How States Can Stop the Corporate Campaign To Roll Back Child Labor Protections

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How States Can Stop the Corporate Campaign To Roll Back Child Labor Protections

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Executive Summary

The enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938 marked the passage of the first federal standards for child labor in the U.S., prohibiting the long hours, dangerous jobs, and abusive practices that many children suffered at the time. Now, nearly nine decades later, state legislatures, spurred by political operatives working on behalf of deep-pocketed corporate interests, are the epicenters of a national campaign to turn the clock back on child labor protections. 

Since 2021, at least 61 bills to roll back child labor protections have been introduced in 29 states, and at least 17 bills have been enacted in 13 states. The proposals, some of which would directly conflict with federal standards, include provisions that would repeal work permit requirements, extend work hours, legalize employment in hazardous occupations, allow children to be paid less than the state minimum wage, lower the minimum age for alcohol service, and preempt the passage of stricter child labor protections at the local level. Without adequate federal or state enforcement capacity, the recent onslaught of legislative activity to bring back 19th-century child labor standards promises to intensify a growing national crisis of child labor violations, especially among migrant youth.

State lawmakers and advocates have the power to organize and push back against these coordinated attacks and to put forward a different vision for the future where labor policies safeguard the safety, well-being, and education of children. This publication is intended to serve as a resource to legislators and state advocates in resisting efforts to deregulate child labor protections. It offers policy options that can strengthen labor protections for young workers. A stronger framework for child labor standards at the state level should consider the following:

  1. Enhancing child labor protections. States can and should establish labor protections that go above and beyond federal standards for young workers. Examples include time and hour restrictions for 16- and 17-year-olds, prohibitions on hazardous occupations, rest or meal break requirements, work permit requirements, repealing youth subminimum wage laws, and strengthening protections for children in agricultural work.
  2. Enhancing enforcement and penalties. States should adopt an enforcement strategy that maintains a credible ability to enforce against violations and includes a penalty regime that provides effective deterrence.
    • State lawmakers can establish strong civil and criminal penalties, including minimum penalties and damages payable to workers, in addition to enhanced penalties for egregious violations. 
    • Legislators can also enhance enforcement by establishing anti-retaliation protections, extending the statute of limitations on violations, expanding agency enforcement powers, and boosting enforcement capacity, particularly by adding language and cultural capacity to appropriately support migrant children.
    • State legislators can consider strategies that support enforcement on behalf of the state, like community enforcement programs, private attorneys general laws that authorize aggrieved employees to bring enforcement actions on behalf of the state, or dedicated grant funding to local prosecutors to support labor enforcement actions.
    • Lawmakers can ensure that children have appropriate legal remedies when they are harmed by child labor violations by ensuring that injured or killed workers are not limited to workers’ compensation as an exclusive remedy and by establishing a private right of action.
  3. Extend liability to all entities that profit from child labor. State lawmakers should modernize child labor protections to account for 21st-century business structures that often allow the most powerful entities to evade accountability. Examples include laws that hold lead corporations responsible for violations committed within their supply chains and laws that establish joint liability for franchisors and franchisees.
  4. Establish public procurement compliance requirements. States can set a standard for strict compliance with child labor protections through the procurement process by requiring contractors to disclose child labor violations and maintaining compliance with child labor protections as a condition for eligibility for public contracts.
  5. Support education, outreach, and service coordination efforts. Legislators can also enable improved enforcement outcomes by supporting education and outreach efforts that ensure that children and their families are adequately informed of their rights under the law and by facilitating coordination among labor officials, public education systems, social services, and immigrant legal services to ensure that investigations of violations do not leave families without access to material and legal support.

The scheme to deregulate child labor state by state is inseparable from attacks on workers’ rights, safety net programs that help families get back on their feet during hard times, the right to an honest and quality education, a fair tax system where wealthy corporations pay what they owe, and our freedom to vote and our right to fair representation. Altogether, these conjoined efforts—driven by insatiable corporate greed and bolstered by outsized elite influence over our democracy—paint a bleak future of an endless race to the bottom for cheap labor, enshrined by the exploitation of children at the expense of their health, safety, and education.

Introduction

In recent years, state legislatures have been the focus of a national operation to repeal laws that protect young people’s health, safety, and educational rights. The campaign to drag labor protections back in time to the 19th century is part of a sweeping, multi-issue effort to further concentrate corporate power, undermine worker rights, and dismantle government regulation, all while cementing wealth inequality by stratifying access to public education and tearing down anti-poverty programs. Since 2021, at least 61 bills to weaken child labor protections have been introduced across 29 states, including 17 bills that have been enacted in 13 states.

The ultimate intent of the corporate lobby is clear: to pave a path to national deregulation of child labor, one state at a time. State lawmakers have the power to put a stop to the plot to build an economy that allows businesses to profit on the backs of children, even in the most dangerous jobs. This publication is intended to serve as a resource to legislators and advocates in responding to the ongoing efforts in state capitols to deregulate child labor. In addition to examining the industry-backed actors behind the corporate conspiracy to roll back child labor protections, the publication outlines the types of regressive legislation that states have considered and passed in recent years and offers potential policy options that legislators may consider to further strengthen state protections for young workers.

History Repeats Itself: A Look Behind the Curtain of the Campaign To Roll Back Child Labor Protections

In the years following the proposal of a constitutional amendment authorizing Congress to regulate child labor in 1924, a new organization called the Farmers’ States Rights League (FSRL) distributed over a quarter-million pieces of literature opposing the amendment, spreading false claims that children would be prevented from doing chores around the home and family farm. The propaganda spread through half-page advertisements in small-town newspapers, leaving readers with the misguided impression that the campaign was funded organically by a group of farmers who came together in opposition to the amendment.

