Iowa Farmers and State Legislators say Keep Koch Industries Out

Iowa Farmers and State Legislators say Keep Koch Industries Out

By Ida V. Eskamani and Kendra Kimbirauskas

“Farmers were really on the frontlines fighting back in history…. Antitrust laws of the past were really designed to make sure our markets were open, fair, and competitive. In the same way we were rejecting monarchs in our political sphere, we were also rejecting monopolies in our commercial and economic sphere. Ultimately consolidation of power was seen as a threat, whether it be in the political or economic sphere.” -FTC Chair Lina Khan, opening remarks 

In Iowa this time of the year, if the weather is decent, farmers will be on their tractors planting crops. But on a windy spring day this past weekend, over 100 Midwesterns impacted by agriculture paused their planting to join their neighbors and other farmers from across Iowa and the Midwest to welcome the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair, Lina Khan to Nevada, Iowa. 

The listening session was organized by SiX in collaboration with Iowa State Representatives J.D. Scholten, Elinor Levin, and Megan Srinivas, who have been champions for Iowa’s independent family farmers, and the Iowa Farmers Union (IFU). The intent of the event was for farmers to share with the Chair what the multinational corporation Koch Industries’ recent acquisition of Iowa Fertilizer Company means for their farms, families, and futures. For more background on the potential merger, click here.

FTC Listening Session cropped
Photo by Kendra Kimbirauskas, State Innovation Exchange.

In December 2023, the Dutch chemical company OCI Global announced the $3.6 billion sale of Iowa Fertilizer Company to Koch Industries. Koch Industries is one of the largest multinational companies in the world, their influence deeply felt in America’s economy and democracy. If they are allowed to buy the Iowa Fertilizer Company it will merge with one of its five domestic competitors and gain further dominance in the U.S. fertilizer market. This merger is cause for a lot of concern for many Iowa farmers, which they shared with Chair Khan.

At the event, the farmers’ testimony was powerful with details of how corporate consolidation is impacting their bottom line more and more each year.  Many described grim situations such as when commodity prices increase and they receive a better price for their crops, their suppliers would also raise the costs for fertilizer, soil amendments, and supplies. 

Dwindling competition is driving up prices and making it impossible for young farmers to compete against monopolies that leverage state policy towards an unfair advantage via incentives, deregulation and rising costs. One farmer shared that she was extremely worried that due to the continued rising costs she and her husband would have nothing to pass on to her sons who wanted to farm. As an example, she shared that last year her family spent $20,000 on new tractor tires, the same amount of money that her parents had paid for 80 acres of prime farmland in the 1960s. 

IFU President Aaron Heley Lehman provided an overview of the lay-of-the land of the future of Iowa agriculture and shared that he believed the acquisition of Iowa Fertilizer to the multinational Koch Industries would harm the future of Iowa’s farming families and rural communities because Iowa farmers would continue to be squeezed by their suppliers. 

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Rob Larew traveled to the event from West Virginia and shared that what is happening in Iowa is a microcosm for what NFU farmers and ranchers have been up-against across the country as less competition in the market is making it increasingly difficult for farmers and ranchers to survive. He reminded the group that capitalism without competition is exploitation. 

Iowa state legislators stood with farmers and community members in expressing unease over the potential merger. In traveling his district, Rep. Scholten shared that concerns about lack of competition in agriculture is one of the top worries that Iowa farmer constituents share with him. He said that monopolistic behavior by agribusiness companies is squeezing both farmers and consumers in his district, making in increasingly difficult for the next generation to be able get into agriculture at a time when a significant portion of Iowa’s farmland will be changing hands over the next ten years as the average age of Iowa’s farmers is nearly 60 years old. 

Other officials attending the event with Chair Khan included former Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who was the longest serving Attorney General in United States history and Iowa Farm Service Agency Executive Director Matt Russel who farms with his husband in Marion County, Iowa.   

Chair Khan expressed her gratitude to SiX and our partners for organizing the listening session and providing a forum for the farmers to share their stories, views and experiences. She said that the information gleaned from the event in Iowa would be used to help the FTC determine if they would challenge the merger. 

Before the listening session, event organizers hosted Chair Khan for a local farm tour– so she could see firsthand the impact corporate consolidation has on small and large farms alike. 

The FTC is an essential federal agency, tasked with enforcing the nation’s antitrust and consumer protection laws. As Chair of the FTC, Lina Khan has reinvigorated antitrust in the country, prioritizing competition in the economy and fairness for consumers, workers, and local businesses. Under Chair Khan’s leadership, the agency has taken on corporate giants– from monopolies in agriculture, tech companies, grocery chains, healthcare, and private equity

FTC Panel
From left to right: IA Rep. Elinor Levin, IA Rep. Megan Srinivas, IA Rep. J.D. Scholten, FTC Chair Lina Khan, IFU President Aaron Heley Lehman, and NFU President Rob Larew. Photo by Kendra Kimbirauskas, State Innovation Exchange.

To learn more about SiX’s agriculture and economic justice work, click here and here.

Celebrate Black Maternal Health Week 2024 with SiX

Celebrate Black Maternal Health Week 2024 with SiX

Black legislators are spearheading the advancement of Black maternal health outcomes in their states. This year, Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) will take place April 11-17th, 2023 and the theme is Our Bodies STILL Belong to Us: Reproductive Justice NOW! 

Founded by Black Mamas Matter Alliance, BMHW was created to raise awareness, inspire activism and build community support for the issues and policies impacting the health and rights of Black mothers. This week centers the work, values, and traditions of the reproductive and birth justice movements.
In honor of #BMHW24, SiX is uplifting state legislators across the country who are committed to supporting Black maternal health.

Show your support as a legislator in the SiX network leading the fight to improve Black maternal health outcomes and please share the following graphic and messages on social media.

BMHW Evergreen X

Sample tweets:

Message 1: I’m taking part in this year’s #BlackMaternalHealthWeek with @Stateinnovation & @blkmamasmatter! Come engage in unforgettable activities & conversations aimed at shifting the state of Black Maternal Health in the U.S. Learn more: #BlackMamasMatter #BMHW24

Message 2: @BlkMamasMatter advocates for the advancement and investment in practices and solutions that incorporate the true needs, wants and desires of Black women and birthing people! Throughout the week, I’ll be sharing how I am uplifting & empowering Black Mamas through policy. #BMHW24

Message 3: It’s #BlackMaternalHealthWeek and I'm joining @Stateinnovation in centering Black women’s scholarship, maternity care work, and advocacy. #BlackMamasMatter #BMHW24

Message 4: Black women are 3 times more likely to die from preventable pregnancy-related causes than white women. This #BlackMaternalHealthWeek, let's raise awareness and center Black Mamas’ experiences to find solutions! #BMHW24 @Stateinnovation

*Official toolkit from Black Mamas Matter Alliance*

A Movement for Tax Justice: Our Moment is Now

A Movement for Tax Justice: Our Moment is Now

By: Kyle Huelsman

The tax justice movement has arrived at a historic inflection point. One path leads toward massive cuts in government spending, divesting unprecedented levels of funding from our schools, our affordable housing stock, and our broader social safety net. The other path leads toward the ultrawealthy and corporations paying what they owe in taxes, enabling us to fund our future. The next two years will determine whether we can build together, across states and across movements, to fight for the second path, and realize a government that works for us all; or whether we will be overpowered by our opposition and become resigned to the worst possible outcome.   

The root of this crisis has two main causes: the loss of federal funds and declining state revenue. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was hailed as a once in a generation investment in states, and for good reason: it provided $350 billion in emergency funding to respond to the COVID-19 emergency. ARPA funds, however, are expiring. States have until the end of 2024 to designate those federal funds, and until 2026 to fully spend down the remaining balance. Simultaneously, structural budget imbalances are starting to appear across the country. California, New York, and Pennsylvania face dramatic, multi-billion dollar deficits heading into 2024, but are by no means the only states with serious issues. Based on budget analyses of states published in late 2023, roughly half of Americans live in states that report short-term budget gaps, potential long-term deficits, or both (Pew, 2024). Across the board, we are seeing systemic and chronic budget shortfalls, which will outlast even the best resourced rainy day fund. 

The collision of these two events has created the perfect storm for state government deficits. In no uncertain terms, there are only two possible choices as we move into 2025 and 2026: states can cut critical government programs or increase revenue. Let us be clear, if we do not act decisively to raise revenue from the ultra-wealthy and corporations, the default option is massive budget cuts. We need only look to the Great Recession, when states collectively extracted billions of dollars from their budgets, creating gaps in education funding that persisted over a decade later (CBPP, 2017). 

  For the 11 states participating in the Tax Justice Initiative cohort, our theory of change is simple: we must maintain and expand our power over 2023 and 2024 in order to be positioned, and strong enough, to win in 2025 and 2026. This frame will be critical to keep us focused on the medium-term objective, while also staying motivated in the face of unfavorable legislative environments throughout 2024. 

We know that transforming state tax systems often takes years, which is why SIX and State Revenue Alliance (SRA) are supporting a broad, multi-year effort. The investigative reporting piece from the Center for Public Integrity (The Long Struggle Over Taxing the Rich) lays out the rationale behind our multi-year, multi-state strategy to counter the entrenched power and resources of our opposition, sharpen the inside/outside the building strategy of our allies, and support tax justice across the country. If we were to judge the success of the Tax Justice Initiative on the outcomes of 2023 alone, we would see a modest level of success. In 2024, we are already surpassing the high watermark of the previous year, but will face challenging political headwinds in many states. However, if we step back into a multi-year orientation, we can see the essential building blocks of transformational change. Examples include: favorable polling (70%-78% support for wealth taxes in TJI cohort states), stronger revenue coalitions and legislative champions, and deeper penetration of our message – in 2023, we received 189 media mentions and stories on the Tax Justice Initiative, including top tier national press from:  The Washington Post; CBS News; Los Angeles Times; Yahoo! Finance; Bloomberg News; The Guardian; Business Insider; Associated Press; CBS News; Wall Street Journal; Forbes; In These Times; CNBC; and the New York Times in January 2024.

We saw important progress in 2023 with record numbers of cosponsors (256 total), and incredible efforts so far in 2024 - highlighting both the deep popularity of these reforms and the rewards of intentionally building power with legislative champions. Yet, our opposition hired more lobbyists, spent more on paid advertisements, and received more earned media coverage. No matter how popular our policies are outside state capitols, the disproportionate level of resources spent within legislative chambers create a real power imbalance. There is only one answer to this larger problem: we must relentlessly compete for more power because we don’t have enough today. Power is measurable, and we need to stay laser focused on our ability to increase the level of influence inside and outside the building. 

For the champion legislators and movement partners leading this work at the state level, we have your back. As legislative leadership and Governors dismiss your reforms as “radical” and “untimely”: know that there is a eleven state network moving forward toward a common goal; know that the biggest revenue measures of the past decades faced the same criticism in the years before passage; know that the pushback is a reflection of the power that you are amassing. The 2024 legislative sessions may largely be a difficult and frustrating time for folks on the ground, but every ounce of power we build this year will mean the difference between success and failure when the moment is ready in the next legislative session. When we build together, over the long-term, we are unstoppable!

States Leading the Way on Paid Family and Medical Leave

States Leading the Way on Paid Family and Medical Leave

By: Ian Pfeiffer

From the first moments of a child’s life to the last moments in the life of a loved one, we all need time to care for our families. No one should have to worry about losing their job for putting their family first during some of the most important moments in life. This simple sentiment is shared by an overwhelming majority of Americans in poll after poll, which makes it so confounding that the United States is one of just six countries on the face of the earth that does not guarantee paid leave for workers. 

In the three decades since the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed into law, which made some workers eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave, both corporations and extremist politicians–with support from their deep-pocket donors–have stood in the way of strengthening these benefits.  

Under FMLA, only 3 in 10 workers are eligible for and can afford to take unpaid leave, deepening divides between historically marginalized communities. A report produced by the National Partnership for Women and Children illustrates the severe racial disparities in wealth and wealth building between white families and Black and Latino families due to past and present institutionalized racism, which are only exacerbated when serious medical and family challenges arise.

In 2021, federal paid family and medical leave was included in the Biden Administration’s “Build  Back Better” legislation, coming the closest to enactment in the 30 years since the passage of FMLA. State lawmakers in 10 states and the District of Columbia had enacted legislation establishing a Paid Family and Medical Leave program leading up to this once in a generation moment to pass paid leave at the federal level.  State legislators demonstrated the feasibility of the program and led to incredible momentum within Congress. Unfortunately, a small group of conservative Democrats in a closely divided Senate doomed this vital program, frustrating the millions of families that need to support a loved one in need. 

State legislators have retaken the movement to pass PFML across the country in the wake of federal inaction.  We are seeing incredible movement in Red states passing legislation to extend paid family and medical leave to state employees, including South Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana.  This is an opportunity to build towards a social insurance program, and particularly impactful as an important step towards gender and racial equity, as state employees are disproportionately women and Black workers. Not to be outdone, universal social insurance programs have been passed in Delaware, Maine, and Minnesota. SiX’s PFML Legislator cohort project is committed to help accelerate the second national push for federal PFML legislation, positioning passionate state legislators as national leaders in the fight for a more just economy.

The hard work in State Capitols across the country to discuss, debate, and advance paid leave legislation is vital to the lives of millions of Americans.  Each small step builds towards a tipping point in Washington, where eventually federal lawmakers will be forced to react to the community-driven policy-making on paid family and medical leave that has been built in the states.  

In an effort to accelerate the progress of these state-by-state fights by supporting and connecting the key legislative champions, SiX partnered with A Better Balance (ABB) and New America to organize a cross-state Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) Legislator cohort.  

Launched in 2022 with 16 legislators from 7 states who joined together to share insights, coordinate cross-state actions, and strategize on shaping the narrative around PFML. We hold monthly meetings centered on in-state and cross-state strategies for long-term PFML advancement.  Legislators come to the table to discuss policy language, legislative strategy and any potential compromises, as well as implementation and enforcement challenges. 

Importantly, the cohort members are building relationships that allow them to share their personal lived experiences which initially brought them to champion paid leave, organically fostering cross-state peer-learning that influences how they approach their in-state political eco-systems going forward.

This curated space was impactful because the challenges the legislators face are so daunting.  They discuss how to navigate “knee-jerk” business opposition, while being encouraged by their business-owning colleagues to calculate and testify on the savings a proper PFML program would provide to actual small business owners. They also push back strongly against watered down versions of PFML designed to undercut our momentum and should be seen for what they are–an attempt to shift the debate in face of strong public opinion support and growing power. 

Particularly resonant was the PFML track at SiX’s Innovations Accelerator Conference in September 2023, which brought together legislators and partners together in one room from across 11 states (CO, GA, IL, ME, MI, MN, NV, NM, NY, PA, VT) to share lessons and insights grounded in the necessity of grassroots support behind policy and centering the leadership, experience, and stories of those most impacted by PFML. 

Since the PFML cohort was formed, initial cohort members in Minnesota and Maine have passed PMFL laws in their states, joining the now 13 states and Washington, D.C. who have done so. We expect the cohort will both help legislators continue passing these critical protections, including in states that have joined the cohort, Nevada and Georgia, and deepen the connection that leads to further areas of focus.

While the passage of the PFML bills creating these programs is a reason to celebrate, implementation and enforcement of the programs can be a multi-year odyssey.  Historically, not enough focus has been paid to how the programs are built in reality and the negative impact these delays have on those who need these important protections the most.  Legislative champions and advocates are doubling their efforts to “stay in the fight” to have the programs implemented as soon as possible.

The work that can be done in any state to extend these benefits to workers and their families is vital to this ongoing nationwide struggle. We invite you to join us in this important effort to fight back against those corporate interests that stand in our way while millions of families grapple with an impossible choice between keeping a job and caring for a loved one. 

Challenging Corporate Power Initiative

Challenging Corporate Power Initiative

By: Ida V. Eskamani

The consolidation of corporate power in the hands of the elite few impacts every facet of our lives; connected directly to expanding wealth disparities and the rising cost of living, the existential climate crisis and rampant expansion of authoritarianism, and to the very existence of the multiracial democracy we strive for. 

Ida V. Eskamani of State Innovation Exchange chats with her twin sister Representative Anna V. Eskamani of Orlando, Florida about challenging corporate power in the states.

The concentration of corporate power does not happen by accident; it’s not the result of inevitable forces. It is a product of deliberate policy choices over decades and centuries. Racism, sexism, and classism are entrenched within our current economic system, by design. As a result, Black, immigrant, Indigenous, working class and rural communities, women, and queer people are disproportionately exploited and denied prosperity by these policies.

But historically, state legislators, in collaboration with the communities most impacted by these policy choices, have led the fight challenging corporate power– organizing our communities and taking on the corporate lobby to build economies that empower people. 

Challenging corporate power not only advances justice; it is essential to our organizing, allowing us to build movements that cross racial and ethnic lines, geographies, and issue-silos. Regardless of your area of expertise and the communities you organize with– whether it be education, agriculture, climate, housing, healthcare, criminal justice; or rural, urban, and suburban; the harms of corporate influence tie us together. Challenging corporate power offers easily identified villains, which is critical to organizing; and diminishes our opponents’ power by allowing us to neutralize the faux populism leveraged in the so-called “culture wars,” and expose the corporate donors and billionaires who fund these extremist campaigns. 

And finally, challenging corporate power is an opportunity to restore people’s trust in government, by demonstrating that governments can improve the daily lives of people and work with, by, and for all people, versus the elite few. Faith in our public institutions is essential to protecting our democracy from the rising threat of authoritarianism and increasing people’s engagement in our governing system. This work is essential towards advancing racial, gender, and economic justice; and state legislators are uniquely positioned to lead the charge, and win. 

Understanding our opponents:

The abuse of corporate power is rampant in our state capitols, where despite public opinion and undeniable economic disparities, the corporate lobby sets the agenda, with bipartisan success. 

From seemingly infinite campaign contributions, to state-by-state coordination of model policy, corporate lobbying power is massive– outnumbering public interest lobbyists in every metric.  Corporate mergers, tax-giveaways, privatization, deregulation, abusive preemption, and undermining workers’ collective bargaining rights are just a few of the policy tools used to concentrate corporate power over our economy and our democracy. Increasingly, private equity and AI threaten our economic freedoms as well. 

The corporate lobby also thrives on anonymity. Corporations protect their brands by hiding behind industry associations, such as state-affiliates of the national Chambers of Commerce, Retail Federation, Restaurant Association and Apartment Association.. The agribusiness lobby is especially good at concealing its true interests; capitalizing on romantic ideals of family farms and the fact that the majority of Americans now live far from farm life. Groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation, a pro-big business insurance company, and state-based groups such as “Oregonians for Food and Shelter,” a front group for the agro-chemical lobby, acclaim to represent farmer interests while actually promoting policies that run roughshod over rural communities, the environment, and public health – meanwhile asserting that anyone who opposes them is an out-of-touch urbanite. All of these front groups lead efforts to lobby policymakers on behalf of a small group of multinational corporations, despite claims that they represent small businesses. 

Despite what their public relations teams may claim, major corporations are deeply entrenched in the so-called “culture wars” as well, designed to both divide communities and deny economic opportunity. The same coordinated network of extremist billionaires, think tanks, and corporations pushing state laws to privatize public education, bust public sector unions, and roll back child labor protections are also working to erase Black history and criminalize queer kids. Extremist billionaires like the DeVos family, the Uline family, and Koch brothers, and the think-tanks they finance like the Foundation for Government Accountability, The Heritage Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are just a few of the players involved in this strategy. While rigging the economy to their benefit with model policy, this same network is dismantling our freedom to vote, fueling election denial conspiracies, and pushing for a radical rewrite of the United States constitution.

This network promotes a false narrative that “government doesn’t work,” to erode people’s trust in government, leading to less engagement and further justification for the privatization they profit from, with our public dollars. We argue that our government is working very efficiently, but not for people– for corporations and their shareholders. By challenging corporate power, we reclaim control of our public institutions and build governments that work with, by, and for people. 

How do we challenge corporate power? 

We know that corporate power poisons every industry and impacts every facet of our lives. So how do we effectively challenge corporate power in the states? Our strategy consists of five key pillars:

1) Educate: We consistently educate legislators and partners on the past and present crisis of corporate power in the United States. We demonstrate the interconnectedness of our fights, the long-term and cross-state coordination of the corporate agenda, identify emergent threats and opportunities, and connect the dots of the corporate agenda not just in the economy, but in strengthening white supremacy, ideological extremism, and threatening our democracy. We also dream and build an economy that puts people before corporate power. 

2) Name Opponents: Effective campaigns have clearly identified and tangible villains. We are up against a coordinated and cynical machine of corporations, billionaires, and extremist front groups who find power in anonymity. We must name who is financing these campaigns, as well as their financial contributions to lobbying and elections. By exposing the coordinated network we are up against, we weaken their power and undercut their divide-and-conquer tactics. 

3) Organize: We organize state legislators in collaboration with the communities most impacted by these policy choices. We build broad, people-centered, multi-racial and multi-issue coalitions that name corporate power at the root of our challenges. We organize in-state and cross-state to facilitate peer-learning and multi-state strategy taking on corporate power. Recognizing that corporate interests have long promoted rural/urban culture wars and antagonism as a way to strengthen their position, our Cohort for Rural Opportunity and Prosperity helps state legislators be bold champions for progressive policies in rural and agriculture spaces that are typically dominated by legislators beholden to corporate interests.  

4) Policy Campaigns: Policy campaigns come from the grassroots, reflecting the dreams of communities most impacted by corporate power. There are countless policy campaigns taking on corporate power, from workers rights, rent control and right to repair, to holding corporations accountable, ending private prison contracts and busting corporate monopolies; legislators should be key organizing partners with  communities leading the charge. All policy campaigns help to build a cohesive state and national narrative. Defensive fights undermine the faux populist narrative leveraged by extremists and create a platform that speaks directly to the material needs of working families. Offensive campaigns offer real-world models for how the government can offer meaningful services directly to people.

5) Collaborative Governance: Our organizing model centers directly-impacted people working alongside and acting as key decision-makers with state policymakers. This includes policy drafting, passage, and implementation. Co-governance advances racial, gender, and economic justice while restoring trust in a government, by improving the material conditions of people and providing services better than corporations can. Ultimately, we seek to build an economy that serves people by promoting public options, fully-funded safety nets, and well-resourced state agencies. 

The work ahead: 

It’s hard to overstate the influence of corporations in every aspect of our lives. From our freedom to vote to the price of groceries; the cost of housing and healthcare to the curriculum we teach in schools; child labor and the right of workers to organize; the climate crisis, immigrant detention, and mass incarceration– you will find corporate influence at nearly at every level of government , undermining our public institutions to centralize power and profits at the expense of our livelihoods and freedoms. 

After a year of planning, partner cultivation, and strategy development, SiX formally launched our Challenging Corporate Power Initiative at our 2023 Accelerator Conference. We organized legislators and partners from across 16 states and DC to learn about the far-reaching impacts of corporate monopolies on workers, consumers, and local businesses, and how we can build an economy that works for us all.

We began the convening with a history of corporate power in the United States, fromour Rural, Agriculture & Food Systems team. The presentation links the concentration of corporate power to white supremacy and the foundation of the US economy, including the genocide of and landgrab from Indigenous people and the exploitation of Africans and Black Americans trafficked into the slave trade. With that foundation, we demonstrated how both everyday people and elected officials have successfully taken on corporate power to advance justice, how corporate power has fought back, and brought us to the present crisis we are in now. 

With legislators inspired by the convening, we launched a sign-on letter in partnership with the American Economic Liberties Project (AELP), rallying legislators behind the federal government's draft corporate merger guidelines. In less than a week, we secured 56 state legislators from 22 states in support of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed corporate merger guidelines.

As legislative sessions grind on, our team is on the ground and working across state lines to organize lawmakers, workers, and local businesses and leverage legislatures to fight back in ways that advance justice and build long term, durable power. We invite you to join us in this effort to challenge corporate power in our state capitols and our communities, towards a future where people, not multinational corporations, have what they need to thrive.

Acknowledgement: Gratitude to our Agriculture & Food Systems team members Kendra Kimbirakuskas and Siena Chrisman, for their work, and contributions to this piece. 

SiX Holds Innovations Accelerator Conference in Denver

SiX Holds Innovations Accelerator Conference in Denver

By: Ida Eskamani, Senior Director, Legislative Affairs

We just held our second-ever Innovations Accelerator Conference, bringing together over 150 legislators and movement partners from 29 states to strategize on our work to advance tax justice, gender justice, paid family and medical leave, and taking on corporate monopolies. 


SiX joins with movement partners and Legislators at the 2023 Accelerator Conference in Denver. 

We are incredibly proud of the diverse states we convened on various issue-specific tracks, from Alaska to Florida and everywhere in between.  

Here are a few highlights from the conference:

We are grateful to the state and national organizations we collaborated with to organize the conference – including the Progressive Governance Academy. We could not have done this work without our sponsors: the Economic Security Project, National Women’s Law Center, Women’s Democracy Lab, and State Revenue Alliance

As we continue building momentum from this conference, we invite you to explore our latest publication, “States Leading on Leave: A Playbook on Winning Paid Family and Medical Leave," released in partnership with A Better Balance and New America. Based on lessons learned from state lawmakers and advocates, the playbook outlines strategies around expanding paid family and medical leave (PFML) laws in state legislatures nationwide. It provides guidance for coalition building and management, campaign strategy, policy design, and planning for successful implementation, drawn from SiX’s experts and interviews with state legislators and advocates who have recently won PFML enactment in DE, ME, MD, MN, and OR. 

Check out the playbook at:

Pressure's On: How SiX Legislators are Fighting Back

Pressure's On: How SiX Legislators are Fighting Back

By: Nahal Zamani, Senior Vice President, State Strategy & Services

Across the country many statehouses have wrapped up their legislative sessions, and have faced extraordinary challenges along the way. SiX’s network of legislators engages in a strategic deliberation each legislative session by responding to immediate threats and the onslaught of attacks on our rights, while also daring to be visionary. This is never an easy balance.

Below, we share significant learnings and moments from this year’s legislative session: 

When anti-abortion lawmakers came after bodily autonomy, SiX’s network of legislators was on the frontlines.

This June, our SiX Reproductive Rights team premiered Fractured, a five-part, first-of-its-kind docuseries spotlighting legislators in action amid one of the most contentious and monumental fights of our lifetime. 

c1Be8v9wFLdCXna7aZYJ6Wi5sx48kfuTv yUaob2mXtwzp9qtxxVH17ekNWNquEnpGUJRCrRWnZPQN5umfxIVV pFDEOghUg OiUopLUKrrBDvRYLBDIVqOk 9GkoxUZromMnmnjFAG7dHZ75 DKTv4

Caption: North Carolina Sen. Natalie Murdock, Former Kentucky Rep. Attica Scott, and Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, all participants in the Fractured docuseries, hold pañuelos verde, a symbol of solidarity with the transnational movement for abortion rights ignited in Argentina.

Fractured captures lawmakers from our Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, medical professionals, faith leaders, and activists mounting a response to the most dire assault on abortion rights in decades. At a time when Americans’ fundamental rights are increasingly under threat from authoritarian forces, Fractured showcased a cross-section of elected officials who work with communities, not against them; support bodily autonomy, not undermine it; and inspire hope, not cynicism. 

This legislative session, our Reproductive Rights team worked closely with legislators and movement partners to advance and protect abortion access across the country. Despite consistent public opinion in support of legal abortion, abortion is banned in 13 states, leaving large regions of the country without abortion care and contributing to increased wait times at clinics in states where abortion remains legal. Some states are further testing the legal limits of the post-Roe landscape by passing extreme restrictions, such as a ban on helping a young person travel out of state to access legal abortion care. Find out more in our latest publication, The State Abortion Policy Landscape One Year Post-Roe, in partnership with the Guttmacher Institute

Lastly, states like GA, TX, MS, and MO expanded postpartum Medicaid coverage, an issue that has been championed by Black women legislators and reproductive justice groups for years. And in a major win, over-the-counter and pharmacist-prescribed birth control was expanded in states like IL, NV, NY, and MD.

We championed working families and advanced economic justice.

In May, a strong comprehensive paid family and medical leave insurance program was signed into law in MN, making it the first midwestern state to pass paid family and medical leave. Under the new program, most workers in the state will be able to take up to 20 weeks of job-protected paid leave if they qualify. This legislation was led by Sen. Alice Mann and Rep. Ruth Richardson, members of SiX’s Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) Legislator Cohort Project.

Earlier this month, ME became the 13th state, along with D.C., to pass paid family and medical leave legislation. Under this legislation, nearly all workers in ME will be entitled to up to 12 weeks of paid leave each year if they qualify. This legislation was also led by our cohort members, Sen. Maddie Daughtry and Rep. Kristen Cloutier. Similarly,  MI repealed its  anti-worker ‘right-to-work’ law; NV and VT passed state-sponsored retirement savings plans; and MN passed a new antitrust law establishing a “public interest standard” for hospital mergers,  protecting access to care and workers’ collective bargaining power. 

The fight continues in all states, and as we celebrate the victories, we also recognize that working families faced a plethora of regressive legislative proposals, too. IA and AR passed dangerous laws weakening child labor protections; FL passed legislation undermining public sector unions' right to organize, and TX passed an omnibus preemption law erasing countless local laws, including heat stress protections for outdoor workers. 

We remained steadfast in our commitment to advocate for Black farmers and rural communities against corporate lobbyists.

We hosted U.S. Sen. Cory Booker’s staff for a Justice for Black Farmers: Where Are We Now? Webinar, focusing on the Justice for Black Farmers Act and how to advance farmer equity in the states. The SiX Agriculture & food systems team also supported legislators who organized alongside advocates and impacted individuals to advance farmer equity bills, including a Black farmer breakfast for legislators in GA and Black Farmer Lobby days in NC and IL. This work demonstrates the power that comes from legislators and advocates working in partnership to advance good policy forward. 

For the past two years in OR, rural community members, advocates, and legislators have been attempting to strengthen the way the state regulates mega livestock operations or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) in order to protect rural communities and the environment from the negative impacts associated with raising massive numbers of animals in confinement. SiX  partnered with local impacted communities to host a legislator tour of proposed poultry CAFO sites, leading to a working group examining shortcomings with how states regulated mega livestock operations and culminating with the introduction of the CAFO Moratorium bill. This bill, despite being amended and weakened due in part to pressure from the corporate agribusiness lobby, demonstrates what can be achieved when legislators work directly with impacted communities, farmers, and advocates instead of corporate lobbyists.  

Protecting democracy remains a crucible for our work together.

Democracy remains under threat. This legislative session, CT expanded early in-person voting, preclearance requirements for problematic jurisdictions, expanded language assistance, increased protections against discrimination in voting, and instituted  a civil offense for poll worker intimidation; ME expanded mail ballot access for caregivers and people with disabilities, and instituted  automatic voter registration; in AL, compensation for election clerks and inspectors was raised; NV created a new reservation based polling system; and in AR, we saw increased flexibility for overseas voters returning ballots and for election officials to establish vote centers. CT, MN, and NM passed state Voting Rights Acts. We also remain extraordinarily proud of the leadership of the legislators of Southern Freedom to Vote Alliance who are working across the South to advance democracy.

As we saw in the resolution of crucial U.S. Supreme Court cases, state legislators remain at the front lines of how we protect our freedom to vote and uphold the tenets of our democracy. 

We fought back against the passage of anti-LGBTQ+ laws that were both heinous and insidious.

This session, we also saw efforts to protect access to gender affirming care, expand existing civil rights provisions, and ban conversion therapy. When anti-LGBTQ fights in FL spread outside the state into NC, SiX connected advocates on the ground in FL to both NC and GA to learn best practices and build off of our collective work. 

SiX has maintained a deep focus on organizing and caucus work, especially with regard to racial, gender, and LGBTQ identity. We believe that supporting and empowering identity caucuses is one of the most powerful strategies for legislators to reshape the center of power in their respective legislatures, and to ultimately build long-term durable power for their communities. From helping launch the first LGBTQ caucus in NV, to coordinating public support from all four identity caucuses in CO for the Equal Pay bill, to garnering support from members to speak up for OK State Rep. Mauree Turner and MT State Rep. Zooey Zephyr after they faced calls for censure for defending the rights and dignity of transgender, non-binary, and intersex people – SiX is embedded with our caucus members and chairs. 

The road ahead.

While we may have struggled, each and every one of us consistently showed up and engaged to fight for our values and defend our freedoms. What some consider to be “legislative losses,” SiX sees opportunities for guiding how we must work and govern differently. Together, we must look forward and strategize with our movement partners and our legislator network to shape the country we want to live in. 

This is co-governance at its finest.

Legislator Spotlight: TN Minority Leader Karen Camper

Karen Camper has represented Tennessee's District 87 for over twelve years and is the first African American House Democratic leader in the state's history. She sits on the House Finance Ways and Means Committee, House Business and Utilities Committee, Ethics Committee, House Rules Committee, and Joint Pensions and Insurance Committee.

This interview is part of a series for No Democracy Without Black Women, a report about the underrepresentation of Black women in state legislatures.

What drove you to become a leader in the Tennessee House of Representatives?

 I started my life on the southside of Chicago, where I was very involved in school and in my community. My mother and grandmother set that tone and expected success. I have lived these values of being active in my community since I was young. I was an activist in college, demanding that the college divest from interests in South Africa over apartheid, and after college I volunteered to serve my country in the United States Army. 

In my role as a State Representative, I make sure that the people in my community have their voices heard and that we have a seat at any table where decisions are made. This drive propelled me into leadership.

What role do you see Black women playing in state legislatures? And what makes Black women so well suited at this moment to lead?

When we look at the future of our country and how to make things better, one of the most important challenges we must tackle is to make sure that every stakeholder has a seat at the table. It doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. We all need to be able to talk to each other about what is really important—community, family, opportunity, fairness, justice.  

I think Black women are well-positioned to lead because we have our roots in community, we know how to build bridges, and we know how to lead in the face of adversity. I know how important it is to spend time meeting with people in my community to make sure they all have a voice in crafting our policy priorities.

There are techniques and strategies that you can use as a leader, and part of it is recognizing your strengths and using them to advocate for your constituents. You also have to remember people come from various walks of life, they all come here out of their love and commitment to the mission. Everyone can contribute. I've walked in that mindset here in the Tennessee General Assembly. 

I have had strong mentors and I think that is incredibly important as you navigate this world.  Keep following your path, reach out for help and guidance when you need it and the rest will come along. 

Looking back over the last few years, could you share a victory that was particularly meaningful?

It is always important to show up and fight every day for your values. I advocate for justice and equality for all human beings. Just three years ago, I collaborated with my colleagues in the Tennessee General Assembly to officially recognize Rosa Parks Day in Tennessee. This acknowledgment was as much a reminder to future generations of Tennesseans as it was a tribute to the past. Three of the four Minority Leadership members in the House and Senate are African American, and two of us are women.. As the two highest-ranked women of color in Tennessee’s legislative history, we recognize that our work would not have been possible without the sacrifices of people who were persecuted for exercising their civil rights and the millions who continue to march in the spirit of equality. The ideals Rosa Parks embodied are those that I continue to fight for today.

Legislator Spotlight: Maryland Speaker Adrienne A. Jones

Adrienne Jones is the first woman and first African-American Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. In 2021, she introduced and passed an ambitious set of bills to address health and financial disparities in Black communities. This interview is part of a series for No Democracy Without Black Women, a report about the underrepresentation of Black women in state legislatures.

You have successfully reached the heights of leadership in the Maryland legislature. What propelled your trajectory to becoming Maryland Speaker of the House?

