalition partners established during the compact’s development and enactment.
According to Litwak, compact agencies must have a comprehensive plan to educate state legislators.
“We’re creating a legislative packet, like a handbook almost, and it will explain what is a compact, what are the basic elements of compact law, in some ways it will be a kind of annual report explaining the things we are working on and address the challenges we face," Litwak said.
Karen Schutter, the executive director of the Interstate Insurance Product Regulator Commission, reiterated the importance of legislative participation to ensuring long-term success for interstate compacts.
“One of the things that we are required to do is, before we adopted a uniform standard, which is the core mission of the compact, we have to send out a legislative notice,” Schutter said.
“Importantly we also have an eight-person legislative committee that was built into the compact. Four are appointed by the National Conference of State Legislators and four by the National Conference of Insurance Legislators, and they are very active in our organization,” Schutter said. “I think that is very important because they can report back to their peers … and spread the word that the compact is doing good work and that they have a voice.”
As the use of compacts is evolving both in terms of frequency and the complexity of issues they confront, this “voice” is increasingly important as legislative involvement is becoming vital for interstate compacts to succeed.