In reality, the FSRL was operated by David Clark, a frontman for wealthy Southern textile factory bosses—an industry that thrived on child labor—to create the facade of public resistance to the amendment in rural America. Clark, a virulent white supremacist who frequently railed against integration as the publisher of the influential Southern Textile Bulletin, was also the mastermind behind a litigation strategy to stonewall new child labor protections. His efforts, which included selecting a friendly federal judge and cajoling young cotton mill workers to serve as plaintiffs in lawsuits he paid for, resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court striking down two newly enacted federal child labor protections. One of the plaintiffs handpicked by Clark, when interviewed by a reporter years later, reflected: “I’d been a lot better off if they hadn’t won it. Look at me! A hundred and five pounds, a grown man and no education.”

While the proposed amendment was never ratified, Congress eventually enacted the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 1938, prohibiting children from being employed in certain types of hazardous work, establishing a minimum age of 16 for most types of work, and limiting the number of hours and the time of day that children are allowed to work to protect school attendance. Nearly a century later, a different set of actors, funded by the newest generation of billionaire industrialist barons, are playing the same cast of characters in another astroturfing production to fabricate the illusion of widespread support for policies that only serve to line the pockets of the wealthy through increasingly dangerous child labor.

Industry Fronts: Agribusiness, the Foundation for Government Accountability, and the Opportunity Solutions Project

Agricultural industry groups continue to be outspoken proponents of weakening child labor protections. In the same model as the FSRL, they point to these protections as being burdensome for family farmers when, in truth, these groups represent multinational agribusiness corporations. Groups opposing a proposed federal rule to increase child protections in the FLSA in 2011, for example, included some of the biggest actors in the industry, such as pesticide trade group CropLife America, the National Cotton Council, and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). The AFBF, in particular, was founded in 1919 as a contemporary of the FSRL but has remained a powerful lobby group in the century since—calling itself “the voice of agriculture” while representing large agribusiness interests. In addition to advocating for weaker child labor protections, the AFBF supported the repeal of both the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Affordable Care Act while consistently pressing for policies that harm the independent family farmers it claims to represent. 

Other proponents of child labor rollbacks in statehouses across the country reflect a similar array of lobbyists and trade associations for other businesses and industries that stand to benefit most from child labor, including the restaurant, hospitality, and retail industries. During a hearing on a bill to repeal work permits in Arkansas, the legislative sponsor acknowledged that the legislation came from a Florida-based organization called the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA). At the same time, emails obtained by reporters revealed that similar bills were sent by FGA lobbyists to Florida and Missouri lawmakers.

Before the organization turned its attention to making it easier for businesses to exploit child labor in recent years, the FGA spent over a decade parachuting into statehouses on behalf of corporate interests—in the past seven years, the FGA and its advocacy arm, the Opportunity Solutions Project (OSP), have deployed 130 lobbyists into 29 state capitols. The group’s parallel efforts to gut public assistance programs (which primarily serve children experiencing poverty and their families), push the long-discredited idea of work requirements for safety net eligibility, and weaken state unemployment benefits illustrate a clear agenda: to ensure that low-wage workers are forced to accept poverty wages or abusive working conditions. More recently, to dilute the political power of voters and lock states in minority rule, the FGA has also waged attacks on our freedom to vote and direct democracy.

Reflecting on its work during the 2021 legislative session in states across the country, the FGA boasted in its annual report that thanks to the expansion of its “Super State strategy, which involves doubling down in key states to drive national change with big reforms,” Arkansas legislators enacted 48 “FGA reforms,” while Florida had implemented 26 of the organization’s solutions. Just two years later, lawmakers in Arkansas and Florida, in addition to two of the newest FGA Super States, Iowa and Wisconsin, passed bills to weaken child labor protections.

The FGA and OSP are funded by a number of ultra-wealthy industrialists who have funneled billions into a vast network of organizations to do the bidding of large corporations and conservative extremists. Some known funders of the FGA and OSP are also behind other industry investments to capture judicial and legislative power:

The similarities between the tactics of modern pro-child labor groups and their forebears are striking: front organizations are financed by a wealthy network of elites to create the pretense of citizen-driven campaigns for policies that make benefactors even more profitable in their industries. When paired with the ongoing crusade to push our democracy, state by state, into crisis, policies designed to enact economic oppression on the most vulnerable workers promise to ensure that the power to hoard wealth and opportunity remains a feature of our nation’s laws for generations to come.

Federal and State Enforcement Capacity is Insufficient Amidst Increased Violations and Conflicting State Laws

The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution provides that federal law takes supremacy over conflicting state laws. While states may enact laws that provide legal protections above federal law, they may not lower the “floor” set by federal law. State legislatures have a long tradition of establishing and enforcing higher labor standards for their residents, including establishing some of the country’s first child labor protections a century before the passage of the FLSA.

States that roll back state child labor standards are actively diminishing their important, long-standing roles in enforcing child labor protections, leaving more and more of the enforcement burden to an already short-staffed federal Department of Labor (DOL) at a time when employer violations are sharply increasing. Weakening state standards signals to unscrupulous employers that child labor violations are less likely than ever to be investigated in a certain state while creating new confusion, even for well-intentioned employers, about what is and is not legal, increasing the likelihood of additional violations.

During the 2023 legislative session, federal DOL officials responded to a request from Iowa lawmakers regarding a bill (2023 IA SF 542), which has since been enacted into law, to confirm that several provisions were inconsistent with federal law. The DOL more recently alerted employers that they remain legally obligated to comply with federal child labor protections rather than newly enacted and weaker state laws, reminding employers that “[w]here a state child labor law is less restrictive than the federal law, the federal law applies. Where a state child labor law is more restrictive than the federal law, the state law applies.”

Despite the legal impotence of some provisions contained in new state child labor laws, they are deliberately intended to introduce confusion to the existing regulatory framework, take advantage of a vastly under-resourced and understaffed federal labor enforcement agency, and heighten conflicts between state and federal standards to build a case for lowering standards nationwide. The ultimate goal, as the FGA outlined in a recent report, is to “open the door to federal regulatory reform” by getting “enough states to successfully implement a reform.” 

