CHICAGO -- Some Democratic lawmakers are expressing concern about the political bent of the National Conference of State Legislatures, saying the bipartisan group is becoming more conservative in its positions and selection of speakers for meetings.
Concerns were expressed that the group -- which represents state legislators and staffers nationwide -- had become dominated by more conservative states and had allowed corporate sponsors to help direct panel discussions at the annual meeting. NCSL's annual legislative summit concluded Thursday in Chicago.
"Some legislators feel there is a more conservative movement and position in NCSL," New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) told The Huffington Post. "They are keeping a close watch on this."
Oliver said she and other northeastern legislative leaders have noticed conservative southern and midwestern states sending larger delegations to the conference in recent years. Still, under NCSL rules, business meetings limit each state to one vote, with states having members on various committees. Forty-three states were represented at Thursday's business meeting.
During Thursday morning's meeting, delegates did strip support for drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve from a resolution supporting domestic energy production. The vote was vocally opposed by Alaskan delegates, who said legislators were showing "no hope" for the state and wanted to devestate the state's economy. Then, despite the drilling support being absent from the bill, Alaska legislators attempted to keep ANWR in the final resolution's title, but to no avail.
Wisconsin Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) said he and several colleagues were concerned over the influence of the corporate sponsors at the conference, noting that the coal industry played a major role in a panel on energy issues. The coal industry had one of the largest exhibits in the NCSL exhibit hall, which featured trade groups and companies including the American Association of Nude Recreation, the National Rifle Association, and the American Massage Therapy Association.
Hulsey said during the energy discussion that he believed representatives from health or environmental groups should also be participating in the conversation.
"Needless to say they did not mention the 10,000 deaths caused by coal every year," Halsey said. "My major concern is you need some balance. You need the American Lung Association on there."
Hulsey also expressed concern over Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who went to jail on corruption charges, giving a lecture on ethics reform.
"That is the devil lecturing on redemption," Hulsey said. "It seemed really bizarre to me. There are a bunch of people you can bring in to talk about reform like Common Cause."
Citing lobbyists seen in attendance alongside legislators, Hulsey said he feared the NCSL would become a version of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which is decidedly conservative.
But NCSL leadership stressed that the group is bipartisan in nature and that a series of Democratic and Republican panelists were invited to speak. NCSL spokesman Jon Kuhl told HuffPost he has even heard conservatives say the organization has been too liberal at times.
"I think we always hear from both sides that they want to hear more of their own people speak," he said. "We always try to improve and look for feedback."
Most of the panels included a series of speakers on both sides of the political divide, with the voter identification laws discussion including both Democrats and Republicans.
Oliver, of New Jersey, said she and other progressive legislative leaders have started talking about recruiting more of their members to attend future NCSL meetings to help influence the direction of the group. She said this will include using her authority to appoint New Jersey legislators to NCSL committees.
"As legislative leaders we have to encourage our members to play a more proactive role," she said. "Get them involved in committees and get policies adopted."
Alabama State Capitol (Montgomery, Ala.)
Pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
Alaska State Capitol (Juneau, Alaska)
Pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Chris Miller)
Arizona State Capitol (Phoenix)
Pictured on Friday, April 23, 2010. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Arkansas State Capitol (Little Rock, Ark.)
Pictured on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
California State Capitol (Sacramento, Calif.)
Pictured on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2006. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)
Colorado State Capitol (Denver)
Pictured on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2006. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Connecticut State Capitol (Hartford, Conn.)
Pictured on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 1999. (AP Photo/Bob Child)
Delaware State Capitol (Dover, Del.)
Florida State Capitol (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Pictured on Monday, Jan. 3, 2011. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Georgia State Capitol (Atlanta)
Pictured on Tuesday, November 13, 2007. (Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Hawaii State Capitol (Honolulu)
Idaho State Capitol (Boise, Idaho)
Pictured on Monday, Jan. 14, 2008. (Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Illinois State Capitol (Springfield, Ill.)