Throughout my career, I worked hard to take advantage of the opportunities that have been presented to me – from my transition from the central committee to delegate and Speaker Pro-Tempore to Speaker of the House. 

After graduating from UMBC, I was unsure about my career goals but knew I wanted to make a difference. I applied and was accepted into a federal government program that helped recent college graduates find their first job. Just six months after I graduated from college, I began working for Baltimore County government. My first position was a Clerk III serving as an Assistant to the Assistant Director of Central Service. A few years later, I joined the Baltimore County Executive’s Office as an aide where I discovered my love for public service. 

While I continued to work for Baltimore County, I volunteered on several political campaigns, served on numerous community service boards and commissions, and was appointed as a Member Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee.

In 1997, following the death of one of the Delegates in the 10th district, I was encouraged by my Senator Delores Kelley and then County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger to apply for her vacant Delegate seat. But finally agreed to compete for the seat in a crowded field of 16 other candidates and I was appointed in October of 1997 by Speaker Casper Taylor. I subsequently ran for re-election in 1998, won and have won every reelection since then.

On November 20, 2002 at 8:30pm, I received a call from then Chairman Michael Busch that changed everything. He told me that he was going to run for the Speaker position and asked if I would run with him as his Speaker Pro Tem. I told him yes right away, and he and I were Speaker and Speaker Pro Tem for 16 years until his death in April of 2019.

Following Speaker Busch’s death, I was unanimously elected by the full House of Delegates to become Speaker of the House. My story serves as a lesson that you never know who is watching, and you never know when opportunities will become available to you.

What challenges did you face in your rise to leadership?

Initially, I was reluctant to compete for the delegate seat because I was caring for my sick mother, but finally agreed. After being a Delegate for a few years, I would ask myself, “Did I make a mistake?” There weren’t enough women or people of color serving with me. In this country there have been only two other Black women as Speakers in their states—current Congresswoman Karen Bass and New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver. I spent late nights in my office reading bills only to get on the House floor and hear some men talk loudly and say nothing in their floor remarks. It’s important that women – particularly women of color – have a voice in government. I’m reminded of the old expression “If not you, who? If not now, when?”

You introduced the Black Agenda this legislative session. Can you elaborate on the impact the policies will have on Black communities post COVID-19, especially how they will address the wealth gap?

Absolutely. The Black Agenda is a comprehensive approach to providing more economic opportunity and upward mobility for more Black Marylanders. It targets five key areas including health, housing, corporate management, business, and government. It will have a lasting impact, not just as we recover from COVID. 

The most common large investment of any American family is a home, but redlining mortgage rates and banking investments since the New Deal have left Black families in Maryland without this valuable wealth creation tool. As a result, we passed a bill that creates tax-free savings accounts for all first-time homebuyers. We passed a bill preventing housing loan and credit applicants from being denied if they can provide alternate forms of creditworthiness, like a history of rent payments or utility payments. We also passed a bill requiring Maryland companies to report on the racial diversity of their boards to demonstrate diversity in their membership, leadership, or mission in order to qualify for state capital funding tax credit contracts over $1 million. Another part of the agenda is declaring racism a public health crisis and requiring health workers to undergo healthy equity and bias training. 

I'm seeing a difference after this legislation was passed. I'm looking forward to doing more to ensure that no communities will be left out. Everyone should have the opportunity to build wealth in Maryland and across the country.  

Legislator Spotlight: TN State Senator Raumesh Akbari

Senator Raumesh Akbari is the first African American chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus in the Tennessee Legislature. She serves on the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and the Senate Education Committee. Akbari has represented the 29th District since 2018 and previously represented the 91st District as a state representative from 2014 to 2018.

This interview is part of a series for No Democracy Without Black Women, a report about the underrepresentation of Black women in state legislatures.

What compelled you to run for office as a millennial?

I was one of those weirdos that knew early on that I wanted to run for elected office. As far back as middle school, I knew I wanted to run because I thought, “If you don't like the way the law is, you have to change it.” I was inspired by the National Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King, and all of the folks protesting for the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That really motivated me.

Over the years, I saw a lot of problems in my community and people shared their concerns with me. I knew that actually having a seat at the table where legislation is being made would give me an opportunity to make a direct impact. You can raise awareness of an issue, get people’s attention, and then really make change with legislation. When I first got elected, I was the youngest member in the legislature and I knew that was an important role to fill.

How did you become acclimated to the transition to working in the legislature as an elected official?

I ran for the Senate in 2018 and now serve as the Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman, and I'm the first Black woman to be in that role. I understand that I'm not just there for myself and the things that are important to me, but I am also there to represent other Black women and encourage other Black women. Now for the first time ever, we have three Black women in the State Senate.

I'm here, I have a seat at the table and I represent the people who elected me. I did not over promise and I knew there were some good things that I could pass. I also recognized that even while I'm in the super minority, it's about building relationships. Building relationships is the key to actually passing legislation.

As far as my priorities go, I've tried to lean into three main areas: criminal justice reform, education reform, and economic development. I think those issues really translate across the aisle and will also make a big difference for people in my district.

Every day is a different day. This work is not for the faint of heart. It's difficult, it's heavy. Look, you can do this, but you have to know there’s a lot of work that comes along with it.

You have been an advocate for criminal justice reform. Where do you see the political landscape shifting around rights restoration and prison gerrymandering?

We've been talking about prison gerrymandering and restoration of rights for a long time. Our situation in Tennessee is particularly unfair. We are the only state in the entire union that if you exit the justice system and have child support payments still, you have to pay them before you can have your voting rights restored. You also have to pay your fines and fees before you can register to vote.

What happened in the Florida legislature after the victory for rights restoration on the ballot in 2018 was modeled off of Tennessee’s laws. Republicans in the Florida legislature rolled back that victory and the vote of the people with fines and fees and other language meant to dissuade eligible voters from voting. Other southern states also target Black and brown voters with requirements to pay all your fines and fees before you can vote. 

Unfortunately, I feel that many legislators are taking steps backwards in Tennessee when it comes to criminal justice reform, but that doesn’t mean we will stop the fight. With the organizing that happened within the Black Lives Matter movement and the national recognition and investment to change these laws, I am hopeful. There are activists and advocates who will not give up this fight.

Legislator Spotlight: TN State Rep. London Lamar

Representative London Lamar is the youngest female legislator in the 112th Tennessee General Assembly. She serves as Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus and sits on the Finance, Ways and Means, and Criminal Justice committees. Lamar has represented the 91st District since 2018.

This interview is part of a series for No Democracy Without Black Women, a report about the underrepresentation of Black women in state legislatures.

What compelled you to run for office?

I've always wanted to run for office. I spent most of my twenties building up an apparatus for young people to take part in the political process and build up their leadership skills.  I always felt like we can make change no matter where we are, no matter what community we live in. If we truly want to change society, we have to put ourselves in positions of leadership. 

I am now the youngest woman in the Tennessee General Assembly, and I've been able to show young people what happens when you put yourself in a position to make substantial change. Those who came up under my leadership are now serving in elected offices themselves. As millennials, we have to hold each other accountable for taking part in the political process because it works. And we can make change. We are getting things done.

How do you feel about the current state of millennial engagement in politics especially for Black women?

The world is finally taking notice of the beauty of our intelligence, of our voices, of what we have, and how we bring that to the table. We are able to use technology like social media to get our stories out there and make sure people are listening to us and hearing our stories. For example, I'm bringing moms and women into my brand and my social media, because I'm in the legislature fighting for policies for moms. I have a track record of being a leader and fighting for these issues, and you see it all in front of your face on social media, so I’m able to connect with more people than ever before.

What do you feel is your greatest asset as a Black, millennial, woman legislator?

My voice. The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. And if anybody understands that and can articulate the inequities in this system, it is us. And so for me, my voice is so powerful, my experiences are so powerful, the stories of my community are so powerful. And when I’m able to bring those stories and those real-life experiences to the work that I do, especially in my role as an elected official to truly impact policy—to me, that's my greatest asset. Black women are in this fight for justice, in this fight for equity in this country, so we must be at the forefront. Who better to fix it than us?

What ways do you think Black women need to be supported as it relates to public health overall?

We must take Black maternal health seriously. I fight for reproductive justice in my community, my city, and my state. This is a real public health crisis that we must bring to light.  Insurance companies must cover the full range of reproductive health options and women must have full autonomy over their decision-making, which includes their ability to have a child or not have a child. Women must be able to live free from judgment and any other government restrictions that deny you the right to make your own choice about your body. 

We also must focus on ensuring access to mental health services. This pandemic has exposed the need for more mental health counselors and enhanced insurance coverage for a breadth and depth of services. We need to take care of ourselves physically and emotionally. 

Q&A: What is Redistricting and How Will It Affect NC?

This Q&A is excerpted from a State Innovation Exchange telephone townhall featuring North Carolina State Reps. Terry M. Brown Jr. and Brian Turner. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What is redistricting? 

State Rep. Terry Brown Jr.: Redistricting is the process states use to draw the maps that determine which district you live in. 

As per our Constitution, district lines are redrawn every 10 years based on new census data. And North Carolina is in the redistricting process right now.

Why is redistricting important? 

State Rep. Terry Brown Jr.: Redistricting is important because you want representatives in the North Carolina General Assembly or up in DC to reflect the community that you live in. With the new census numbers, we're also getting another congressional seat. So that's going to be a huge change for us. 

We want to make sure that we redraw districts in the fairest way possible, and the only way to do that is by showing how many people in North Carolina care about this. 

So I encourage everyone to make sure that you, your friends, and your family are engaged in this process. Go to; there's a tab called "Redistricting" on the right-hand side where you can leave public comments.

Every single member of the House and Senate gets those [public comments]. They may not always respond, but they always see them. And I've been in committee meetings where members pause the process just because they've received so many emails. There's power in that.

How would you like to see North Carolina expand access to voting?

State Rep. Brian Turner: The best thing we can do is get rid of the voter ID requirement. But if it withstands the court challenge, and we have to live with it, I'd want to see the broadest number of IDs eligible to be used, like college student IDs or utility bills. I think it goes a long way to making sure that people have access to the ballot.

 State Rep. Terry Brown Jr.: I'd like to see North Carolina continue practices that we had during the pandemic, like when we allowed voter registration through the North Carolina DMV system online. It's important to meet people where they are.

I also want to see expanded early voting locations and hours. The reasons I hear most from people who don't vote is that they didn't have time, didn't know where polling places were located or weren't aware of the elections.

Some politicians in states like Georgia want to create barriers to voting. Are you concerned that some of those threats will come back to North Carolina?

State Rep. Terry Brown Jr.: The threat is always going to be there. If one state is doing something, several other states are not too far behind. We have had some very bad bills introduced here in North Carolina, but luckily, not to the same extent as we've seen in Georgia.

That's why this redistricting process is so important. The maps will determine the future of our state and what type of policies are introduced for the next ten years. 

Submit a Public Comment at

Submit a public comment about the ongoing redistricting process in North Carolina.

Find Your State Legislators

Who's your voice at the state capitol? Find your state legislators with our easy-to-use tool.

Mary Lou from Charlotte believes that voter ID is a good thing. Can share how voter ID laws affect voter access in North Carolina?

State Rep. Brian Turner: During my first election in 2014, I was working the polls out in Leicester, a rural area in Buncombe County. And many of the voters only came to town once or twice a year and didn't have a driver's license. They're like my grandma, who was born in Flag Pond, Tennessee, on a farm.

These are folks who don't have access to IDs because they don't need them in their day-to-day lives. And just because you don't participate in our economy the way others do, it shouldn't disqualify you from having your voice heard. Your vote counts just as much as anybody else.

Sometimes we have to revisit some of the assumptions in our lives. I've been used to having an ID my whole life. But there are plenty of folks out there who have never had one. I think we need to be sensitive and recognize that. 

What does the right to vote mean to you?

On November 3rd 1992, the day after my 18th birthday, I walked down to my local polling place. I was first in line, I was so excited to vote, to have a chance to decide who was going to be our president, our senator, our county commissioner. It really empowered me.

And that's something that I want to make sure that everybody in North Carolina has the opportunity to do. I want to make sure that when they walk into a polling place, that they're not being asked six different questions, all with the intent of keeping them from casting their ballot. That is something that I'm going to fight for as long as I'm in the General Assembly. 

There's nothing more basic to our democracy than being able to vote, and it's being threatened. But it will not be undone. Because you've got folks like me, like Rep. Brown, and a bunch of others in Raleigh, who are fighting to make sure that it is preserved.

Connect with your elected leaders

(If you don't know who your state legislators are, look them up using our tool!)

Rep. Terry M. Brown Jr.

Terry M. Brown Jr.

NC State Representative

North Carolina Rep. Brian Turner

Brian Turner

nc State Representative

What We're Reading & Watching: Back-to-School Edition

As summer winds down and students of all ages prepare for a new school year, we've created our very own back-to-school "curriculum." Here are SiX staffers recommendations for what to read or watch this fall.

Jump to:
📚 Nonfiction Books
🪄 Fiction Books
💭 Other Reads
📺 TV Shows
🎥 Films

What We're Reading

Nonfiction books

Fiction Books

Other Reads

What We're Watching



8 Bold Laws State Legislators Passed This Year

Every legislative session brings its share of twists, turns, and unique hurdles. But 2021 greeted state legislators with an exceptionally challenging session marked by a worsening pandemic and sluggish economy. Despite unprecedented barriers and growing community needs, state lawmakers delivered victories for working people, and even passed laws that seemed unimaginable a few short years ago.

Here are eight of the boldest progressive laws state legislators passed this legislative session.

Virginia passes its own Voting Rights Act

For nearly fifty years, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 acted as a guardrail, steering states away from Jim Crow policies and closer to realizing the principle of "one person, one vote." But in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a vital part of the law, clearing the way for states with a history of voter suppression to change laws without federal approval. The ruling opened the floodgates to a sea of polling place closures, voter ID laws, and other anti-voter regulations that continue to this day.

As voting rights advocates work to formalize and reinstate voter protections at the federal level, Virginia legislators stepped up to adopt a voting rights act for their state. The first-of-its-kind, the Voting Rights Act of Virginia requires pre-approval before election changes and expressly outlaws racial voter discrimination.

Three white primary election voters arrive at polling place in Arlington Virginia. Sign reads, "Vote. Photo ID Required."
Primary election voters arrive passing “Photo ID Required sign” on the way to polling place in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo: Rob Crandall / Shutterstock)

Maine requires a racial impact analysis of new laws

More Americans than ever realize that even seemingly "race-neutral" laws and customs can disproportionately impact people of color. Maine is one of many states to embrace our national reckoning with race and use it as an opportunity to pass anti-racist progressive policy.

Shortly after becoming the first Black woman to serve a leadership role in Maine's legislature, Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross sponsored a first-of-its-kind racial impact assessment law.  Just as many legislatures evaluate bills for fiscal impact, the new law requires state lawmakers to analyze all proposed bills for impacts on marginalized communities. The law, which will be piloted in the 2022 legislative session, helps make racial equity a central component of the legislative process rather than an afterthought.

Colorado creates a “bill of rights” for farmworkers

One of the biggest triumphs of Colorado's historic legislative session is the "Farmworkers’ Bill of Rights," a law that will overhaul protections for Colorado farm laborers. Because agriculture workers have historically been excluded from many rights that other working people enjoy, they experience disproportionate levels of poverty and fatal work injuries.

California, New York, and Washington have made significant strides to protect farm laborers, but no state has enacted a policy as comprehensive as Colorado's new law. The Farmworkers’ Bill of Rights will require that farmworkers be paid the state minimum wage—$12.32 per hour—rather than the federal rate of $7.25. The legislation will also ensure that Colorado's nearly 40,000 farmworkers receive overtime pay, have the right to organize, and can take meal breaks and rest periods.

Farm laborers harvest strawberries in field
California farm laborers harvest strawberries. (Photo: Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

Nevada waives college tuition for Native American residents

One in three Americans over the age of 25 has a Bachelor's degree, compared to only 14% of Native Americans. While not the only barrier to college enrollment, college affordability is a substantial burden for Native communities, which have the highest poverty rate in the United States.

A recent law will waive tuition and fees at Nevada's two-year and four-year state colleges for enrolled members of any of the state's 27 tribes. The legislation also grants in-state tuition to members of federally recognized tribes outside of Nevada.

Though the tuition waiver cannot undo the harms inflicted upon indigenous Nevadans, it is an important step in the state's long-overdue process of repairing generations of state-sponsored violence.

Maryland leads the way on police reform

In 1974, Maryland became the first state in the nation to enact a "bill of rights" for police officers. This year, Maryland made history again, but this time for becoming the first state in the nation to overturn its Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

With an ambitious package of reforms championed by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, Maryland is rising to the forefront of states reimagining the role of policing. The law, which passed in the wake of Derek Chauvin's trial, also bans no-knock-warrants, and establishes one of the nation's strictest use of force policies. 

Demonstrators raise their fists during a Black Lives Matter protest on Veteran Plaza in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland
Demonstrators raise their fists during a Black Lives Matter protest on Veteran Plaza in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland (Joao Kermadec / Shutterstock)

New Mexico protects abortion rights

In a year when state legislatures considered over 550 bills to restrict abortion, New Mexico legislators bucked the trend by repealing an outdated abortion statute. The 1969 law was not being enforced, but it left New Mexicans vulnerable to a rollback in reproductive rights if the Supreme Court overturned its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

The move underscores the importance of proactively defending the right to abortion care, regardless of what cases are on the Supreme Court's docket.

Washington State makes the wealthy pay their fair share

Washington's new capital gains tax is a monumental victory for working people. For decades, Washington’s upside-down tax code favored the wealthy at the expense of the lowest earners in the state: a 2018 report found that Washington's regressive tax system was the least equitable in the entire country. Beginning in 2022, a new capital gains tax will begin rebalancing the tax code in a way that benefits all Washingtonians.

The legislation will generate an estimated $445 million each year by imposing a 7% tax on profits exceeding $250,000 from the sale of stocks and other investments. Washington will funnel the newly generated funds into the state's struggling public schools.

Black father playing with daughter on playground slide
A father plays on the slide with his daughter at a public city park in Tacoma, Washington. (iStock)

Illinois abolishes cash bail

Activists and researchers have long known that the system of cash bail is inherently biased against low-income defendants. When faced with costly bail or an indefinite stay in one of our nation's inhumane jails, many Americans without means are coerced into a plea bargain, regardless of guilt.

Though several states have reformed cash bail, efforts to pass an outright ban have fallen short—until this year. In February, Illinois became the first state in the country to abolish the use of money bail. The landmark new law, championed by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and organizations like End Money Bond, passed alongside a sweeping criminal justice reform package.

Legislator Spotlight: State Senator Kesha Ram

This interview originally appeared on The Brown Girls Guide to Politics in a series spotlighting women of color state legislators who navigated the unprecedented influx of racist, anti-democratic, anti-abortion, and anti-transgender legislation introduced in 2021.

What made you fall in love with politics?

Politics shaped my family's journey and where they landed when I came into the world. My father's family fled the partition of India when it became Pakistan. My mother’s family fled the transition of Eastern Europe and the persecution of the Jews. And so, these global political upheavals shaped where their families ended up, and what that meant for their life and potential, and allowed me to access the American Dream.

When I was a child, I became more keenly aware of the ways that economic policy shaped their potential and opportunities. My mother is a Jewish woman, my father is an Indian immigrant. And when they found resources to open an Irish pub in Los Angeles, it came from the Women's Bank of Los Angeles, because there was a policy commitment to women's financial access to capital. When I was younger, and my parents got divorced, being on the free lunch program, I could take the SATs for free and access college. So I became aware over time that good policies were really important things that made my life, and my potential, able to be realized.

Vermont State Senator Ram in front of Vermont state legislature
State Senator Ram in front of Vermont state legislature in January 2021 (Photo: Facebook)

And then, when I was a sophomore in college, Bernie Sanders was running for the US Senate for the first time and wanted to have a huge event on campus to encourage young people to vote and kick off his campaign. At the time, he couldn’t draw thousands of people as he can now, so he invited this rockstar—a senator from Illinois, Barack Obama—to come to join him on stage. And the event drew in 7,000 people, which is more than 1% of Vermont’s population. And they said, you know, we don't have any women on stage. My friend was the campus organizer for Bernie and he was like, “I know just the person. She's really not afraid to speak up.” And so I introduced Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders as a sophomore, and Barack Obama in his speech said, “You know what, Bernie, if you don't behave yourself, we're gonna run Kesha for the Senate instead of you.” And it was the first time anyone encouraged me to run for office. All of a sudden, with a father from India and a mother from Illinois, I saw someone who had a father from Kenya, and a mother from Kansas, who had a story like mine, and I thought, “Oh, I'm not that complicated. I'm not too complicated to be in the political arena.” And it really changed everything for me.

Was this the moment you decided to run for office?

There was more to it. I went to Washington, DC, worked for Dianne Feinstein for a summer, came back to school, and ran for student body president. And all of a sudden, I was on people's radar, because when you're University of Vermont student body president, you often represent more people than a state legislator does in Vermont.

My friend, Rachel Weston, who had been the Graduate Student Senate President, had become a legislator at 26 and she kept encouraging me to run. She explained the mechanics of it to me and she had been mentored by Governor Madeleine Kunin.

It was women who gave me that real sense that it was possible. It's easier for men, even Barack Obama, who I love, to tell me, “You should run for office, go for it,” but I had a lot of women in my life who said, “These are the roadblocks you're going to hit and we're here to help you get over them.”

A record number of statehouses passed laws attacking abortion, democracy, and LGBTQ+ rights this year—but Vermont was an outlier. What piece of legislation are you most proud of passing?

One of the things that I'm most proud of is banning the suspension and expulsion of small children from school. I had introduced similar legislation in 2014, that banned expulsion of children under eight and I was almost laughed out of the building. The unions wouldn't support it and everyone was saying this is pretty much impossible to change.

But this year, when introducing a ban on expulsion for young children, I had legislative colleagues who said, “Let's add suspension. Why are we suspending six- and seven-year-olds?” So what happened between 2014 and now? I haven't changed what I fight for. I'm doing the same things I was then, but I was a troublemaker and kind of an outlier. And now there are coalitions built around the state. There's a racial reckoning happening in the country. And all I say to people is I haven't changed, the culture of accountability has changed, and we can't let it change back.

Tell us about banning the "LGBTQ+ Panic Defense" in Vermont.

One of my closest friends and someone who inspires me every day in the legislature is Rep. Taylor Small, who is the first openly trans woman to serve in the legislature. I want to give her full credit for working with other members of the House to introduce and advance this legislation.

Vermont is a very LGBTQ-friendly state as compared to most other states, but Taylor faces dangers here. When we would do “honk and waves” together, that was the only time I felt unsafe—and I’m the first woman of color in the State Senate! When I was with Taylor, we would have things shouted at us. I thought people were going to throw things out the window, people would circle back around to yell. So as a trans woman, Taylor faced danger to run for office and continues to face people talking about very intimate parts of her life publicly, and they feel licensed to do that because she is an openly trans woman who is not afraid to have a legislative battle.

The Senate Judiciary Committee almost didn’t hear from Taylor and it felt really important that, before they make a decision or propose any amendments to the bill, they needed to talk to the one legislator in our statehouse who has the lived experience to be personally affected by this legislation. I know how common sense that feels as a person of color and how often that doesn’t happen.

Vermont is also leading on reproductive freedom by advancing Proposition 5, a proposed state constitutional amendment that would guarantee reproductive liberty.

I think it's just as important that we passed an apology for the eugenics movement this year. We apologized for the state's role in the forced sterilization of many Vermonters— mostly women—in a movement that was intellectually led in Vermont.

And those are two sides of the same coin. If you are going to be able to access your full range of reproductive freedoms and liberties, that means access to abortion, it means access to reproductive care to help you bring a healthy child to term, it means childcare, it means maternal health, so it means making any decision that is right for you both emotionally, socially, and economically.

Vermont legislators Kesha Ram and Taylor Small hold signs reading, “Thanks ❤️,” “Taylor Small for State Rep,” and “Kesha for state senate.”
Vermont state legislators Kesha Ram and Taylor Small (Photo: Twitter)

While many state legislatures have seen an uptick in anti-voter bills since the 2020 election, Vermont expanded voting rights.

This year, we passed S.15, which takes a huge step forward in access to mail-in balloting and convenient voting at home.

One of the other critical steps we took this year is we're starting to allow local municipalities to decide if they want to allow all residents to vote in their elections, like their school board elections and municipal elections, regardless of their citizenship status.

In our capital city and our most multicultural city, about 42% of the kids in the schools come from English-language learning families. And those are families who by and large aren't able to vote in school elections and in local elections that affect their families. They both passed city charters to allow all residents to vote. The Governor vetoed these charters in an unprecedented move and we have an override session where I hope we override his veto. These charters mean just as much to me as the mail-in voting.

A recent report about the underrepresentation of Black women in state legislatures revealed that there are no Black women state legislators in Vermont. How do we help elevate Black women’s voices in state legislatures?

That's a central question in my life.

We just started an organization called the Bright Leadership Institute (BLI) to help BIPOC candidates run for office. It's named after Louvenia Dorsey Bright, the first Black woman and one of two Black women to have served in our legislature. By starting the organization and telling her story, we've got cover page articles about her legacy. Many people didn't even know she existed.

The other Black woman who served in our legislature, Kiah Morris, is still an incredible leader and very involved in politics, and she left the legislature because of racial harassment. And so we're trying to help people understand that it's not just because we're a very white state that Black women are not represented in the Vermont statehouse. They've come to the table, and they've been threatened, harassed, rejected, made to feel less than, and they have taken themselves out of the arena after they've lost a battle to be seen and heard by the communities that they need help and safety from.

I've tried to help white Vermonters understand that saying, “We just need to recruit Black women here,” doesn't mean we've done the work to retain them. Vermont doesn't have a recruitment problem, it has a retention problem. We have had waves of Black communities come to settle here: we've had Buffalo Soldiers, we've had fugitive slaves, we've had waves of Black folks try to make a home here and feel the ever-present racism of “You're not doing it the way we do things here. This is the way Vermont does things.” And that's become shorthand for, “You're not white enough, you don't fit into our culture.” And so we have a lack of diversity not because Black people haven't tried to live here, but because they haven't been able to be part of shaping their communities.

The other thing BLI is focusing on is tapping into these innate skills that already exist in communities of color, particularly among Black women. Black women have organized every important movement in this country. Black women have the skills, the power, and sometimes they just haven't used it in a political campaign way. When you do use it, people realize how powerful you are, and they will challenge you and you need an army of people behind you to back you up when that happens. So often, Black women are left on their own when the really small vocal minority of racist people get really loud, and they're left without support. We need to stop that because that can feel really lonely.

I have my sights set on Black women to join me in the state senate. I relish being the first woman of color, only in so much as I have the responsibility now to turn around and make sure there are also Black women, Indigenous women, and trans women in the state Senate as well.

Q&A: Childcare in Michigan

This Q&A is excerpted from a State Innovation Exchange telephone townhall featuring Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, and Eboni Taylor, Michigan Executive Director of Mothering Justice.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Childcare access has been a concern for years. What is different now that can finally help parents tackle the problem?

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist: You are absolutely right. For too many years, in Michigan and the rest of the country, we've been content with saying that paying for childcare is a parent's responsibility. And we've only made modest investments to help low-income families afford childcare. 

That's why we proposed a generational investment in childcare in our recent budget to:

We've also recently received $1.1 billion to invest in childcare, and we're going to be sharing an even bigger and bolder plan to invest those funds wisely. And I'm optimistic that we're going to find a way to get this done on a bipartisan basis.

Lt. Governor Gilchrist wife, Ellen and two children
Lt. Governor Gilchrist with his wife and two children

Senator Mallory McMorrow: I've been speaking very candidly about my experience becoming a mother, going through postpartum depression, and why taking a 12-week leave was so important to me, even though it's not something that legislators technically qualify for. 

I was walking down the street in my neighborhood, and a woman stopped me to say she really appreciated me being vulnerable in that way. And then she asked me, "Can you do childcare next?" She said that as a working mother of two young kids, she was effectively using her entire salary to cover their childcare. But she kept working because she needed the health care associated with her job.

So, in the same way that we invest in public education and guarantee that every child has a right to an education, every child should have the right to quality childcare. 

We have such a huge opportunity to radically change how we invest and prioritize childcare in this state, which can completely change our economy moving forward.

Currently, I am caring for my adult, disabled brother and am unable to work. What are we doing to increase access to adult care facilities so that people like me can get back to work?

Senator Mallory McMorrow: I feel this, so personally. My husband and I have a fourth-month-old daughter, and my husband also has an older brother who has Down Syndrome and currently lives with his mother-in-law, who's now in her 80s. So many families are part of this "sandwich generation," where you're taking care of either a sibling or a parent, and your kids as well. Part of the solution to these issues is to invest in in-home care providers across the board because caretaking looks very different for many people. 

This way, we can enable people to continue their retirement or continue working rather than having to put their entire life on hold to care for family members.

mallory mcmorrow playing with kid
State Senator Mallory McMorrow

I am a grandmother, and my daughter is a single parent. She works midnight shifts, so I have to take care of my granddaughter throughout the night and morning. Is there some type of system where I'm considered a caregiver and paid as such?

Senator Mallory McMorrow: I'm not aware of any programs right now that allow for compensation in a situation like yours, but I think that is something we should absolutely look into because there are so many people who are in multi-generational care situations, caring for grandkids, parents, and other family members.

In other areas of law right now, you can get paid as an in-home caregiver. For example, if your loved one or your family member gets in a catastrophic accident and you're their part-time caregiver, you can be reimbursed. 

Eboni Taylor: You are what we at Mothering Justice call an "other mother," which is the term that we use to describe people in the informal childcare space. 

We are working diligently to think about "other mothers" all the time. We have an entire strategy dedicated to clearing a better pathway for people like you to become a licensed care providers, such as waiving certain fees and increasing pay for license-exempt child care providers.

Connect with your elected leaders

(If you don't know who your state legislators are, look them up using our tool!)

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist

Garlin Gilchrist

Lieutenant Governor

Sen. Mallory McMorrow

Mallory McMorrow 

michigan State senator

Q&A: How New Laws Are Changing Voting in Florida

This Q&A is excerpted from a State Innovation Exchange telephone townhall featuring Florida State Representatives Tracie Davis and Rep. Geraldine Thompson, and Florida State Senator Shevrin Jones.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What voting changes passed this legislative session? How will those changes impact Floridians?

Rep. Geraldine Thompson: One of the most significant things in Senate Bill 90 is the restriction on voting drop boxes. In 2020, we saw drop boxes used in enormous numbers. Now, drop boxes can only be available when the Supervisor of Elections office is open or when early voting sites are open. So, people who work 9-5 will have difficulty accessing the drop boxes. 

Another new restriction is that only family members or someone who lives at the same address can drop your ballot off. This will make it especially difficult for people who have no transportation or have medical conditions and need someone else to take their ballot to the polls. 

Rep. Tracie Davis: This new law also implements a fine of $25,000 on Supervisors of Election offices if they don't comply with the new dropbox provisions. So if they are being fined $25,000, a supervisor may suddenly not want to use as many drop boxes, or they won't use the drop boxes at all.

FL State Rep. Tracie Davis

FL State Rep. Geraldine Thompson

FL State Sen. Shevrin Jones

I have a ninety-year-old mother who gets an absentee ballot sent to her. Should I request a ballot for her for the upcoming 2022 elections? And do I need to submit a copy of her I.D. to do that?

Rep. Tracie Davis: Yes, you probably want to call to request that ballot for your mother. But you don't need to show her I.D. at the time. When you request the ballot over the phone or by e-mail, you have to give her date of birth; driver's license or I.D. number; or the last four digits of her social security number.

If you go inside to pick up the absentee ballot, you're going to have to have written authorization from your mom. But that's to pick up that ballot—not to request it. 

Rep. Geraldine Thompson: One victory was, they did grandfather-in people who already submitted vote-by-mail requests. 

But just to be on the safe side, as Representative Davis said, I would request it.

But after the election in 2022, you're going to have to request the vote by mail ballot each year. So it's no longer going to be good for two general elections, as it was in the past. It's better to be safe than sorry.

What recourse do we have concerning the voter suppression law? And are organizations taking this case to court?

Rep. Geraldine Thompson: There has been litigation filed. But while the litigation goes through the courts, you're bound by this law. So we need to prepare for it. 

Nonprofit groups are preparing to transport people to drop their ballots at either the supervisor's office or the drop boxes. And they are also going to provide food and water to voters. Voter education will also be a big part of how we counteract the laws that have been put in place.

Voter drops ballot in drobpox in Fort Lauderdale Florida in front of Broward County Government Building
Person returns ballot at Broward County Supervisor of Elections Building during November 2020 Elections. (Photo by YES Market Media / Shutterstock)

Are there new I.D. requirements when returning ballots through drop boxes or the post office?

Rep. Geraldine Thompson: One of the victories with this legislation is that we were able to get a part removed so that you don't have to show a photo I.D. at drop boxes. There are no I.D. requirements at the post office either.

But please be mindful, the new law does make it a criminal offense to possess more than two ballots, including your own. If you are helping someone else, the best thing to do is take an individual to the dropbox with you and allow that person to drop their vote-by-mail ballot. 

And please make sure your signature is updated. The signature on your ballot's envelope will be compared to the signature you provided when you initially registered to vote or last updated your signature. 

As we age, our hands are not as steady, or maybe we have arthritis. You want to make sure you have a current signature on file.

Can you explain the recent anti-protesting bill that the governor signed into law?

Sen. Shevrin Jones: At the beginning of September, the governor made HB1, the anti-protesting bill, a priority instead of COVID. This was during the time of the George Floyd demonstrations and Justice for Brianna Taylor.

The bill basically criminalizes protesting. For example, suppose Rep. Davis, Rep. Thompson, and I get together on the side of the road holding up signs. A police officer can deem that to be "mob intimidation," which is not defined, or feel that we are "rioting," which is also not defined. Then the three of us will go to jail and not be released until we see a judge. 

And if convicted, we would be convicted of a felony. As you may know, in the state of Florida, a felony restricts me from voting, makes it hard for me to get employment, and hard to get a loan. But let me be clear, the fear they are trying to instill with this law should not scare us and stop us from going out to protest injustice. 

Protests gather to demonstrate against HB1. Two demonstrators in foreground hold signs reading, “Stop HB1 #KillTheBill,” and “Protesting is not a crime.”
Demonstrators protest HB1 in Jacksonville, Florida (Photo by Michael Scott Milner / Shutterstock)

With the new law making many things criminal offenses, voting can be fearful to individuals like me. What do we do? 

Sen. Shevrin Jones: That's exactly what they want us to do; they want us to be fearful. But we can't allow that, and that's why we have to organize. We need groups like churches to get communities together to have these conversations, to inform the community of these changes. 

We don't have time to be fearful. We have to act right now. 

Rep. Tracie Davis: That's why we're having this conversation. We cannot let this law make us fearful. We need to continue to educate our voters, educate ourselves, and educate each other. Churches are having conversations like this. Legislators around the state, including myself, will be coming to talk to our constituents. 

We will make it happen. We will continue to register, and we will continue to get people to the polls to vote. Do not be fearful. We have been here before. And we will make it through just like we did before.

If I get a group of 180 people to my church at Miami Garden, can I get a representative to come out and speak?

Sen. Shevrin Jones: Yes, e-mail me with the name of the church and your information, and we'll set it up.