In response to an 88% increase in child labor violations since 2019, federal officials have announced new enhanced enforcement efforts and provided additional guidance to local Wage and Hour Division (WHD) offices to ensure full utilization of the agency’s enforcement authority. Still, the WHD recently reported that it lost 12% of its staff between 2010 and 2019 due to its funding remaining flat. In 2019, WHD investigators were responsible for twice as many workers as they were four decades ago, while compliance officers with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were responsible for three times as many workers over the same time period.

The Realities of the Child Labor Catastrophe

Proponents of weakening child labor protections frequently trot out feel-good stories suggesting that the rollbacks will open opportunities for teenagers working at the local movie theater or grocery store to save up for a prom dress when, in reality, these types of jobs are already fully legal options for teens as young as 14 in all states. Deregulation is instead aimed at stripping long-standing safety and scheduling standards that protect the health and education of children. Removing these guardrails will have the most dire, life-threatening consequences for children who are working to survive in some of the most dangerous and hidden jobs in our economy. This is made all the more urgent by a recent increase in unaccompanied migrant children driven from their home countries by economic desperation. State legislatures are the most important stopgap today for preventing the continued abuse, serious injury, and death of children in the workplace.

Compounded by violence and the disastrous effects of climate change, the economic fallout from the pandemic pushed many in Central America into a severe economic crisis. Many families facing extreme hunger and poverty had little choice but to send their children to the U.S. through a narrow opening in an otherwise broken immigration system that, until recently, closed the southern border to unauthorized arrivals and asylum seekers, except for children. 

Nearly 350,000 unaccompanied children were released by federal officials in a three-year period between 2020 and 2023—almost a 180% increase from the previous three years. Whereas the majority of unaccompanied minors in years past were primarily released to parents already living in the country, today, only one-third are sponsored by parents, with the remainder being sent to relatives, acquaintances, or strangers. Unaccompanied children are held temporarily at shelters under the care of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) while caseworkers vet sponsors to identify red flags for potential trafficking, such as sponsors that have claimed responsibility for dozens of unrelated children

About one-third of unaccompanied children who are identified as high-risk continue to receive case management services after release. In most instances, children are released to sponsors with the number of a national hotline and receive a phone call from federal officials within a month of release. In 2022, HHS reported not being able to contact one-third of minors in the month after their release to sponsors, while trafficking reports to the national hotline have increased by 1,300% in just five years. 

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Child Labor Violations Are Widespread and Largely Unchecked

The stories gathered from interviews with migrant children themselves, as well as the caseworkers, teachers, and community members around them, all bear strikingly repetitive refrains. Upon arriving in the country alone and without work permits, unaccompanied migrant children, often saddled with debt from their journey and with the obligation to support families back home, inevitably end up filling some of the most undesirable jobs that are often outsourced and persistently vacant due to the refusal of corporations to pay fair wages. These children frequently end up dropping out of school or never enrolling at all.

Though federal law prohibits children from being employed in many of these roles, employers frequently look the other way, as was in the case of a 13-year-old worker who presented documents that identified them as a 30-year-old. Even when multimillion-dollar corporations are caught in a federal investigation, the maximum civil penalty for child labor violations—less than 1% of the penalty for insider trading—is trivial to those corporations when balanced against the profits generated by ignoring labor protections. Some of the most egregious violations have been at worksites that are within the supply chain of major household brands like Tyson, Hyundai, and General Mills, which are insulated from liability by layers of subcontractors and third-party agencies.

Over and over, reporters and federal investigators have laid bare the widespread nature of child labor violations in today’s economy. Each story below, alongside many more, shares similar themes of exploitation and willful ignorance by employers, who often face little to no accountability, even in cases involving serious injury or death:

On its own, the idea of allowing children to work full-time or on graveyard shifts while attending school, to operate dangerous industrial equipment sharp enough to butcher cattle, to work in a bar at the age of 14, to toil in fields while inhaling toxic pesticides at 12, or to handle caustic cleaning solutions while wearing protective gear several sizes too large for less than minimum wage and without oversight is shocking and dangerous. But when taken together with the other priorities of the shadowy network of industry-funded groups that have cloaked their campaign to deregulate child labor as simply a matter of cutting “red tape,” the effort presents an existential threat to the future that most of us envision for our children.

Given the improbability of federal action on child labor, even in the face of rising violations, new conflicting state laws, and lack of federal enforcement capacity, state lawmakers have a central role to play in protecting the health and safety of children in the workplace. In addition to fighting back against continued child labor rollbacks, legislators can strengthen child labor standards and boost enforcement capacity at the state level.

The Campaign To Weaken Child Labor Protections

Since 2021, at least 61 bills to weaken child labor protections have been introduced across 29 states:

Recent legislation to weaken protections for children in the workforce has generally included some combination of the following provisions.

See Table 1 for a summary of legislation to weaken child labor protections that have been considered since 2021.

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Strategies for Organizing Against the Rollback of Child Labor Protections 

In organizing against the campaign to deregulate child labor, state legislators should consider the following strategies: 

Table 1. State Child Labor Legislation

Note: This table summarizes the provisions of state legislation related to child labor identified by the authors as of February 9, 2024. The status of each bill reflected in this table may not reflect its current status.

Opportunities To Strengthen Child Labor Protections

State lawmakers have the power to take immediate action to protect young workers against the staggering uptick in child labor violations, especially among children working in dangerous industries. The following sections include examples of provisions that lawmakers may consider in developing a stronger framework for child labor protections in their states, drawn from bills that have been considered at the federal and state levels. In addition to legislation specific to child labor, this section also includes enforcement approaches from other areas of labor law that may be effective against child labor violations.

