Southern Legislative Conference: The First 50 Years

The first meeting of the then Southern Regional Conference of The Council of State Governments was held in 1947 at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis with the states of Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas in attendance. At the 1948 meeting, held at the EdgewaterGulf Resort in Biloxi, the eight states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia became official members of the Southern Conference. The state of Missouri had participated with the Conference since the earliest days and became an official member in 1993.

The legal basis for the Southern Regional Conference was statutory, whereby each state established a Commission on Interstate Cooperation--or CICO--composed of five members from each jurisdiction's House and Senate. A CICO was originally adopted by all 50 states to establish participation in the Conference's parent organization, The Council of State Governments. Most CICOs later included five gubernatorial appointees from each state's administrative branch.

Instrumental in the Southern Regional Conference's beginning days was Mr. Herbert L. Wiltsee, former director of research and publications for CSG's headquarters, which was then located in Chicago. During the late 1940s, Mr. Wiltsee began testing Southern legislative interest in forming CSG's Southern Conference to correspond to those already established in Eastern, Western and Midwestern states. Concurrently, Mr. Wiltsee was co-founder and secretary of the Legislative Service Conference/National Legislator's Conference.

In its formative days, the Southern Regional Conference conducted business without formal rules or a governing body. At its ninth meeting in 1955 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, organizational rules were adopted and an Advisory Committee established with members from each state represented. From 1963-1972 the name Southern Conference of The Council of State Governments was used, and in 1969 the name Advisory Committee was changed to the present Executive Committee, with House and Senate leaders from all member states serving as appointed members.

The Conference's Atlanta Office was opened in 1959 and also served as secretariat to the Southern Governors' Association; the Southern Environmental Resources Conference; Southern Conference of Attorneys General; Southern Regional Conference of State Budget Officers; and the Southern Conference of State Planning Agencies, all of which were affiliated with The Council of State Governments. Mr. Wiltsee was the Office's first director and later became executive director of CSG for a time in the late 1970s. A newspaper report recounting the Office's opening in The Greenville News (South Carolina) in April of 1959, stated that Governor Ernest F. Hollings predicted "... a higher and more effective degree of cooperation and coordination of effort between the Southern states in their many joint enterprises." In that same news item, Governor Hollings pointed to the Southern Regional Education Board, Southern Association of Science and Industry, and the pending compact on nuclear energy developments as examples of what had been accomplished by regional enterprise in recent years.

During the 1960s, the Conference began establishing its standing study committees and has continuously revised its committee and task force structure in the ensuing years to keep abreast of current issues and challenges facing state legislatures in the South. As the number, scope and activities of these legislative committees expanded, the Conference became predominant on the Southern Office's agenda. The name the Southern Legislative Conference was officially adopted at the 1973 Annual Meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas. During the 1970s, the SLC Annual Meeting grew to become the largest regional gathering of state legislators in the country and remains the best attended meeting held under the umbrella of The Council of State Governments.