Q&A: Voting Rights in North Carolina

This Q&A is excerpted from a State Innovation Exchange telephone townhall featuring North Carolina State Representatives Ashton Clemmons, Amos L. Quick, and Pricey Harrison.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Can you talk about the struggle for voting rights happening across the country?

Rep. Ashton Clemmons: Every person in North Carolina and the U.S.—no matter who they are—should have an equal voice in electing our state's leaders. But there are four main reasons why we aren't living up to that ideal.

First, there is a blatant attack on voting rights to make it harder for people to vote instead of easier. Second, we are lessening the voices of some folks by packing them into districts through gerrymandering. Third, is the undue influence of money and politics. Corporations overtly influencing the outcomes of elections is an assault on what should be: that no matter how much money you have, your voice is equal. And fourth, we see an intentional effort to undermine the three branches of government by making the judiciary more partisan and limiting executive power at state legislative levels. 

Rep. Ashton Clemmons

Rep. Amos L. Quick

State Rep. Pricey Harrison

What existing barriers make it harder for North Carolinians to vote?

Rep. Ashton Clemmons: Right now, we have the voter I.D. provision in litigation. And the research is very clear that voter I.D. laws would disproportionately affect the elderly and voters of color in North Carolina. 

We've seen efforts to lessen the amount of early voting time from three weeks to one week. We've also seen proposals requiring mail-in ballots be received by five o'clock on election day instead of up to six days after election day.

What is gerrymandering?

Rep. Amos L. Quick: The simplest explanation is: gerrymandering is the drawing of voting districts and manipulating boundaries to give an unfair advantage to one party over another. 

Pile of "Voted" stickers with American flag
Photo by Element5 Digital/Unsplash

What is independent redistricting? 

Rep. Amos L. Quick: Right now, we have a process where politicians pick their voters—redistricting power belongs to the dominant party in the legislature.

Independent redistricting is a process that would take power out of the hands of politicians—who are most directly advantaged by drawing their own districts. An independent commission would draw fairer districts that more accurately represent the populace that will be voting. 

This is my third term, and I think there's been a bill filed every term since I've been here for some type of independent redistricting commission. It gets tremendous bipartisan support, but it doesn't get a hearing in committee, nor does it get a vote on the floor since I've been in office. 

I'll close with this: right now, we have a congressional delegation that does not reflect the population of North Carolina. And that's because politicians drew the lines. An independent redistricting commission would take that power out of the hands of politicians.

We have seen a lot of threats to voting rights in Georgia. Is anything like that coming to North Carolina? 

State Rep. Pricey Harrison: We are not seeing bills like what has been proposed or passed in Georgia, Florida, and Texas. 

 The main issue we're going to face this legislative cycle, as Rep. Clemmons mentioned, is not accepting absentee ballots beyond election day. 

And there's an effort to increase poll observers as part of a national trend, and poll observers can be very threatening intimidating to voters.

I'm sorry for Georgia and the other states that are having to deal with that, because it's really, really bad for voting and our democracy. 

person placing a mail-in ballot into a mailbox
Photo by @g_dezigner/Twenty20

What is going on with redistricting, and when will we know what district we're in?

State Rep. Pricey Harrison: Right now, we do not have any kind of independent redistricting process, despite our efforts. And so it's the redistricting committees in the house in the Senate that will draw them. 

We've got commitments from the leadership in the house in the senate that it will be transparent. But those who participated in the most recent redistricting will remember that it was only partially transparent. 

So if we can't get the independent redistricting process going, we're committed to fighting for better access for the public to participate in the process. We are committed to protecting communities of interest and keeping counties and municipalities whole. But it doesn't look like we're going to be doing any of that until after we get the census numbers, which I believe is not until the very last day in September.

State Roundup: Cannabis Equity, Workers' Rights, & More

We know not all news coming out of state legislatures is positive right now, so this week we're celebrating the hard work progressive state legislators are doing every day to fight for their communities.

Cannabis Equity Bill Clears Illinois House

Recreational marijuana was more than a $1 billion dollar industry in Illinois last year. This week the House passed a bill to make owning dispensaries more accessible to people of color, women, people living in low-income communities, and those with previous marijuana charges. By tweaking the lottery system, the new approach gives a much more diverse group of people the opportunity to participate in the lucrative industry that has otherwise benefited primarily privileged groups, like white, and already wealthy, men.

Incarcerated Women Gain Basic Protections in New Mississippi Law

newborn checked by doctors in hospital
Photo by Solen Feyissa/Unsplash

A new bipartisan Mississippi law grants basic rights and health care to pregnant incarcerated women. The law prevents the shackling of women during childbirth, ensures the newborn can stay with its mother for 72 hours after birth, requires staff training, prevents invasive searches not provided by health care professionals, and allows for visitation with young children, among other provisions. These are small but needed steps to improve a prison system that too often neglects the health and well-being of pregnant women.  

Workers Win in Washington State Session

Farm laborers harvest strawberries in field
Photo by Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

The Washington state legislature adjourned late last month. Among several groundbreaking progressive bills were major gains for workers. Employees can now put a temporary hold on the assets of an employer who engages in wage theft. All workers, regardless of immigration status, now have access to free legal assistance; farmworkers were awarded overtime pay; and the budget allocated millions for child care programs.

New York Provides Stimulus for Undocumented Immigrants

Person dressed as Lady Liberty standing in park with sign; sign reads "Lady Liberty wants DREAMers to stay."
Photo by Maria Oswalt/Unsplash

Immigrants are one of several groups hit hardest by the pandemic. Not only did they have a higher rate of contracting the virus, but immigrants were on the front lines of the pandemic—many work in jobs considered essential and kept our communities afloat while others were able to safely quarantine. Yet almost every federal program to keep people employed or safe, or to stimulate the economy, excluded aid to immigrants. But New York’s $2.1 billion stimulus to undocumented immigrants, part of the Excluded Worker Fund, will help 290,000 people directly get the benefits they have earned and deserve.

Nebraska Unemployment Extended to Caregivers

Attentive caregiver or companion and a senior adult woman in protective masks are sitting on a park bench. Summer sunny day.

The pandemic proved that most employment opportunities do not allow for the flexibility to both keep one’s job and care for a seriously ill relative. Many were forced to quit in order to help loved ones battle COVID. But now, Nebraskans forced to quit their jobs to care for sick relatives are eligible to apply for unemployment.

States Celebrate World Bee Day by Adding Protection

Dozens of bees working
Photo by Damien TUPINIER/Unsplash

World Bee Day was earlier this week and bees in several states can celebrate their legislatures’ passage of bills that limit or ban neonicotinoids, a pesticide that researchers have linked to a sharp decline in bees and pollinators around the world. States that have passed or are considering this legislation are MaineNew York, and Washington. Bees are critical to the pollination of many of our staple food crops. Protecting bees and pollinators contributes to the health and resiliency of our entire food system.

Need Volunteer Poll Workers? Wisconsin is All Set

Election poll workers wear masks during the primary election day in Nevada
Photo by Trevor Bexon / Shutterstock

A new bill in the Wisconsin legislature would require elected officials to volunteer as poll workers. The goal is to increase transparency and understanding of the election process and provides a much-needed solution to a volunteer and staffing shortage. Judges and those on the ballot would be excluded from having to serve.

Vermont Addresses Past, Present, and Future Reproductive Freedom

Exterior of the Vermont state capitol building
Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont

We know that there’s a deep and continued history of racism and sexism in our medical institutions—from non-consensual medical experimentation, to forced birth, to inequitable access to health care services, to forced sterilization, to inequitable infant and maternal health outcomes. Vermont took steps this session to repair these injustices by addressing the past and future: legislators passed a resolution apologizing for past state-sanctioned eugenics policies that led to sterilizations and passed a measure that would enshrine reproductive liberty in the state's constitution.

Q&A: The Native Tuition Waiver Bill & Voting Rights in Nevada

This Q&A is excerpted from a State Innovation Exchange telephone townhall featuring Nevada Assemblymember Natha Anderson, Marla McDade Williams (TeMoak Shoshone), and Rani Williams (Agai Dicutta Numu - Walker River Paiute.)

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

How will the tuition waiver bill (AB262) help Native communities?

Assemblymember Natha Anderson: AB262 would do two things: 

(1) grant in-state tuition to students from federally recognized Native American tribes who do not reside in Nevada

 (2) grant a full waiver for costs from the Nevada System of Higher Education to students who are members or descendants of federally recognized tribes in Nevada

So this is an opportunity for us to invest in our students.

It's also an opportunity to promote more professional diversity. For example, when I'm not serving in the Assembly, I'm a teacher. When I look around, I do not see many Native American teachers. There are a few, but we need more. Not just in education—we need to see more Native attorneys, doctors, bankers, realtors. It's not about the title; it's about that different point of view. 

Lastly, the Native American community has given so much to Nevada. One thing that they gave, without their permission, was the land that the Nevada System of Higher Education started on. That was both in Elko, where our first university was opened, and also at the University of Nevada, Reno, where it currently sits. We need to recognize the mistakes of the past and do something different.

Natha Anderson
Marla McDade Williams (TeMoak Shoshone)
Rani Williams (Agai Dicutta Numu - Walker River Paiute)

Can you tell us more about the "sundown siren" in Minden and efforts to limit it?

Marla McDade Williams: An amendment to AB88, the bill that would ban discriminatory mascot names, proposed limiting the sundown siren in Minden. Like racially discriminatory mascots, the siren is a symbol that continues to inflict trauma on Native people. When the dominant society holds on to offensive symbols, it's almost as if it's a way to continually remind Native people that they aren't worthy of respect. So legislation goes a long way to help heal some of the traumas that Native people have lived with for a very long time.

How would AB321 help voting access for Native Americans in Nevada?

Rainey Williams: AB321 formalizes several changes made during the coronavirus pandemic during the last election. 

One such change is that the bill extends the deadline for tribes to request a polling place. And once that request is made, and the location is established, it cannot be moved or removed unless a tribe requests it itself.

Another thing this voting bill does is make the mail-in ballot system used during the 2020 election permanent. Offering a mail-in ballot system really breaks down a major barrier to voting for on-reservation tribal voters. It's not news to anyone in Indian country that there's difficulty accessing the polls because of how rural some locations are.

Voters in the State of Nevada go to the polls on Election Day . Washoe County Nevada
Voters in Washoe County, Nevada go to the polls on Election Day

What is the significance of Swamp Cedars to Native people? 

Marla McDade Williams: Swamp Cedars is of cultural importance to tribes that historically used the area for gatherings and spiritual ceremonies. It was also the site of massacres. 

And the bodies and spirits of Native people killed there deserve respect, just like at the site of Little Bighorn. It's a huge step forward to recognize these historical areas and work with local tribes to protect them for their cultural value, and not just for their economic value.

I'm a student at the University of Nevada, Reno and I'm really interested in what other states are doing to build political power for Native communities.

Rainey Williams: I worked in Arizona, specifically for the last few election cycles for tribal communities. Tribes communicate with the elections departments constantly, even during off-cycle years when there's no voting happening. They discuss accessible polling locations, poll worker training, and how to get tribal members to become poll workers on the reservation. 

And it was completely homegrown. It was tribal members informing others and making sure the word got out: "Hey, this drop off location is happening at this time. Please be there if you can." 

It was really something to see. And if you followed the news during the election, you saw historic voter turnout on all Arizona reservations because of this grassroots effort.

submit opinion nevada legislature
Nevadans can submit their opinion on a bill on the Nevada Legislature website.

How can Nevadans participate in the legislative process?

Marla McDade Williams:   One way is to register to testify on a bill. And the other way is to submit an opinion on a bill. You do that by finding the bill on the legislature's website under the 2021 legislative session. Select the meetings link associated with the bill and then select, "Submit Opinion."

Is SiX the ALEC of the Left?

We get called the “ALEC of the left” a lot. 

While it is easy shorthand for people to understand what we do, we resist that label because ALEC’s model is inherently flawed and harmful for our nation. SiX, like ALEC, focuses on state legislators because we know they are incredible agents of change. But that’s where the similarities end.

SiX exists to fill a gap in the progressive movement: helping legislators succeed after they are elected. We work side-by-side with state legislators to advance progressive policy and build people power. ALEC is a corporate-backed organization that creates model legislation to benefit conservative special interests.

Collaborating with state legislators and their communities means we don’t create model legislation. We know that legislators don’t need national organizations to parachute in and offer copycat legislation just to pick up and leave the next day.  SiX offers ongoing and personalized support; creates innovative ways to connect legislators across chambers, state lines, and with grassroots movements; and provides rapid response resources to help legislators bravely face new issues. 

There are over 7,300 state legislators in the United States, and many are part-time, paid very little (if at all), and given few resources. ALEC takes advantage of under-resourced state legislatures with a top-down approach, pushing legislation from out-of-state corporations devoid of local need or context; sometimes, bill sponsors aren’t even aware the legislation they’re voting on is an ALEC bill. For example, ALEC members drafted a model voter ID bill in 2009. By 2012, 62 different voter ID bills had been introduced—and more than half the bill sponsors were ALEC members or conference attendees.

Voter casting ballot in sitdown booth while other voters pass by in foreground
Voters cast their ballots during the New Hampshire presidential primary in Bedford, N.H. (Andrew Cline / Shutterstock)

We don’t aspire to mimic ALEC’s playbook. Instead, we use a ground-up approach to center legislators who are navigating complex situations and competing needs within their communities.

Here’s what that looks like in practice: just recently, when a state legislator approached us for help with a bill to reduce traffic stops, our team provided research on similar laws that generated cost savings and reduced disproportionate law enforcement contact for Black motorists, and connected the legislator to government officials and academic experts.

Early in 2021, we conducted a legislator training with a staffer who worked on Sen. Booker’s Justice for Black Farmers Act. The training has already sparked cross-state partnerships and the introduction of bills to create land restoration programs and impact studies.

colin lloyd hands raised colorado state capitol
Demonstrator with hands raised at Black Lives Matter rally near Colorado State Capitol (Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash)

Our staff of thirty—and growing—former and current elected officials, legislative specialists, communications professionals, and organizers are doing similar work with legislators all over the country. Real progress doesn’t come from a bill mill. It comes from showing up day after day, to resource decision-makers with what they need to solve their communities’ problems.

At SiX, we do our work because we know that to improve people’s lives, we have to break the cycle of disinformation, distrust, and disenfranchisement that has made so many Americans question the results of one of the most secure elections in our nation’s history. It’s why we work side-by-side with state legislators to advance a vision of America where all people—Black, white, and brown alike—can thrive. State legislatures not only make decisions that affect the well-being of everyday Americans; they are also innovation hubs where people can come together to create solutions that ripple out and determine the future of our nation.

Agriculture is Not Just A Rural Issue

This interview is based on responses from a tweet chat that took place on April 28, 2021. Answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

What experiences shaped your understanding of the importance of agriculture?

Sen. Kim Jackson (GA): As a sixth-generation Black farmer, I think about agriculture every day when I do farm chores! I raise goats, bees, ducks, and chickens and all kinds of vegetables. And, I eat food every day! 

Rep. Brian Turner (NC): My grandma grew up in the mountain border of North Carolina & Tennessee. Raising livestock & planting row crops were a way of life for her. I’m grateful she passed those skills to me, and now I get to pass it on to my daughter growing our own veggies in the backyard.

Rep. Rebecca Mitchell (GA): At first: a square baler without a kicker. Loading 50- and 100-pound feed sacks at the mill. Outdoor water spigots in the winter in New York. Fiberglass fence posts (never. ever. again). 

Later: working at the dairy farm next door. Fitting sheep at shows. 

Professionally: ambulatory rotations in veterinary school and analyzing milk quality and pathogens from dairy farms.

Rep. Julie von Haefen (NC): Growing up in Iowa, I saw firsthand how agriculture can be an integral part of the economy, our community and our environment. My house was on the edge of a cornfield and detasseling corn was the premier summer job for teenagers!

Cow in large pen on farm in Indiana

Agriculture issues range from food insecurity to soil health—what are some of the agriculture issues in your district?

Sen. Natalie Murdock (NC): Food insecurity is an issue in my senate district. 16.5% of people in my county are food insecure, that’s over 45,000 people. Over 12,000 children are food insecure.

Rep. Julie von Haefen (NC): We don’t have a lot of farms, but urban agriculture is becoming more important! Urban farming is the practice of cultivating, processing, and distributing food in or around urban areas—an important tool to ensure our communities have access to fresher and healthier foods! 

Sen. Rosemary Bayer (MI): My district spans a wide array of urban, suburban and rural areas. While we don’t have much farming in the district anymore, soil as a vital living system is important to all of us. From large rural farms to urban gardens, we all need healthy soil! Constituents all over the state & my district suffer from food insecurity and Covid has only made this worse. In addition to sustainable farming across the state, local sustainable urban and suburban gardens can help with food insecurity.

Sen. Kim Jackson (GA): In District 41, like many places in Georgia, people struggle with food insecurity. And for folks growing food in the city—often to address this very issue!—there can be many roadblocks. 

I'm encouraged by efforts to bring fresh food to more people and support new growers. We need collaboration across sectors—and at all levels of government!—to decrease barriers to healthy food and urban agriculture. 

Tell us about an agriculture, food, or rural issue you are working on in your state.

Sen. Kim Jackson (GA): I serve on the Senate Agriculture & Consumer Affairs Committee. I'm working to support Black farmers across the state of Georgia and bring fresh, healthy food to those who need it most.

Rep. Brian Turner (NC): As a member of the Ag appropriations committee I’m working to make sure the preservation programs are funded and also fighting for improved broadband penetration so farmers can modernize, be more efficient, and so kids know they can farm and be connected. 

Sen. Kirk deViere (NC): I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with veterans who have turned to farming as a career and therapy for post-military life. We have a responsibility to help and encourage small family farms that have been the cornerstone of North Carolina’s agricultural economy for generations. I’d like to see veteran farmers as a substantial part of those small farms.

A Vendor is Selling Produce at Farmers Market in Clayton, North Carolina
A farmer's market in Clayton, North Carolina

How can agriculture be part of the solution to climate change?

Sen. Kirk deViere (NC): Incentivizing sustainable farming and regenerative agriculture is not only a smart long-term policy decision for farmers, but it’s much better for our environment as well. To be successful, agriculture must be a significant focus of climate justice.

Sen. Natalie Murdock (NC): As a previous soil and water supervisor, I know how soil health is key to combating climate change. Here in North Carolina we continue to work on robust soil health plans and need to fund regenerative agriculture programs.

Rep. Brian Turner (NC): Farmers love the land they work and want to keep it healthy so they can grow our food. Creating incentives to reduce fertilizers, stormwater runoff, and adopt more efficient irrigation tech helps. For more about local food growers visit the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

What do you wish more people knew about agriculture?

Rep. Julie von Haefen (NC): Agriculture and the environment go hand in hand. We must pay attention to how our North Carolina hog and poultry farms are operating and affecting the communities around them, and how they may be harmful to water and air. 

Creating policy that benefits and protects both agriculture and the environment is important.

Sen. Kirk deViere (NC): One common misconception about agriculture is that all farmers are white. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As of 2017, North Carolina had nearly 2,100 black producers. We rely on minority farmers, namely Black farmers.

Rep. Brian Turner (NC): Agriculture is the #1 driver of North Carolina’s economy. We are #1 in the U.S. in sweet potatoes and soybeans, #2 in hogs. 

Agriculture is bipartisan with rural and urban support. Most North Carolina farms are small family operations hoping the next generation will take over. We have a duty to help. No farms, no food.

Farmworker picking yellow peppers on agriculture field

How can people engage with agriculture issues beyond Earth Month?

Rep. Julie von Haefen: Contact your state legislators and sign up for our legislative updates! Sharing your priorities with your elected officials goes a long way towards advancing sound environmental and agricultural policies.

Sen. Kirk deViere (NC): If you live in North Carolina, you likely interact with agriculture much more than you realize. After all, agriculture is our #1 industry! It’s up to us to make sure that we continue to support the agricultural industry while fighting climate change.

Sen. Rosemary Bayer (MI): We all need to be conscious of good environmental practices – in pest management, water management, air and soil health and more.  Remember, what you put into the air and ground travels. It’s never just about our own gardens or backyards. We are a world community. We have one planet and we need to work together to protect not only our own land, state and country, but our entire planet. 

When We Elevate Voter Access, Everybody Wins

Mississippi State Rep. Zakiya Summers is dedicated to expanding voter access, pushing for ambitious equity agendas, and upholding educational opportunities. Prior to joining the legislature, Rep. Summers served as the director of communications and advocacy at the ACLU of Mississippi and as the Hinds County District 3 election commissioner.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What experiences led you to commit to fighting for voting rights?

When I turned 18, my mom told me that if I don't vote, I can no longer live in the house. So voting was extremely critical for our household. My great grandmother was unable to vote until the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and even then she had to walk from her home in rural Mississippi, five miles to town just to be able to cast her vote. 

Mississippi State Representative Zakiya Summers
Mississippi State Rep. Zakiya Summers

And then, in my work as an Election Commissioner, I would go out to high schools and hold voter registrations. Having students contact me and say “I got my voter registration card” and “I can't wait to be able to vote this year” really showed me how impactful our work was with young people.

How does Mississippi limit access to voting?

First, we don't even have online voter registration; we still have to use the old school paper way. 

Mississippi also has more ways a person can become disenfranchised than almost any other state; 23 different felonies can disenfranchise a person. And there's no way to change that status for yourself, the legislature would have to pass a suffrage bill in your name or the governor would have to pardon you. 

During my first year as a legislator, one of my colleagues was trying to get his brother's right to vote restored. But the committee chairman just refused to bring it up for debate; as a result, the process had to start all over again in January–after the elections. 

Finally, I tried to introduce an amendment to allow for no-excuse absentee voting and it failed. Every time we try to bring legislation to expand access to the ballot, the ruling party doesn’t allow it to go anywhere.

How is voter suppression tied to social and economic problems in Mississippi?

Who is responsible for policy change? Policymakers. How do policymakers get into position? The electorate. Something that the NAACP president always says, “voting is where our social and our economic power lies.” So if you're not at the policy table, then you're on the menu; if you're not on the menu, then you might be in the lobby. But that all starts with voting. 

Do you feel hopeful about changing voting in the South? 

I certainly feel hopeful. Legislators can't do it alone inside the Capitol, and we saw that last year when Mississippi voters finally changed our state flag. We never would have thought that in 2020, we'd be taking down the Mississippi state flag after decades of people fighting— some having died fighting. 

But we got it done, so we just have to continue to fight. We need that same passion, that same advocacy, and that same activism when it comes to voting rights. When we elevate voter access, everybody wins. 

State Roundup: Voting Rights Expansions and Mental Health Days for Students

Each month we highlight 10 positive developments that emerged from state legislatures. You can view and share a version of this roundup on Twitter.

Tennessee Recognizes Doulas

Tennessee passed Rep. London Lamar's bill recognizing doulas as "vital childbirth team members." 

Rep. Lamar hopes the bill will help lead TN to designate doulas as health professionals and require private insurance and Medicaid to cover their services. 

Massachusetts Goes All In On Environmental Protection 

Massachusetts enacted a sweeping climate change law that will require the state to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, codify environmental justice protections, prioritize solar power for low-income housing, and more. 

Maine's Landmark Racial Impact Law

Maine enacted a law requiring that all state legislation be assessed for its potential impact on people of color. 

State Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, the first Black person to serve a leadership role in the Maine legislature, sponsored the law. 

Colorado Moves To Expand Multilingual Ballots

 A new Colorado bill sponsored by State Rep. Yadira Caraveo will require more counties to provide multilingual voter ballots and establish a hotline with translators by the 2022 election. 

Voting Restoration in Washington

Washington state passed a bill that will automatically restore voting rights to people who have completed a prison sentence. 

Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign. 

Maryland Supports Libraries

Maryland became the first state to guarantee that libraries can license e-books "on reasonable terms."

Mental Health Days for Arizona's Students

The Arizona legislature passed State Rep. Sean Bowie's bill, which clarifies that "mental health days" count as excused absences in K-12 schools.

LGBTQ Seniors in New Jersey Have New Protections

New Jersey enacted an LGBTQI+ Senior Bill of Rights, which will bar long-term care facilities from discriminating based on sexuality, gender, or HIV status.

A Voting Rights Act for Virginia

Virginia is poised to become the first state to enact its own version of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The bill was drafted by two Black women lawmakers—Delegate Cia Price and Delegate Jennifer McClellan.

Historic Session in New Mexico

New Mexico's legislature closed out its session by passing progressive bills that will protect abortion rights, guarantee paid sick leave for employees at private companies, and end qualified immunity for police.

Bold Public Investment Is Popular and Key to Ending This Crisis

By: Azza Altiraifi, Senior Program Manager at the Groundwork Collaborative

In the year since the COVID-19 pandemic first gripped the United States, over 525,000 people have perished and millions more - disproportionately people of color, disabled people, women, and those at the intersection of these identities—are still struggling to get by. The historic scale of the economic and public health crises we’ve faced was not inevitable. It was the result of decades of austerity policies and systematic disinvestment in the public sector at local, state, and federal levels. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. 

Over a decade of research shows that the economics of austerity are flawed, broadly unpopular, and racist. And while accelerating vaccine distribution and imminent federal fiscal aid are promising, it will take robust, sustained, and equitable public investment at state and local levels to get out of these crises and build a resilient economy that works for everyone, instead of the wealthy few.

Austerity is Racist and Economically Destabilizing

Even before the coronavirus emerged in the US, state and local budgets and tax systems were in bad shape. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the federal government cut aid short prematurely, leading many state and local governments to pursue austerity measures to address budget shortfalls and mitigate the economic shock. States and localities eliminated public jobs, deferred necessary maintenance on critical infrastructure like roads and bridges, and shrunk social programs and services.

Group of diverse students at daycare or classroom
A racially diverse group of elementary school students in classroom

Not only did limited federal stimulus prolong the recovery from the Great Recession, but it exacerbated race and gender inequities. Consider that while the Great Recession technically ended in June 2009, it took until 2018 for Black women’s employment to fully recover. Now, with the economy plunged into crisis again, the very austerity measures implemented in the past have left states more economically vulnerable and exacerbated the financial harms faced by low-income workers and people of color

Since February 2020, states and localities have lost 1.3 million jobs. But safety-net programs such as the unemployment insurance system struggled to scale up and distribute life-sustaining benefits in the face of such precipitous job loss and economic upheaval. This is largely because federal austerity over the past decades has shifted more responsibilities to state and local governments. Further still, austerity politics at all levels of government fuel scarcity myths and racist ideas of “deservedness,” which are then used to justify shrinking benefits and imposing cumbersome administrative barriers throughout the benefits application process.

Not only do cuts to benefits programs serving low-income people disproportionately impact Black and brown workers, they reduce state economic activity overall. Lower-income people tend to put every dollar they receive in benefits back into their state and local economy, so when programs that serve low-income households are slashed, state economies correspondingly contract. 

The cumulative effects of these austerity measures and mindsets are seen in the millions of workers and families who waited months in a pandemic to access aid that was insufficient to meet their needs. And since Black and brown people are most likely to work in the hardest-hit sectors, they face the brunt of these cascading economic harms.

People-Centered Spending Will Help End This Crisis

As states face plummeting revenues and soaring investment needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the case for implementing progressive tax systems to raise revenue is incontrovertible. The majority of pandemic job losses are concentrated among low-income workers, but largely white upper-income households continue to see their assets grow during the pandemic. If states had more progressive tax systems, they could tax those income gains at the top to shore up revenue, reverse concentrations of wealth and power, and promote greater racial and gender equity.

A drive-up food pantry in Sherman, TX
A drive-up food pantry in Sherman, Texas

Instead, many state budgets are more vulnerable, income inequality is worsened, and consequently, Black and brown workers are bearing an even heavier economic burden. On average, state tax systems take a 50% greater share of income from the poorest quintile of taxpayers than they take from the top one percent. Replacing these upside-down tax structures with progressive taxes on the highest earners can shore up budgets and create space for legislators to make meaningful investments in infrastructure, public health, green jobs, and more. And years of research have proven that in a depressed economy, increased public investment more than pays for itself in economic growth — more than $1 in growth for each $1 spent.

Recently, New Jersey passed a millionaires tax, which is a crucial step in addressing enduring racial and socioeconomic inequities within the state’s tax code. Heeding the call of advocates and economists, New Jersey’s state leadership rejected harmful and counterproductive budget cuts that would have exacerbated inequality and further eroded health and social infrastructure. Instead, they prioritized smart investments such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and restoring funding for an array of environmental programs.

States facing unprecedented spikes in spending due to COVID-19 and tumbling revenues can also pursue progressive taxes to balance their budgets and redistribute power and resources. And such investments are broadly popular. Polling confirms that the public opposes state budget and service cuts by wide and bipartisan margins.

Ultimately, an abundance approach to policy recognizes that people-centered spending—to restore and expand social services, revitalize key infrastructure, and build public power— is a matter of strategic investment to build a more just and equitable future. Robust public investment is broadly popular, economically sound, and necessary to advance racial justice. It’s time for state and local policies to reflect that.

Groundwork Collaborative is a research and policy advocacy organization working to advance a coherent and persuasive progressive economic worldview capable of delivering meaningful opportunity and prosperity for everyone. 

Maryland Voters Concerned About Learning Loss During the Pandemic

Members of the Maryland General Assembly will use this legislative session to address the impact of COVID-19 on public schools and Maryland’s children.  New polling commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and Strong Future Maryland  finds voters across the state and from across the political spectrum are very concerned that Maryland students are losing educational opportunities during the pandemic and support ways to address the learning loss.

Roughly 8-in-10 voters think once Maryland students are back learning in the classroom they will need either some additional support or a significant amount of additional support such as tutoring or targeted instruction. 

Maryland voters support resourcing K-12 education to meet the needs of students. The poll found 7-in-10 voters agree with spending more on K-12 education to close opportunity gaps, and roughly 8-in-10 voters agree with spending more on K-12 education to provide more opportunities to prepare for careers and with spending more to make teacher salaries more competitive.

Please click here to see the full polling memo.

Q&A: COVID-19 and Unemployment in Michigan

This Q&A is excerpted from a State Innovation Exchange telephone townhall featuring Michigan state legislators. Questions came from various Michigan residents and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What legislative efforts are being made to provide essential worker bonuses and benefits like hazard pay?

State Senator Stephanie Chang: My colleagues and I have advocated for more hazard pay for essential workers and grants or bonuses for our teachers.

Last year, we started the Futures for Frontliners program, which allows essential workers to get free tuition for community college or high school completion programs. I cannot understate how important it is to honor our frontline workers not just with words but also with action.

State Senator Camilleri: We are also talking about increasing the minimum wage because, as we saw during this pandemic, so many people on the front lines are not even making a living wage of $15 an hour.

State Representative Aiyash: I'm introducing legislation with Rep. Camilleri to give people a tax credit on any PPE that they purchase. Essential workers would qualify to get a tax credit for all of the PPE they purchase to keep working. That's one way that we're looking at trying to be creative and making sure that those on the frontlines are getting appreciation. Every worker is valuable, and it's time that we start showing that, not just in our words.

What kind of legislative unemployment reforms is the legislature working on right now?

Senator Stephanie Chang: Senate Democrats have introduced a number of unemployment proposals over the past few years. 

We know that we need to permanently extend how many weeks an individual can get unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, not 20 weeks. We need to permanently increase the dollar amount given per week and permanently ensure that all types of workers can file for unemployment— including gig workers, seasonal employees, or other workers who don't normally qualify for unemployment.

What is the timeline for the unemployment process, and what can I do if I have been waiting a long time for my application to go through? 

Senator Stephanie Chang: Typically, for somebody who is filing for unemployment and doesn't have any issues with their claim, their applications are processed within 21 days. However, there are thousands of folks right now who have been waiting a long time for papers or initial payments. 

If you are like them and have been waiting for a long time, there are a couple of things you can do. 

We are working hard to get everybody paid right now; the historic volume has certainly slowed down and created some backlogs. But, we expect to get through most of our backlogs in the next couple of weeks. 

Representative Aiyash:  Please feel free to reach out to your representative's office if you have any questions or need any assistance. 

We don't have any authority to necessarily move a case or pull the money and make sure that it gets sent over, but we can make sure that the cases you are submitting are being looked at by the UIA. 

Maryland Voters Concerned About Climate Change, Support Bold Action

As the Maryland state legislature debates critical issues that will define a cleaner, greener future for Maryland, a newly released poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and Strong Future Maryland offers an important perspective.

Two-thirds of Maryland voters agree that the General Assembly and other policy makers should take climate change into account when deciding how to vote on energy and economic development policy. Maryland voters continue to place a high premium on state-level action when it comes to carbon emissions and climate change.Three in five Maryland voters (60 percent) support the General Assembly passing major legislation to achieve significant reductions in carbon emissions, with a plurality of voters (39 percent) strongly supporting such legislation.

Additionally, 64 percent of Maryland voters support the creation of a carbon tax paid by companies based on how much carbon they emit, while just 25 percent oppose such a tax. 

Please click here to see the full polling memo.

Recap: Black History Month Tweet Chat

The #SIXBHM tweet chat took place on February 18, 2021. The following answers have been lightly edited for clarity. You can view all of the tweets here.

Which person, past or present, has helped shape how you approach your work?

Euh8SwSVoAI3yL ?format=jpg&name=medium
Assemblyman Cameron "CH" Miller (NV) with his late cousin, Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson.

Delegate Pam Queen (MD): Mary McLeod Bethune, as a former slave who became on outstanding leader, educator, civil servant who left us a legacy to achieve racial equity and justice. Her quote, “The true worth of a race must be measured by the character of its womanhood” continues to inspire me.

Rep. Attica Scott (KY): My daughter @Ashantilynn01 (+ my son who doesn’t like social media). Ashanti often reminds me that we don’t move in fear, whether as we are pursuing justice for Breonna Taylor or standing up for reproductive freedom.

Delegate Gabriel Acevero (MD): My mother, she was the first organizer and movement leader I knew.

Assemb. Cameron "CH" Miller (NV): My cousin, the late Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, inspired me to run and shaped my approach to the work. To honor his legacy, I always consider how policy will help or hurt the most vulnerable in our communities first, our youth.

Why did you run for office? What does it mean to represent your community?

State Sen. James Coleman (CO): I ran for office to serve my communities, simple as that. And it is beyond humbling that my constituents continue to believe in me to represent their interests.

State Sen. Erika Geiss (MI): In the #mileg, we have term limits, so running wasn’t something on my long-term radar initially. When my Rep was termed out in 2014, I decided to run because of an education issue adjacent to our community but that impacted our community.

As an educator and then PTO mom, and as one of the few folks from the district likely to be able to have a shred of institutional knowledge about it, I decided to run.

As the 1st woman of color to represent my district in the #mileg, it means a lot. And it has never been far from my mind as I worked for the roughly 100,000 people of my former House district or as I work for the nearly 260,000 people of my current state Senate district.

Del. Shaneka Henson (MD): After moving from public housing I ran for office to be a voice for my city and tenants who struggle with mold.

Rep. Michele K. Rayner-Goolsby: This moment calls for bold and audacious leadership. I answered the call to serve because representation is not a cliché, it's a must.

Tell us about an issue you're advocating for this legislative session.

State Rep. Park Cannon (GA): To hold police accountable and protect reproductive rights. By sharing the term #reproductivejustice with my legislative colleagues, thanks to the words of @sistersong, I have been able to continue fighting against injustice in my community.

Assemb. Cameron "CH" Miller (NV): We must stop the school to prison pipeline and policies that criminalize youth before they ever get a chance to thrive. My highest priority is ending the direct filing of minors into the adult judicial system. 60% of direct filed youth in NV are Black!

