'Thank you for that kind introduction, President [Leticia] Van de Putte.
'It has been a pleasure to work with Senator Van de Putte many times in recent years. As the first
'NCSL President-elect Donna Stone of
'I would also like to recognize the Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray and Speaker of the Massachusetts House Salvatore DiMasi.
'I am also proud to join many fellow Californians here.
'I feel right at home here among state legislators because more than half of my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives served in State Legislatures. That includes Jim Costa of
'With your theme this year is 'Strong states, strong nation, revolutionary ideas,' you are indeed the leaders to help create strong states, and therefore a strong nation. And
'Today I come to thank you for your leadership and work on these events in the past week to defend our country, grow our economy, strengthen our families, protect our planet and restore accountability. We must work together to do so with openness, transparency, the toughest fiscal discipline and the highest ethical standard.
DEFEND OUR COUNTRY
'Our first responsibility as elected officials is to protect the American people. That is why on the very first day of the new Congress, our first legislative act was to pass H.R. 1, implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations.
'I am pleased to say last week the final version passed the House and Senate and was immediately signed into law by President Bush. Working together, we have done in six months what previous Congresses failed to do for almost six years.
'This new law will fundamentally change the way the President, the Congress and state and local governments, deal with matters related to terrorism - making us more unified and more effective, and our country safer. The bill closes loopholes and weaknesses that terrorists would seek to exploit and that leave Americans vulnerable.
'Under this legislation, more federal funding for homeland security will now be focused on the parts of our country that are at greatest risk. By securing loose nuclear material abroad, this bill will help prevent terrorists from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
'Our bill requires that 100 percent of shipping containers be scanned and sealed abroad, before they ever reach our shores, and move through our waterways and across our country. It also requires screening of 100 percent of cargo being loaded onto passenger aircraft.
'This bill makes a $1.6 billion investment in the communication equipment that our state and local emergency personnel, our police and firefighters, need to protect us every day. Never again, will the efforts of our courageous first responders be hampered by the inability to communicate with each other in real time.
'And it is paid for.
'Following 9/11, those who lost their loved ones turned their grief into advocacy to make
CARE FOR OUR CHILDREN AND FAMILES
'For our states and nation to be strong we must strengthen our families. NCSL has led the way by investing in the health and education of our children.
'Thank you for your leadership on SCHIP. In January, at the start of the new Congress, your President, Senator Van de Putte came to
'Thanks to NCSL and armies of support across the country, last week Congress passed SCHIP adding 5 million children for a total of 11 million to be insured.
'And it is paid for.
'Bringing health insurance to
'A New Direction is also needed in the education of our children. Five years ago, No Child Left Behind was passed into law. As you know all too well, since that time, serious concerns have been raised about No Child Left Behind. Throughout our schools and communities, there is a strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair, not flexible, and it is certainly not funded.
'We sent states a mandate without the money.
'Since taking over the Education and Labor Committee, Congressman George Miller of
'The bill will be fair and flexible, responding to legitimate concerns raised by you and others, while fulfilling our promise to improve student performance, increase school accountability, and provide students with the resources they need to learn the skills crucial to their future success.
'So different will this bill be that we are thinking about changing its name!
'And it will be paid for.
GROW OUR ECONOMY
'In order to have strong states and a strong nation, we must have a strong economy. We all know that to create the next generation of growth and jobs in our states and across the country,
'For example, the
'In Congress, we are supporting your bold efforts. Last Thursday, an overwhelming bipartisan vote passed the America COMPETES Act to keep
'As we gather in the home state of President Kennedy, we remember when he announced the mission to send a man to the moon in 10 years. In announcing that challenge President Kennedy stated: 'The vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we are first, and therefore, we intend to be first. Our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort.'
'Following President Kennedy's lead fulfilling the vows of our nation, working together, we declare our commitment to competitiveness to keep
'Another area that is crucial to the strength of our states and nation is the reliability of our infrastructure.
'Last week, the country received a wake-up call with the collapse of the bridge in
'Today, our Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar from
'As we establish criteria and standards and go forward, Congress must work with state governments and state legislatures.
PROTECT OUR PLANET
'Also central to the strength of our states and our nation is energy independence. Energy independence is a national security issue. It is an environmental and health issue. It is an economic issue. And it is a moral issue.
'With a commitment to the future, last weekend Congress passed bipartisan legislation, the 'New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security, and Consumer Protection Act.'
'It will strengthen our national security by reducing our dependence on foreign oil; lower energy costs for consumers by $300 billion dollars with greater efficiency, cleaner energy, and smarter technology; create new and good-paying green collar American jobs, and reduce global warming.
'And it is paid for.
'This bill makes the largest investment in homegrown biofuels in American history. We know that
'As we address energy independence and global warming with innovation and market-based solutions, we will grow our economy.'
'State legislators and governors, mayors and county executives know the consequences of global warming will be as local as our neighborhoods, and global as our entire planet. So too our solutions must be both local and global.
'In this challenge we are joined by faith-based organizations. They believe, as I do, that this planet is God's creation and we have a moral responsibility to preserve it.
'Protecting our country, growing our economy in a fiscally sound way, strengthening our families, and protecting our planet are all a part of our New Direction for
'In November, the American people asked for a New Direction. Nowhere were they more clear about the need for a New Direction than when it comes to the war in
'Whatever you think about the war, and I have strongly opposed it from the start, we all agree that we owe a deep debt of gratitude to our men and women in uniform. We honor them for their courage, their patriotism and the sacrifices they and their families make for our country.
'We also have to recognize the challenge to our states with more than 420,000 or 80 percent of our brave National Guard and Reservists who have been deployed to
'Therefore, many stateside units are not fully equipped and would not be considered ready if called upon to respond during an emergency. The National Guard is currently equipped with only 40 percent of its authorized equipment.
'Last week, Congress passed the fiscal year 2008 Defense Appropriations Bill. It provides $1 billion, $635 million above 2007, specifically to address equipment shortfalls of the National Guard and Reserve in order to help these forces meet the demands of overseas deployments and respond to natural disasters here at home. This amount meets the requirements identified by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau in the 'Essential 10 Equipment Requirements for the Global War on Terror.'
'Our Defense Authorization bill, which passed the House earlier this year, gives the National Guard enhanced authorities to fulfill its expanded role in the nation's defense, by authorizing a fourth star for the Chief of the National Guard Bureau. The bill also honors the traditional role of states in its authority over the National Guard.
'Recognizing the needs of our troops when they come home we also appropriated an increase of $6.7 billion for our nation's veterans, the largest increase in the 77-year history of the VA.'
'We come together in
'Thank you to NCSL for leading the way.
'God bless you and may God bless