See Table 1 for a summary of bills referenced in the following sections, in addition to other bills with similar provisions.

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Enhancing Labor Protections

State lawmakers have the power to counteract the spread of child labor deregulation by ensuring that state-level protections continue to prioritize the health, safety, and education of young workers. At a minimum, legislators in states where child labor protections are weaker than the FLSA should raise state standards to align with federal requirements.

Modernizing Agricultural Labor Protections

While federal law clearly identifies the certain occupations considered unsafe for children under 18, the law remains extremely weak when it comes to employment in agriculture: even children under the age of 12 can work on farms in certain circumstances. The exclusion of farmworkers from child labor protections, much like the exclusion of farmworkers and domestic workers from other areas of labor and employment law, has deep roots in slavery and subjugation in the name of profit. 

Much of the progress that has been made to improve conditions for farmworkers, including children, has been the result of decades of sustained organizing by farmworkers and their allies across the country. Some of these efforts have yielded legally binding codes of conduct between farmworkers and employers, which prohibit child labor and provide other important standards for worker safety and dignity. The Fair Food and Milk With Dignity Codes of Conduct are two models; these may offer inspiration for policy change. 

Lawmakers can bring protections for farmworkers into the 21st century by raising state standards to minimize the risks that children face in agricultural work.

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Enhancing Enforcement and Penalties

The growing incidence of egregious child labor violations suggests that existing enforcement mechanisms—and the likelihood that enforcement will occur at all—are insufficient to deter employers from violating the law. For profit-driven corporations, the decision is simple math: one analysis of DOL data found that federal penalties for minimum wage and overtime violations are “often relatively small when weighed against the small probability of detection of the violation for many firms.” In other words, an effective enforcement strategy must consider the cost of noncompliance in addition to maintaining a credible ability to enforce.

Increasing Penalties

Research shows that higher penalty amounts are an effective deterrent for labor violations; one study comparing minimum wage violations with state employment laws across all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that “the stronger the state’s employment laws, the lower the incidence of minimum wage violations…states that implemented the strongest penalties—treble damages—experienced statistically significant drops in violation rates.” 

Enhancing Enforcement

State lawmakers can also ensure that more employers are compelled to comply with child labor laws by the plausible belief that officials have the capacity to enforce the law. In order to be effective, an enforcement regime must give aggrieved workers the confidence that they will be protected and made whole throughout the process of an investigation.

Authorizing Enforcement on Behalf of the State

To add to state enforcement capacity, state legislators can also consider options that empower other entities to carry out enforcement actions on behalf of state officials. As recent reporting on the child labor crisis shows, migrant children and their families, concerned by the looming threat of deportation, are fearful of government officials. However, they may be eligible for programs like the Deferred Action for Labor Enforcement (DALE) program, which provides temporary protection against deportation and work authorization to noncitizen workers who have witnessed or been victims of labor violations.

As an additional layer of deterrence against the most grievous violations of child labor protections, lawmakers can also ensure that aggrieved children have pathways to seek adequate legal remedies against their employers. 

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Extending Liability to All Entities That Profit from Child Labor

The increasingly complex nature of businesses that utilize temporary workers, staffing agencies, contract workers, independent contractors, and other work structure strategies “challenge the nearly century-old workplace policies built around direct, bilateral employment relationships.” Federal employment law generally holds that more than one entity may be held responsible as joint employers for the purposes of labor violations. In announcing its Interagency Child Labor Task Force, the DOL recently signaled that its enhanced enforcement efforts would apply scrutiny to violations committed by entities within an employer’s supply chain, including contractors or staffing agencies. At the state level, legislators can extend liability to include the most powerful and well-resourced entities that have escaped accountability.

Establishing Public Procurement Requirements

State lawmakers can also amend public procurement processes to require strict compliance with child labor protections by government contractors and their supply chains.

Supporting Education, Outreach, and Coordination of Services

Adequate enforcement of any labor law requires that workers are supported with knowledge that empowers them to exercise their rights. In the case of children, who are new to the workforce and may be unaware of their rights under child labor laws, education and outreach efforts can yield long-term benefits in a workforce well-versed in their rights. States can also fill a critical role by identifying service gaps that exist for children vulnerable to labor exploitation, especially migrant children and children in families with language or literacy barriers. 

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Conclusion

Industry-driven attacks on child labor standards rely on a false narrative that children universally have the opportunity to “choose” a job where they can learn important lessons for adulthood and “sock away” savings in a Roth IRA. And yet, that narrative couldn’t be further from reality for the children who would be most affected by the deregulation of child labor. As recent reporting and data show, the children most subject to child labor violations have no good choices; they have only the choice to survive.

Trapped in the jaws of our nation’s profit-driven economy and brutally inhumane immigration system, both designed by a relentless corporate lobbying machine that has captured statehouses and courts, migrant children are pushed into the shadows where they are exploited without recourse. In some of the most shocking investigations, employers receive a slap on the wrist, if any at all, and continue operating with their reputations and profit margins intact. Even in cases of injury and death, these children’s families are not afforded the dignity of any measure of accountability or care. 

In defending against the corporate conspiracy to deregulate child labor, state legislators should be clear that the campaign is just one piece of a massive and generational project to remake the economy into one that gives corporations license to extract exorbitant profits from increasingly unregulated and dangerous child labor. Other critical pieces of the destructive plan seek to eviscerate the social safety net to ensure that workers have no choice when faced with unsafe and abusive working conditions; to dismantle critical institutions like public schools by robbing taxpayer coffers to pay for colossal corporate tax subsidies; and by demonizing and punishing immigrants, to create a class of workers who suffer violations in silence for fear of deportation and family separation.

Additional Resources

Economic Policy Institute

Migration Policy Institute

Acknowledgements

A special thank you to Jenn Round, the Director of Beyond the Bill at the Workplace Justice Lab@Rutgers University, for her insightful comments and valuable improvements to this publication.