Rep. Attica Scott (KY): My top priority this legislative session is Breonna’s Law for Kentucky to restrict the use of no-knock search warrants across our Commonwealth.

No family should carry the weight of what her family has endured.

Sen. Erika Geiss GIF with subtitle "Let's make economic justice a priority and reality every day."
Michigan State Sen. Erika Geiss

State Sen. Erika Geiss (MI): This session, I'm advocating for several things to address #BlackMaternalHealth. First, a package on #DoulaCare to improve recognition of community-based & traditional doulas & Medicaid & commercial insurance for both.

State Sen. James Coleman (CO): I am currently focused on three main legislative priorities: eliminating prison recidivism, eliminating youth violence, and eliminating the Black wealth gap. This session, I am excited to lead an attack against CO's 50% recidivism rate.

Delegate Pam Queen (MD): I champion legislation which seeks to increase homeownership for Black families. These bills are part of the Maryland Speaker of the House's “Black Agenda.”

In what ways have you seen state legislatures perpetuate anti-Black racism in your lifetime? How can state legislatures disrupt anti-Black racism?

Rep. Stephanie Howse (OH): Let me the count ways the Ohio General Assembly perpetuates anti-Black racism:

The way we can begin to address anti-Black racism in the Ohio legislature is to first start to call a thing a thing. Racism is Racism.

Delegate Gabriel Acevero (MD): Where do I begin??

State Sen. James Coleman (CO): My colleagues and I reconvened last Dec. for a special session and passed SB20B-1, which set aside $4 million for the CO Minority Business Office. Almost immediately a lawsuit was filed against this legislation for violating the 14th Amendment.

Rep. Attica Scott (KY): My goodness! Where to begin? In Kentucky, the legislature has refused to hear any bills by members of our Legislative Black Caucus in at least three years, but have spent this session playing performative politics on race, including stealing one of my bills!

State Sen. Erika Geiss (MI): From situations such as the Senate Majority Leader asking me “why not all mothers” when I asked him to co-sponsor my resolution to recognize #BlackMaternalHealthWeek, to a colleague wearing a Confederate flag mask to session last April with no recourse... members including the Senate Majority Leader cozying up to white supremacists, to racist statements said aloud by GOP members. I’ve seen a lot when it comes to anti-Black racism at work in the Michigan legislature.

There’s also a lack of attention to cultivating Black staff at all levels so that there are voices here beyond those of us who are elected.

We must continue to speak up and advocate for our communities and not worry about being “polite” or notions of “civility” because the repeated trauma of racist comments and actions is anything but polite or civil.

What does it look like for Black communities to not just survive—but thrive?

State Rep. Park Cannon (GA): The five pillars of #ReproJustice, self-determination; access to comprehensive reproductive health services; affordability of care; parenting with respect and dignity; and workplace and caregiving supports, are key to a thriving life for black families and families to be.

Delegate Gabriel Acevero (MD): It looks a lot like Black Wall Street. It also looks like clean air, water, and REPARATIONS.

The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, one of the first black-owned banks in the United States. (Source: National Park Service)

Rep. Stephanie Howse (OH): To have thriving Black communities, governments in particular must acknowledge the harm and destruction they have caused to Black people and commit to policies and practices that restore and renew.

Rep. Attica Scott (KY): When we thrive we are freely our whole, authentic selves. We have access to quality affordable housing, education, healthcare and jobs. We’re paid a fair wage, our businesses are supported, and our neighborhoods are safe from environmental hazards and toxins.

State Sen. James Coleman (CO): Our communities need strong economic investments and infrastructures that overcome historical injustices. When our Black communities are given first consideration, rather than everything after, we will do more than just survive.

Last question: let's talk about Black futures. What's your message to Black youth this Black History Month?

Delegate Gabriel Acevero (MD): My message to Black youth this Black History Month and everyday is: You are enough. Life will not be easy but as philosopher and poet, Kendrick Lamar put it... “We gon’ be alright.”

State Sen. Erika Geiss (MI): My message to Black youth this Black History Month is to pay attention to what is going on in your local community, state, country, world & get involved no matter how small or large the issue is. Your voices are important, necessary, and powerful. And when you’re able to, register to vote and vote in every election...local, state, federal. There no such thing as an off-year election.

Rep. Attica Scott (KY): You're are loved. You are needed. You are valued. Continue to raise your voice in protest of corrupt, unjust systems. Show up for racial justice. Speak out. Stand up. Continue to support good public policy. Continue to run for office and change the face of government.

Legislator Spotlight: Pennsylvania Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta

Top photo by Swiger Photography. This interview was conducted via Zoom and has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you define what it means to be a successful state legislator? 

I think first and foremost, you have to do the homework. When I come into a committee hearing, it is very rare that I've not read every line of a bill or the analysis of the legislation. Even if it's seemingly benign legislation, there may be things in it that are bad for my constituents. 

Even more, there might be opportunities to make the legislation better. For example, a colleague who is not my favorite person on the Republican side—introduced a bill to have outside health experts oversee the Department of Health. So I introduced multiple amendments to include a deep dive into the racial disparities of COVID.

How did you figure out that you should try to introduce amendments?

Being in the minority, I seek opportunities to introduce priorities into broader pieces of legislation. If I can make amendments, then we can make life a little bit better for the community members who are not often centered in our policy conversations. Politics is a math problem. If the minority doesn't have 102 votes in the [Pennsylvania] House, 26 votes in the Senate, and a governor who's willing to sign the legislation, then it is not going to become law. It's very rare that I get 102 votes on something, but there are ways for me to use the amendment process. 

What surprised you about being a state legislator?

It should not have surprised me that it takes a really long time to get anything done. It is incredibly disappointing because there are chronic issues that are impacting people I love and care about. Those lived experiences are what drove me to run in the first place.

As a member of the minority, we don't control the calendar or when a bill comes up, so a lot of time is spent sitting around waiting for things to happen. The reason being, people see the meal based on where they're sitting at the table, so if you're sitting in front of the turkey that's the most important thing. 

In Pennsylvania, we are a large, diverse state, so, for some, doing something about Volunteer Fire companies is the most important. For others, it's charter schools, bus contracts, etc. So the question is, how do we find synergy around the time in which we approach those priorities? 

Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta conducting a telephone town hall with thousands of constituents. (Photo: Facebook)
Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta conducting a telephone town hall with thousands of constituents. (Photo: Facebook)

What's your proudest moment or accomplishment?

I'm deeply proud of protecting the right to vote in our democracy, especially while the [former] president tried to dispute the election. Until the very last hours of the session, GOP legislators were introducing legislation to try to overturn the electors. With Pennsylvania being the tipping-point state, it was an important feat just to come to work and speak up. I was also a party to a number of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party lawsuits against the president, and I'm deeply proud of that.

How do you stay true to your values in a political system that's designed to uphold the status quo?

We shouldn't be trying to build compromise, we should try to build consensus. Building consensus is about ensuring that your values are in the room and talking openly and honestly about what makes people's lives better. 

Even more, it is about figuring out how we build coalitions to make lasting, substantive change. We have to get buy-in from a bunch of different people, which takes real skill and real commitment. It is not about taking any deal just to get a deal. It's about getting a deal that doesn't just bandaid the problems we face and instead is a real surgical approach to the things that are deeply broken.

What advice would you give newly elected state legislators as they enter their first session?

Remember why you ran. When you get into the hustle and bustle of it all, sometimes we forget some of the conversations that inspired us or forget the people who encouraged us. They saw something in us, and they still want to see that in action.

I say to my constituents all the time, yes, I want you to vote for me and I appreciate your vote, but I also need you to write letters about the legislation I introduced. Secondly, when it's safe to, I need you to come up to Harrisburg and share your stories about why I introduced this legislation and what it can mean to your family. And finally, I need you to talk to the press and write op-eds.

Also, remember you are not in this alone, because there is literally nothing you can do by yourself. Everybody must recognize the stewardship required for our democracy to work, and elected leaders do not have the only role. 

To my fellow legislators: don't take on the pressure that you have to change the world alone. That is a reductionist mentality because you cannot do it all by yourself. Above all else, don't give up your personal life because it is very easy to do that. You can always be doing legislative work, but your family and the people who love you deserve to have you too. 

Legislator Spotlight: Nebraska Sen. Megan Hunt

Top photo by Ariel Panowicz.

This interview was conducted via e-mail and has been edited for length and clarity.

How would you define what it means to be a successful state legislator? 

Success looks different for everyone because we all have limits on what we are able to do. In the short time I have as a State Senator, I will feel successful if I can use the circumstances that are handed to me to bend as much power as I can in service of our most vulnerable Nebraskans.

If you could go back in time, what’s one thing you’d do differently in your first term?

Looking back, I see that I made some beginners errors that probably could not have been avoided—types of things I just had to learn the hard way. For example, introducing a few bills without first gauging the support of key colleagues, or being unprepared for a few obvious questions in committee hearings. But on the whole, I am proud of myself. Overall, I can say with confidence and pride that I didn't leave anything on the table, that I picked my battles well, and that I did as much as I could. I balanced the firmness of my own convictions and principles with doing what's best for my district and for Nebraska. And I did this as part of a team of 49 senators plus all of our indispensable staff.

Nebraska State Senator Megan Hunt in Nebraska State Capitol wearing mask
Sen. Megan Hunt in the Nebraska State Capitol; (Photo: Sen. Megan Hunt's Facebook)

What surprised you about being a state legislator?

In Nebraska, we have the nation’s only nonpartisan unicameral legislature, which means that we have no official party identification, we have no caucuses, no majority/minority leaders, etc. I am on the far left side of the spectrum represented in the Nebraska Legislature, and I broke barriers as the first out LGBTQ+ state senator ever, as a single working parent, and as an atheist. I was really afraid that my colleagues would stereotype me or be hostile toward me because of who I am, but I was wrong. I have found every one of my colleagues amenable, willing to work with me, and I have made several close friends with colleagues who are ideologically very different from me. I think that Nebraska legislators are able to benefit from these positive relationships because of our officially nonpartisan structure. We fight, we disagree, we argue, but we do cooperate, and that’s a good thing for Nebraskans.

What was one challenge you faced as a legislator that you didn’t anticipate?

The pandemic, absolutely. When the pandemic began to reach Nebraska in March, the Legislature suspended its session, and my office started working remotely. We made the decision to pivot from our legislative work to a focus on the immediate, urgent safety needs of Nebraskans facing hunger, unemployment, and eviction. Our agenda for 2020 changed completely, from the slate of policy goals we brought into the new year, to the simple but critical objective of ensuring that Nebraskans would survive.

It was very important that our office was able to pivot from our original policy goals to the day-to-day crisis work that COVID has demanded of our elected leaders. But I certainly never expected to be in this position.

What’s your proudest moment or accomplishment?

I’m very proud of how my staff has handled the COVID-19 pandemic. We are still helping Nebraskans receive unemployment and SNAP benefits they are entitled to from the early part of the pandemic. Many of these Nebraskans have never been system-involved, and many are slipping through the cracks when trying to work with agencies to get their benefits.

Of course, I’m also taking care of my daughter, managing her virtual learning, and running a business of my own. My hat is off to all parents and educators who are dealing with balancing work, education, schooling, and all the challenges of this pandemic. It feels hard every day, but we have to be proud of everything we’ve been able to do amidst all this adversity. 

How do you stay true to your values in a political system that’s designed to uphold the status quo?

For me, it’s the easiest thing in the world. Our entire political institution—the rules, the norms, everything—was created by people who are invested in the status quo to ensure that people marginalized by the status quo will still work to maintain it. I have endeavored to not be a part of that by questioning my assumptions about what’s going on, and by having the courage or playfulness to question others’ assumptions. Why should I worry what others think of my values? I am the one who has to live with myself and sleep at night! And this is why representation in government is so important. I want different elected leaders, I want diverse elected leaders, and I want us to work together to render the status quo obsolete.

What advice would you give newly-elected state legislators as they enter their first session?

I have the approach that there is nothing sacramental about a seat in the legislature, and there is nothing intrinsically special about me that entitles me to hold one. We are just people who are holding a job. The power we have is awesome, but we make mistakes, we have motives that are good and bad, we build our little legacies if we’re lucky, and then we are term-limited or we retire or we lose reelection. I know that I am just passing through, and I have to use my time here and the power I have to make life better for other people. You can’t want this job because you think you have the answers. You have to want this job because you know we have the answers, and you want to help implement those solutions. You can’t tie all of your identity up in elective office. It’s just a channel for you to do good work. And there are many ways to do that besides holding office.

A Warning on the Gig Workers Legislation Coming to Your State

By: Terri Gerstein, Director, State and Local Enforcement Project, Harvard Labor and Worklife Program & Senior Fellow, Economic Policy Institute and Rebecca Smith; Director, Work Structures Portfolio at National Employment Law Project (NELP)

Proposition 22 was a California ballot initiative that passed in November. Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other gig companies spent over $200 million to deprive their workers of important employment rights in exchange for a paltry package of benefits. The companies are now pushing this model in other states and legislators should be prepared to counter an aggressive and well-funded campaign.  

What’s at stake?

Gig companies want to exempt themselves from laws that every other employer has to follow—minimum wage, overtime, discrimination, unemployment insurance, paid sick time, paid family leave, workers’ compensation, and workplace safety and health—and they want to give very little in return. We are expecting legislation or ballot initiatives in at least CO, IL, MA, NJ, NY, and WA in 2021.

What are the actual facts about these drivers?

These companies have disclosed little data about who their drivers are, how many are full-time, how many hours they work, and how much money they make. One rare exception, a 2018 study from New York City, revealed: 

We also know that Black and Latino workers comprise almost 42 percent of app-based workers. Relegating them to a second tier of labor protections recreates historical racist exclusions of Black and Latino workers from basic protections.

What have courts said? 

Courts have repeatedly held that these workers are entitled to their rights as employees (five courts in three states in 2020). 

What does Proposition 22 do? 

As this New York Times op-ed explains, Prop 22 is a bad deal. It denies California’s gig workers paid sick leave, unemployment benefits, and overtime pay, allows many weekly work hours to be unpaid, offers exceedingly limited benefits, and requires a whopping 7/8 vote for any amendment. 

What can you do? 

You can fight efforts to pass similar measures in your state: 

Want more information? We will be offering a webinar in 2021, but if you’d like more information sooner, let SiX know!

What Just Happened in the States

Partisan Control of State Legislatures Remains Largely Unchanged

In November 2020, nearly 6,000 of the nation’s 7,383 state legislative seats were up for election. Come January 2021, the partisan control of state legislatures will look almost identical to how they looked two years prior: of the 98 chambers that have partisan control, 59 are held by Republicans, 37 by Democrats (as of this writing, the Arizona Senate and House remain in flux; Nebraska is a unicameral, nonpartisan chamber).

Though communities of color in Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan beat back Donald Trump’s fascism and division federally, gerrymandering and other structural barriers kept their state legislatures relatively unchanged. For example, in Wisconsin, Joe Biden won 49.4% of the vote (as of November 5th), but Republicans retained 61% of all state legislative seats.

Progressive Policy Victories Were Achieved via Ballot Measure

Voters of all political persuasions overwhelmingly support progressive public policy options, mostly through direct democracy in the ballot measure process.

Statehouses Across the Country Will Be More Diverse

The 2020 election produced a diverse new class of progressive electeds in red and blue states alike.

The pipeline of public leadership is starting to look more like America— but we still have far to go. We can never achieve justice if our decision-makers are older, whiter, and more affluent than the people they represent; only 29% of state legislators who hold office are women and 78% are white.

In many states, legislators are part-time, paid very little (if at all,) and required to drop everything to be fully available for their legislative sessions. This has led to state legislatures being disproportionately composed of retirees, independently wealthy people, and those whose educational and career privileges allow them to hit pause on their careers for up to several months per year without repercussions.

What Comes Next

The most immediate challenge facing all state legislatures next year will be swelling budget deficits due to the pandemic and the recession. At the same time, state legislators face an extreme risk across the progressive movement—that all hopes are laid at the feet of the new President without an acknowledgment that state legislatures have significant power to shape the political terrain for generations to come.

We know that bold champions can make a difference in every legislative context — majorities, minorities, and split governance states — and our champions need resources and support to create transformative change. SiX is designed precisely for this work.

The road ahead isn’t easy, but the work to transform this country is a long arc. We stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and are so grateful to be in this generational struggle.

Medication Abortion: A 20-year Anniversary and an Opportunity

[et_pb_section fb_built="1" admin_label="section" _builder_version="3.22" custom_padding="0px|||||"][et_pb_row admin_label="row" _builder_version="4.7.7" background_size="initial" background_position="top_left" background_repeat="repeat" custom_padding="2px|||||"][et_pb_column type="4_4" _builder_version="3.25" custom_padding="|||" custom_padding__hover="|||"][et_pb_text admin_label="Text" _builder_version="4.7.7"]

Medication abortion care is a safe and effective method of abortion care that has been studied extensively since it was approved by the FDA 20 years ago this month. 

Still, many Americans are unfamiliar with medication abortion care -- what it is, how it can increase access to care during a pandemic and beyond, and the state and federal level policy barriers that stand in the way.

To assist state legislators' work in this area SiX Reproductive Rights teamed up with Dr. Ushma Upadhyay, an expert in medication abortion care from the University of California San Francisco, and Innovating Education in Reproductive Health to make this short instructive video

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version="4.7.7" _module_preset="default"][et_pb_column type="4_4" _builder_version="4.7.7" _module_preset="default"][et_pb_video src="" _builder_version="4.7.7" _module_preset="default"][/et_pb_video][et_pb_text _builder_version="4.7.7" _module_preset="default"]

Click here to read video transcript.

[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row _builder_version="4.7.7" _module_preset="default"][et_pb_column type="4_4" _builder_version="4.7.7" _module_preset="default"][et_pb_text _builder_version="4.7.7" _module_preset="default"]

Some topline takeaways to keep in mind:
  • Medication abortion care is an FDA-approved option for ending an early pregnancy.
  • Medication abortion care has been shown to be safe and effective over the last 20 years with a more than 99% safety rate.
  • Despite its 20-year safety record, FDA restrictions (called REMS) still limit the number of providers that can stock and dispense the medication used in medication abortion care, reducing the options for patients to access it.
  • Unnecessary state level restrictions on the use of telemedicine for medication abortion care — which have been passed in 18 states — add to the burden by requiring people to travel for an in-person visit, even though it is just as safe and effective to consult with a provider over video or phone.
    • In July a Federal Court blocked the enforcement of the FDA restriction that requires people to pick up the medication in-person from their provider for the duration of the COVID public health emergency.
    • The Trump administration has appealed to the Supreme Court to re-instate that requirement.
  • Restrictions on medication abortion care, and abortion care in general, fall hardest on those who have low incomes, live in rural areas, are women of color, undocumented, or are young.
  • It doesn’t have to be this hard to get medication abortion care. Pregnant people should be able to have medication abortion prescribed by their health care provider and receive their medications in the way that makes the most sense for them, whether that is having it delivered to their home or picking up at a local pharmacy or at a health center.


Medication abortion care has been researched extensively.
This list contains a selection of issue briefs and fact sheets summarizing the research and the state-level policy implications:  


For additional resources, messaging guidance, or to be connected with a research expert on reproductive health topics, please reach out to


Legislators can protect workers’ rights by partnering with AGs

The fight for worker’s rights rages on through the pandemic. Everyone deserves a safe workplace, yet the average American worker currently finds themselves in a troubling situation: risk their health or go to work. Millions of Americans are relying on elected officials to enact policies that will protect their rights and ensure their safety. Fortunately, workers are not the only ones calling for strong reforms such as paid sick leave, recovering stolen wages, and fighting misclassification of workers, amongst many others. 

A new EPI report documents the dramatic increase in the involvement of state attorneys general (AGs) in protecting workers’ rights in the past two years. The report recommends that state legislatures grant attorney general offices jurisdiction to enforce workplace rights laws. It also urges state AGs to expand their involvement in this area using a range of their existing powers and authority.

 “Many workers held precarious jobs and experienced high rates of wage theft and retaliation... In response to the dire challenges facing workers today, a number of state AGs have emerged as leaders in enforcing and protecting workers’ rights,” said Terri Gerstein, director of the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program, and a senior fellow at EPI. 

Unfortunately, several states have already taken steps to grant business liability protections from workers’ lawsuits during the COVID-19 crisis. These liability laws have dire consequences such as unsafe conditions for both workers and daily consumers. 

The State Innovation Exchange commissioned a recent poll surveying Americans in ten states and it revealed that voters strongly support policies that would provide immediate pocketbook relief for families and workers. Even more, results show that a majority of voters side with workplace safety requirements over liability protections for corporations (55% to 26%).

There are a number of common sense measures state and local officials should be considering to put worker and public health front and center. To see what else you can do to help keep workers safe, visit SiX’s Coronavirus Response Resources page.

For more on the Economic Policy Institute, see their report and press release.

Defending Against Harmful Policies

State legislatures are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, trying to do their best to protect and provide vital social services to their constituents. While some states are passing inclusive policies to stabilize our local economies, others are using the pandemic as an opportunity to pass harmful policies that will have devastating impacts on our communities. Additionally, some policies are intended to support struggling families but are having unintended consequences. 


Americans Want Community Investment, Not Cuts

A recent poll surveying Americans in Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and conducted by TargetSmart, shows voters’ strong support for: state investment in ensuring residents are safe, healthy, and economically secure; progressive solutions to revenue shortfalls; and policies that benefit workers like paid sick days, enhanced unemployment benefits, and child care. A majority  also believe the state government should address economic barriers that impact Black people. The survey was conducted online and by phone in late June/early July and included results from more than 5,000 respondents.

Voters are against budget cuts

By a three-to-one margin, voters want their state government to invest in residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (60%) rather than lowering taxes and cutting funds to services like education, infrastructure, and unemployment insurance (19%). Voters see a major or some role for state government in: 

Voters support progressive solutions to revenue shortfalls

Voters support a wide range of proposals to raise revenue to prevent large budget cuts to things like education, health care, infrastructure, and human services, including: 

Voters are with workers

Voters strongly support policies that would provide immediate pocketbook relief for families and workers, including:

A majority of voters side with workplace safety requirements (55%) over liability protections for corporations (26%). 

Voters want state government to remove racial barriers in the economy

Nearly 7-in-10 voters across the target states believe state government should play an active role in acknowledging and addressing systemic racism (68%). Voters also believe the state government should address economic barriers faced by Black Americans (57%). 

Click here for more results.

New Poll Shows Minnesotans Want Action to Address Systemic Racism & COVID-19

Overwhelming support for bold policy solutions to address systemic racism surfaces as a top priority. Coronavirus is a close second.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protest movement, a recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and conducted by TargetSmart shows Minnesota voters hold deep concerns over systemic racism, COVID impacts on elections, and economic barriers. 

Voters See Expanded Role for Government in Addressing Crisis

In an open ended question Minnesotans cited racism, injustice and police brutality as a top concern (26%), followed closely by the COVID pandemic (19%). Voters see the state government playing a major role during this crisis in the following areas: 

Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Although voting in-person on Election Day remains the most popular option (56%), a sizable portion of Minnesota voters report that they will vote by mail (32%), and just a few indicate they plan on voting early in-person (11%). 

Whether or not they are choosing to vote in person or by mail, voters supported policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact on Unemployment and Strongly Support Bold Economic Policies

By a nearly three-to-one margin, Minnesota voters want state governments to invest in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (56%) rather than the state keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure, and unemployment insurance (20%).

Nearly 4-in-10 Minnesota respondents reported they have been laid-off or had their hour cut (39%). Voters express grave concerns about small business closures (85%) and losing work and income (84%). Minnesotans also believe businesses should be required to provide safe working conditions or be penalized for negligence if workers get sick (50%).

Given the current crisis, Minnesotans support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many:

Click here for more results.

After Voting Debacle, New Poll Shows Wisconsinites Want Election Security

Overwhelming support for state investment to ensure health and economic security while also bolstering a fair election 

In the wake of Wisconsin’s much-criticized spring elections, a recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and conducted by TargetSmart shows Wisconsin voters broadly support reforms to safely administer elections, increase the role of the state government, and address health & safety. 

Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Wisconsin voters strongly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (86%). Voters are split between planning to vote by mail (45%) and vote in-person on Election Day (39%).

Whether or not they are choosing to vote in person or by mail, voters supported policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Wisconsin

When asked if the state government should play a role in investing in the health, economic, and overall security of the people, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in:

Voters Concerned about Pandemic’s Impact on Health & Safety and Support Bold Economic Policies

Almost 6-in-10 Wisconsin voters want the state government to invest in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (57%) rather than the state keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure, and unemployment insurance (21%).

Over 1-in-3 Wisconsin respondents reported they have been laid-off or had their hour cut (33%). Voters express grave concerns about small business closures (83%), losing work and income (81%), and being unable to afford rent or mortgage (69%). Wisconsinites also believe businesses should be required to provide safe working conditions or be penalized for negligence if workers get sick (52%).

Given the current crisis, Wisconsinites support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many:

Click here for more results.

New Poll Shows Mississippians Want Bold Policy Action

In a recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and conducted by TargetSmart, Missippians expressed a strong desire for bold policy action by the state government to address the impact of COVID on the economy and election safety and accessibility. 

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact on Health and Strongly Support Bold Economic Policies

Mississippi voters want state governments to invest in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (55%) rather than the state keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure, and unemployment insurance (19%).

Nearly 2-in-5 Mississippi respondents reported they have been laid-off or had their hour cut (39%). Voters express grave concerns about small business closures (87%) and losing work and income (90%). Mississippians also believe businesses should be required to provide safe working conditions or be penalized for negligence if workers get sick (52%).

Given the current crisis, Mississippians support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many:

Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Mississippi voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (92%). An overwhelming majority of Mississippians plan to vote in-person on Election Day (80%) because alternatives are limited, even during the pandemic..

Missippians support policies to ensure the election is accessible for all eligible voters and want voters have a range of safe options when registering and casting their ballots:

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Mississippi

When asked if the state government should play a role in investing in the health, economic, and overall security of the people, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in: 

Click here for more results.

New Poll Shows Georgia Voters’ Deep Concern About Pandemic

Strong support for bold policy solutions to help working families, businesses, and ensure the safety and accessibility of elections

The coronavirus surfaces as the top issue priority for Georgia voters and this concern cuts across partisan lines.  A recent poll conducted by TargetSmart and commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Georgians have deep concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the 2020 elections and the economy.

Georgians Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections and Reduce Barriers for Black Voters

Georgia voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (92%). Georgians are split on how they plan to vote in November, with fairly even shares of voters reporting intentions to vote early in person (30%), by mail (30%), and in-person on Election Day (37%).

Whether or not they are choosing to vote in person or by mail, voters supported policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

Notably, Georgians agree that the state should reduce barriers that stop Black people from voting (68%) and a majority of voters (56%) agree that systemic racism has prevented Black people and other people of color from being able to participate fully in our democracy.

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Georgia

When asked if the state government should play a role in investing in the health, economic, and overall security of the people, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in: 

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact on Health and Strongly Support Bold Economic Policies

By a nearly three-to-one margin, Georgia voters want state governments to invest in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (61%) rather than the state keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure, and unemployment insurance (20%).

Over 2-in-5 Georgia respondents reported they have been laid-off or had their hour cut (41%). Voters express grave concerns about small business closures (85%) and losing work and income (87%). Georgians also believe businesses should be required to provide safe working conditions or be penalized for negligence if workers get sick (62%).

Given the current crisis, Georgians support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many:

Click here for more results.

New Poll Shows Coronavirus Pandemic is the Main Issue on Texans’ Minds

Strong support for bold policy solutions to help working families and ensure safe and accessible elections

A recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and conducted by TargetSmart shows that Texans hold deep concerns about the risk COVID-19 poses to their health, the impact on the economy and the election and they support bold policy action. 

Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Texas voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (89%). Given the limited options for voters even during a pandemic, voters report they will still plan to vote early in-person (53%) or on Election Day (29%). Even though the state has taken steps to make vote by mail more difficult, 15% of Texans still prefer that option.

Texans strongly support policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Texas

When asked if the state government should play a role in some of the issues facing working families, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in:  

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact on Health and Strongly Support Bold Economic Policies

By a nearly three-to-one margin, Texas voters want the state government to invest in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (62%) rather than the state keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure, and unemployment insurance (18%).

Over 1-in-3 Texas respondents reported they have been laid-off or had their hour cut (35%). Voters express grave concerns about small business closures (79%) and losing work and income (83%). Texans also believe businesses should be required to provide safe working conditions or be penalized for negligence if workers get sick (57%).

Given the current crisis, Texans support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many:

Click here for more results.

10 State Poll: Americans Support Bold Policy Solutions

Intense support for commonsense election reforms and solutions to create economic security

A recent poll surveying voters in Michigan, Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and conducted by TargetSmart, shows voters support policies to ensure accessible elections and a desire for more state investment to ensure people are economically secure.

Masked women packing food


Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Voters in the ten states overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (91%). States strongly support policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

Voters Are Concerned About USPS and Having Their Vote Counted

The politicization of Vote by Mail and the partisan attacks on the United States Postal Service have eroded faith in the ability to have mail-in ballots count. The poll shows that half of all voters are concerned that the mail system in their state cannot be relied upon to get vote-by-mail ballots to election officials in time to be counted in the election. This concern is higher among Black voters (60%) and Latinx voters (53%).

Voters Want State Government to Remove Racial Barriers to Voting

Nearly 7-in-10 voters across the target states also indicate that they believe state government should play an active role in acknowledging and addressing systemic racism (68%). Accordingly, two-thirds of voters across these target states believe their state government should reduce barriers that prevent Black people from voting (65%).


Voters Concerned about Health and Safety, Want Protections and Investment 

By a three-to-one margin, voters want their state government to invest in residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (60%) rather than lowering taxes and cutting funds to services like education, infrastructure, and unemployment insurance (19%). Voters also believe the state government should address economic barriers faced by Black Americans (57%). 

A majority of voters side with workplace safety requirements (55%) over liability protections for corporations (26%).

Respondents support expanding unemployment insurance and other economic policies

Nearly three in five voters support extending the length of time that workers can receive expanded unemployment benefits. Support for this policy is particularly high among Black voters (84%) and voters under 50 (67%). Voters also strongly supported policies that would provide immediate pocketbook relief for many, including:

Click here for more results.

Tennessee Supreme Court Ruling Adds Urgency To Special Legislative Session

New poll shows Tennesseans want action to ensure safe, accessible elections and to help workers 

Yesterday, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the coronavirus pandemic which has infected nearly 5 million Americans and killed more than 150,00 is not an acceptable reason to vote absentee in the November election in Tennessee. However, new polling commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and conducted by TargetSmart shows Tennessee wants action from state legislators during the special session to ensure that Tennesseans do not have to choose between their health and their vote in November.

Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Tennessee voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has an important role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (96%). 

Tenneseans support policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact on Unemployment and Strongly Support Bold Economic Policies

By a three-to-one margin, Tennessee voters want state governments to invest in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (58%) rather than the state keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure, and unemployment insurance (18%).

Roughly 1-in-3 Tennessee respondents reported they have been laid-off or had their hour cut (34%). Voters express grave concerns about small business closures (85%) and losing work and income (88%). Tennesseans also believe businesses should be required to provide safe working conditions or be penalized for negligence if workers get sick (52%).

Given the current crisis, Tennesseans support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many:

Click here for more results.

Black and Poor Communities Need More Than the ADA

On July 26th we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. As a result, employers cannot discriminate against disabled employees and must provide reasonable accommodations such as wheelchair ramps, accessible bathroom stalls, and sign language interpretation at events. While these changes are monumental, the work is not over. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 Americans are living with a disability, which refers to any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for a person to engage in certain activities. This means that every issue we work on - jobs, housing, climate change, democracy, and reproductive health - is a disability justice issue. 

While those living with a disability have a wide range of experiences, we know that race, class, and gender play a critical role in whether or not disabled people have full access to jobs, schools, healthcare, and the education system:

State Policies to Support Disabled Communities During Elections and a Health Pandemic

In the midst of a health pandemic and the looming presidential elections, many people living with a disability are in nursing homes where the coronavirus is running rampant and are trying to access safe and fair elections. To support disabled people, states can advance policies that expand vote-by-mail and expand access to public assistance programs.

State legislators: If you’re interested in talking one-on-one or hosting a virtual legislator briefing for your state, fill out this short form and we will follow up with you.

Arizonans Overwhelmingly Support Proactive Policies in COVID Crisis

Strong support for progressive solutions to help working families and ensure the accessibility of elections

A recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Arizona voters hold deep concerns over the risk that COVID-19 poses to their health and the impact on the economy.  The poll showed that Arizonans believe that the government should play a constructive role in people’s lives.  

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Arizona

When asked if the state government should play a role in some of the issues facing working families, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in:  

Voters Overwhelmingly Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Arizona voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (93%). The majority of Arizonans report that they will vote by mail in the November election (77%). However some Arizonans still report that they will go to the polls on Election Day (14%), or that they will vote early in person (7%). 

Voters overwhelmingly supported policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible:

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact and Strongly Support Progressive Economic Policies

Two out of three voters believe Arizona state government should invest more in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (65%) rather than state government keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, unemployment, and health insurance (16%).

Arizona has been hard hit by the pandemic with one in three reporting that they have been laid off or had their hours cut (34%).  Arizonans report they are concerned about the people losing work and income due to the virus (87%), small businesses and restaurants closing down permanently (85%), unable to afford their rent or mortgage (76%) and people being forced to choose between their health and their job (72%).

Given the current crisis, Arizonans support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many and make life easier:

Click here for more results.

Floridians Want State Lawmakers to Act on Threats Created by COVID Crisis

Strong support for progressive solutions to help working families and ensure the elections are accessible and safe

A recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Florida voters hold deep concerns over the risk that COVID-19 poses to their health and the impact on the economy and the election.  Two in three Floridians believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come (65%). 

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Florida

When asked if the state government should play a role in some of the issues facing working families, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in:  

Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Florida voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (92%). The majority of Floridians report that they will vote by mail (52%). However, 47% still plan to vote in person, with 27% planning to vote on Election Day and 20% planning to early vote.

Whether or not they are choosing to vote in person or by-mail, voters supported policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact and Strongly Support Progressive Economic Policies

By a four to one margin voters believe Florida state government should invest more in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (64%) rather than state government keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure and unemployment insurance (16%).

Florida has been hard hit by the pandemic with one in three of Floridians responding that they have been laid off or had their hours cut (34%).  Two out of three Floridians support extending and expanding unemployment for those workers who have been laid off (65%).    Support for this policy cuts across partisan lines  with Democrats (78%), Republicans (52%)  Independents (65%) in favor.

The pandemic is a top of mind concern for Floridians who report they are concerned about the people losing work and income due to the virus (84%), small businesses and restaurants closing down permanently (84%), Floridians contracting the virus and dying (79%), people of Florida unable to afford their rent or mortgage (79%) and people in Florida being forced to choose between their health and their job (71%).

Given the current crisis, Floridians support policies that will address the hardships being faced by many and make life easier for working families:

Click here for more results.


As State Legislature Goes Into Special Session, New Poll Shows Nevadans Support Action on Threats Created by COVID Crisis

Strong support for bold policy solutions to help working families and ensure the safety and accessibility of elections

As the Nevada state legislature is set to begin a special session to address COVID-19 related issues, a recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Nevada voters hold deep concerns over the risk that COVID-19 poses to their health, the impact on the economy and the election and they support bold policy action.   

