The Council of State Governments’ Border Legislative Conference this year begins its second decade of strategic joint initiatives between the border states of Mexico and the United States.
The program is administered by two CSG regional offices—CSG-WEST and the Southern Legislative Conference. Martha Castaneda recently took over as the BLC’s program director, replacing Edgar Ruiz, who is now deputy director for CSG-WEST.
The BLC traces its roots to the leadership of California Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny. In 1998, Ducheny formed the Southern Border Committee to bring together legislators from states along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. There were binational gubernatorial and Congressional groups, but the Southern Border Committee was the first to organize legislators.
With a nominal budget and support from staff in CSG’s Washington office, CSG-WEST and the SLC, the committee convened during CSG-WEST annual meetings.
In 2001, through a grant from the United State Agency for International Development, the Southern Border Committee established the Border Legislative Conference. The organization is comprised of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California in the U.S., and Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora and Baja California in Mexico. Under the organization’s framework, the chairmanship and vice chairmanship rotates between the U.S. and Mexican legislative members.
In recent years, the BLC made progress in the development and adoption of model state legislation on issues such as reducing waste tires, promoting economic competitiveness through Secure Manufacturing Zones, and addressing issues of human trafficking. Moreover, the BLC has made strides to further enhance state legislative-executive branch cooperation by working closely with the Border Governors Conference, and also strengthening state-federal relations with congressional delegations and key committees in the U.S. and Mexico.
Era of Expanded Binational State Partnerships
In 2006, the success of the BLC prompted the United States Agency for International Development to support similar binational exchanges among state attorneys general and treasurers of Mexico and the U.S. The U.S.-Mexico State Alliance Partnership includes binational collaboration among border legislators, attorneys general, treasurers and lieutenant governors. It is administered by CSG in cooperation with partners and affiliates, including the Conference of Western Attorneys General, National Association of State Treasurers and the National Lieutenant Governors Association.
This expansion has taken place as Mexico is instituting major judicial reform and both countries have committed to greater cooperation to combat organized crime and enhance the region’s competitiveness.
Most recently, CSG entered into agreements with Arizona State University’s North America Center for Transborder Studies and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to strengthen the work of the BLC. The Woodrow Wilson center will help strengthen state dialogue with federal legislators and federal agencies, while work with Arizona State will strengthen legislative research capabilities with staff identifying and promoting relevant regulations and practices in each of the border states.
What the Future Holds for the BLC
Through the synergies and multi-layered partnerships established by the U.S.-Mexico State Alliance Partnership, the BLC and its members have an opportunity to play an increased and significant role in the policymaking process of the U.S.-Mexico relations. This includes transforming broad policy recommendations into specific state legislative actions. This process began in March when the BLC joined forces with the Border Governors Conference Environmental Work Table by convening the first a joint legislative-executive branch forum focused on waste tires and air quality.