A State Legislator's Guide to Direct Pay: Building Jobs & Sustainable Public Energy

A State Legislator's Guide to Direct Pay: Building Jobs & Sustainable Public Energy

Solar Panels 2 1 scaled e1701721940181Executive Summary

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) includes Direct Pay tax credits that have the potential to bring nearly unlimited funding for clean energy projects into the communities that need them most. Direct Pay tax credits will radically expand publicly owned energy, support communities transitioning away from polluting energy sources, generate affordable—and potentially free—electricity, and create good jobs for local communities. This guide is designed to help state lawmakers seize this historic opportunity for their communities through: 
  1. Community education and outreach: State legislators are trusted messengers who can spread the word about this opportunity to local governments, community organizations, and other eligible entities within their state. 
  2. Implementation: State legislators can ensure that the state government enthusiastically implements the IRA and secures Direct Pay funding for their state by implementing eligible projects across all levels of state government. 
  3. Funding and policy making: State legislators can help other eligible entities like local governments and nonprofits implement Direct Pay projects by providing matching funds, creating revolving funds or low/no-interest loans, creating technical assistance programs, and building in policy incentives to increase equity and protect workers within Direct Pay programs in the state. 
Direct Pay tax credits are available to tax-exempt entities like state governments, local governments, schools, hospitals, public utilities, houses of worship, and nonprofit organizations for the first time ever. Direct Pay tax credits can fund a wide range of renewable energy projects like solar arrays, wind turbines, electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, and storage resources like batteries. Every project that meets the Direct Pay requirements will receive the tax credit, so communities can implement project after project without competing for limited and dwindling funds. However, it will take robust leadership from state-level elected champions to fully realize this opportunity. State governments can receive Direct Pay tax credits, which can provide significant funding for state-owned green energy projects and can be used on an uncapped number of qualifying projects. In addition, state governments have a critical role to play in ensuring that state residents understand this opportunity and have the knowledge, financing, and technical support needed to seize this opportunity through policies like grants, revolving funds, and technical assistance. This guide is intended for state governments to use and to better understand how to use Direct Pay to help expand resilient, sustainable energy, lower energy costs, take action on the climate crisis, and create good-paying local jobs.

 

 

About Direct Pay

For the first time ever, thanks to the IRA, the federal government will give tax-free direct cash funding to tax-exempt entities like state governments, local governments, schools, hospitals, public utilities, houses of worship, and nonprofit organizations to build renewable energy projects like solar arrays, wind turbines, EV charging infrastructure, and storage resources like batteries. This provisioncalled Direct Pay, or sometimes Elective Paygives tax-free cash payments from the IRS. These Direct Pay tax credits create an opportunity to radically expand publicly owned energy, support communities transitioning away from polluting energy sources, generate affordable—and potentially free—electricity, and create good jobs for local communities.

Understanding the Funding Available Through Direct Pay

The funding available through Direct Pay can be unlimited! Direct Pay funds come in the form of refundable tax credits. Since eligible entities like state governments are tax-exempt, the tax credits are cash payments from the federal government and are paid directly to the eligible entity once the project begins generating energy. The credits last until 2032, and once the IRS determines that the project qualifies, the eligible entity will receive direct tax-free funds covering 30% to 70% of the project costs or an amount for each kilowatt generated. Every project that completes a pre-filing process and meets the IRS’ requirements will get Direct Pay funds. Projects that meet worker protection standards, buy American-made materials, and support communities with the greatest need will also qualify for more funding.  The state governments, cities, counties, nonprofit organizations, and other eligible entities can all access this funding simultaneously and do not need to compete with each other for it. Eligible entities are not limited in the number of eligible projects they can undertake. For example, state governments could put solar panels on state-owned buildings, invest in EV charging infrastructure for state fleets, and create a program to build state-owned solar panels and wind turbines in communities across the state. Each of these projects would be eligible for Direct Pay funding once completed, and there is no limit to the number of eligible projects that the state could complete. 

Expanding Racial and Economic Justice Through Direct Pay 

Creating Good Green Jobs

Eligible entities can maximize economic justice for working people by meeting the IRA’s requirements to pay workers a prevailing wage and use registered apprentices on projects so workers get the training they need to build careers. State and local governments can also ensure their projects create safe, high-quality jobs and that projects stay on time and budget by using union labor. State governments can also maximize their impact on economic justice by attaching additional worker protection requirements for Direct Pay-eligible projects that receive state grants or state technical assistance. See the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center’s (CPCC) FAQs on How to Protect Direct Pay Project Workers and Guide to IRA Worker Protection Requirements for more information. 

Lowering Energy Burdens

In addition to creating good green jobs, states can use Direct Pay to increase economic and racial justice by lowering the burden of high energy costs on low-income households. Twenty-five percent of all U.S. households struggle with a high energy burden (i.e., spend more than 6% of their income on energy bills), and 67% of low-income households face a high energy burden. Black households have a 43% higher rate of energy burden compared to non-Hispanic white households. Native American households face a 45% higher burden, and Hispanic households face a 20% higher burden than non-Hispanic white households. Renters and older people also face disproportionate burdens. Publicly owned clean energy infrastructure can play a critical role in lowering energy costs for households struggling to afford to heat and cool their homes because publicly owned energy can serve the public interest rather than shareholder profits, keeping costs down.  