Voters Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Nevada voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (89%). The majority of Nevadans report that they will vote either early in person (39%) or vote by mail (34%).  However one-in-five believe that they will go to the polls (22% on Election Day). 

Whether or not they are choosing to vote in person or by-mail, voters supported policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible for all eligible voters:

"Nevadans want this legislature to take action to ensure all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote and aren’t forced to choose between their health and their vote," said Stacey Shinn, Nevada State Director for SiX.

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Nevada

When asked if the state government should play a role in some of the issues facing working families, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in:  

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact and Strongly Support Bold Economic Policies

By a three-to-one margin, voters believe Nevada state government should invest more in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (58%) rather than state government keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, infrastructure and unemployment insurance (23%).

Nevada has been hard hit by the pandemic with over half of respondents reporting that they have been laid off or had their hours cut (52%).  Nevadans report they are concerned about the people losing work and income due to the virus (89%), small businesses and restaurants closing down permanently (89%) and people of Nevada unable to afford their rent or mortgage (81%).

Given the current crisis, Nevadans support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many and make life easier for working families:

These results show how hard hit Nevada has been by this pandemic. People all across this state are hurting and they strongly support bold policy action by this legislature,” said Shinn.

Click here for more results.


Michiganders Want State Lawmakers to Act on Threats of COVID Crisis

Strong support for progressive solutions to help working families and ensure the safety and security of elections

A recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Michigan voters hold deep concerns over the risk that COVID-19 poses to their health and the impact on the economy.  The poll showed that Michiganders believe that the government should play a constructive role in people’s economic lives.  

The Role of Government in Issues Facing Michigan

When asked if the state government should play a role in some of the issues facing working families, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement in:  

Voters Overwhelmingly Support Steps to Ensure Safe and Accessible Elections

Michigan voters overwhelmingly believe that the state government has a role to play in safely and fairly administering elections (87%). The majority of Michiganders report that they will vote by mail in the November election (60%). However one-in-three believe that they will go to the polls (34%). 

Voters overwhelmingly supported policies to ensure the election is safe and accessible:

Voters Concerned about COVID Impact and Strongly Support Progressive Economic Policies

By a three-to-one margin, voters believe Michigan state government should invest more in its residents to ensure they are safe, healthy, and economically secure (58%) rather than state government keeping taxes low and cutting funds to key services like education, unemployment, and health insurance (18%).

As for how legislators should address the potential budget shortfalls due to COVID, respondents overwhelmingly favored closing corporate tax loopholes (90%) and increasing taxes and financial penalties on companies that pollute Michigan’s air and water (88%). There is also strong support–77%–for increasing taxes on the wealthiest individuals in Michigan. 

Eight-in-ten voters are concerned about people in Michigan losing work and income due to the coronavirus outbreak. Michiganders are equally concerned about small businesses and restaurants closing down permanently in Michigan (81%). 

A majority of voters also support measures that would benefit those returning to work and those who remain unemployed, including requiring businesses to provide safe working conditions and penalties if workers get sick (56%) and extending the length of time that laid-off workers can receive unemployment compensation and increasing the amount they receive (55%).

Given the current crisis, Michiganders support policies that will address the economic hardships being faced by many and make life easier for working families:

Click here for more results.


LGBTQ State Legislators Talk About Pride

This Q&A is from a State Innovation Exchange tweet chat featuring state legislators from across the country. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Who is the first out LGBTQ politician you remember?

FL Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith: Orlando Commissioner Patty Sheehan is the first out LGBTQ politician I remember! She was the first out LGBTQ elected official in central Florida 20 years ago, helped us through @pulseorlando, and has been a role model for queer people everywhere. Thank you, Patty!

NC Rep. Allison DahleThe first that I remember was Rep. Barney Frank.

CO Rep. Leslie Herod: Colorado State Senator Jennifer Veiga. It took a lot for me to gather the courage to run, but watching her serve (I was an aide at the Capitol when she came out publicly) was a true inspiration.

IN Sen. J.D. Ford: I know choosing Milk is kinda the easy answer but I’ve always admired him.

MI Rep. Laurie Pohutsky: I obviously wasn’t alive to actually “remember” him, but the first LGBTQ+ politician I ever learned about was Harvey Milk, and that wasn’t until I was part of the GSA in college, unfortunately.

MA Rep. Jack Lewis@carlsciortino was the first out elected that I consciously remember meeting. He graciously visited one of @outmetrowest’s youth programs, inspiring both the teens and myself. Now I am grateful to know out electeds from around the world because of the @VictoryInst.

NE Sen. Megan Hunt: I didn’t know of or meet any out LGBTQ+ people in politics until I was in my late 20s. Now I have the dubious honor of being the first out person in the Nebraska Legislature, which shows what a long way we have to go for equality in representation.

ME Sen. Justin Chenette: I learned about Harvey Milk back in high school from the 2008 film Milk written by @DLanceBlack and it was inspiring to see someone not only living their truth but speaking truth to power in fighting for #equalrights.

Harvey Milk sitting in front of Castro Camera on Castro Street, San Francisco  1977 sign reads, "Don't Let It Happen Here" - Register to Vote"
Harvey Milk sitting in front of Castro Camera on Castro Street, San Francisco, 1977.

Why does LGBTQ representation matter?

Rep. Leslie Herod: Every day legislative bodies make decisions that impact the lives of LGBTQ people. We must have several seats at the table.

Sen. J.D. Ford: In 2019, when Indiana was debating the hate crimes bill, I was the only Senator who could stand in the well of the Senate to speak to my lived experience as a gay man. And, even though I was representing the Community, I didn’t have the experience as a black or brown transgender Hoosier.

Sen. Megan Hunt: We have the capacity to offer a high quality of life and opportunity for all, but not until we expand diversity of representation across all intersections at the state and local level. The government doesn’t work for all the people until it reflects all the people.

Senator Justin ChenetteLGBTQ representation = our voices at the table & the next generation has positive examples of what’s possible. It normalizes our personal lives & moves us closer to equality. My husband & I made this film about growing up gay & finding love.

We have the capacity to offer a high quality of life and opportunity for all, but not until we expand diversity of representation across all intersections at the state and local level. The government doesn’t work for all the people until it reflects all the people.
Nebraska Sen. Megan Hunt

What’s something you’re proud of from your time in office?

Sen. Megan Hunt: I am most proud of my work to modernize Nebraska’s building and energy codes for environmental sustainability, my efforts to demystify our system government for the public, and the deep friendships I have developed with colleagues of all political backgrounds. Truly a dream job.

Sen. Justin Chenette: This past session, I was proud to co-sponsor @RyanFecteau‘s bill that once and for all banned conversion therapy in Maine! We are protecting our LGBTQ youth from torture.

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky: I introduced a bill to close a loophole that allows for marital rape in cases where a spouse is drugged. It was co-sponsored by 61 of my colleagues and highlighted a serious oversight in MI law. Unfortunately, it’s still waiting on a hearing because… y’know… the GOP.

Sen. J.D. Ford: I am proud to be in the Indiana legislature. I’m living out my dream job and I get to help folx. Huge thanks to the voters of SD29 for sending me to the Indiana General Assembly to be their voice. I am proud to continue using my voice and platform to fight for commonsense measures.

Rep. Allison DahleI was proud of our success with HB 1169, the Bipartisan Voting Act of 2020, which will assist voters in safe voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rep. Jack Lewis: During my first House Budget debate, I worked with my colleagues to successfully restore an HIV/AIDS line item that our governor had cut. While there have been many reasons to celebrate, that first success will always have a special place in my heart.

a pride flag flying on a flagpole

Why are state legislatures important?

Sen. Megan Hunt:

My two obsessions?

✅ State and local government

✅ Progressive policy in red states

Any hope for the future rests at the state & local level. That’s why I put my energy into down-ballot candidates and local issues. Can’t even dream of fixing Congress until we build a bench!

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky: State legislatures produce laws that impact the day-to-day much more acutely than many federal policies. Additionally, state law can provide safety nets in some cases when federal law changes and strips away certain protections and rights.

Sen. J.D. Ford: I would argue that state and local politics is where folx should pay the most attention. It’s fun to follow the presidential election, but we make decisions that have a direct impact on you and your family.

Like what we are doing? Let’s us know! Don’t like what we are doing? Let us know! From LGBTQ policies to education policies, to how well we maintain our roads/bridges, these are areas we tackle. Don’t know who is your legislator? That’s ok! Just plug in your address.

Send them a note! I think the best way to engage your legislators is a face-to-face meeting, followed by town halls, phone calls, emails, and postcards.

Rep. Jack Lewis: As someone who has lived in red, purple & blue states, I can affirm that it is legislative policies that help shape a state’s culture. I urge everyone to get to know their state rep and senator, and if they don’t share your values, RUN for elected office!

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith: State legislatures have more power over the daily lives of their residents than Congress in many ways. They fund (or defund) our public schools, implement Medicaid programs and protect (or fail to protect) LGBTQ people from discrimination through state civil rights laws.

Sen. Justin Chenette: State legislatures are where your voice can be amplified to have the biggest impact. If a state lawmaker receives a dozen calls, it’s an emergency. So get involved! Your voice could mean the difference between the passage or defeat of important legislation.

State legislatures have more power over the daily lives of their residents than Congress in many ways. They fund (or defund) our public schools, implement Medicaid programs and protect (or fail to protect) LGBTQ people from discrimination through state civil rights laws.
Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith

What does your state need to prioritize in order to advance LGBTQ equality for all?

Sen. J.D. Ford: For me, it’s very simple:

✅ Protect transgender Hoosiers (particularly BIPOC who are experiencing violence, sexual violence and/or death)

✅ Protect our LGBTQ+ youth

Rep. Jack Lewis: Our movement started when LGBTQ people of color, experiencing unimaginable police brutality, asserted their right to exist. Many in our community though have actively silenced their voices. We must re-center voices of color and those most harmed by societal oppression.

Sen. Justin Chenette: I still can’t give blood. While @US_FDA lifted the lifetime ban on gay/bi men from donating, the current deferral is still blatant discrimination. We want to help save lives, especially with the blood shortage. Let us. Use science & data, not outdated stigma.

Rep. Allison Dahle: Here in North Carolina, we need to listen to and uplift Black voices and then act upon their advice in order to work toward equality for all.

Sen. Megan Hunt: I would be happy to pass literally one law to support the LGBTQ+ community in Nebraska. I’ve introduced many. On the whole, I think the single BEST thing our state could do is expand Medicaid and include protections for LGBTQ+ patients. Start with basic health.

Peoosn holding printed orange paper that reads "Defend + Protect Queer Kids"

What’s your message to LGBTQ youth?

Rep. Allison Dahle: Please grow up and be involved in your state government. You can become a politician, an activist, or an advocate. Use your voice to make your state better. No matter how big or how small your voice is important!

Sen. Megan Hunt: There is no political party, race, or religion that gets to have the monopoly on happiness, morality, or freedom. You deserve to be happy because you are a human. If you have the strength and confidence to be who you are, that is the most powerful thing you can do.

Sen. Justin Chenette: Let your light shine bright. Be the best you, you can be. You are valued, worth it, and exactly who you’re supposed to be. As the only openly gay Senator in Maine, my road hasn’t been easy, but what has never let me down is being my most authentic self.

Sen. J.D. Ford: My message: No matter how hard it feels right now, you will find people who ❤️ you and value you not in spite of who you are but because of who you are. Everyone has hard days but try and stay 💪. We need your laughter, brilliance and love in this 🌍.

Rep. Jack Lewis: I wish I could tell my younger self that in the long run, everything will be okay. Years of my childhood were overshadowed by fear, confusion, and self-loathing. It is my wish that every young LGBTQ person knows that they deserve to be loved, affirmed, and supported.

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky: You are enough. In whatever way you’re worried you don’t measure up or count, you absolutely do. You are enough.

Pennsylvanians Support Progressive Agenda in Harrisburg

A recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Pennsylvanians are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and support widespread testing, prioritize working people in the economic response, and support reforms to make our democracy stronger. 

Pennsylvanians Broadly Support Widespread Free Coronavirus Testing, Vaccination, and Treatment 

Residents strongly agree with: 

Pennsylvania Voters Support Various Economic Responses that Prioritize Working People

A majority of residents agree that: 

Additionally, when presented with two possible solutions for addressing Pennsylvania’s budget shortfall due to the coronavirus pandemic, a solid majority of people gravitate toward the progressive argument for increasing taxes on the wealthy and out-of-state corporations. Nearly two in three Pennsylvanians express a preference for increased taxes while fewer than one in three voters prefer spending cuts on core services. 

Pennsylvanians are also broadly open to a range of working people’s policies, including a $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, and paid sick leave. 

Democracy Reform Agenda Broadly Popular, Particularly Among Black Voters 

Pennsylvanians are very supportive of democracy reforms, including:

For the full poll memo, see here

Anti-Black Racism Must End in This Country: A Call for Justice, Solidarity, and Action to Legislators in Our Network

By Jessie Ulibarri and Neha Patel, SiX Co-Executive Directors 

State Legislators,

We write to you with profound grief, rage, and frustration, but also with deep hope that this network of state legislators can rise to meet this moment and leverage the power of our collective work to fight for a nation that honors, respects, and protects Black lives. We call for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Nina Pop, Ahmaud Arbery, Dreasjon Reed, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Rayshard Brooks, and so many others. 

As an organization that works to transform systems through liberatory public policy, we know anti-Black racism is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions and a lifetime commitment from each of us. And we must acknowledge that historically, SiX has fallen short in our own external and internal work to live fully into this commitment - when we haven’t centered Black voices in public policy or partnership, when we haven’t committed our staff and financial resources to fully uprooting anti-Black racism in public policy, and when we haven’t worked aggressively enough to support, affirm and promote Black voices internally on our staff. This moment calls us all to reckon with the harms of the past and recommit ourselves to a different path forward. SiX is prepared to shift our approach, and this is a first step in a life-long commitment we’re making for this organization. We hope each of you will join us in this work.

We unequivocally condemn over 400 years of anti-Black racism in this country in all its forms, including police violence, white vigilante violence, and the continued lynching of Black people. We envision an equitable, resilient, healthy, and prosperous future for every person, and ending anti-Black racism and white supremacy is central to the world we are working to build. To that end, you will find three separate messages below - one to Black legislators, one to legislators of color who are not Black, and one to white legislators.

We have written messages to folks from different racial identities in our network because we recognize the unique pain, rage, and burden that our Black colleagues are carrying; the opportunity we have to call in legislators of color who are not Black to show up in solidarity and action; and the significant responsibility that lies with our white colleagues to radically and rapidly shift their orientation toward racial justice from here on out. 

As leaders of color who are not Black, we know that our liberation, our freedom, and our ability to live free from fear is rooted in ending anti-Blackness and white supremacy. We are holding with humility that organizations like ours are not and should not be at the center of decision making for Black-led grassroots movements that have spent centuries advancing justice before this moment in time. We are committed to following the leadership of Black-led organizations and leaders in the Movement for Black Lives. We remain committed to our mission to empower, embolden, and equip state legislators to build and wield progressive governing power by/with/for the people they represent. And this means centering the voices, experiences, and demands of Black folks in this country in public policy.

We write these letters with the heaviness of knowing that you all combined have tremendous power to create real change, but that tensions, ignorance, internal disputes, fear, and division have stood in the way of change in the past and threaten to stand in the way again today. We write with the guarded optimism of knowing that today, state leaders are the greatest chance for change but that it will take all of us, working together, to achieve that. Our nation is yearning for visionary and bold leadership–let us work together to provide it. 

We want to remind you that we are here to provide state legislators with the tools needed to shape impactful public policy and build partnerships–across chambers, across regions, across state lines, and with grassroots movements. Please, reach out with policy, strategy, or communications questions. We are also here to lift up your leadership–so let us know what you are working on so that we can amplify and share.

See the messages here:
Message to Black Legislators
Message to Legislators of Color Who Are Not Black
Message to White Legislators

--Jessie Ulibarri and Neha Patel, SiX Co-Executive Directors 

We Won’t Go Back: An Open Letter from State and Local Legislators Urging the U.S. Supreme Court to Defend Abortion Access

We all deserve the right to make decisions about our families and our bodies, free from coercion or violence. As elected officials in states and localities, we are committed to protecting and advancing these rights.

In the past decade, hundreds of restrictions on abortion care have been passed at the state level, and more local governments are restricting abortion in their own towns and counties. The resulting patchwork of laws means that a person’s ability to access your their right to abortion depends on your zip code and the contents of your bank account, with low-income people, people of color, young people, immigrant communities, and rural communities paying the steepest price. As public servants, it’s our job to not only support policies that allow our constituents to survive but policies that allow them thrive.

The United States Supreme Court’s forthcoming decision in June Medical Services v. Russo, which concerns medically unnecessary regulations on abortion providers, is an opportunity for the Court to uphold precedent and ensure Louisiana does not devastate peoples’ ability to get safe, legal abortion care in their communities. Anything less—allowing the Fifth Circuit and Louisiana to disregard the Court’s precedent —would open the door for states to regulate abortion out of existence for millions of families. Abortion isn’t a right if you can’t access it.

The avalanche of recent state abortion restrictions, passed despite the highest levels of public support for abortion rights in decades, distorts our democracy. Our states and localities are resisting these attacks on our rights in favor of reflecting the will of the people: to have the freedom to live safe and healthy lives and to define their own paths.

As legislators representing millions of people in the places they live, work, go to school, raise families, and seek healthcare, we urge the Supreme Court to stand by decades of precedent, from Roe v. Wade to Casey v. Planned Parenthood to Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, and reject this deceptive Louisiana law, and send a clear message that we won’t go back.

Click here to see the full list of legislators.

Lead the conversation on abortion access in your state by sharing messages and graphics created for legislators here.

For the People by the People: An interview with Rep. Padma Kuppa

This Q&A with Michigan State Rep. Padma Kuppa was conducted by the State Innovation Exchange, and has been edited for length and clarity.

What made you decide to enter state politics?

I decided to run for office because I was extremely concerned about the state of public education after the confirmation of Education Secretary Devos. I had been advocating for public school funding and been an active volunteer in schools since 2000 when my kids started at Troy public schools. I believe public school education is the backbone of what makes for a strong economy and a strong America.

You’re the first Indian immigrant and Hindu member of the Michigan Legislature. What do those “firsts” mean to you?

Being the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the Michigan Legislature enhances my ability to represent my district fully, as I am conscious of my difference but also how I am 100% part of the community and American. That someone like me, born in another country, can embrace the ideals of our democracy, be a part of the community that I helped over the last two decades by volunteering and serving, and now serve as a state representative, just shows the power of government for the people by the people.

Padma Kuppa smiles and talks to colleagues on the Michigan House floor
State Rep. Padma Kuppa talks with colleagues on the Michigan House floor. (Photo: Michigan House)

That someone like me, born in another country, can embrace the ideals of our democracy…and now serve as a state representative, just shows the power of government for the people by the people. —Rep. Padma Kuppa

The COVID-19 epidemic has brought many social inequities to light, including the disparity in who has access to paid sick leave. Can you talk about the bill you introduced?

When I was a contract worker, I took time off when my kids were sick — not when I was sick, because I didn’t get paid sick time. For one in three Michigan workers, staying at home is not an option, and that is really a problem when we want to stop the spread of this pandemic. People shouldn’t have to choose between paying bills, buying food, making the rent and going to work when they are sick.Working mothers, in particular, are affected, especially when they are poorly paid for work in restaurants or retail operations, or care facilities.

Exterior of the Michigan State capitol building's dome
Top dome of Michigan State Capitol

How have you coped with the surge in anti-Asian racism during the COVID-19 epidemic?

I have been raising the issue with other elected leaders, including the governor and my legislative colleagues. I am also holding town halls to raise awareness and discuss the issue. I am working with Senator Chang, the Assistant Attorney General Doddamani, and the Department of Civil Rights to conduct a hate crime prevention training for Asian American community leaders via a virtual town hall.

What would you say to Michiganders who are looking to get more involved in state politics?

I always tell people to find an issue or two that you are passionate about and advocate with whichever group or elected leader you can. Make an effort to share that passion and nurture your ability to give voice to that issue so that you can make a difference. It’s important to start locally, build relationships, and organize so that people understand what you’re advocating for — and then hopefully join you to make meaningful change.

What book or film would you recommend to allies this Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPIHM)?

One of my favorite movies is by a constituent, Sarab Neelam, Ocean of Pearls. I also enjoyed one of the books that we read for the Great Michigan Read, Stealing Buddha’s Dinner. Both make you think about what it means to be American.

2019-2020 Polling on Earned Income Tax Credits and Revenue Policy

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a tax cut for working families. The federal EITC was established during the Reagan administration as a way to reduce poverty and to reward people who work in low-wage industries. In addition, the District of Columbia and 29 states have a state EITC which provides a vital source of income for tens of millions of low-wage workers

State polling conducted over the course of 2019 and 2020 to broadly educate legislators, partners, and the public showed that among likely voters, there is strong support for policies that provide working families with economic security. Polling found high levels of support for the Earned Income Tax Credit as well as responsible revenue policies that ensure everyone pays their fair share, for example:

For the full memo see here.

For more on EITC, watch this webinar hosted by SiX, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Economic Security Project, and Economic Security for IL.

Black Maternal Health Week 2020

SiX is proud to parter with the Black Mamas Matter Alliance on Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW), a week of education and advocacy around the experiences of Black Mamas. From April 11th through April 17th, through a series of digital and community events, BMHW will uplift Black-women led entities to focus on the root causes of poor maternal health outcomes while also leaning on Black voices to drive conversation around tangible community-driven policy, programs, and solutions.

Join us on the webinars and by sharing social media content below! 

You're invited to these Black Maternal Health Week Webinars

Black Maternal Health and the U.S. COVID-19 Response
Monday, April 13 3:30-5 pm ET

Register here

This webinar will feature birth and reproductive justice health professionals' experiences and guidance with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and response. Topics will include Black breastfeeding; navigating Doula services; access to abortion care; and hospital protocols in Perinatal health - all from a health equity lens to highlight and address racial injustices and human rights violations of birthing persons and care providers within the U.S. COVID-19 context. 

Shifting and Advancing Black Maternal Health Policy
Tuesday, April 14, 2-3 p.m. ET

Register here

This webinar will highlight Black Mamas Matter Alliance’s position with respect to Maternal Mortality Review Committees and their engagement with community based organizations and advocates, along with policy considerations relating to Doula Reimbursement. The webinar will also feature policymakers who will provide insight into federal policy initiatives seeking to address maternal health disparities.

Share Messages & Images

RFLC Black women legislators are leading the way in improving Black maternal health outcomes in their states. Share one of the following messages and images on social media to show your support! Click here to download and share images.


Message 1: It's #BlackMaternalHealthWeek, an opportunity to focus on solutions to the Black maternal health crisis without fear, blame, or shame. #BlackMamasMatter #BMHW20 @SiXRepro

Message 2: At this time, very little is known about #COVID19's impact on pregnant people and childbirth. But what we do know is that our healthcare system has never fully supported Black women. This #BlackMaternalHealthWeek, let's find solutions to change that. #BMHW20 @SiXRepro

Message 3: Black women are 2 to 3 times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. This #BlackMaternalHealthWeek, let's raise awareness of this crisis in our communities and center Black mamas to find solutions! #BMHW20 @SiXRepro

General Graphic 100

Black Maternal Health Resources

You can check out the full list of Black Maternal Health Week activities here.

North Carolinians Supported Economic Reform Even Before the COVID-19 Crisis

A recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows North Carolina voters held deep concerns over pocketbook economic issues and support for progressive policy solutions even before the full impact of COVID-19 was felt. The poll showed that North Carolinians believe that the government should play a constructive role in people’s economic lives.  

The Role of Government in the Top Issues Facing North Carolina

When asked if the state government should play a role in some of the top issues facing working families, voters overwhelmingly supported government engagement. Voters’ top priorities include:  

Voters Support Action on Economic Policies

North Carolinians believe that a job should allow workers to earn a wage to support a family (82%), provide a steady consistent income (81%) and allow access to affordable health insurance (78%). North Carolinians overwhelmingly support these policies that help working families:  

These results showed that even before the economic dislocation from the current crisis, North Carolinians wanted economic policies to make life easier for families. Now more than ever, those policies are vitally important.

Click here to see the poll memo and here for the presentation.

April Update

In late April, SiX tested the same issues again to see whether the COVID-19 crisis has changed support for those policies. These recent results show that NC voters continue to strongly support progressive policies. The vast majority of voters believe that the government should have a role in enacting progressive policy changes that would provide economic fairness, more access to affordable health care, and investments in public education. More information here.  

Coronavirus Response: Resources for State Legislators

As the coronavirus situation continues to unfold, we’re compiling resources here to help you navigate the many challenges this presents to your community.  We will use this space to share policy, communication, and organizing resources that you can use to respond to the health, economic, and social impacts this is having on your communities.  

We know that crises like these have disproportionate impacts on vulnerable and low-income communities and want to make sure we stand up for those most at risk. As legislators, you are uniquely positioned to find solutions that mitigate the harm for at-risk medical populations (people with chronic health conditions, people with disabilities, the elderly), hourly workers, the millions of Americans without access to health care or paid sick days, and everyone who is one health emergency away from financial ruin.

The resources below can help you use your platform to provide clear, scientifically-based information to the public and advocate for better policies.

If you have actions or new policies that are happening in your states, please share them so we can provide them to other legislators across the country. Please email

The Basics

Legislative Sessions and Operating Remotely

Race and the Virus: Bias, Data, Testing, and Impact

Structural racism puts people of color at greater risk to both the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.

Racial data
Coronavirus data released from the CDC does not yet include breakdowns by race. We cannot continue to fight this pandemic blindly.

The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Racial Wealth Gap
Coronavirus Compounds Inequality and Endangers Communities of Color
On the Frontlines at Work and at Home: The Disproportionate Economic Effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Women of Color

Health Care

Unemployment and Protecting Stimulus Paychecks

See SiX’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Policy playbook here.

Policy Recommendations:

Examples of States’ Paid Leave Legislation in response to COVID-19

Additional Resources

Preventing Evictions

Preventing Utility Shut Offs and Payment Deferment

Democracy and Voting

2020 Census 

Voting & Elections

Reproductive Rights

Medical and Research Resources


Rural Communities and Agriculture

See SiX's talking points and policy solutions for rural communities and local agriculture and our memo outlining how stimulus money is expected to come into states to aid agriculture and rural communities. There are still a number of unknowns and we are continuing to monitor the situation closely.

The $2 trillion stimulus package included $9.5 billion dollars for agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus, including producers of specialty crops, producers that supply local food systems, including farmers markets, restaurants, and schools, and livestock producers, including dairy producers. You can read a summary compiled by the National Farmers Union here. Here is an analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The United States Senate Committee on Finance has a breakdown on their website of the rural healthcare resources in the recent Stimulus package. You can read it here.

Resources for Farmers in Your District

Resources for Farm Workers

Here is a guidance from NC Health & Human Services for migrant farm workers and their employers (only in English)


Other Policies to Consider

Child Care

Consumer Protection

Criminal Justice

Economic Development


Social Services

Hate Crime Prevention

Broadband Access

Quarantined Individuals


State Budgets

Messaging and Connecting with Constituents during Social Distancing


Connecting with Constituents

Here are some ideas and examples to help you connect with your constituents remotely:

Reach out if we can help you plan or execute any of these ideas.

National Resources on Economic Impact

Overview of the Federal Response Package

Overview of the Federal Response Package

Defend Against Harmful Policies

Opportunistic Abortion Bans

Elected officials in numerous states --including West Virginia, Alaska, Texas, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Iowa and Indiana-- have taken steps to restrict abortions under the pretense of preserving medical supplies and hospital beds, claiming abortions are not “nonessential” procedures that can delayed till the end of the epidemic and most abortions do not take place in hospitals. See the Reproductive Health Care section on this page for more.

Reopening Too Soon?

Elected officials in Pennsylvania, Minnsota, Michigan, Idaho, and Florida have pushed back against stay-at-home orders, non-essential work bans, and school closures. The premature calls for returning to ‘business as usual’ threaten the safety and lives of communities.

Check out the LSSC Virtual Training on What Local Governments Can and Should Do to Respond to the Public Health Crisis for further guidance on the importance of local and state governments using their authority to protect communities from the virus.

Also check out the CAP tracker on how states and localities are enforcing stay-at-home orders

Limits to Voting Expansions

As states grapple with how to prepare their electoral systems to handle the pandemic’s unique challenges, legislators across the country have pushed for reforms (mail-in-ballots, absentee voting, deadline extensions, etc.) as a safe, secure, and accessible way for voters to participate without risking their health. However, opposition to such expansions, in states like Minnesota, Arizona, and Wisconsin, jeopardize citizens’ abilities to safely vote. See the Democracy and Voting section on this page for more.

Commonsense Gun Safety Reforms Receive Broad Bipartisan Support in Colorado

A recent poll conducted by Strategies 360 for the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows that Coloradans strongly support progressive solutions to improve gun safety. Across the board from liberals to conservatives, these commonsense policies receive overwhelming support statewide. 

Lost and Stolen Reporting and Safe Storage

Seven in ten Colorado voters favor holding gun owners legally accountable for failing to store their guns securely and for failing to report lost or stolen guns. Colorado voters are demanding action on gun reform as a result of the dramatic and pervasive violence that has permeated every corner of the state. Both measures earn the strong support of at least half the electorate, while just a quarter oppose them. Majorities of liberals (87%), moderates (70%), and conservatives (59%) back safe storage accountability. A similarly diverse coalition stands behind accountability for failing to report lost or stolen guns (87% of liberals, 74% of moderates, and 60% of conservatives). 

See the full survey memo here.

Survey Methodology: Strategies 360 conducted a survey of 600 registered voters in Colorado from January 2-5, 2020. Interviews were conducted on landlines and cell phones. The margin of error for a survey of 600 interviews is ±4.0% at the 95% confidence level.

Video: State Legislators Find Out What Happens When Abortion is Banned

With U.S. states banning abortion in record numbers, we had to ask: what does it mean for a place to ban abortion?

That’s why State Innovation Exchange took five state legislators to El Salvador, home of one of the strictest abortion bans in the world, to understand what happens when abortion is banned.

Watch and share this video with your networks today and help fight back!

New Maine Focus Group Results Show Support for Progressive Ideas from the Legislature

Recently concluded focus groups built on polling conducted last year and reveal Mainers strongly support many of the policies the state legislature has recently passed or considered with residents most supportive of legislation to make prescription drugs more affordable, ones that will hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for the opioid crisis, and establishing more protections for workers.

As the 2019 legislative session came to a close, SiX commissioned Lincoln Park Strategies to conduct a poll to gauge voters’ feelings on the progress of the legislative session. To build on that knowledge, SiX commissioned focus groups of Mainers prior to the 2020 legislative session to gauge swing residents’ feelings about the state’s future and their views on the legislative leadership’s policy agenda. One thing is clear: Mainers are looking for solutions to their everyday problems and largely support the progressive ideas the legislature has passed and considered. 

Mainers are most worried about issues around healthcare, especially access to quality and affordable care, the cost of prescription drugs, and opioid abuse.

Voters are also very worried about job opportunities in the state, the cost of higher education, property taxes, income tax fairness, access to quality education, and climate change.

See analysis here and results here.

Action on Health Care Affordability Is a Top Priority for Coloradans

Voters Support Health Care Reforms and Tax Savings for Working Families

A recent poll conducted by Strategies 360 for the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows that voters strongly support progressive solutions to make health care more affordable and put more money in the pockets of working people.

Health Care

The skyrocketing cost of health care and prescription drugs remains a top issue for Colorado residents. The findings highlight that progressive policy solutions like limiting hospital profit margins, increasing competition in the health care market, and capping prescription drug costs would make a real difference for Colorado families.

Economic Issues

Voters continue to support measures that expand tax savings for low- and middle-income families. There is robust support for the state to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, which would provide desperately needed economic relief for families making less than $75,000 per year.

For the polling on health care and economic issues, see results here. For analysis on the health care results see here.

Survey Methodology: Strategies 360 conducted a survey of 600 registered voters in Colorado from January 2-5, 2020. Interviews were conducted on landlines and cell phones. The margin of error for a survey of 600 interviews is ±4.0% at the 95% confidence level; error is higher among subgroups.

For Second Year in a Row, Health Care Tops the List of Issues Floridians Want the State Legislature to Act Upon

A recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Floridians are concerned about health care and other pocketbook economic issues.  Polling demonstrates strong support for progressive policy solutions to these challenges facing Florida families.

Voters Support Action on Health Care 

Florida voters prioritize action on health care with a focus on affordability. On a scale of 1 to 100, voters supported policies to: 

Voters Want Action on Pocketbook Economic Policies

Floridians reject trickle down economics and strongly support progressive policies that put money back in the pockets of working people.  

Click here to see the poll memo.
Click here to see the presentation on results.

The State Innovation Exchange commissioned TargetSmart to complete the research.  The survey was conducted in December 2019 with 892 respondents.

Our 10 Favorite Moments from State Legislatures this Year

2019 was a big year in state legislatures. Important battles to strengthen our democracy, improve the lives of working families, advance reproductive freedom, defend civil rights, and protect the environment were won and lost in states across the nation. These battles impact the lives of Americans every day, yet so many of these stories never reached the eyes or ears of most Americans. There are too many legislative victories to include in a list like this, so below are ten of our favorite moments of legislators standing up for their values. 

Note: When looking back over the year, we did not screen for gender, and yet women took center stage. More women are running for office than ever before, yet still make up just 28.7% of state legislators. But as you’ll see below, these women are making an impact. 

1. Women Took Charge in NV with the First Female-Majority Legislature in the Nation

Nevada became the first state in the nation’s history where women outnumbered men in the state legislature. More people of color were in Nevada’s legislature this session too, and all of these new voices in the legislature shaped which issues were discussed and which become policy. “I think growing up, you have this idea that politicians aren’t us. They don’t look like me. They don’t have my type of hair. They don’t come from our background. They don’t have to send money back to El Salvador to make sure that their family can make ends meet,” Assemblywoman Selena Torres said in an interview with the Washington Post. “But then you come to realize: That’s the problem.”

VZTacCJRItN1upOKynCK Zhba2iJybd1E0 pvuvc9FZDnv 7pDodSwqM1biK9JZ 31UKeHrH1A5MYjqSkdGVzRS7bMRVUcuVXuVm60V6lFgN1R N6W73

2. When OR Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell Donated A Kidney to a Stranger 

This year, Oregon Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell donated her kidney to a stranger, survived a conservative recall attempt, and worked on legislation to include protections for organ donors under Oregon’s just-passed Paid Family and Medical Leave law, one of the most progressive leave policies in the nation. While Rep. Mitchell didn’t benefit from the law for her own surgery--the law goes into effect in 2020--she hopes her process and the passage of this bill inspires more people to consider becoming a donor. 2019 was also a huge year for paid family and medical leave progress in the states. Connecticut joined Oregon and also passed a new statewide law; California and New Jersey expanded their paid leave laws.

