Agenda 21: State Legislative Scorecard

By MultiState Associates | May 16, 2013

By: Dave Shonerd, Senior Analyst
May 16, 2013

Earlier this year, we wrote about the recent appearance of legislation on Agenda 21 in the state legislatures. Agenda 21 is a United Nations document from 1992 on sustainable development that was supported by President George H.W. Bush but mainly ignored by state legislatures, and it caused barely a ripple outside of the international development community. The non-binding planning document contains recommendations intended to guide local governments, especially in the less developed world, to implement smart growth policies and conserve resources.

Last year, twenty years after Agenda 21 was released, lawmakers in 13 states introduced legislation opposing Agenda 21, with three states passing such measures. Two of the successful measures were simply resolutions stating legislative sentiment in opposition to Agenda 21, while one measure in Alabama went so far as to ban its implementation.

When we covered this topic in January, 15 bills and resolutions already had been introduced in seven states for the 2013 legislative sessions. At that point, it remained to be seen if the anti-Agenda 21 fervor from 2012 would continue to swell in the state legislatures or if it would fizzle out.

So, how did anti-Agenda 21 legislation fare in the state legislature this year?

The movement to ban Agenda 21 has gained some momentum, but it has not spread like wildfire across the state capitals up to this point. While it must be noted that the tally is not final because roughly half of the state legislatures are still meeting, the current total is 34 bills and resolutions introduced in 20 states in 2013. Of those, only two measures passed both chambers of the statehouse.

One was a resolution adopted in South Dakota, HCR 1008, which "recognizes the destructive and insidious nature of United Nations Agenda 21", but only expresses legislative sentiment and does not have the effect of law. Meanwhile in Missouri, SB 265, which just received final approval last week, would bar state agencies and local governments from adopting policies "originating in, or traceable to Agenda 21". This bill, however, needs the signature of Gov. Jay Nixon (D) in order to take effect, and it is unclear how the Governor will act.

Also, although the anti-Agenda 21 measure introduced in the Maine State Legislature this year is unlikely to pass, activists in Maine can hang their hat on Gov. Paul LePage's (R) endorsement of their position when he spoke at an anti-Agenda 21 rally last month near Portland.

Elevation of the anti-Agenda 21 to the fore in some states coincides with an influx in the number of "nullification" bills introduced in the states beginning in 2012, which tap a similar political vein but are opposed to federal, rather than international, government intrusion. Nullification bills have received even greater support in state legislatures, with bills introduced in 37 states this year seeking to nullify federal laws deemed unconstitutional by state legislators, according to a May 13 Washington Times article. Whether the anti-Agenda 21 bills or the nullification bills will have any practical effect or are simply an outlet for frustrated legislators and their constituents is a question for another day.