Addressing Environmental Racism

Governments can maximize racial justice by taking on projects that serve the communities that have been hardest hit by racist policies, fossil fuel extraction, and pollution. Black, Indigenous, and other people of color are more likely to live in communities with high pollution burden, that are near dirty power plants, or that are facing catastrophic harm in the climate crisis. For example, the American Lung Association found that people of color are 3.7 times more likely than white people to live in a county with high levels of air pollution. People of color are also disproportionately likely to live in areas affected by heat or flooding and work in occupations where they are exposed to toxic conditions. A rapid and just green energy transition is critical to achieving racial justice. The unprecedented funding offered by Direct Pay is a critical opportunity to begin investing in the communities that have borne the greatest burden under the current extractive energy economy. For example, a state government might build publicly owned resilient power in communities prone to blackouts and outages. Similarly, a state government could build publicly owned utility-scale renewable energy projects to transition away from coal-fired power plants, install community solar for public housing units, or install public EV charging stations in frontline communities. 

Redressing Redlining and Bluelining

Environmental racism subjects communities of color to higher rates of toxic exposure and climate risk. Decades of disinvestment and racist policies like redlining also mean that these same communities are more likely to need help securing the up-front funding to pay for green energy projects. The impact of disinvestment and redlining is magnified in many communities by bluelining and systematic financial discrimination against communities because of perceived environmental risk. This financial discrimination could prevent communities of color and low-income communities from securing the financial resources to build clean energy infrastructure and benefit from the green energy economy. State governments can play an important role in ensuring an equitable implementation of Direct Pay by creating grant programs or revolving funds that provide no-cost or low-cost funding for green energy projects, especially by reserving funding for projects serving communities of color and other environmental justice communities. 

Centering Community Voices

Direct Pay is a perfect opportunity to engage directly with frontline communities so that state-run and state-funded projects reflect the needs and demands of communities themselves. Governments can also prioritize workers of color when hiring for Direct Pay project jobs. Tools like pre-hire collective bargaining agreements can include hiring targets for workers of color, women, workers with disabilities, or veterans. These agreements bring jobs to target communities and shrink racial and gender pay disparities. 

The Role for State Elected Champions

State-level elected champions can help their communities seize this historic opportunity in three key ways
  1. Community education and outreach: State legislators are important and trusted messengers who can spread the word about this opportunity to local governments, community organizations, and other eligible entities within their state. 
  2. Implementation: State legislators can ensure that the state government enthusiastically implements the IRA and pursues Direct Pay projects across the state government and state agencies. 
  3. Funding and policy making: State legislators can use their policy-making function to help other eligible entities implement Direct Pay projects by providing matching funds, creating revolving funds or low/no-interest loans, creating technical assistance programs, and building in incentives to increase equity and protect workers within Direct Pay programs in the state. 

Community Education and Outreach 

Many eligible entities are unaware of the Direct Pay provision in the IRA and its potential to create good green union jobs, lower energy costs, clean up our air and water, and more. State legislators are trusted messengers who can help spread the word about this opportunity to city and county governments and other eligible entities among their constituencies, including school districts, public universities, nonprofit hospitals, houses of worship, and nonprofit community organizations. Opportunities to spread the word about Direct Pay include:
  • Host a town hall or public meeting on Direct Pay opportunities in your community.
  • Host a meeting with city and county officials, school board members, key community groups, and leaders of key anchor institutions in your district, such as large public universities, nonprofit hospitals, and school districts, to encourage them to take action with Direct Pay.
  • Host a meeting with utilities serving your district to encourage them to actively support Direct Pay projects by making interconnection agreements simple and equitable.
  • Host a meeting with local community foundations and other local philanthropists to encourage them to offer grants and funding to support the construction of Direct Pay projects by small eligible entities. 
  • Share information about Direct Pay on social media. 

Sample Direct Pay Communications Materials

  • The CPCC has created a partner toolkit on Direct Pay that includes sample messaging, sample social media posts, shareable graphics, and a shareable video explaining Direct Pay. 
  • CPCC has created a sample presentation on Direct Pay that you are free to use without attribution or adapt for your purposes however you see fit. 

State Implementation 

State governments and state agencies are eligible entities under the Direct Pay provisions. The scale of projects possible at the state level helps ensure that the promise of the IRA is made real.  Example state-level sustainable Direct Pay projects:
  • A state implements a 100% clean energy plan or other climate action plan and uses Direct Pay to supplement the cost of implementing widespread clean energy projects across the state. According to the Initiative for Energy Justice’s Environmental Justice Scorecard, New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (SB 6599) and Washington’s Clean Energy Transformation Act (SB 5116) reflected more environmental justice principles in the creation, implementation, and design of their programs than most existing state 100% clean energy plans. Many of the plans envisioned in these laws would now qualify (at least in part) for Direct Pay tax credits. 
  • A state uses Direct Pay to supplement the cost of electrifying the state fleet through building out solar-powered EV charging infrastructure for state-owned and -operated vehicles. Oregon, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Washington have announced plans to electrify state fleets. Today, building EV charging infrastructure as part of those plans would be eligible for Direct Pay tax credits, and many other parts of the IRA include funding for clean vehicles that could further supplement these plans. 
  • A school district in Batesville, Arkansas, installed solar panels and made its buildings more energy efficient, saving nearly $300,000 per year. The district then used the money saved to raise teacher pay. Today, adding solar panels to school buildings or other state-, city-, or county-owned buildings would also qualify for a Direct Pay tax credit, reducing the cost of the initial investment and creating even more savings that can be applied to teacher pay or other critical community priorities.
  • A state puts solar panels on state-owned buildings from the state house to state agencies, creating good green jobs and lowering energy costs for the state. States can add solar, wind, or other clean energy infrastructure to state-owned buildings directly and claim Direct Pay tax credits or create grant programs to add clean energy infrastructure to other publicly owned buildings. 
  • A state housing agency updates public housing and affordable housing units, including adding rooftop solar to lower energy costs. For example, investments in public housing such as the Massachusetts’ Affordable Homes Act could be expanded using Direct Pay.
  • A state supports state-funded schools to transition to electric buses by matching federal funds to transition local bus fleets and building solar-powered charging stations on school property. For example, Delaware and Maryland are among the states that are moving toward school bus electrification. The school system saves money and reduces dangerous diesel emissions that put our kids at risk. The school system would be able to claim a reimbursement for up to 70% of total project costs with Direct Pay credits for building EV charging stations and solar panels to help offset the costs of transitioning the school bus fleet and could match that with other federal funding for the purchase of electric vehicles.
  • A state builds publicly owned utility-scale renewable energy projects on state-owned land, including Brownfield land or equity-focused community solar projects, and uses that clean energy to transition away from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. 