3. NC State Representative Deb Butler Did Not, and Will Not, Yield.

When Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature lied to progressives about whether they would be voting to override the Governor's budget veto in an effort to keep them off the floor, Rep. Deb Butler stood strong for her values and earned national attention for protesting the measure from the House floor. Standing up for progressive budget priorities, like education, clean water, and affordable health care, she refused to yield while calling attention to the trickery and deceptiveness at play. See the MSNBC story here.

qbhkXlnsSdmVwiBLnQLIlj0aGrMKuk2RHS5YBM9G7w O g MKBYUsd8t6MRC6fmaoGDH9ejOen4uFDjA

4. Rep. Lamar Fought TN’s Abortion Ban as Only Female Legislator of Child-Bearing Age

In March of this year, the mostly-male Tennessee legislature (111 out of 132 members are men) was debating a six-week abortion ban. Rep. London Lamar fought against the ban, pointing out that she was one of, if not the only, female legislator of child-bearing age. “Access to abortion cannot be separated from human rights,” she said. 

Gp2FddGCYYRZx9m1QE5sAfHDo2YAS67jTM9topdXbDfFjMRVZgwgd Cp5yYPqz6lXt9FKXYNtiEupyzdQAUD42JU7ZxjrO9uve2pW0Qzjw5nD29E4Q1

5. MI Rep. Tenisha Yancey Fought to Give Michiganders a Second Chance

Rep. Tenisha Yancey of Michigan said the crimes she committed when she was 17 continue to “haunt her and follow her,” as she encouraged her colleagues to vote for a package of criminal justice reform bills. The legislation is notable not only for the impact it will have on the lives of Michiganders but also its strong bipartisan support and continues to the state Senate.


6. Crossing State Lines, Women Came Together to Stand Up for Abortion Access

Faced with dangerous abortion restrictions in their own states, Missouri Rep. Cora Faith Walker and Georgia legislators Sen. Nikema Williams and Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick traveled to visit the Illinois legislature for a press conference to underscore the urgency of the issue of abortion bans as Illinois considered a proactive measure on abortion access, known as theReproductive Health Act. With a broader understanding of the national effort to prohibit abortion, the IL legislature ultimately passed the Reproductive Heath Act.

c9ggo21lmQZKVsoz2gP4smz m uYMPwZr680GlccZvkWWDGBhDTtexyQMXUdNTP7cqFRvPN5FtnTYFSN5Etn4lwmsRUGL916ezD2Rj7fyXEo7U4D6mSY yV3MzddbD0zhmPhcid
MO Rep. Cora Faith Walker, IL Sen. Melinda Bush, GA Sen. Nikema Williams, GA Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick

7. Sen. Stephanie Flowers Fought AR’s Stand Your Ground Bill: “You are not going to silence me!” 

During a Judiciary Committee hearing on a so-called “stand your ground” bill, Arkansas State Senator Stephanie Flowers delivered stinging criticism of the bill. When committee leadership tried to speed debate along and cut her comments short, Sen. Flowers refused to be silenced. Fortunately, the bill died in the committee.

SH1gsGpH uGJL4xlFapoowtpZF9WDTVblPYo6EXKPWA8efLDxTS9AyBj1 WfhAr dcP6g4Zu2WcpxxXPiMc4wnJ qVeww30NKF

8. If You Can’t say “Tampons,” You Shouldn’t Restrict Them

“If you don’t want to say the word ‘tampon,’ then you shouldn’t restrict access to one,” said Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod advocating on behalf of incarcerated women who have limited access to feminine hygiene products in prison. The bill, which ensures incarcerated women have access to the products they need, is now law.

KEp5kDGZS5KnNw9OGRAdJtj0cVkcboR4u7kTbNIkO aQzQj1lTHFVqOJI3FfjBsi oMYJf7wPDfqCIN03z

9. “If you’re not here fighting for the most vulnerable, why are you here?” Asks PA Sen. Katie Muth

When Republicans in the Pennsylvania Senate called for a vote to eliminate funding that supports the state’s poorest residents, Sen. Katie Muth took the podium and read the testimony of a formerly homeless man who benefited from the program that conservatives wanted to defund. While she read, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman continuously shouted over her—so much so that he became hoarse. Sen. Muth refused to be silenced and read the testimony in full, guaranteeing that the testimony would make it onto the official record.

rxFUYb9ni0iv5IbFSDrxq5fcOY2y7 8zjvVB5J7F7 r 0 1YlX6JrcbVFlGuyg57cA8N6ik6S1fyV3S4WD9ym5qcaa3RQ 6VIEiObU0L5 ti632jGhaR0a9B6HRJJ0lJmYQBBHj

10. Rep. Howse Unleashes on Abortion Ban After El Salvador Trip

Five state legislators traveled to El Salvador with SiX staff to see the impacts of the country’s strict abortion bans. During the trip, conservatives in Ohio brought forward one of the most draconian abortion bans in the nation. Ohio Rep. Stephanie Howse returned from El Salvador recommitted to defending abortion access and unleashed on the bill in this interview with Scene Magazine. “Lawmakers are talking about ‘pro-life,’ but then give zero care about what sort of lives people are living. If they did, we'd have affordable housing. We'd have great education systems. We'd have family sustaining wages. We'd have access to healthcare,” said Rep. Howse.

graQnoLKtJyzGg1Ezm0gmYNf4 X89odtyfJFczIcFUXgnR229KEKrCCVmX8GRZQilTZ8gkyAK d KsuEP5HVWfFhLGUuGWnaWXrLfy bdvWk6RebGqTJ4AFaGVUi b2cRQTSEk6Q

There were so many more moments from 2019 that demonstrated the dedication progressive state legislators bring to their work. We are thankful to every state legislator who works tirelessly to strengthen our democracy, fight for working families advance reproductive freedom, defend civil rights and liberties and protect the environment. Follow @stateinnovation on Twitter for highlights throughout the year. 

Health care costs, support for working people top concerns in new Michigan poll

Voters support health care reforms and progressive economic initiatives

A recent poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies for SiX shows that economic concerns around the skyrocketing cost of health care and prescription drugs remain key issues for Michigan residents. It highlights that progressive policy solutions like addressing the abuses of drug companies, capping copays, and demanding more transparency are priorities for voters and would make a real difference for Michigan families.

Voters continue to support working people when it comes to measures that expand eligibility for overtime protections, prevent wage theft and payroll fraud, and create a student bill of rights for higher education loan borrowers. They also favor corporations paying their fair share of taxes, particularly as the state continues to grapple with finding enough revenue to invest in priorities like roads and schools.

Residents want action to improve election security

The survey also explored attitudes around the status of election security, openness to further voting reforms, and census participation. Michigan residents value more secure election systems and expect state lawmakers to address it. A majority of respondents supports taking the reforms approved by voters last year a step further by automatically mailing a ballot to all voters. A plurality are also interested in using the new online option for participating in the census next year.

For the polling on health care and economic issues, see more results here and analysis here. For the polling analysis on election security and the census, see here

Survey Methodology

Grateful for Michigan Lawmakers and a Governor who Fight for Working People

During this season of reflection and gratitude, we would like to pause to acknowledge the bold steps some lawmakers and Governor Gretchen Whitmer are taking on behalf of people in Michigan who work more than 40 hours each week but who aren’t being compensated for their extra hours. Several weeks ago, the Governor announced a plan to initiate a new rule that would qualify nearly 200,000 additional salaried workers in Michigan for overtime protections. This follows strong legislative proposals introduced in both chambers spearheaded by Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (Flint) and House Minority Leader Christine Grieg (Farmington Hills). The bills have 46 cosponsors.

For decades, middle-class Michiganders have been working longer and harder than ever, but the wages they take home are falling further and further behind. The current overtime eligibility situation exacerbates those dynamics. A recently announced weak federal rule would still mean that salaried workers earning anything over $35,568 a year would not be paid time-and-a-half when they work more than 40 hours in a week. Fortunately, these Michigan lawmakers and Governor Whitmer are proposing much stronger standards that would help hundreds of thousands of workers and pump more than $30 million into our economy.

It’s not just numbers on a spreadsheet that make sense when it comes to this issue. We have heard from actual workers like “Julia,” the West Michigan retail manager who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. She regularly works over 50 hours a week and still struggles just to pay her bills because her employer is not required to provide overtime pay, regardless of the number of hours she works. Too many Michiganders can relate, which is why there is broad public support for expanded overtime protections.

Lawmakers and the Governor heard directly from business owners and workers who would benefit from increased overtime protections when they recently sat down together in a New Boston diner. Representatives Darrin Camilleri (Brownstown), Mari Manoogian (Birmingham), and Matt Koleszar (Plymouth) joined the Governor in listening to the concerns of local families and shared how the proposals they support would make a real difference in people’s lives. The Governor will continue to hear from residents and share support for strong pro-worker policies when she holds a telephone town hall on Tuesday, December 10 from 5:30-6:30 EST with Representatives Lori Sone (Warren), Nate Shannon (Sterling Heights), and Senator Paul Wojno (Warren).

As 2019 comes to a close and we head into an important legislative season at the beginning of 2020, it will be more important than ever to continue the fight for an economy that works for everyone. Officials in other states like Pennsylvania and Washington have already moved forward on expanded overtime protections and several others like Maine, Massachusetts and Colorado are also considering measures. We must remain united in pushing back against conservative opponents who would prefer stalling or who advocate for weakened versions. Hundreds of thousands of working people are counting on it.

Growing, Giving Thanks, and Getting Ready to Govern in 2020

As we approach the holidays, we at SiX want to thank our incredible network of state legislators. Serving as a state legislator is no easy task, and we are grateful for the dedication and courage they bring to the job.

Since our founding in 2014, legislators have relied on SiX to provide customized policy support, trainings, research, communications support, and connections with grassroots and national partners. We’ve grown to an organization of almost 30 passionate and talented staff members.

This year, we focused on year-round support and in-state, regional, and international trainings. In 2020, we are deepening this approach to better tailor our support to our expanding and diversifying network of legislators.

Here's just some of what we've been up to in the last year:

We also launched the Progressive Governance Academy (PGA)!

The PGA is a joint project between Local Progress, SiX, and re:power to build and develop the leadership and governance skills of progressive state and local elected officials across the country. Trainings cover a range of topics including: developing a policy agenda, tools for accomplishing their goals, and navigating complex challenges of governing as an elected official. Email to find out more. 

Here are some more highlights on how we're growing and changing to better support progressive state legislators:

State Director Model

Two years ago we started our new State Director model based on what we’ve heard from state legislators: they don’t need a national organization that parachutes in and offers one-time resources that don’t reflect the unique and ever-changing dynamics on the ground in their state. To make sure support is ongoing, tailored to each state, and builds over time, we currently have State Directors in AZ, CO, FL, MD, ME, MI, NC, NV, PA, VA, and WA. This model has proved to be hugely impactful in these states and we hope to be able to grow and expand into more states in the coming years. By focusing resources on-the-ground in state capitols rather than in Washington, D.C., SiX is bringing essential tools and supports where we know legislators need them most.

For states where we do not yet have an in-state presence, our issue programs and central staff continue to offer services including communications support, research, and trainings.

Issue Programs

Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council

The Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council (RFLC) is a cohort of over 400 state legislators from around the country standing up for a bold vision of abortion rights and access. Members of the RFLC gain access to skills-building events and opportunities both on-the-ground and online, and are part of a national network engaging in cross-state learning and amplification. Contact for more information.

Democracy Project

The Democracy Project empowers and emboldens state legislators to be dynamic advocates for a powerful, inclusive and participatory democracy. The project unites state legislators and grassroots movements behind a bold platform of reforms and deepens legislative impact in state legislatures across America. To learn more, reach out to

Agriculture Program

The SiX Agriculture Program supports policies that promote thriving rural communities through ecologically and socially responsible agriculture and local food systems. The program provides resources and strategy advice to state legislators who know that the production of our food doesn't have to come at the expense of our water and air-or healthy conditions for workers or neighbors. Contact

Legislators and partners are welcome to reach out to at any time. We welcome partnership, collaboration and ideas as we move forward. 

North Carolinians’ Attitudes on Key Progressive Issues Strongly Positive

State Innovation Exchange (SiX) and the NC Budget and Tax Center (BTC) recently collaborated on an online focus group to test North Carolina voters’ attitudes on the state’s tax system, thoughts on public assistance programs, voting rights and other issues. This survey asked 150 white swing voters and 150 voters of color to provide their opinions and react to key arguments around a range of progressive policy solutions. The results showed that these groups equally support a fair tax system, helping working families gain financial security, ending gerrymandering, providing greater access to the ballot box, and more legislative efforts to ensure an economy that works for everyone.

Results of the survey can be found here.

Repealing Hyde Not Just an Issue for DC

By: Rep. Sheryl Cole, MPT Delia Garza, Rep. Joyce McCreight, CM Carlina Rivera

Representative Sheryl Cole represents Texas District 46. 
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza represents District 2 in Southeast Austin.
Representative Joyce “Jay” McCreight represents Maine District 51.
Council member Carlina Rivera represents the 2nd Council District of New York City Council.

The national conversation about reproductive rights has been dominated this year by the spate of abortion bans passed across the country as well as the Trump administration’s gag rule affecting Title X funding. But banning abortion isn’t the only avenue to making it hard to get.  Since the Hyde Amendment was passed by Congress 43 years ago, it has done exactly what it was set up to do: deny low-income people the right to an abortion, forcing them to carry unintended pregnancies to term.

The Hyde Amendment is a federal restriction that withholds insurance coverage for abortion from those enrolled in the Medicaid health insurance program, except in the limited cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment. As elected officials and members of the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, we honor the personal decision of whether, when, and how to become a parent and condemn the Hyde Amendment for what it is: political interference with decisions about pregnancy and parenting. When a person has decided to end their pregnancy, they should be able to get safe, timely, affordable care in their community, regardless of income. 

As Trump and Pence continue to push their agenda of punishment and shame, it is up to the states and cities to protect people who are already failed by our health system--women of color, young people, transgender and non-binary people, immigrants, and people who live in rural areas.

The Hyde Amendment stands in large part not because of public support, but because of political inertia. A national poll recently released found that:

While this new polling demonstrates overwhelming support for providing insurance coverage for abortions, many state legislatures have acted against the will of the people and raced to ban abortion.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2019, states enacted 58 abortion restrictions, 26 of which would ban all, most, or some abortions. With the balance of the Supreme Court now turned against abortion rights, the threat of abortion care being further dismantled or pushed out of reach entirely is real. 

Although for over four decades the Hyde Amendment has denied federal Medicaid coverage of abortion, we must remember Hyde is not permanent. Every year Congress has an opportunity to pass a budget without the Hyde Amendment.  In the meantime, there are actions that states and cities have taken that our colleagues could follow to ensure a person can access the care they need.

This year Maine became the 16th state to guarantee Medicaid coverage for abortion by passing LD 820, a bill that expands public and private insurance coverage of abortion care.  

In Maine we saw the combination of restrictions and coverage bans across the country forcing people to delay care or stop them from getting abortions altogether.  Restricting Medicaid coverage of abortion forces one in four poor women seeking an abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.  When a woman wants to get an abortion but is denied, she is more likely to fall into poverty, less likely to have a full-time job, and twice as likely to experience domestic violence.

In Texas we worked to introduce Rosie's Law, which would have restored Texas Medicaid coverage for abortion care services for low-income Texans. 

This bill was named in honor of Rosie Jiménez, a beloved mother, student, and young Chicana, who was the first victim of the Hyde Amendment in 1977. When Rosie realized she was pregnant and was too poor to pay for a safe and legal procedure at a clinic, she sought out a cheaper, unsafe abortion. She suffered a painful death from an infection that ravaged her body and led to her preventable death at the age of 27.

While this bill did not pass into law, the conversations started by lawmakers and young activists alike have paved the way for the fight for Medicaid coverage to continue into the next legislative session.

Cities like Austin and New York City are already taking steps to fill the gap that Hyde has created. Austin City Council has set aside $150,000 and New York City Council $250,000 to lessen financial and logistical barriers that make it difficult and sometimes impossible for low-income individuals to access abortion.

This isn’t just an issue for Washington, DC.  As state and local leaders, we encourage our colleagues everywhere to fight back against restrictions that hit hardest at low-income people and widen inequalities even further. In the end, it will take us all -- state legislators, individual advocates, city council members, and members of Congress -- to ensure that abortion is accessible, affordable, and safe for all, no matter their economic situation.

National Voter Registration Day Honors Our Future and Our Past

By Texas State Representative Toni Rose

I have voted in some elections that I’ve been really excited about, and some that I haven’t, but every time I go into that voting booth, I think of my grandmother and the obstacles she had to endure, and the price she had to pay for a poll tax in order for her to cast a vote. Now, the amount might seem small to some, but the disrespect and the indignities she suffered to cast her votes were huge.

That is why I celebrate National Voter Registration Day on September 24th. I have a duty as an American, as a Texan, and to my grandmother is to show up and cast my ballot in every election. We as citizens are charged with the responsibility of shaping the direction of this country and this state. If we don’t do our job, who will?

I don’t claim that it’s easy. The poll tax and the intimidation tactics are not a thing of the past, they have been modernized and come in many forms across the country and even in this state. It was a true disappointment that SB 9 was voted out of committee this past legislative session--a bill which would have opened the door to voter suppression, criminalize even honest mistakes, and opened Texas up to Election Day chaos by employing a voter verification program that proved to be unreliable and riddled with cybersecurity weaknesses in other states. In that hearing, I heard how passionate and important voting is to Texans. Over 200 people showed up to give public testimony in opposition to the bill. This critical hearing ran well past midnight and it was truly inspiring!

Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely need to make sure that our voting rolls are more accurate and secure; however, registration should also be more accessible and voting more convenient. We should push to modernize how we register and how we update registrations. Our laws should ensure that every eligible voter’s voice is heard, not make it more difficult for those who serve in the military, are elderly, or move often have difficulty exercising this sacred duty.

National Voter Registration Day is a holiday that we should all celebrate by checking our voter registration to make sure it is up to date and accurate and checking with our family, neighbors, and friends.  We all know our democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate and have their voices heard.  Unfortunately, every year millions of eligible Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don’t update their registration, or aren’t sure how to register.

In 2018, over 800,000 voters registered for the first time or updated their records on National Voter Registration Day. I believe that we could top that figure in 2019 in Texas alone! Celebrate September 24 by making sure your registration is up to date so that every Texan can fulfill their duty to this great state and country and make their voice heard!

House Member Toni Rose proudly represents District 110 in the Texas House of Representatives.

Mainers Concerned About Economy and Health Care, Support the Recent Actions Taken in the 2019 Legislative Session

A recent poll commissioned by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) shows Mainers are concerned about pocketbook economic issues, the affordability of health care, and education. Mainers also support recent state legislative actions to address these issues and the direction Maine is going after the 2019 legislative session.

Legislators took significant steps in the 2019 session to address the concerns of Mainers and this polling demonstrates ongoing support for progressive policy solutions to the problems facing the state.

Mainers Support Action on Economic Concerns

On a scale of 1 to 10, voters supported legislative action to: 

Voters Support Action on Health Care 

Maine voters prioritize action on health care with a focus on affordability and addressing the opioid epidemic. On a scale of 1 to 10, voters supported legislative action to: 

Mainers Support Action on Education

Maine voters are concerned about the affordability of higher education and support action to increase access to early childhood education. On a scale of 1 to 10, voters supported legislative action to:

Click here to see the poll memo and here for a presentation on full results.


The State Innovation Exchange commissioned Lincoln Park Strategies to complete the research.  The survey was conducted June 14 to June 20 with 600 respondents and has a margin of error ± 4 percent at the 95% confidence interval.

Broad Popular Support for Economic Security Reforms Among Colorado Voters


A recent poll conducted by Strategies 360 for State Innovation Exchange (SiX) revealed that Colorado voters overwhelmingly support a paid family and medical leave program that is available to all Colorado workers. Across age, gender, and geography, a strong majority of Coloradans favor the creation of a paid insurance program that is funded by employees and employers. From working families who are expecting children to older adults who face potential medical emergencies, Coloradans have spoken in favor of an insurance program that works for everyone in their most difficult moments.

Click here for the full results.


Coloradans are equally enthusiastic about a proposal to create a retirement savings plan accessible to all workers and backed by the State of Colorado. The popularity of this program transcends ideology and income, as 69% of Colorado voters support the idea. With nearly a quarter of respondents reporting that they have no retirement plan, a state-wide program has obvious appeal. Additionally, there remains intense support for the program even for those with an existing retirement plan. In the 21st century, Colorado workers understand the value of a retirement plan that moves with an individual from job to job.

Click here for the full results.


Strategies 360 conducted an online survey among 600 registered voters in Colorado. The survey was conducted June 21 - 26, 2019. The margin of error for a survey of 600 interviews is ±4.0% at the 95% confidence level for each individual sample. Respondents were randomly selected from a statewide panel of residents and screened on their voter registration status.

Maine sees big wins in 2019

The 2019 Maine legislative session adjourned on June 20 with several wins for working people—including on health care, civil rights, incomes, paid leave, reproductive rights, and democracy reform.

Medicaid Expansion

Conservatives have denied Mainers access to Medicaid expansion for years, even over the wishes of voters. When Governor Mills took office in 2019, she promised that fully funding and implementing expansion would be her first action. Together with progressive legislators, many of whom had been fighting for Medicaid expansion for years, Governor Mills delivered on her promise and fully funded and implemented the measure. Nearly 70,000 Mainers will now gain health care access.

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Although blatant gender discrimination is technically against the law in Maine, there are still many less obvious practices that continue to perpetuate the gender and racial wage gap. Senator Cathy Breen and Representative Mark Bryant championed legislation to level the playing field for all employees when negotiating salaries. The new law prevents employers from requiring applicants to disclose their previous salaries. That way, a new salary offer is not based on salary history, but instead on experience, skills, and the job role. The measure ensures that instances of inequitable pay do not follow employees  for their entire careers, which is especially important for women, people of color, and others who are typically underpaid.

Conversion Therapy Banned

Maine’s previous governor vetoed legislation last year to ban “conversion therapy,” a discredited and harmful practice. But sponsor Rep. Ryan Fecteau, now Assistant House Majority Leader, came back this year to fight again. The bill prevents licensed health care professionals from offering services that claim to change a client’s sexual orientation or gender identity to minors. This dangerous practice causes adverse effects in children, including depression, anxiety and drug use. Conversion therapy is already banned in many states and nearly all professional licensing organizations have condemned the practice.

Paid Time Off

A long-time champion for workers, Senator Rebecca Millett continued to fight for paid sick leave after several years of the legislation falling short in divided legislatures. Although the bill did not pass in its original form, the final version will grant paid time off for any reason to 85% of Maine’s private sector workers. Before this bill, 139,000 Maine workers have had no access to paid time off at all, and another 137,000 could not take time for any reason other than illness. 

Automatic Voter Registration (AVR)

On the final day of session, Governor Mills signed Speaker Sara Gideon’s bill to bring automatic voter registration to Maine. Eligible voters who visit the Bureau of Motor Vehicles will soon be registered to vote, or have their voting addresses updated, by default, unless they opt-out. And new agencies may join the system later on to expand AVR’s impact. This is an important step for Maine’s democracy—lowering a systemic barrier to the ballot box and modernizing outdated government processes.

Prescription Drugs

Senate President Troy Jackson, Assistant Majority Leader Senator Eloise Vitelli, and Senator Heather Sanborn have each sponsored parts of a larger package of bills aimed at lowering the prohibitive cost of prescription drugs. Legislation that ultimately passed will create a prescription drug affordability board, which would oversee and set targets for prescription drug costs for public entities; initiate a wholesale importation program to allow importation from Canada; provide more information and transparency about drug pricing all along the supply chain, and reduce the influence of pharmacy benefit managers to drive up prescription costs.

Reproductive Rights

This session saw huge gains for reproductive health access in Maine. Speaker Gideon passed a bill to allow Advanced Practice Clinicians to perform abortions, meaning that many rural women can have their local providers perform the procedure instead of traveling long distances and receive the same quality and safety. Representative Jay McCreight, another of Maine’s strongest reproductive rights champions, passed a bill to require insurance, including Medicaid, to cover abortion care. Representative Maureen “Mo” Terry’s passed a bill to allow over-the-counter prescriptions in vending machines, so now women on college campuses can have access to emergency contraception outside of traditional pharmacy hours.  

Earned Income Tax Credit and Closing Corporate Tax Loopholes

Representative Ryan Tipping’s bill to raise the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit passed in the final hours of session, giving approximately 100,000 low-income households in Maine a much-needed boost. The bill more than doubles the current rate and achieves this by closing loopholes on large out-of-state corporations.

Student Debt Bill of Rights

Senator Eloise Vitelli passed a bill to help level the playing field for student loan borrowers. The bill establishes standards to prevent student loan servicing companies from misleading borrowers and creates the “Student Loan Ombudsman” to help borrowers navigate problems with servicers.

Arizona Progressives Hold Steady and Stem Conservative Overreach

Progressive legislators stood strong in the 2019 legislative session and were able to continue to articulate the bold vision outlined in the Sunrise Agenda. Progressive discipline helped produce better policy outcomes on education, the environment and democracy for Arizonans.  

In Defense of Democracy

While progressives do not control either chamber, they were able to exert their influence and temper conservatives’ overreach. They successfully killed bills that would have made voting less accessible for eligible voters in Arizona. They successfully stopped legislation that would purge voters on the permanent early voting list and legislation that would cripple the ability to have voter registration drives.  

Environmental Wins

Progressives were also able to work across the aisle and exert their influence to pass one of the most significant pieces of water legislation in Arizona’s history. The Drought Contingency Plan allows Arizona to join six other western states and Mexico in signing onto an inter-state water agreement and spells out ways Arizona will contribute to conserving more water from the Colorado River.

The Budget Fight

The conservatives refused to debate many of the priorities that Arizonans identify as critical—like affordable healthcare and housing—and instead fought for priorities that rig the rules for the wealthy and big businesses and protect their own power.

Conservatives prioritized big tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations while attacking minimum wage. In the budget, Flagstaff—the only city in Arizona to pay higher than the state minimum wage of $11—is now forced to reimburse the state for the difference in wages of state employees who make more than the state minimum wage.

Progressives were able stand strong, creating a political environment that forced a compromise on funding for education.  Spending for K-12 will be $5.2 billion, about $500 million more than in the current year--not nearly enough to deal with our current education crisis, but still a win for Arizona students.

Looking Forward

While the 2019 legislative session saw little progress on issues to help everyday Arizonans, progressive partners and legislators will continue to work with constituents and colleagues to build on the groundwork laid in 2019 to advance the priorities in the Sunrise Agenda: a stronger democracy; strong public schools; welcoming communities; a fair economy and cleaning up the tax code; and good stewardship of the state’s air, water and public lands.

In Nevada: First Female Majority Legislature Makes Significant Progressive Gains in 2019

In 2019, Nevada made history by becoming the first female majority legislature in the history of the United States. With this historic majority, the Nevada Legislature made momentous headway into improving our democracy and economy for working people. Through recently passed legislation, thousands of Nevadans will now have improved access to the ballot box and greater protections in the workplace.

4 Ways Nevada Progressives Made Our Democracy Stronger

Native American Voting Access

Assemblyman Watts championed AB 137, which removes the requirement for tribal governments to gain approval from election officials every election cycle to establish polling sites. Unless tribal leaders request a change, election clerks are required to continue to recognize the established polling places. This was Assemblyman Watt’s first piece of legislation that was signed into law.

IMG 3161
Photo courtesy of Kit Milller.

Voting Restoration

Speaker Frierson led the charge to pass AB 431, a bill to restore the right to vote for convicted persons upon release from prison or discharge from parole or probation. Previously, a formerly incarcerated person had to petition to have their rights restored, as well as confusion about the law and process prevented many eligible Nevadans from voting. An estimated 77,000 citizen will regain their right to vote.

The signing of AB431

Voting Omnibus Bill

The most comprehensive voting rights bill, AB 345, aims to ensure any eligible voter seeking to access the polling booth is able to cast a ballot. There are four key provisions in this legislation including voting anywhere, online registration, same day registration and improved accommodations. Clerks gain the ability to designate polling places where anyone registered in the county may vote, regardless of the assigned polling place. Voters will now be able to register to vote on Election Day and cast their ballot, as well as register online the same day. Individuals with disabilities, deployed oversees and the elderly can now request absentee ballots for all elections instead of having to request every election.


The Nevada Legislature is laying the groundwork for a fair and accurate Census count and did so through three different pieces of legislation. AJR 6, championed by the late Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, is a resolution urging Congress to not include the citizenship question. $5 million of funding for Census outreach to underserved communities was appropriated through SB 504. Finally, AB 450 was signed into law, which is legislation that counts prison inmates in their home districts instead of prison districts for redistricting purposes.

4 Ways Nevada Progressives Made Our Economy Stronger

The Nevada Legislature took important steps toward bringing economic security to Nevada workers through several pieces of legislation, including equal pay for equal work, raising the minimum wage, earned sick days, and protecting the right to join together in union.

Equal Pay

After four years and three sessions, Senator Pat Spearman passed her Equal Pay for Equal Work legislation. Women finally have state protections if they are paid less than their male counterparts to seek justice.

Minimum Wage

After ten years without an increase in the state minimum wage, Assembly leadership sponsored legislation to begin a stepped increase to raise the minimum wage to $12 incrementally over the next five years. Additionally, the process to remove the health care provision tied to minimum wage in the Constitution was initiated.

Earned Sick Days

Previously, workers in Nevada did not legally have access to earned sick days, even if they worked full time. The new law allows for the accrual of 5 days off of earned sick time annually at employers with 50 employees or more.

Earned sick day advocates at the Nevada State Capitol

State Employee Collective Bargaining 

The bill protects the rights of state employees to join together in union to negotiate wages, vacation, sick leave, safety issues, hours and days of work, and more. Senator David Parks carried the bill for ten years before its passage this year.

Pic 2 photo cred AFSCME Local 4041
Photo from AFSCME Local 4041 at a collective bargaining rally

Television Media Training in Colorado

Media Training Application for Interested Legislators

Join the State Innovation Exchange for a media training on Friday, June 28th from 9:00-1:00 at Colorado Education Association. This half day training will provide advice around media interviews and on-camera practice for participants so that they may be more knowledgeable about messaging on policy priorities important for working Coloradans. This is an open invitation to state legislators to participate – all state legislators are welcome to apply. SiX encourages applicants to apply based on their belief and support for policies that ensure economic security for working families, an open and accessible democracy, affordable and accessible health care, and safe schools and communities. Given that there are limited spaces in this training, we will prioritize applicants with a demonstrated commitment to these issues and highly encourage diverse candidates to apply.

Sign up here.

Widespread Support for Progressive Agenda Among Michigan Voters

Key Findings from Michigan Statewide Polls for the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) reflect voter support for democratic reforms and progressive solutions to economic issues

A recent poll conducted by TargetSmart for SiX revealed that Michigan voters are hungry for concrete improvements in the everyday life of the average person and their family. From safe, modern roads to affordable auto insurance, prescription drugs, and doctor’s visits, Michiganders prioritize tangible impacts that help working people. Moreover, Michigan voters see a clear role for government in delivering these improvements and more broadly providing opportunities that help working families.

Voters are tired of seeing big banks book record profits while the streets they drive on every day are ridden with potholes. Their frustrations are easy to observe when they can’t afford their prescription drugs or their newly hiked up auto insurance bill but see pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies doing better than ever. Public opinion calls for an agenda that ensures everyone pays their fair share, corporations are held accountable, and state government provides opportunities that proactively make life better for working Michiganders.

Support for Democracy Reforms

A second survey found strong support for early voting and vote by mail options. Across all regions and demographics, citizens wanted to reduce the influence of money on policymaking and increase transparency. 

For the polling on economic issues, see more analysis here and results here. For the polling on democratic reforms, see here and here.

Survey Methodology

TargetSmart designed and administered this multi-modal survey. Five-hundred interviews were conducted via professional telephone agents (330 wireless respondents, 170 landline respondents) from May 14-23, and 509 interviews were conducted online among panelists who were matched to the TargetSmart voter file from six opt-in panel providers from May 5-23. All respondents indicated they were 18 years or older and registered to vote in Michigan. Quotas were designed to reflect the demographic and geographic distribution of registered voters in Michigan. The data were weighted by gender, age, race, TargetSmart Partisan Score, TargetSmart High School Only Score, and region by county and county council district to ensure an accurate reflection of the population.

How to Support a Fair and Accurate Census

Why Does the 2020 Census Matter?

Census data determine the allocation of more than $800 billion in annual federal funding and are often used in state and local policy making, decision making, and research. An inaccurate census in 2020 would jeopardize state funds for over 300 federal programs and compromise crucial supports for marginalized communities. Census data are also used for the reapportionment and redistricting processes and therefore vital to advancing a fair and representative democracy. Ensuring that all residents in your state are counted will require funding, coordination, and commitment from policymakers but will provide your constituents the resources and representation they deserve.

It’s critical for states to prepare now. Under SiX’s new Democracy Project, we’re working with legislators nationwide to support the census and to raise awareness of the count in local communities.

You can support the Census through legislation:
If you're a legislator and want to support the Census in your state, review this 2020 Census Legislator Brief (email if you need the password). Created by SiX, Common Cause, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the brief offers concrete policy and outreach guidance for legislators working to ensure the 2020 Census is fair and accurate. You can also email to learn about additional, innovative census bills and initiatives.

190325 SiX census progressive
Use this graphic to show your support for the 2020 Census
on social media. Tag @stateinnovation!

You can also use your platform as an elected official to highlight the importance of the 2020 Census and drive participation in your community:

Reach out to for support on these or any other ideas.

Join the SiX Democracy Project!

SiX is launching the Democracy Project, a new program to ensure progressive state legislators across the country have the resources and support they need in order to champion democracy issues in their states. Email to join. 

The Big Winners From Colorado’s 2019 Session

By: Kyle Huelsman, SiX Colorado State Director

Working Women Will Benefit from the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act

Senator Jessie Danielson and Representative Janet Buckner have been pushing the legislature to address the gender pay gap since 2016 and finally this year they found a path with SB-85, the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act. Women in general, and women of color in particular, will soon have the opportunity to file formal complaints of wage discrimination through the state, bringing us one step closer to creating an economy that guarantees equal pay for equal work and a system that holds discriminatory employers accountable.

equal pay rally

And just for a bit of fun: here is Republican Senator Vicki Marble thanking white men for their contributions to the state legislature before voting against the Equal Pay for Equal Work Act.

Voters Will See Increased Ballot Access through Automatic Voter Registration

Senator Steve Fenberg has been quietly improving Colorado’s election system over the past three years, but the 2019 session marked a transformative moment for our state’s democracy. Automatic Voter Registration passed through the Senate in the last week of session, ushering in one of the nation’s most expansive registration programs. Of course, the ceaseless Fenberg did not stop there. He helped guide HB-1278 through the legislature as well, which will place polling locations on college campuses and allow 17-year-olds to vote in the primary if they would turn 18 by the general. But don’t take in from us, as Colorado Public Radio’s Sam Brasch wrote in his April 24th headline, "Youth Voter Turnout is Already Ridiculously High in Colorado. State House Democrats Want it Even Higher."

fenberg pic

Working Families Will See Wage Increases through Local Wage Option Legislation

Representative Rochelle Galindo of Greeley and Sen. Dominick Moreno came out swinging this year with HB-1210, which made Colorado one of the first states in the country to repeal a state ban on cities setting their own minimum wage. These top leaders within Colorado’s Latino Caucus understand the impact of wage stagnation in the face of the ever-increasing cost of living, especially in Latino communities. This bill will provide local governments with a powerful tool to provide dignity and fairness to hard-working Colorado Families.

local pic


Paid Family and Medical Leave

After two years of Colorado’s Paid Family and Medical Leave program sailing through the House only to be killed in the Republican-controlled Senate, Sen. Faith Winter believed that 2019 was the year for paid leave in Colorado. Yet pressure from the 215 paid business lobbyists fighting against the bill, debate over the financial solvency of the program, and a slate of potential Republican amendments, Sen. Faith Winter chose to turn the bill into an implementation plan that would study the financial solvency of the program and provide results just before the start of the 2020 session. Expect the sponsors to come back stronger than ever next January.

family pic

State Retirement Savings

Some might say that a legislative study is not a hot news tip, but Sen. Kerry Donovan has been angling since 2016 to have Colorado officials study state savings plan models. SB-173 creates the Colorado Secure Savings Plan Board which will present an official recommendation on how to create a portable, state-sponsored retirement savings plan before the 2020 legislative session.

kerry pic

Progressives Fight for Sunrise Agenda in Stormy Legislative Session

By James Chan, Florida State Director

Progressive legislators and partners kicked off the 2019 legislative session with a bold Sunrise Agenda focused on the economy, affordable health care, education, the environment and a welcoming Florida.  