Pictured on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2004. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Indiana State Capitol (Indianapolis)
Pictured on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Iowa State Capitol (Des Moines, Iowa)
Pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2011. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Kansas State Capitol (Topeka, Kan.)
Pictured on Thursday, April 15, 2010. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Kentucky State Capitol (Frankfort, Ky.)
Pictured on Wednesday, April 12, 2006. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
Louisiana State Capitol (Baton Rouge, La.)
Pictured on Monday, Jan. 14, 2008. (Matthew HINTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Maine State Capitol (Augusta, Me.)
Pictured on Monday, Oct. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)
Maryland State House (Annapolis, Md.)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Massachusetts State House (Boston)
Pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2007. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Michigan State Capitol (Lansing, Mich.)
Pictured on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Minnesota State Capitol (St. Paul, Minn.)
Pictured on Friday, July 1, 2011. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Mississippi State Capitol (Jackson, Miss.)
Pictured on Thursday, June 10, 1999. (AP Photo/Rogelio Solis)
Missouri State Capitol (Jefferson City, Mo.)
Pictured on Friday, Oct. 16, 2000. (Photo credit should read ORLIN WAGNER/AFP/Getty Images)
Montana State Capitol (Helena, Mont.)
Nebraska State Capitol (Lincoln, Neb.)
Pictured on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 1998. (AP Photo/S.E. McKee)
Nevada State Capitol (Carson City, Nev.)
New Hampshire State House (Concord, N.H.)
Pictured on Friday, Dec. 28, 2001. (Todd Warshaw//Pool/Getty Images
New Jersey State House (Trenton, N.J.)
Pictured on Friday, Aug. 13, 2004. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
New Mexico State Capitol (Santa Fe, N.M.)
New York State Capitol (Albany, N.Y.)
Pictured on Sunday, March 16, 2008. (Photo by Daniel Barry/Getty Images)
North Carolina State Capitol (Raleigh, N.C.)
Pictured in 1930. (AP Photo)
North Dakota State Capitol (Bismarck, N.D.)
Pictured on Thursday, April 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Dale Wetzel)
Ohio Statehouse (Columbus, Ohio)
Pictured on Tuesday, March 8, 2011. (Photo by Mike Munden/Getty Images)
Oklahoma State Capitol (Oklahoma City)
Pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Oregon State Capitol (Salem, Ore.)
Pictured on Friday, May 20, 2011. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file)
Pennsylvania State Capitol (Harrisburg, Pa.)
Pictured on Thursday, June 28, 2012. (BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
Rhode Island State House (Providence, R.I.)
Pictured on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 1945. (AP Photo)
South Carolina State House (Columbia, S.C.)
Pictured on Monday, Jan. 21, 2008. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images)
South Dakota State Capitol (Pierre, S.D.)
Pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. (AP Photo/Doug Dreyer)
Tennessee State Capitol (Nashville, Tenn.)
Pictured on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 1941. (AP Photo)
Texas State Capitol (Austin, Texas)
Pictured on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011. (MIRA OBERMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Utah State Capitol (Salt Lake City)
Pictured on Thursday, March 15, 2001. (GEORGE FREY/AFP/Getty Images)
Vermont State House (Montpelier, Vt.)
Pictured on April 9, 1953. (AP Photo/Francis C. Curtin)
Virginia State Capitol (Richmond, Va.)
Pictured on Wednesday, May 2, 2007. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Washington State Capitol (Olympia, Wash.)
Pictured on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
West Virginia State Capitol (Charleston, W.V.)
Pictured on July 2, 2010. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Wisconsin State Capitol (Madison, Wis.)
Pictured on Saturday, Dec. 24, 2011. (KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Wyoming State Capitol (Cheyenne, Wyo.)
Pictured on Tuesday, March 6, 2001. (Photo by Michael Smith/Newsmakers)