State Policy, Funding, and Incentives  

Eligible entities will face a number of challenges in seizing the Direct Pay opportunity, including navigating an unfamiliar process with the IRS, planning and implementing sometimes complex energy projects, and finding the up-front capital to cover the cost of construction and bridge the difference between project costs and the portion eligible for Direct Pay funds. State legislators have a central role in ensuring that their communities can fully embrace this opportunity to take urgent action on the climate crisis, lower energy costs, clean up our air and water, and create good-paying green jobs.  Beyond ensuring that state governments implement Direct Pay-eligible programs, state legislators have the opportunity to help other eligible entities make the benefits of the IRA real in their communities by using state funding and state policymaking tools to help other entities access Direct Pay tax credits. Policies like those that call for 100% sustainable energy by 2030 create the demand and market assurance necessary to fully maximize the benefits of the IRA, but only if they are created and implemented with a central focus on improving life for communities on the frontlines of the extractive energy economy and the climate crisis. This must include community participation in the lawmaking and implementation process and significant, measurable, and enforceable programs designed to restore the communities that have been most harmed.  Providing matching funding will be especially critical for communities with the least access to resources, including frontline and fenceline communities, communities of color, communities transitioning away from extractive economies, rural communities, and low-income communities. Below, we outline some possible examples of Direct Pay financing. We plan to update this when we have more information from the federal government. 

Funding for Direct Pay Projects

While Direct Pay tax credits can provide substantial funding for renewable energy, these projects will need additional funds to cover the full project completion costs. Eligible entities will have to cover the cost of project construction before they receive the tax credit. Depending on the exact Direct Pay tax credit, the payment will either be disbursed as a one-time credit covering between 6% and 70% of total project costs when the project is completed or as a payment based on electricity production over ten years. To learn more about the structure of the specific tax credits, see the CPCC’s in-depth explanation of how the investment tax credit (ITC), the production tax credit (PTC), and other bonus credits work here. The Center for Public Enterprise has produced a financial model that makes it possible to compare the ITC and the PTC for a planned project.   Many under-resourced communities must raise funds to complete a project before Direct Pay funding is available, which poses a significant obstacle. Access to reliable public funding to match federal funds is necessary for many communities to access the benefits of Direct Pay, or they may be vulnerable to predatory lending. State governments can dramatically increase the reach of the Direct Pay tax credits by providing direct funding through grants and by helping local governments and other eligible entities find safe, reliable, and low-cost financing options that do not undermine the public nature of the ownership of these new sustainable energy generation assets.  State funding for Direct Pay-eligible projects increases equity and justice in implementation by adding additional incentives or requirements to target funds toward projects that create good local union jobs and projects that serve frontline communities. The federal government set the floor with the IRA. Now, state legislators can break through the ceiling in achieving maximized benefits for vulnerable communities, the environment, and workers. For example, it is critical to prioritize projects that include community input and reflect community demands rather than simply defining projects by geography, which may unintentionally result in funding projects that disempower or further harm frontline communities.  For more information on how to define environmental justice communities in order to prioritize funding for the communities that have been harmed the most, see the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund’s report on defining environmental justice communities in policy Truly just and equitable implementation of Direct Pay will only be possible if policymakers ensure that frontline communities have access to nonpredatory funding. State policymakers can play a critical role in expanding access to Direct Pay in a number of ways, including: 

Direct State Funding

States can appropriate funding for grants to local governments or other eligible entities to cover the up-front costs of projects. States can maximize equity and justice in implementation by requiring projects that receive state funds to meet higher labor and community benefit standards. Additionally, they can prioritize grants for the communities that need them most, such as frontline communities and communities of color.  For example, several states have implemented grant programs to fund clean energy projects. Washington State’s Department of Commerce provides grants for school sustainability, and Minnesota has proposed a grant program to support the installation of solar panels on public buildings. Minnesota also established a state competitiveness grant fund to award grants to local and tribal governments, utilities, nonprofits, and other eligible entities when they required matching funds to access IRA funds. This type of state grant program is critical because it allows local governments or community nonprofits to finance their projects, and Direct Pay ensures that state funds go further. 

State Revolving Funds

To maximize state funds, states could provide funding in the form of a no- or low-cost loan from a revolving fund. While there is not a federally created revolving fund for clean energy, states can establish their own revolving funds to finance clean energy projects. Direct Pay makes those revolving funds considerably less risky, as eligible entities will have a head start on repayment with their Direct Pay reimbursement funds. A no- or low-cost revolving loan fund could work as follows:
  1. A state establishes a no- or low-cost revolving loan fund for local governments, tribal governments, and nonprofit entities within the state. States can add additional worker protections, community participation, and targeting for projects serving the hardest hit communities to the loan fund.
  2. Eligible entities apply to the state for a loan and use the loan funds to complete their project.
  3. The eligible entity pre-files with the IRS once their project is near completion and then applies for Direct Pay tax credits once their project is completed.
  4. The eligible entity receives their Direct Pay funds from the IRS and can apply that toward repaying their loan to the state.
  5. The state reinvests in the next eligible project. 
Many states already have an energy loan fund that supports the generation of clean energy projects or energy retrofits within the state. These loan funds could be expanded or modified to create more opportunities to fund Direct Pay-eligible projects and accelerate the clean energy economy. For example, Texas’ LoanSTAR Revolving Loan Fund currently supports energy efficiency retrofits but could be easily expanded to include Direct Pay-eligible EV charging stations and energy generation projects like rooftop solar or wind turbines.