But during the legislative session, conservatives, who control both chambers, refused to debate the priorities that Floridians identify as critical—like affordable healthcare and housing—and instead fought for priorities that rig the rules for the wealthy and big businesses and protect their own power. The legislative session showed how out of step conservatives are with the will of the people. The contrast between conservatives and progressives couldn’t be more clear.

Our Economy

Instead of focusing on helping Floridians make ends meet, conservatives passed legislation to ban Florida cities from requiring big developers to build any affordable housing as part of new construction. This just further lines the pockets of big businesses and the wealthy, while exacerbating the challenge in creating affordable housing in our cities and surrounding areas.  

Progressive Representatives Jacquet and Joseph with Senators Rodriguez, Cruz and Stewart advanced legislation that would help improve the lives of all Floridians. The legislation which would address equal pay, paid family leave and an increase to the minimum wage was introduced but never heard in committee, debated or voted upon.

Our Health Care

Floridians are deeply concerned about the cost and accessibility of health care and prescription drugs. Instead of addressing these issues, conservatives sought to limit women’s access to health care and the right to choose by sponsoring a six-week abortion ban, a 20-week abortion ban and a parental consent law, which was voted out of the House.  

Progressive Representative Cindy Polo and Senator Taddeo proposed expanding Medicaid to Floridians under 65 who are at or below 138% of the federal poverty line. This would provide health coverage to an estimated 850,000 hard-working Floridians currently lacking coverage—like single-moms working hard to support their families and adults working multiple jobs but still not making enough money to make ends meet. Conservatives shut down the proposal, refusing to even hear it in committee.

Our Students

Strengthening the public education system that supports 90% of Florida students is a priority for all progressive legislators. Instead of taking steps to improve public education, address the root cause of gun violence in schools and ensure Florida is able to stay competitive and keep great teachers, conservatives prioritized arming teachers and funding vouchers and charter schools in an effort to privatize our public education.  

Progressive Representative Margaret Good filed a bill that would address the critical teacher shortage. Her legislation, which had bipartisan support in the Senate, would have allowed retired educators to immediately fill substitute teacher positions helping to fill some of the 2,000 teacher vacancies across the 67 counties. The conservatives shut down this legislation and it was never heard in committee.

Our Environment

The red tide and the other impacts of climate change have taken a toll on our health, our communities and our economy. The short- and long-term economic and health impacts have Floridians along the Gulf Coast struggling. The conservative-controlled legislature took no significant action to help address these challenges.

Progressive Representatives Diamond, Eskamani and Good with Senator Rodriguez filed legislation to help us understand and address these critical issues that will shape our economy and health into the future. Progressives advanced legislation to create a climate change research program, develop a renewable energy plan and address water quality and a decrease in the use of herbicides that created the red tide. All these bills were introduced, but never heard in committee.

Our People

After the 2018 election, Florida again received national attention for our difficulty in making sure that every eligible voter’s ballot was counted. Instead of taking steps to modernize and secure the process for all eligible voters, conservatives made unnecessary changes to the rules for vote-by-mail—which is used by many Florida voters to avoid long lines at the polls. They also took steps to obstruct the will of the people by placing exorbitant fees and other requirements on those formerly incarcerated before they are allowed to vote. This after the progressive community worked to bring the Constitutional amendment restoring these rights to a vote—which was supported by 65% of the people in November 2018.

Finally, conservatives changed the process by which signatures are gathered by everyday Floridians to amend the state constitution. Over the last decade this process has been used by  the voters to address some of Florida’s most pressing issues—from pocketbook issues to who has the right to vote—because conservative lawmakers refuse to enact the policies that reflect the will of the majority of Floridians.

While the 2019 legislative session saw little progress on issues to help everyday Floridians, progressive partners and legislators will continue to work with constituents and colleagues to build on the groundwork laid in 2019 to advance the priorities in the Sunrise Agenda.

At Five Years Old, Who is SiX Today?

We, the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), are a policy resource and strategy center that provides progressive state legislators the tools, resources, and supports they need to fight back against wealthy and well-connected special interests, while making positive changes in the lives of the people they represent.

At five years old, SiX has transformed since our founding in 2014. While we started as a merger of the Center for State Innovation, the Progressive States Network, and the American Legislative and Issue Campaign Exchange (ALICE), today we are better than our parts, and our work looks very different. We are now headed by the Hon. Jessie Ulibarri, former Colorado State Senator and progressive community leader. Our guiding mission remains the same: to help progressives build lasting power at the state level.

To the question we get asked more than any other—are we the liberal version of ALEC?

No, we are not the liberal version of ALEC—we’re better. ALEC is a pay-to-play model, designed by wealthy special interests to rig the state legislative process for their gain and benefit – while destroying our democracy in the process. So no, we’re not ALEC and we don’t aspire to be. Instead, we exist to advance a bold people-centered policy vision in every state in this nation.

We don’t operate like ALEC. We don’t take corporate money and don’t require legislators to pay dues to work with us. We’re also not a “bill mill” that churns out copycat legislation for corporate interests. Instead, we share cutting-edge policy research from issue experts and provide customized technical assistance, in service of building progressive people power. 

Since our inception, we’ve heard countless times that legislators don’t need national organizations to parachute in and offer copycat legislation – just to pick up and leave the next day. As under-resourced public servants, state legislators need enduring support every day of the year. As such, SiX works in close coordination with legislators, advocacy groups, think tanks, and activists to drive responsive and powerful public policy. We provide policy tools, communication products, research, trainings, convenings, technical assistance, strategic consulting and advice, with a particular focus on the dynamics in each state, empowering legislators and building enduring progressive movement power over time. Our growing in-state and issue-based staff shows how committed we are to providing lasting and personalized support for state legislators.

We’re focused on supporting the most progressive, diverse, and exciting group of state legislators our country has seen. We’re helping them to make true the promises made to their constituents.

If you have additional questions about SiX, contact

Progressive Victories in the Maryland Legislature

During this year’s legislative session, progressive Maryland state lawmakers secured victories on policies to put more money in the pockets of working people, lower the cost of health care, care for our environment, improve access to early and higher education, strengthen our democracy and more.

Highlights of legislation passed by the General Assembly include:

A $15 Minimum Wage!

Sponsored by Sen. McCray and Del. Fennell, this became law March 28 when the legislature overrode the governor’s veto. The law will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 (and 2026 for businesses with fewer than 15 employees).

A first-in-the-nation Prescription Drug Affordability Board!

Authored by Sen. Klausmeier and Del. Peña-Melnyk, this bill will create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board that will have the authority to establish maximum costs to be paid by state and local governments for certain high-cost medications.

A Styrofoam Ban!

Sen. Kagan and Del. Lierman sponsored this Styrofoam Ban, making Maryland the first state in the nation to do so. Passed with bipartisan support, this legislation will help Maryland reach its goal of diverting 85% of waste by reduction, reuse, and recycling by 2040.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act!

In a major environmental achievement, Sen. Feldman and Del. Lisanti passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act. This legislation requires utilities to buy a certain percentage of electricity each year from renewable sources, taking it from the current target of 25% by 2020 to 50% by 2030.

The Maryland Health Insurance Option!

Another first-in-the-nation bill passed by Maryland! Sen. Feldman and Del. Peña-Melnyk sponsored this bill establishing the Maryland Health Insurance Option designed to facilitate insurance coverage through a check box on Maryland Tax Returns. The bill is expected to lead to tens of thousands of Marylanders signing up for health insurance, which will expand the pool of people who are insured and bring down premium costs for other enrollees.

The Maryland Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

Sen. King and Del. Kelly passed this important bill to increase funding for the Maryland Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which will benefit approximately 110,000 Marylanders who are currently struggling to pay for adequate child care.

Election Day Voter Registration!

Maryland voters approved Election Day registration last year and it will now be implemented under this bill authored by Sen. Pinsky and Del. Reznik. It is expected to increase Maryland voter turnout between 3% and 7%.

Equal Pay!

Del. Pam Queen passed the Equal Pay Remedies and Enforcement Act which requires an employer to pay a civil penalty for violating the Equal Pay for Equal Work Law.

Oversight of For-Profit Colleges

This first-in-the-nation bill protects students by combating the emerging trend of for-profit colleges becoming non-profit entities to evade regulations. This was sponsored by Sen. Pinsky and Del. Hettleman.

The 2019 #FightingForFamilies Week of Action

The 2019 #FightingForFamilies Week of Action highlighted the work of progressive state legislators across the country who are fighting to put more money in the pockets of working people. More than 300 legislators from 43 states and 115 national and in state partners participated in the week of action!

Highlights include:

The Florida Sunrise Agenda

This past Tuesday was the first day of Florida’s 2019 legislative session. Progressive grassroots organizations and legislators unveiled their vision for Florida, the Florida Sunrise Agenda, at The People’s Response immediately following the governor’s State of the State.

FL Sunrise agenda launch
Progressive lawmakers and advocates launching the Florida Sunrise Agenda on the first day of the 2019 legislative session.

The Sunrise Agenda is based on five pillars: our healthcare, our economy, our students, our environment, and our people.

Our Healthcare: Floridians across the state want the legislature to lower healthcare costs and premiums, as well as making prescription drugs more affordable. In addition to making sure everyday Floridians are able to have access to affordable, quality healthcare coverage, 71% of voters want to ensure abortion remains legal in the state.

Our Economy: Current economic policies supported by the majority in the legislature are not working for all Floridians. The top economic policy on the minds of Florida voters is ensuring that women earn the same pay as men for the same work. Making sure equal pay for equal work policies are in place is vital not only to women, but for all families. In addition to equal pay, voters support progressive economic policies such as raising the minimum wage, earned sick leave, and paid family and medical leave.

Our Students: Floridians want the legislature to increase investment, equity, and equality in our public education system so that all students, regardless of the economic situation they are born into, have opportunities to succeed in Florida. Investing in our students also means funding a world class public education system.

Our Environment: Our state is beautiful because of our water, beaches, and nature. However, that is all at stake if the state doesn’t act when it comes to climate change. The health and well-being of our children and families are at stake. Hotter temperatures, air pollution, and warmer waters are a serious threat to the health of our residents, especially children and the elderly.

Our People: Lastly, the people of the great state of Florida are our most valuable asset. 71% of Florida voters support nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community that would ensure that people are not discriminated when it comes to housing, employment, and public accommodations. Furthermore, 85% of voters agree that it is important to have an open and functioning democracy in Florida, which means we must have free and fair elections. We must modernize and better fund our election system and expand Florida’s online voter registration system is accessible to every eligible voter. Lastly, nearly 60% of Florida voters agree that we should make voter registration automatic for all citizens ages 18 and older who have drivers’ licenses.

Florida progressives are proud to present a clear vision that supports all Floridians. We will always be fighting for our healthcare, our economy, our students, our environment, and our people. To learn more about the Florida Sunrise Agenda, please visit and follow the statewide conversation on social media, using #FLSunriseAgenda.

What do North Carolina Voters Want?

Recently polling commissioned by SiX shows that voters want the legislature and the governor to focus on policies that would create an economy that works for everyone, make the investment needed for a first-class education system, and make affordable health care available to more North Carolina residents. Voters believe strongly that polluters, not ratepayers, should pay the costs of pollution. Respondents believe that voting should be as accessible as possible and oppose efforts to make access to the voting booth more difficult. Respondents also felt strongly that public dollars should be used for traditional public schools first, and oppose using taxpayer money to fund private and charter schools when public schools have inadequate funding available.

See key findings from an online survey among 600 likely voters statewide conducted February 11 to 18, 2019:

Screen Shot 2019 03 07 at 2.50.51 PM
Screen Shot 2019 03 07 at 2.42.02 PM
Screen Shot 2019 03 07 at 2.42.12 PM
Screen Shot 2019 03 07 at 2.42.22 PM
Screen Shot 2019 03 07 at 2.42.31 PM 1
Screen Shot 2019 03 07 at 2.42.40 PM 1

Polling Shows Overwhelming Support for Laws That Help Families Thrive

Recent polls coordinated by SiX in states across the country show that state policies that will help families thrive are overwhelmingly popular. SiX tested support for policies that would ensure equal pay, overtime pay, paid sick leave, paid family leave and childcare funding in North Carolina, Maine, Washington, Arizona, Virginia, Maryland and Colorado. Those opposed? Wealthy special interests.

Equal Pay

Equal pay is supported by 84% of North Carolina voters, 79% in Maine and 92% in Washington. In all of these states, voters understand that wages have not kept up with the cost of living and, for women and people of color, the wage gap exacerbates that challenge.

Overtime Pay

After concerns from people in their states, several legislators are advocating laws to strengthen overtime pay for workers who work more than eight hours a day or 40 per week. Voters in North Carolina (84%), Maine (79%), Washington (92%) and Arizona (90%) strongly support these stronger laws.

Earned Paid Sick Leave

Voters in North Carolina (73%) and Maine (70%) believe workers should have access to paid sick leave.

Paid Family Leave

The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed 26 years ago, ensuring many American workers don’t lose their job when caring for family members, including the birth or adoption of a child. Voters believe they shouldn’t lose their paychecks while they take care of themselves or their loved ones. Respondents in Maryland (83%), Virginia (84%) and Arizona (83%) support paid family leave.

Child Care Funding

More and more data shows a crisis for families trying to make ends meet and accessing child care amid rising costs. Voters understand that a strong workforce must include helping workers with child care costs. Some families must leave their jobs in order to care for their children because the cost of childcare exceeds the income of one parent. In single-parent households, this is not an option. When businesses lose workers to child care, they lose institutional memory and expertise and must deal with unnecessary turnover. Voters in North Carolina (72%), Maine (68%), and Washington (77%) support increased funding for childcare to support both families and businesses.


The opioid epidemic gripping our nation is of great concern for voters.  Policies that address the crisis through education and funding are strongly supported by voters in Colorado (74%), North Carolina (8.0/10), and Virginia (8.0/10).  

Voters also want state legislatures to address the rising cost of  healthcare. Across the country voters support policies like Medicaid buy-in Arizona (69%), Colorado (78%), Maine (6.89/10), Virginia (7.5/10) and North Carolina (7.4/10).

Funding Public Education

Voters view access to a world-class public education as necessary for opening doors and leveling the playing field for future generations. Voters in Maryland (72%) and North Carolina (7.7/10) support the expansion of  Pre-K programs and voters in Arizona (85%) and Maine (8.13/10) support strengthening funding for public education.

The Labor Movement is #FightingforFamilies in Every State

By: AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler

In her response to President Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Stacey Abrams encapsulated the sentiment of our current times when she said, “Under the current administration, hard-working Americans are falling behind, living paycheck to paycheck, most without labor unions to protect them from even worse harm.”

The easiest and most effective way to reverse this trend is to support and expand collective bargaining. A bigger, stronger labor movement is the surefire path to higher wages, better benefits, safety at work and a voice on the job. Not to mention, the issues far too many working Americans are still fighting for—equal pay, paid family leave and protection from discrimination, to name a few—are more likely with a union card.

Nearly seven million women have a voice on the job thanks to our union membership, and collective bargaining has helped to narrow the pay gap between men and women. A typical woman in a union job makes $231 more a week and is far more likely to have health benefits and retirement security.

But we are not satisfied. Not when 87% of American workers don’t have paid family leave. Not when parents have to choose between a paycheck and welcoming a newborn into the world or caring for an elderly parent. Not when queer and trans people can still be fired for who they are in more than half of all states. And not when sexual harassment continues to corrode our workplaces and communities.

The labor movement is committed to winning justice, both through our contracts and progressive public policy, in every state across the country.

Even before #MeToo became a worldwide rallying cry, the labor movement began looking at ways to change ourselves from within. The AFL-CIO took a long hard look at our own behavior and adopted a strict anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policy. We also enacted a comprehensive Code of Conduct, which is the first order of business at every single meeting and is supported by an ongoing education program to change the culture of our unions and workplaces. From movie studios and newsrooms to restaurants and hotels, organized labor has drawn a clear line in the sand.

We’ve also bargained countless union contracts, in red and blue states, over the years to support and protect LGBTQ workers, ensuring that all members have equal access to key benefits and are free from discrimination and violence on the job. For many LGBTQ Americans, a union card is their only form of protection at work.

Advancing fairness and justice benefits all working people, regardless of where we work or live. That’s why we’re #FightingforFamilies and supporting the paid family and medical leave legislation recently introduced in 20 states, from Virginia to Minnesota. Workers also advocated for policies that recently raised the minimum wage in five states, including three which are now on a path to $15 per hour.

We’re leading the charge to raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased in almost a decade. And, we’re supporting policies that protect LGBTQ workers and pregnant women on the job.

Yet today, this simple fact remains: Forming a union is the most direct and effective way to secure equal pay, paid family leave, more flexible schedules, protection from discrimination and a seat at the table. Forming a union is the best way to fight for families.

Join us. Together, we can change the status quo for families in every state, across our country and the world.

State Legislators Commit to MeToo Policy Advances in #20Statesby2020

By Andrea Johnson, Senior Counsel for State Policy, National Women’s Law Center

When #MeToo went viral in October 2017, there was a scramble by state and federal lawmakers to meet the bravery of the survivors coming forward and enact meaningful, substantive policy reforms to stop and prevent sexual harassment. Our phones at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) rang off the hook with calls from state and federal legislators urgently trying to figure out what they could do to address sexual harassment in their communities. We spent much of 2018 flying and video streaming into states from California to Rhode Island, and Colorado to Texas, to testify in front of newly formed sexual harassment committees and task forces. In a few short months, well over 100 bills were introduced in state legislatures to toughen protections against harassment in workplaces and schools. And at least 11 states enacted legislation to strengthen transparency, accountability, and prevention measures in workplaces.

Underlying this scramble was no doubt a concern that MeToo was just a moment, not a movement. That the political will to enact long overdue reforms to our sexual harassment laws would soon die out.

But as state legislative sessions began again this year, over 300 state legislators representing 40 states and the District of Columbia came forward and loudly declared that they are committed to supporting survivors and working to address sexual harassment.

These legislators—hailing from all corners of the country and both sides of the aisle—signed a letter of commitment to strengthen protections against sexual harassment and violence at work, in schools, homes, and communities by 2020. In signing this “#20Statesby2020 initiative, they pledged to work with survivors and the communities most seriously affected by sexual violence—including women of color, immigrants, and LBGTQIA individuals—to create concrete solutions to end sexual abuse.

State legislators have been at the forefront of the policy response to MeToo and they know real change requires a sustained commitment from lawmakers to addressing the long list of needed policy reforms. They also know that last fall, voters demanded leaders who champion safety and dignity for all survivors. And now with historically high numbers of women serving in state legislatures, many with their own MeToo stories, state legislators know they must continue to push for MeToo policy reforms; they cannot wait for Congress to act.

In the first few weeks of 2019, we have already seen state legislators working to strengthen protections against sexual harassment, and in some states, all forms of harassment and discrimination in the workplace:

At a time when partisan politics seems to have reached a fever pitch, conservative and progressive legislators alike, in states from South Carolina to Oregon, have been speaking out and pushing for long overdue reforms to our anti-harassment laws, many of them motivated and united by their own MeToo stories. They also recognize that fighting for MeToo policy reforms is about #FightingForFamilies. If we are fighting for good jobs and economic security for families, we must be fighting to stop sexual harassment because it directly threatens the ability of those targeted to get and keep a good job, to succeed at work, and to care and provide for their families.

We commend those who are #FightingForFamilies in our state capitols and seeking to build a better world in the #MeToo era. We look forward to seeing the progress that 2019 brings as we strive towards #20Statesby2020.

To Achieve Economic Freedom, Young People Need Access to Reproductive Care, Including Abortion

By: Victoria Torres, 1 in 3 Campaign Activist with Advocates for Youth

Victoria Torres, 21, is 1 in 3 Campaign activist with Advocates for Youth, a national organization dedicated to uplifting policies and programs that allow young people to make the best decisions about their own reproductive and sexual health. 

As a peer wellness educator and activist for over six years, I’ve seen first-hand how financial barriers to reproductive health put families, especially low-income families, at risk.

The high school I attended offered sexual health education and contraceptives, but like many programs encouraged abstinence. The reality is that teens are having sex and young people need comprehensive sexual health programs that teach us the full range of reproductive health.

I am a first-generation Latina who comes from a low-income background. My mother is from Mexico—she came to America looking for a better life and to get away from the generational poverty she lived in. My dad is from Puerto Rico. And even though my parents are no longer together, they have always wanted more for me. Money has always been an issue, but my mother was doing all she could to make ends meet.

In my culture, talking about sex and birth control is forbidden. There’s an unspoken rule about sex – don’t have it. I had to find resources and answers to my questions on my own. And at 19 years old and a sophomore in college I became pregnant. I was sexually active and the recommended birth control for my body size cost more than $120 per month. I could not afford it and took the generic $20 option. I was also an uninsured college student because my university insurance cost more than $1,200 a year. As a struggling college student there was no way I could afford it.

When I found out I was around three months pregnant I automatically knew I did not want to be a parent. I was still in school and wanted to get my degree. I knew that abortion was something I wanted. When I sought out resources I came across Aid for Women, a crisis pregnancy center that gave me misleading medical information and basically tried to talk me out of my abortion. It was incredibly belittling and hurtful. All I wanted was an abortion and someone who knew nothing about my background tried to make me feel like I was in a crisis, which I knew I wasn’t. In that moment I needed access to healthcare, not their judgement.

I reached out to Planned Parenthood and was able to get the care I needed. There they offered a sliding scale payment process so I didn’t have to pay as much.

Now at 21 years old, I’ve had two abortions and do not regret either of them. For my second abortion, I remember a nurse came out and said, “line up if you’re here for the abortion.” She corrected herself and called out a list of numbers that were associated with a pregnant individual. I stood in line with 11 other women, all of whom identified as women of color. I felt empowered and unafraid because most of us were talking about how this wasn’t our first abortion. There’s an extra level of stigma associated with having more than one abortion but being open about the financial barriers and stigma helped me understand I was not alone.

My ability to make my own reproductive health decision on abortion was focused on costs. I knew I wanted the procedure. The question was not if I should or should not have an abortion, instead it was whether I could afford it. For many, the unforeseen costs associated with having an abortion, such as transportation, foregone wages, and childcare if needed, put many people in the tough decision of deciding whether or not to carry a pregnancy that they know they don’t want. I know that if I was unable to overcome the financial barriers of getting an abortion, I would have been stuck in the generational poverty that my mother was trying to get away from.

Reproductive and sexual freedom is at its core an economic issue, and we need to provide young people with the information and resources they need to make the best decisions about their own reproductive and sexual health.

Momentum Building toward Pay Equity: States are a Key Part of a Multi-Pronged Effort

By Kim Churches, the chief executive officer of the American Association of University Women.

We’ve been hearing the same grim story about the gender pay gap for far too long: Working women take home, on average, 20 percent less than working men—and the gap is even wider for women of color. While the median annual salary for American men working full time is $52,146, for women, it’s just $41,977.

In 2019, the fact that such an inequity still exists is nothing short of outrageous.

But I am an optimist, so I prefer to focus on the progress that’s being made to close the pay gap—and the good news is that we’re seeing a lot. Over the past few years, federal, state and local policymakers—as well as employers around the country—have taken concrete steps to help narrow the gap. And a roadmap is beginning to emerge that shows we can conquer this problem once and for all.

Some of the most exemplary work is happening in state capitols, where legislators are listening to women and their families and declaring that enough is enough. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, dozens of state legislatures proposed and enacted legislation addressing pay inequality, and in 2018 a whopping 40 states and Washington, D.C., offered legislative solutions to the gender pay gap, with six states successfully enacting new laws. These legislative solutions range from banning the use of salary history in the hiring process and ensuring that workers can discuss their salaries without the fear of retaliation, to establishing strong remedies so that employees who have been wronged can recover lost wages and employers who have violated the law are deterred from doing so again.

Such a high level of activity indicates that state officials understand that the pay gap is real and that they need to take action to close it. Already, in the early days of the 2019 state legislative sessions, over 30 states have introduced bills to combat the gender pay gap. These bills are sponsored by a diverse set of members on both sides of the aisle. If history repeats itself—and here at the American Association of University Women (AAUW) we are working hard to make this a reality—at least a handful of states will successfully pass legislation this year.

There are promising signs on other fronts, as well. Earlier this month, federal lawmakers introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act, a much-needed initiative to close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and add new provisions to stop pay discrimination. Every Democrat in both the House and Senate is an original co-sponsor of the bill, and it has Republican support in the House.

We’re also seeing momentum building in the private sector. More and more employers are abandoning policies requiring pay secrecy and proactively undertaking salary audits and other initiatives shown to help narrow the gap. They’re discovering that what’s good for American families is good for their business.

At AAUW, we’re working to support all these efforts. Our research reports—including The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap and Graduating to a Pay Gap—give policymakers and advocates the crucial information they need to understand and explain this pervasive problem. Our government relations staff is assisting elected officials by creating and helping to pass strong policies. And our members around the country are working within their communities to advance change.

AAUW is also working directly with individual women to help narrow their own pay gap: Our Work Smart salary negotiation workshops have equipped thousands of women across the country with tools and resources to help them negotiate for the salary and benefits they deserve. Last fall, we introduced Work Smart Online to expand the reach of the program. With partnerships already underway in a number of states and local areas, we’re ambitiously aiming to train millions more women nationwide by 2020.

The pay gap is a long-standing and complex problem, but there’s widespread agreement that the time has come to solve it. Not only is equal pay a matter of basic fairness, it is also good for everyone: According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, closing the pay gap would cut the poverty rate for working women in half and lift 2.5 million children out of poverty. It would strengthen families and communities, lead to economic growth, and foster global competitiveness.

We know what we need to do. Thanks to exemplary leadership on a state level, we have a good idea of how we can do it. Now let’s commit together to getting it done.

While Federal Gridlock Dominates the News, State Legislators are Fighting for Families

By Jessie Ulibarri, Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange

While many pundits and politicos have been focused on Washington this week, we at the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) are focused on the progressive legislators who are fast at work in state capitols advancing legislation to improve the lives of working families. That is why we created our #FightingForFamilies Week of Action: to highlight the work of state legislators who are taking on greedy special interests and fighting for people from all walks of life.

When it comes to education, health care, and raising incomes, the vast majority of policy change will happen on a state level.

And it is working! In New Jersey, a bill to increase the minimum wage to $15 was signed by Gov. Murphy and expanded paid leave (up to 12 weeks, from six) is already on his desk. And in North Carolina a bill was introduced last Friday to expand Medicaid and provide health care for more than 600,000 people.

These are not just progressive issues! Polling conducted in nearly a dozen states shows broad bipartisan support for economic issues like lowering cost of health care, investing in education, raising wages and increasing access to paid sick days.

This week also marks the 26th anniversary since the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was signed into law, guaranteeing many American workers unpaid time off from work to care for sick family members or to welcome a child through birth or adoption. While a majority of Americans understand that job security in the face of medical challenges is one of the things critical to make life better for working people, we know this federal measure falls short of what is needed for families to thrive. Today, state legislators are leading the fight for the next step: paid family and medical leave--because no one should have to choose between caring for a loved one and their paycheck.

And it’s not just paid family leave, across the country progressive state  lawmakers are advancing a progressive agenda that that centers the needs of working families – issues like paid sick days,, equal pay, expanding overtime pay, combatting wage theft, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, increasing access to affordable housing and raising the minimum wage.

Progressive state legislators, in conjunction with SiX, are showing what responsive, transparent and accountable government should look like. For example, state lawmakers in Ohio and West Virginia hosted Facebook live town halls, in Maryland, there was a “Fight for $15” press conference and progressive legislators in Minnesota hosted a press conference focused on wage theft. Legislators in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Maine, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania are hosting tele-town halls that will connect with tens of thousands of Americans this week. In states across the country, people are being heard and lawmakers are acting on the priorities that impact families most.

Federal gridlock might dominate the news, but working families can’t wait any longer for bold action. State legislatures show that a different and more immediate path is possible. Progressive state lawmakers demonstrate daily the power of an inclusive and accessible democracy, and the world should take note.

Jessie Ulibarri is the Executive Director of the State Innovation Exchange. Before this role, he served as a Colorado State Senator, where he represented the community in which he was raised, including the trailer park where he spent his earliest years of his life. He currently lives with his family in Pennsylvania.

States Are Fighting for Families by Advancing Paid Leave, Building Momentum Toward a National Policy

By Ellen Bravo and Vicki Shabo

Ellen Bravo is a co-founder and director of Family Values @ Work, a network of broad coalitions working for—and winning—policies such as paid sick days and family leave insurance.

Vicki Shabo is vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

When the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) reached President Bill Clinton’s desk 26 years ago today, similar laws had already passed in multiple states. The FMLA was an important first step in transforming our workplaces and culture – and it wouldn’t have succeeded without state laws laying the groundwork for progress.

image 1
Advocates for paid family leave in New Jersey.

The FMLA has allowed millions of working people to manage their care responsibilities without risking a job or health coverage; and in 26 years it has been used more than 200 million times. Despite its popularity, it is clear: unpaid time is not enough. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the workforce is not eligible even for unpaid leave under the FMLA, and millions more simply cannot afford to take unpaid time away from their jobs. The need for paid family and medical leave will only grow as our workforce and population ages and the number of available family caregivers shrinks.

State legislators and the organizations that serve them, like the State Innovation Exchange, aren’t waiting around for federal lawmakers to address this looming crisis. Just as they led on unpaid leave, states are fighting for families again, acting as laboratories for paid family and medical leave programs. Today, paid family and medical leave laws are in place and working well in four states – California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. State and citywide paid leave programs will soon be in place in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts and Washington as well. Each program is sustained through small payroll contributions from employers, workers or both, so people can draw a wage while providing care for themselves or a loved one.

Just weeks into new legislative sessions paid leave bills have been introduced in 20 state legislatures, including Virginia, Connecticut, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont - all bolstered by broad and diverse coalitions.. Legislators have also filed policies in deep red states like Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma and West Virginia.

It is not surprising that lawmakers across party lines are eager to ensure working people in their states have access to paid leave given the positive outcomes the programs are yielding in states with established funds. Studies in Rhode Island and California found that the states’ paid leave programs help families care for a new child and arrange child care. Research on New Jersey’s paid leave program show that, for low-income families, mothers who use the paid leave program breastfeed longer than those who do not. These programs also help working people care for aging relatives. California’s statewide paid leave law is credited with reducing the use of nursing homes.

Businesses in states with paid leave laws benefit as well since paid time to care can have a positive impact on employee morale, increase productivity and improve employee retention, especially among workers who are paid low wages.

The state policies also provide guidance on designing policies that are more responsive to the needs of working people, especially people with jobs that pay lower-wages, communities of color and part-time workers. For example, state innovation shows that creating higher wage replacement rates for lower-wage workers; broadening the range of family members eligible to provide care to an ailing loved one; and ensuring that the jobs of part-time workers and employees of smaller companies are protected when they take leave are all essential to promoting program use, gender and racial equity and workers’ economic security.

While we celebrate state-level progress, and expect more victories in 2019, overall access to paid leave in this country remains far too rare. No matter where they live or work, everyone deserves time to care for themselves or a loved one without risking their economic security. Yet only 17 percent of all working people have paid family leave through their job and less than 40 percent have personal medical leave through an employer-provided short-term disability program. Disparities in access to paid leave between lower- and higher-wage workers are actually growing.

Working families in the United States need a national paid family and medical leave policy that covers all working people for the full range of caregiving needs reflected in the FMLA; provides a meaningful duration of leave and a substantial share of their wages; protects workers from retaliation for taking leave; and is sustainably funded without harming other essential government programs. The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act is the only federal proposal that aligns with these criteria. Members of Congress should support the FAMILY Act to strengthen our nation’s families, businesses and the economy.

As federal lawmakers work toward paid leave for all, we urge them to look to state paid leave models, research and best practices. Every statewide law proposed, every expansion considered and every bill signed builds momentum toward a strong, comprehensive national paid family and medical leave policy.

Statement from the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council on the 46th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade

The Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council is the only national, cross-state cohort of pro-choice state legislators in the country, with 326 members from 46 states. The RFLC is a project of State Innovation Exchange (SiX).

The 46th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision Roe v. Wade comes at a critical time in our country. While we are experiencing a hostile federal government and a highly-politicized judiciary comprised of opponents of reproductive rights and justice who are emboldened to test the powers of their political reach, we also see the rising of voters and elected officials intent on centering the clear majority of Americans who support our constitutional right to reproductive freedom.

As a cohort of 326 state legislators from 46 states, we recognize the urgency of this moment and the obligation we have to protect our constitutional right to abortion, to recognize where the rights established under Roe v. Wade have fallen short for many of our communities, and to take action to ensure all people can access the reproductive health care they need with dignity and respect. Where some see a political opportunity to erode or dismantle Roe v. Wade, we see a duty to fight back against the ongoing assaults on our rights and a chance to re-envision what reproductive health, rights, and justice should look like in the United States.

While abortion has been legal for 46 years, anti-abortion politicians have already pushed abortion out of reach for poor women, young people, and people of color by enacting more than one thousand state-level restrictions in that time. States have a choice. We can align with those who wish to take us backwards and criminalize a health care procedure that nearly one in four women will receive in her lifetime, or we can rise to reclaim our government for the people and in pursuit of gender, racial, and economic justice, including reproductive health care and rights for all. We won't just fight back against the ongoing assaults, but will fight for more than the protections established in Roe v. Wade. We will create a future where all Americans, have access to reproductive care.

Our country is at a crossroads. We boldly accept the challenge before us. We commit to raising our voices and using our platforms as state legislators to continue advancing the reproductive health care services that our communities deserve, in 2019 and beyond.


