The Trials, Trends and Topics of ’75
Before getting too worked up about today’s bitter partisan divide or stagnant incomes, consider 1975. The U.S. economy was in a recession, thanks to the Arab oil embargo. The federal deficit was growing, state budgets were shrinking and inflation and unemployment were high. Public confidence in elected leaders was in the tank. Watergate and the fall of Saigon had rocked the country to its roots.
The National Conference of State Legislatures held its first annual meeting that year in Philadelphia. Nearly 2,000 attendees heard keynote speaker Louis Harris say that “public apathy and alienation have reached their peak in 1975.”
Attendees drafted 145 policy recommendations addressing some of the most critical national issues, including lowering the federal deficit, conserving energy, opposing federal wage laws for state and local employees, giving legislatures a role in overseeing law enforcement block grants, repealing state fair trade laws, reforming medical malpractice insurance, boosting federal welfare spending and overhauling state pension and retirement systems. Attendees also called for bans on “Saturday Night Special” handguns and aerosol sprays containing fluorocarbons.
In 40 years, there’s been progress on many fronts. The federal deficit is actually shrinking, air quality is better and violent crime is down. But as the following excerpts from the early issues of State Legislatures magazine show, some issues are like weeds. They come back every year.
Prescriptions for Soaring Hospital Costs
“Now more than ever, Americans are finding they can’t afford to get sick. Since health care price controls expired on April 30, 1974, average costs have risen more than 13 percent and hospital charges are up 16 percent.” June/July 1975
State Marijuana Laws
“Oregon passed the nation’s first marijuana decriminalization law nearly two years ago. … On June 18, 1974, Maine became the second state to make possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil rather than a criminal offense. Possession of less than 1.5 ounces would be subject to a fine of up to $300, but would not result in a jail sentence or criminal record. While liberalizing bills are pending in nine other states, only in California and Colorado is there possibility of passage this year.” June/July 1975
Prayer in School
“Despite the fact that official prayer in schools has been banned since 1962, some state and local governments have continued the practice. … In Connecticut, the General Assembly has passed a bill which requires a period for daily meditation in public schools.” June/July 1975
Not a Shredder Left
“California’s Governor Edmund Brown, Jr., has had three paper shredders removed from his office. The shredders, left over from the previous administration, ‘simply have no place in an open government,’ according to Brown. At the same time, the governor ordered a halt to the policy of giving free brief cases to state employees, declaring they only ‘encourage the blizzard of state paperwork.’” June/July 1975
Gun Control: The Controversy Continues
“America has the highest homicide rate in the world. Every three minutes someone in the United States is killed or wounded by a firearm. … As the casualties increase, so does the debate over handgun control.” June/July 1975
More May Still Mean Less
“Americans were earning more money than ever last year, and still getting poorer. The Bureau of Census estimates that because of ‘substantial inflation,’ the ranks of America’s poor increased by 1.3 million, or 5.6 percent. That brings the number of citizens living below the poverty level to 24.3 million, or 12 percent of the population.” August/September 1975
Pay Toilets: Relief is in Sight
“Americans are increasingly tired of paying an admission price for necessary body functions. A nationwide trend has begun to ban pay toilets in public restrooms. … So far, at least three states—Alaska, New York and Wyoming—have banned pay toilets entirely, and at least 20 are imposing restrictions on the number of pay facilities in public places.” August/September 1975
A Comeback for Plain English
“Lawmakers in Texas are waging an all-out campaign against bureaucratese and gobbledygook. Almost unanimously, the state legislature recently passed S.696, a bill that would require all accident and health insurance policies to be written in ‘readable language.’” August/September 1975
New Math: 1+1 = A Concept?
“Teenagers and young adults taught the ‘new math’ may be leaving their classrooms ill-equipped to deal with everyday arithmetic and the consumer marketplace. A government-subsidized study … indicates that a majority of those surveyed have trouble balancing their checkbooks, determining the best food buys and even calculating parking lot change.” August/September 1975
State Legislatures in the Public Eye
“Less than five years ago, many legislatures reacted negatively to the prospect of television cameras in committee rooms and on the floor of their chambers. With Watergate and the national trend toward government in the sunshine, however, more and more citizens can now watch their legislatures in action from their living rooms. … Public television stations in 29 states now provide regular coverage of state legislatures.” August/September 1975
Smoke-Filled Rooms Are Hazardous to Your Health
“Due to state and local regulations, ‘No Smoking’ signs are appearing in more and more public places. At least 20 states have passed bills restricting public smoking this session. The most comprehensive law is found in Minnesota where no smoking is allowed ‘in a public place or in a public meeting except in designated smoking areas.’” November/December 1975
Legislative Salaries: The Debate Continues
“Across the country legislative salaries vary greatly. Lawmakers in New York are paid $23,500 per year, in California $21,200 and in Illinois $20,000. By contrast, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Rhode Island annually pay their legislators $100, $150 and $300, respectively. Lawmakers’ salaries exceed $10,000 in only 12 states, and in 25, the pay is $5,000 or less. Despite the low salaries in most states, legislators have made substantial gains over the last few years. The average legislative salary is now $5,514, an increase of $705 since late 1973.” November/December 1975
Crisis in the Corridors
“The primary concern in many American schools is no longer education, but preservation,’ said Indiana Senator Birch Bayh (D) at the opening of his subcommittee’s investigation into school violence. … One school executive said that a major city high school times its dismissal bell to coincide with police cruisers which patrol the adjacent streets to keep rival gangs ‘from colliding in open warfare.’ A security guard described gun battles in the corridors of a Richmond, Va., school, a Christmas Eve arson that caused $250,000 damage to a Pensacola, Fla., school and the killing of class pets by vandals in a Philadelphia elementary school.” November/December 1975
When Matrimony Turns to Acrimony
“In some sections of the country, more people are getting divorced than getting married. Indeed, nearly four out of every 10 marriages now end up on the rocks. And, as divorce increases, so does the number of states adopting no-fault divorce provisions. … California was the first state to abandon the adversary procedure for divorce, where one partner had to prove the other at fault for marriage failure. Now 16 states use ‘irretrievable breakdown,’ otherwise known as ‘irreconcilable differences’ or ‘incompatibility,’ as the sole ground for divorce.” January/February 1976