Legislators in the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council

Representative Geran Tarr Alaska
Representative Isela Blanc Arizona
Senator Andrea Dalessandro Arizona
Representative Rosanna Gabaldon Arizona
Representative Daniel Hernandez Arizona
Senator Juan Mendez Arizona
Representative Athena Salman Arizona
Senator Joyce Elliott Arkansas
Representative Vivian Flowers Arkansas
Assemblyman David Chiu California
Assemblymember Laura Friedman California
Majority Leader KC Becker Colorado
Senator Lois Court Colorado
Senator Jessie Danielson Colorado
Representative Daneya Esgar Colorado
Senator Steve Fenberg Colorado
Senator Rhonda Fields Colorado
Senator Joann Ginal Colorado
Representative Chris Hansen Colorado
Representative Leslie Herod Colorado
Representative Edie Hooton Colorado
Representative Dominique Jackson Colorado
Senator Pete Lee Colorado
Representative Susan Lontine Colorado
Representative Barbara McLachlan Colorado
Representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet Colorado
Senator Brittany Pettersen Colorado
Representative Mike Weissman Colorado
Majority Leader Bob Duff Connecticut
Representative Joshua Elliott Connecticut
Senator Mae Flexer Connecticut
Representative Jillian Gilchrest Connecticut
Representative Gregory Haddad Connecticut
Representative Susan Johnson Connecticut
Representative Roland Lemar Connecticut
Senator Matthew Lesser Connecticut
Senator Marilyn Moore Connecticut
Representative Caroline Simmons Connecticut
Representative Edwin Vargas Connecticut
Representative Paul Baumbach Delaware
Senator Lori Berman Florida
Representative Anna Eskamani Florida
Senator Gloria Butler Georgia
Representative Park Cannon Georgia
Representative Patricia Park Gardner Georgia
Representative Deborah Gonzalez Georgia
Representative Sheila Jones Georgia
Representative Dar'shun Kendrick Georgia
Representative Bee Nguyen Georgia
Senator Nan Orrock Georgia
Representative Kim Schofield Georgia
Representative Renitta Shannon Georgia
Senator Nikema Williams Georgia
Senator Rosalyn Baker Hawaii
Representative Della Au Belatti Hawaii
Senator Donna Mercado Kim Hawaii
Representative Nicole Lowen Hawaii
Representative Roy Takumi Hawaii
Representative Sue Chew Idaho
Representative Carol Ammons Illinois
Senator Omar Aquino Illinois
Representative Kelly Cassidy Illinois
Representative Sara Feigenholtz Illinois
Senator Laura Fine Illinois
Representative Robyn Gabel Illinois
Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth Illinois
Representative Will Guzzardi Illinois
Senator Don Harmon Illinois
Representative Greg Harris Illinois
Senator Mattie Hunter Illinois
Senator Toi Hutchinson Illinois
Representative Camille Lilly Illinois
Representative Theresa Mah Illinois
Representative Robert Martwick Illinois
Representative Rita Mayfield Illinois
Representative Anna Moeller Illinois
Senator Elgie Sims Illinois
Senator Heather Steans Illinois
Senator Patricia Van Pelt-Watkins Illinois
Representative Emanuel "Chris" Welch Illinois
Representative Ann Williams Illinois
Representative Sam Yingling Illinois
Representative Marti Anderson Iowa
Representative Liz Bennett Iowa
Senator Joe Bolkcom Iowa
Representative Vicki Lensing Iowa
Representative Dennis "Boog" Highberger Kansas
Representative Annie Kuether Kansas
Representative Joni Jenkins Kentucky
Representative Mary Lou Marzian Kentucky
Representative Attica Woodson Scott Kentucky
Senator Shenna Bellows Maine
Senator Catherine Breen Maine
Representative Dale Denno Maine
Representative Donna Doore Maine
Representative Michelle Dunphy Maine
Representative Richard Farnsworth Maine
Representative Drew Gattine Maine
Speaker Sara Gideon Maine
Representative James Handy Maine
Representative Erik Jorgensen Maine
Representative Jay McCreight Maine
Senator Rebecca Millett Maine
Senator Dave Miramant Maine
Representative Matt Moonen Maine
Representative Margaret O'Neil Maine
Representative Lois Reckitt Maine
Representative Deane Rykerson Maine
Representative Rachel Talbot Ross Maine
Representative Denise Tepler Maine
Representative Charlotte Warren Maine
Delegate Shelly Hettleman Maryland
Senator Cheryl Kagan Maryland
Delegate Ariana Kelly Maryland
Delegate Robbyn Lewis Maryland
Delegate Karen Lewis Young Maryland
Delegate Brooke Lierman Maryland
Delegate David Moon Maryland
Delegate Pamela Queen Maryland
Delegate Ana Sol-Gutierrez Maryland
Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins Maryland
Senator Mike Barrett Massachusetts
Representative Carmine Gentile Massachusetts
Representative Patricia Haddad Massachusetts
Representative Natalie Higgins Massachusetts
Representative Jack Patrick Lewis Massachusetts
Representative David Linsky Massachusetts
Representative Jay Livingstone Massachusetts
Representative Tram T. Nguyen Massachusetts
Representative Alice Peisch Massachusetts
Representative Denise Provost Massachusetts
Senator Becca Rausch Massachusetts
Representative Lindsay Sabadosa Massachusetts
Minority Leader Jim Ananich Michigan
Senator Winnie Brinks Michigan
Minority Floor Leader Stephanie Chang Michigan
Senator Erika Geiss Michigan
Minority Leader Christine Greig Michigan
Senator Curtis Hertel Michigan
Representative Kara Hope Michigan
Senator Jeff Irwin Michigan
Representative Donna Lasinski Michigan
Senator Jeremy Moss Michigan
Representative Kristy Pagan Michigan
Representative Rebekah Warren Michigan
Representative Robert Wittenberg Michigan
Representative Jamie Becker-Finn Minnesota
Representative Raymond Dehn Minnesota
Senator D. Scott Dibble Minnesota
Representative Mike Freiberg Minnesota
Representative Frank Hornstein Minnesota
Speaker Melissa Hortman Minnesota
Representative Fue Lee Minnesota
Representative Carlos Mariani Minnesota
Representative Sandra Masin Minnesota
Representative Rena Moran Minnesota
Representative Liz Olson Minnesota
Senator Sandy Pappas Minnesota
Representative Dave Pinto Minnesota
Representative Kathy Sykes Mississippi
Representative Richard Brown Missouri
Representative Sarah Unsicker Missouri
Representative Cora Faith Walker Missouri
Representative Mary Caferro Montana
Representative Mary Ann Dunwell Montana
Representative Jessica Karjala Montana
Representative Andrea Olsen Montana
Senator Jennifer Pomnichowski Montana
Senator Diane Sands Montana
Senator Frank Smith Montana
Senator Sara Howard Nebraska
Assemblywoman Sarah Peters Nevada
Senator Julia Ratti Nevada
Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel Nevada
Assemblyman Steven Yeager Nevada
Representative Susan Almy New Hampshire
Representative Debra Altschiller New Hampshire
Representative Christy Bartlett New Hampshire
Representative Amanda Bouldin New Hampshire
Representative Renny Cushing New Hampshire
Representative Edith DesMarais New Hampshire
Representative Charlotte DiLorenzo New Hampshire
Representative Daniel Eaton New Hampshire
Senator Martha Fuller Clark New Hampshire
Representative Chuck Grassie New Hampshire
Representative Timothy Horrigan New Hampshire
Representative Mark King New Hampshire
Representative Peter Leishman New Hampshire
Representative Patricia Lovejoy New Hampshire
Representative Sharon Nordgren New Hampshire
Representative Allison Nutting-Wong New Hampshire
Representative Lee Oxenham New Hampshire
Representative Marjorie Porter New Hampshire
Representative Katherine Rogers New Hampshire
Senator Cindy Rosenwald New Hampshire
Representative Kris Schultz New Hampshire
Minority Leader Stephen Shurtleff New Hampshire
Senator David Watters New Hampshire
Assemblyman Raj Mukherji New Jersey
Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle New Jersey
Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg New Jersey
Representative Deborah Armstrong New Mexico
Representative Andrea Romero New Mexico
Senator Elizabeth Stefanics New Mexico
Senator Mimi Stewart New Mexico
Representative Elizabeth Thomson New Mexico
Representative Christine Trujillo New Mexico
Assemblymember David Buchwald New York
Assemblymember Deborah Glick New York
Assemblymember Richard Gottfried New York
Senator Liz Krueger New York
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz New York
Assemblymember Dan Quart New York
Senator Gustavo Rivera New York
Assemblymember Nily Rozic New York
Assemblymember JoAnne Simon New York
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins New York
Assemblymember Latrice M. Walker New York
Representative Johnnie Newton Autry North Carolina
Representative Sydney Batch North Carolina
Representative Mary Belk North Carolina
Representative Cecil Brockman North Carolina
Representative Deb Butler North Carolina
Senator Jay Chaudhuri North Carolina
Representative Christy Clark North Carolina
Representative Susan Fisher North Carolina
Senator Valerie Foushee North Carolina
Representative Rosa Gill North Carolina
Representative Pricey Harrison North Carolina
Representative Verla Insko North Carolina
Senator Floyd McKissick North Carolina
Representative Graig Meyer North Carolina
Representative Marcia Morey North Carolina
Senator Terry Van Duyn North Carolina
Representative Julie Von Haefen North Carolina
Senator Mike Woodard North Carolina
Senator Nickie Antonio Ohio
Representative Erica Crawley Ohio
Representative Tavia Galonski Ohio
Representative Stephanie Howse Ohio
Representative Adam Miller Ohio
Representative Kent Smith Ohio
Representative Emilia Strong Sykes Ohio
Representative Thomas West Ohio
Representative Emily Virgin Oklahoma
Representative Julie Fahey Oregon
Senator Lew Frederick Oregon
Senator Sara Gelser Oregon
Senator Laurie Monnes Anderson Oregon
Representative Carla Piluso Oregon
Representative Karin Power Oregon
Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson Oregon
Representative Brad Witt Oregon
Representative Tim Briggs Pennsylvania
Senator Maria Collett Pennsylvania
Representative Carolyn Comitta Pennsylvania
Representative Mary Jo Daley Pennsylvania
Representative Tina Davis Pennsylvania
Representative Austin Davis Pennsylvania
Minority Leader Frank Dermody Pennsylvania
Representative Dan Frankel Pennsylvania
Representative Ed Gainey Pennsylvania
Senator Art Haywood Pennsylvania
Representative Sara Innamorato Pennsylvania
Representative Leanne Krueger-Braneky Pennsylvania
Representative Summer Lee Pennsylvania
Representative Steve McCarter Pennsylvania
Senator Katie Muth Pennsylvania
Representative Chris Rabb Pennsylvania
Representative Mike Schlossberg Pennsylvania
Representative Peter Schweyer Pennsylvania
Senator Lindsey Williams Pennsylvania
Representative Edith Ajello Rhode Island
Senator Dawn Euer Rhode Island
Senator Gayle Goldin Rhode Island
Representative Evan Shanley Rhode Island
Representative Teresa Tanzi Rhode Island
Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter South Carolina
Representative John King South Carolina
Senator Margie Bright Matthews South Carolina
Representative Steven McCleerey South Dakota
Senator Susan Wismer South Dakota
Representative G.A. Hardaway Tennessee
Representative Jessica Farrar Texas
Representative Mary Gonzalez Texas
Representative Jennifer Dailey-Provost Utah
Representative Elizabeth Weight Utah
Representative Tim Briglin Vermont
Majority Leader Sarah Copeland Hanzas Vermont
Representative Maxine Grad Vermont
Majority Leader Jill Krowinski Vermont
Representative James McCullough Vermont
Representative Mike Mrowicki Vermont
Representative Ann Pugh Vermont
Representative Barbara Rachelson Vermont
Delegate Jennifer Boysko Virginia
Senator Barbara Favola Virginia
Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn Virginia
Delegate Elizabeth Guzman Virginia
Delegate Mark Keam Virginia
Delegate Kaye Kory Virginia
Senator Jennifer McClellan Virginia
Delegate Marcia Price Virginia
Representative Eileen Cody Washington
Senator Jeannie Darneille Washington
Representative Beth Doglio Washington
Representative Joe Fitzgibbon Washington
Senator Karen Keiser Washington
Senator Emily Randall Washington
Representative Mike Sells Washington
Representative Tana Senn Washington
Representative Derek Stanford Washington
Representative Gael Tarleton Washington
Senator Lisa Wellman Washington
Senator Claire Wilson Washington
Delegate Danielle Walker West Virginia
Senator Janet Bewley Wisconsin
Senator LaTonya Johnson Wisconsin
Representative Debra Kolste Wisconsin
Senator Chris Larson Wisconsin
Representative Melissa Sargent Wisconsin
Representative Christine Sinicki Wisconsin
Representative Lisa Subeck Wisconsin
Representative Chris Taylor Wisconsin
Representative JoCasta Zamarripa Wisconsin
Representative Cathy Connolly Wyoming

#FightingForFamilies Week of Action: Feb 4-8, 2019

The annual SiX #FightingForFamiliesWeek of Action is a national, coordinated effort to highlight the work of progressive state legislators to create an economy that works for all, not just the wealthy few. The next Week of Action will be February 4-8, 2019.


Join a national movement to highlight the work of progressive state legislators to ensure every American can thrive and support their families. By joining the week of action, you are helping to build a national movement of progressive leaders and demonstrating the positive momentum behind progressive policies that make life better for working people by investing in education; creating better-paying jobs; making health care more affordable; and advancing economic security for all. 

co fightingforfamilies nbc pic
Colorado state legislators during 2018’s
Week of Action.

2018’s #FightingForFamilies Week of Action engaged over 200 state legislators from all 50 states, earned national and local media attention, reached 14.6 million users on social media, reached nearly 100,000 people through telephone town halls, and engaged more than 30 partner organizations.

Join together with progressives across the nation and make 2019’s Week of Action even stronger.


Reach out to to sign up today. We will continue to send information and resources to the SiX legislator network to explain how you and your legislative colleagues can engage. As in years past, below are some examples of actions you can take to join this effort:

Get creative—Let us know how you want to engage! Reach out to

South Carolina State Senator Margie Bright Matthews: Legislatures Are Ground Zero in Fight for Abortion Access


Published in The State September 14, 2018. See the original post here.

As Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings wrap up and Roe v. Wade remains at risk, my colleagues and I in state legislatures across the country have our work cut out for us in defending the rights and reproductive health care for women and families. In states supportive of abortion access, it’s time to repeal bad laws that threaten abortion access if Roe is overturned.

Unfortunately, some of us working in states like South Carolina may not hold enough votes to defeat bad bills. But we do have the resolve to exercise our rights and the responsibility to defend our constituents.

That’s why I joined my colleagues last session on the floor of the state Senate for an 11-hour filibuster against a bill that would have banned the majority of safe and legal abortions. Ultimately, the bill died, and we never tired in our fight to stop South Carolina from becoming the latest state to enact bogus legislation at the expense of women.

We can’t standby and watch more state legislatures undo the progress we’ve made in this country. The Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council — a coalition of more than 300 legislators lead by the State Innovation Exchange is one group fighting back, and I was proud to join them in opposing Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

I am heartened by people in South Carolina and nationwide who have voiced opposition to attacks on abortion. The people of this country believe in women’s rights. And we’ll fight with everything we have to protect them.

By: Sen. Margie Bright Matthew
Senate District 45

Are the Best States for Workers Also the Best States for Business?

By: Michelle Sternthal, Senior Domestic Policy Advisor, Oxfam America

Popular rhetoric in the U.S. pits workers against businesses. How often does one hear, “Worker protections saddle businesses and stall the economy! Increasing the minimum wage will scare away businesses! Regulations kill jobs!” In so many policy conversations, we are told that labor laws must be sacrificed to achieve a stable and sound economy. This excuse is often trotted out by federal lawmakers as they squash laws that would provide paid sick days, paid family leave, or minimum wage increases to working Americans.

Luckily, state lawmakers across the country have rejected this false choice between being pro-worker and pro-business. They know—and an impressive body of evidence confirms—that economies thrive when businesses invest in their workers and their workplaces. Increasing wages reduces employee turnover, cuts employers’ costs, and increases worker purchasing power. Providing paid sick days keeps employees healthy and productive. Ensuring that workplace environments are free from discrimination helps keep talented women and people of color in the workplace, increasing productivity and diversifying work environments.

Oxfam America’s newly released Best States to Work Index confirms just this. In this new ranking of states, Oxfam examined 11 different labor policies across the fifty states and Washington, D.C.  The index broke down these policies into three domains:  wages, worker protections, and the right to organize. States were ranked and given an overall score, in addition to scores for each domain. An interactive map enables users to explore each state in depth.

What Oxfam found: Washington, D.C., ranks first in the nation in worker-friendliness and neighboring Virginia ranks last. Washington state, California and Massachusetts appear at the top, while Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi are at the bottom.

But the report also examined how scores on the index correlated with indicators of overall wellbeing in the states. We found that the states that scored higher in the index were more likely to have a higher median income, higher labor force participation, and greater GDP per capita. They were also the states with better health outcomes—lower infant mortality rates and longer life expectancies. While correlation is not causality, this evidence suggests that labor policies, at the least, are not damaging to the economy or the health of the population, and that they may in fact support them.

Also striking, three of our top performing states on the index were ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the states with the best business environments, with California, Massachusetts, and Washington scoring #1, #2, and #4, respectively.

Our index illustrates what so many policymakers and state advocates already know: good jobs that treat workers well are not just good for employees, but good for businesses, and good for the state.

Despite progress in some states, policymakers still have their work cut out for them. According to our index, many states still lag in worker protection policies. Although the majority of states have made progress on basic equal pay legislation and on a basic sexual harassment law, not enough have passed paid sick leave, paid family leave, and fair scheduling laws.  And many states have a ways to go to pass a wage law that begins to meet the needs of working families in their state.

Instead of heeding the fear-mongering about supposed economic catastrophes caused by sound labor laws, we need bold leadership by state policymakers to champion a comprehensive worker rights agenda.  This Labor Day, we are counting on progressive state leaders to take up this mantel.

Are you a state legislator interested in working on these issues? Contact to get connected with resources and support.


Legislator Spotlight: Maine Rep. Ryan Fecteau 

Maine Rep. Ryan Fecteau HeadshotTo honor and acknowledge June as LGBT Pride Month, SiX is highlighting the work and leadership on issues affecting LGBT communities with a Member Spotlight of Rep. Ryan Fecteau from Maine. Across the country, state legislators are introducing bans on the practice of so-called “conversion therapy” which seeks to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation. Rep. Fecteau championed a conversion therapy ban for minors in Maine this session, which after successful votes in the House and the Senate is still awaiting a few final procedural hurdles to passage. 

Rep. Fecteau lives in Biddeford, Maine, and represents the 11th legislative district in the Maine House of Representatives. SiX recently spoke to him about his work to ban exposing minors to conversion therapy, a cruel and outdated practice that seeks to change one’s sexual orientation. Watch Rep. Fecteau’s speech on the House floor about his personal connection to the legislation here.  

What originally made you want to run for office? 

I discovered the power of change making and grassroots advocacy when I was a senior in high school. Biddeford High School was, quite literally, falling apart. There was water infiltration, an entire facade leaking energy, and furniture purchased in the 1960s. The city council was considering a $34 million renovation bond proposal and it needed approval from a majority of Biddeford voters. So, though I would not ultimately benefit from the proposal's passage, I led fellow students in a campaign to show our community what it was like to go to a school in disrepair. The proposal earned the support of two out of three voters in Biddeford.  

In 2014, I graduated from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and decided to run for the open state house seat in Biddeford. I did so with seniors and young people in mind. Maine is one of the oldest states in the nation. And while our population grows older, too many young people, including many of my friends, leave for opportunities elsewhere. Young people leaving has consequences for seniors. The state funds health coverage, prescription drug cost reduction, heating assistance, and much more for our seniors. In order to fund such programs, there needs to be a population that is working and contributing to the wellbeing of our entire citizenry. As a 21-year-old at the time of my first election, I felt like I could bring a unique perspective to solving these issues in a legislature with an average age of 55. 

What have you found was the most unexpected or rewarding part about becoming a legislator? 

It was certainly not unexpected, because I discovered it knocking doors and talking to voters over the phone during the election: the human connection. I have the opportunity every single day to be a champion for the people in my community. There is nothing more rewarding than helping someone solve a problem or propel their solution. 

You have been working to ban conversion therapy in Maine. Why is this an important issue to you? Tell us about sharing your personal story on the House floor. 

In 2012, I met with a school administrator, a man I trusted, about my work with a student group to combat the high rates of suicide by LGBTQ youth. We had met many times before, but this time the tone shifted dramatically. “Suicide affects everyone, not just LGBTQ people,” the administrator declared, as though the student LGBT group’s argument that administrators should support its existence to help combat the higher rates of rejection-fueled suicide in the LGBTQ community was divisive. He abruptly continued, “One day, I hope you’ll see beyond your gay identity and take in what life has to offer you.” I was stunned into silence. The administrator added, “I recommend you read Beyond Gay by David Morrison.”  

I left the meeting, sprinted across campus to my friends, and together we Google-searched the book. The description was a gut punch.  My confidence in this administrator evaporated and was replaced by feelings of fear and self-loathing. The recommended book encouraged “reparative therapy,” otherwise known as so-called “conversion therapy.” I wrote in an email to a friend, “I spent the next night crying. I am not one to shed tears often, let alone cry hysterically. Yet on this night, the night before returning home for summer break, I cried hysterically in the arms of my friends.”  

I returned to the university in the fall and continued to lead the student LGBTQ organization.  I carried the weight of that earlier meeting and struggled with mental exhaustion. Winter break arrived and my dad came to pick me up. Looking out the window, as trees flew by on the highway, I, for the first time in my life, contemplated my continued existence. I had this internal discussion, almost as if there were two voices, concerning whether or not I ought to be alive. It tormented me for the duration of winter break. I was an openly gay young man who was finding my way in life, who had found the guts to come out to my parents, and the confidence to lead a LGBTQ student organization, become student body president, and work as paid staff on a marriage equality campaign. But I could not shake the self-hatred, unworthiness and haunting message that I was broken after this trusted university administrator told me, in essence, to seek “reparative therapy”—to be “beyond gay.”  

I spent a long time denying that I had this experience. There is nothing more painstaking than to admit that you’ve contemplated suicide. It was only something I had said aloud to someone a few times before presenting this bill to my colleagues in Augusta. I am so lucky and grateful to have persevered with the help of so many other supportive persons in my life. I am so thankful to be in Augusta, as a state legislator, to advocate for the bill, because I know there are young people who are far more vulnerable than I was back then. I want to protect them from the harm that would come from a trusted professional telling them, one way or another, that they are broken, that the core truth of who they are is wrong and even disgusting. 

What reaction did you receive for sharing your story? 

I was overwhelmed by words of encouragement from my colleagues in the House. Unfortunately, the tone of the floor debate overall was bitter. It was the most gut-wrenching day I've experienced as a legislator. At one point, a Republican lawmaker declared gay people performed "unnatural acts." It concluded with a completely partisan vote.  

What additional issues are you most passionate about? 

I am passionate about career and technical education. The days of funneling every high school student into a “college or bust” mentality must end, especially in Maine. We have industries where workers are quickly nearing retirement age. One of the issues I heard on the campaign trail in 2016 most often was, "I can't get a plumber to do this small job." There are good-paying industries with huge needs. Maine is lucky to have 16 career and technical education schools connected to our high schools. Unfortunately, we have not made a statewide investment in these schools since 1998. I've sponsored legislation to do so. 

Anything else you would like readers to know? What's a fun fact about yourself readers may not know?

I have this awesome four-legged daughter named Pancake and she is waiting for her chance to succeed me in the legislature. 

Follow Pancake and Rep. Fecteau on Facebook at  @Fecteau4Biddeford and Twitter at @Fecteau4Biddeford 

Legislator Spotlight: Virginia Del. Marcia Price

Virginia Delegate Marcia Price Headshot

Del. Price represents the 95th legislative district in the Virginia House of Delegates, covering parts of the cities of Newport News and Hampton. SiX spoke to her about her work helping Virginians address student loan debt.  

Why is combatting the student debt crisis an important issue to you? 

Everyone brings their life experiences with them to their work as a legislator and tries to mesh that with the experiences of people in their district. For me personally, when I was elected to the legislature, I was carrying about $90,000 in student loan debt from undergrad and two graduate programs. I spent a lot of time thinking I had done something wrong, but I also heard about other people going through the same thing. It became clear that getting this right wasn’t just the personal responsibility of the borrower, it was a systematic problem. When I got to the legislature in 2016, I knew that my district had a large percentage of defaults on loans. I realized that I could tell my personal story, and even if a bill couldn’t help me it could help other people from being in situations like mine.  

How will your bill, HB1138, passed in 2018, help Virginians?   

It creates an Office of the Qualified Education Loan Ombudsman within the State Council of Higher Education, where Virginia borrowers can go for unbiased information. A lot of people have pieced together different types of loans to cover their full need, so instead of having to go to multiple servicers to get answers to their questions, they can now go to one place and get answers on all types of loans. They can also get answers on repayment options from someone who won’t be making money off their decision, but from someone who can aid them in making choices that are economical. The Ombudsman office can also walk Virginians through the process of filing a complaint if things aren’t going well with a loan servicer, which can be really intimidating when you’re up against such a big industry. And finally, the office will create an easily accessible online educational course for borrowers and potential borrowers. 

What are the next steps the legislature can do to address student loan debt?  

There are three other bills we’ll keep pressing for that will be helpful on the front end, as people are considering taking out loans. First, I think it’s time that Virginia be creative and move forward with a student loan refinancing authority for people with high interest loans, so they can refinance with lower interest rates. Some private loans come with interest rates that really look more like department store credit card rates, more so than an interest rate for a loan for an education that you were told you had to have in order to be successful. Two other bills would create a borrower’s bill of rights and making sure loan servicer companies have to be licensed by the state. In Virginia, student loan debt is second only to mortgage debt, and mortgages are highly regulated. Student loans are also often targeting people who are much younger than home buyers, raising the possibility that they could be taken advantage of.  

What else should people know about the student debt issue? 

I do want to clarify that when it comes to my own student loan situation, I know I could have done a better job reading my own student loan documents. But I also know that some of us never learned even how to balance a checkbook. We’ve taken some things out of our education curriculum, like financial literacy, that would help students be financially savvy and budget savvy and make an informed decision before they sign their life away. That’s my little plug against over-emphasizing standardized tests and putting some life skills back into curriculum that have real-life applications.   

What other issues are you passionate about? 

In the area where I’m from, everyday gun violence is the reality, and I’m really passionate about a four-pronged approach to prevent and eradicate youth and gang violence in my district: Prevention, intervention, enforcement, and re-entry. On my first day as a delegate in 2016 we had three murders in Newport News. By the time we got to the weekend for my ceremonial swearing-in, we were at five murders. Too many of the victims were under the age of 30. We’ve got to break the cycle of violence, break the prison -industrial complex, and end mass incarceration. I’m passionate about criminal justice reform, but most specifically, trying to get this next generation to have a sense of hope, a sense of purpose, and a pipeline toward success.  

The Virginia legislature is part-time, and only in session for a few months out of the year. How do you spend your time outside the legislature?  

I’m the director of a non-profit called Virginia BLOC, the Black Leadership Organizing Collaborative. It is a project of New Virginia Majority, and we are focused on building empowered communities in Newport News and Hampton and building African American political power. We help communities create the changes they hope to see. It’s pretty much what I do as a delegate, but I get to do it outside of the legislature. 

What first motivated you to run for office?  

I’m a fourth-generation resident of Newport News, and was born into a political family and I had been part of campaigns since I was three, literally.I had always been on the campaign side, but in 2014 my predecessor in the legislature unofficially announced her retirement at a cookout. I went to a community meeting to volunteer myself as campaign manager for whoever the nominee would end up being, but it turned out that everyone at that meeting was there to tell me why I should run. It was very humbling. I was 34 at the time. I started coming up with all the reasons why I couldn’t do it, and people were pointing out why I should, like being a young, energetic voice for an area that needs a strong advocate. The positives outweighed my concerns, so I declared my candidacy.  

What is a fun fact about you readers may not know? 

I went to Divinity School at Howard University and was on track to become a minister that would pastor a church. But, during my certification process I was working in a hospital in a chaplaincy program where they assigned me to pediatrics, labor and delivery, and the emergency department. I learned really quickly that dealing with the end of life, when the end of life was in such negative circumstances, I didn’t want to be there for that part. I wanted to be somewhere where my ministry could help prevent the negative circumstances, and I really do see my work in the community as a legislator and at a non-profit as a form of ministry.  

Legislator Spotlight: Pennsylvania Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky

C53A03505b15dRep. Krueger-Braneky represents the 161st legislative district in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. SiX spoke to her about her work to combat sexual harassment. 

- Why is addressing sexual harassment and assault an important issue to you?

As more reports of sexual harassment have come to light, it’s become clear that our current system does not support survivors. As an elected official, I’ve shared my own #MeToo story. Afterwards, women who work in our state Capitol approached me to share stories of inappropriate behavior by legislators and their experience of a system which silences them on the issue. We need to take action now to ensure a fair and transparent system for handling complaints—independent of politics. From fast food workers to the State House, all employees should feel safe at work.

- How would the laws proposed this year combat sexual harassment?
Pennsylvania HB 1965, or what is better known as the #MeToo State House Act, is a piece of legislation that, among other things, protects staff and interns, puts in place reform procedures for investigation, resolution of complaints, improves training and transparency of sexual harassment prevention and response training in employment. My bill is part of a broader package of bills introduced by women in the PA House and Senate to tackle broader issues around sexual harassment and assault.

- How has the #MeToo movement impacted your work on this issue?

Last December, following horrific revelations about high-profile figures that launched the newest phase of the #MeToo movement, the House Democratic and Republican caucuses underwent sexual harassment training for the first time. A human resources professional walked us through slides showing examples of inappropriate and unprofessional conduct and behavior, as well as the criteria for a hostile work environment. I realized I had been subjected to each one of the hostile workplace behaviors—from inappropriate touching to sexual language to comments about my appearance—from colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And what I’ve heard from female staff and lobbyists in the Capitol is much worse than what I have experienced. We must shine a light on what’s happening and change the current culture that punishes survivors and forces them to live in shame and secrecy.

- What else can the state do to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault?

I’m grateful to the members of the Pittsburgh City Council and the Philadelphia City Council for supporting HB 1965 and understanding the need to hold the powerful accountable and create a better environment for everyone working at the state Capitol. Their support, while appreciated, is not enough. We need a vote on HB 1965—and the broader package of related bills—in the State House.

- What other issues are you working on? What are you most passionate about?

My top three priorities in office are ensuring that public schools have adequate funding to provide a thorough and efficient education to all children, protecting our environment, and un-rigging the economy so that locally owned businesses and working families can get ahead.

- Is there anything else you would like readers to know?

Sexual harassment in the workplace has garnered much attention in recent months because the victims have been women privileged with the ability—financial or otherwise—to tell their stories. It’s important that we not forget that women, disproportionately women of color, make up 60 percent of minimum-wage employees. This means that many women lack the economic power to reject misconduct in the workplace. Ending sexual harassment in the workplace is an issue of economic freedom—regardless of a person’s gender identity, they ought to be respected and feel safe at work.

SiX spoke to Rep. Salman and Rep. Herod about efforts to address the dignity that incarcerated women deserve.

Arizona State Representative Athena Salman is making global news with her efforts to secure access to an unlimited, free supply of feminine hygiene products for the state’s incarcerated women, who are currently limited to 12 sanitary pads per month. Rep. Salman’s work on this was inspired in part by similar efforts in Colorado in 2017, led by Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod. SiX spoke to Rep. Salman and Rep. Herod about these efforts to address the dignity that incarcerated women deserve.

SiX: Tell us about Arizona House Bill 2222 and how it inspired a recent policy change from the Department of Corrections.

AZ Rep. Athena Salman: Today, there are nearly 1.3 million women in the U.S Correctional System. Women are the fastest growing prison demographic in our country and in Arizona, we have roughly 4,000 women in state prison. My bill, HB2222, aimed to guarantee unlimited feminine hygiene products free of charge for incarcerated women.

At the time of the bill’s introduction, women in state prison were only receiving 12 pads a month and would have to buy additional menstrual products at the store once they were out. Women in prison make 15 cents an hour and a box of tampons at the store costs $3.99. Women were literally being faced with having to choose between buying more menstrual products or paying for phone calls to their children.

At the committee hearing, the Warden of the Perryville Prison (our only female facility) testified that the bill was “a solution looking for a problem.” Following her testimony, former female inmates told their powerful personal stories that brought to light the many abuses they had endured while being incarcerated. State, national and even international outrage and media coverage ensued, driven by the trending social media hashtag #LetItFlow.

The committee hearing for the bill sparked a movement and that momentum forced an immediate policy change from the Department of Corrections. Now, women will receive 36 pads a month. Last week, the Department announced that it will also be revising its policy to include tampons. While the policy changes are a huge short-term victory, the danger that we see is that correctional departments across the country could then use this as a foundation for fighting against codifying the policy into statute. We know that internal rule changes do not hold the same teeth as state statute and nothing prevents the department from changing the policy back a year later or under new leadership. So, the debate still continues in Arizona and beyond.

What inspired you to work on this issue?

Rep. Salman: At a conference last summer, Colorado State Rep. Leslie Herod informed me that she had just fought for free tampons for women in Colorado prisons. I was shocked that this was being denied to women in the first place, and when I began asking questions at home, I learned that the same problem existed in Arizona. I spoke with attorneys who monitored our prisons, prison reform advocates and formerly incarcerated women and felt absolutely certain that this was an issue worth tackling head on.

Why do you think this bill has resonated so deeply with people across Arizona and beyond?

Rep. Salman: This issue resonated far and wide because it speaks to the fundamental dignity of being a woman. To deny a woman of adequate feminine hygiene products for her menstrual cycle is cruel, and as women, we can empathize with how awful that must be to face that as your daily reality.

What else would you like readers from other states to know?

Rep. Salman: In fighting to make change, it was critical that I had a broad coalition of stakeholders and activists fighting for this issue publicly, and media attention as well. Anyone interested in prison reform, I encourage you to reach out to #cut50. It’s a national network that exclusively specializes on these issues.

Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod, what challenges did you face in pushing this policy in Colorado in 2017?

CO Rep. Leslie Herod: First and foremost, it was difficult to get the Colorado Department of Corrections to take the issue seriously. While I found it personally abhorrent that women had to “prove a medical need” before receiving additional pads, the DOC thought that was a perfectly rational policy. Additionally, the requirement that women pay $8 for a box of tampons while only making less than $1 or $2 a day was equally astonishing.

Men, who of course make up the majority of the legislature and upper leadership within in the Department of Corrections, simply feel unconformable discussing women's “issues” while at the same time, deciding on policies that impact women. That must change.

To be fair, I did get support from male colleagues and Governor Hickenlooper, but I know they wouldn't have raised the issue if I hadn’t. And I’m sure it wouldn’t have made it through the process without the support of the lone female Joint Budget Committee member, Rep. Millie Hamner, or our Latina Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran.

Why is it important for legislators to connect over state lines about issues that they care about?

Rep. Herod: We have a lot to learn from each other. There is no reason to recreate the wheel every time on every issue. We can support each other, offer lessons learned and help elevate each other’s messages on social media. The wealth of knowledge that we share is powerful and can certainly translate across state lines. Also, on many issues, states don't want to be the first out of the gate. It's helpful to know others are doing the same thing or contemplating it.

What has the outcome been in Colorado since funding this program?

Rep. Herod: The program has been a huge success! I have since visited women in Colorado’s Women’s Correctional Facility and they cite the change as one of the biggest examples of positive change during their time in Corrections. They felt like they had been listened to and were afforded a bit more dignity. The warden even thanked me because he says that it has led to more positive interactions with the inmates. Most importantly, there have been ZERO negative reported incidences as a result of this change.

What else would you like readers from other states to know?

Rep. Herod: I really saw this as a humanity issue. I simply couldn't imagine how women were either going without proper hygiene products or having to make the case to a guard (often male) for those products. It seemed so obvious to me. And, ultimately, it costs the Department of Corrections $40,000 a year, which is a mere pittance of its close to $1 billion budget. It was time for change and I was happy to lead the charge.

Follow Reps. Salman and Herod on Facebook and twitter for more updates on their work.

Facebook: @LeslieforColorado @SalmanforAZ

Twitter: @leslieherod @AthenaSalman