State and Municipal Bonds for Matching Funds

States, cities, and other government entities can authorize the use of bonds to cover the costs of Direct Pay-eligible projects. States can use bonds to fund state-owned Direct Pay projects or authorize bonds to collectively fund smaller projects at the local level. More information on using bonds for renewable energy is available in the Department of Energy bond resource guide for state and local officials. In 2024, California voters will vote on a ballot measure to authorize $15.5 billion in bonds to finance projects for climate resilience, extreme heat mitigation, and clean energy programs, including a $500 million appropriation to the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission for grants to assist in obtaining or receiving a state match to regional hubs for IRA funds. In addition to securing federal grant funds, many of the projects financed by this bond, if it passes, may be eligible for Direct Pay. 

State Green Banks

Some states have Green Banks, which are financial institutions designed to lower energy costs and encourage the construction of sustainable energy infrastructure by blending public and private capital and financing a broad range of sustainable energy projects. While “Green Bank” is often used as an umbrella term for many types of public-private partnerships that finance sustainable energy projects, the IRA contains specific requirements for Green Banks to be able to receive funding. Many states already have established some form of Green Bank, but some are still creating theirs or are still working to meet the new Green Bank requirements in the IRA. 

Using Other Federal Funding Sources

In some cases, eligible entities will be able to further supplement Direct Pay funding by using other sources of funding in the IRA (for example, using grant funding for rural electric co-ops) or using funding from other federal programs such as funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or remaining American Rescue Plan funding.  

Going Beyond the Worker Protection Requirements in the IRA

State funding and state technical assistance programs offer an opportunity to support community uptake of Direct Pay, go beyond the IRA labor requirements, and impose additional protections as a condition of receiving state funds. For example, a state revolving fund to support renewable energy programs could require that programs that receive the state matching funds use union labor. Similarly, state funding could be contingent on the use of pre-hire agreements like local hire programs, Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), Community Workforce Agreements (CWAs), and Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs). It is critical that any state incentives or requirements include strong community input and strong enforcement mechanisms. For more information, please see the CPCC’s Guide to IRA Worker Protection Requirements and FAQs on How to Protect Direct Pay Project Workers States have a critical role to play in supporting workforce development efforts to build the diverse skilled workforce needed to fully embrace a green energy economy. In addition to the jobs created by the IRA and the growth in green energy infrastructure, more than 1.7 million workers are expected to retire over the next decade. Black, Latino, Native, and Asian individuals, and women are dramatically underrepresented in these growing fields, and state agencies must help build inclusive and equitable workforce development programs. The National Skills Coalition has published a report with recommendations for states in building a just workforce development plan.

Technical Assistance and Coordination 

States can maximize the number of eligible entities that can access Direct Pay by coordinating technical assistance programs. Creating programs that will qualify for the Direct Pay provisions often requires specialized planning, including conducting an energy audit, creating an interconnection agreement with a utility, and more. Many smaller nonprofit organizations, local governments, and communities that have been systematically excluded, like low-income communities and communities of color, will need help. 

Technical Assistance

State governments can reduce barriers by funding technical assistance that could include:
  • Public information campaigns about the opportunity 
  • Free energy audits 
  • Hands-on support in planning projects 
  • Support in creating interconnection agreements 
  • Help finding reputable high-road union contractors 
  • Support in completing pre-filing paperwork and IRS documentation. By definition, eligible entities do not usually file complex taxes with the IRS and may lack information and experience in navigating the process. 
Some states have established technical assistance programs to support their state’s access to IRA funds. For example, Washington established a statewide Building Energy Upgrade Navigator Program to support building owners in accessing electrification and energy efficiency services, with specific priority for low-income households, vulnerable populations, and overburdened communities. Washington also appropriated $2.5 million to support activities related to securing federal funds, including funding to help community-based organizations, local governments, and ports in overburdened communities apply for financial resources.  State-funded technical assistance programs can help increase equity with implementation efforts. Communities of color that have experienced high levels of contamination, communities transitioning away from extractive industries, tribal governments, rural communities, and other communities facing systemic exclusion are more likely to struggle to secure the up-front capital necessary to complete a Direct Pay-eligible project. State-funded technical assistance programs targeted to communities that need them most can ensure that all communities have equitable access to the benefits of the Direct Pay tax credits, including cleaner air and water, new green energy jobs, and lower energy costs.

State Direct Pay Coordination Program

Centralizing efforts within a state-run program or with a cross-agency coordinator can help maximize Direct Pay programs that would actively identify possible Direct Pay projects and build them using the state as the eligible entity. A state entity could actively search out Direct Pay-eligible opportunities within communities and build the projects directly (for example, put solar panels on all the schools in a local school district, perform energy retrofits on nonprofit-owned affordable housing units, or build utility-scale solar farms on Brownfield land). If the state retained ownership of the energy-generating facility, the state should claim the credit directly and lift the burden of paperwork from the smaller eligible entity. If the smaller entity plans to retain ownership of the energy-generating facility, the state could still carry out the project and receive funding by creating a side agreement with the eligible entity to transfer the credit to the state in exchange for the state completing the process.  Either of these models would streamline the need for many smaller governments and nonprofit organizations to take on the administrative burdens of designing and building eligible programs and navigating the process to receive the tax credit. These types of programs would be embedded within a relevant state agency such as a state department of energy and would need to work closely with local communities to identify projects that reflect community needs, desires, and priorities. This type of approach requires a larger commitment from state champions, but it could significantly increase the speed at which projects could be implemented, reduce administrative burdens on other eligible entities, and allow the state to prioritize projects that serve historically excluded communities. 

Further Resources

The Congressional Progressive Caucus Center will provide regular updates and further resources on Direct Pay. You can sign up for CPCC updates, including invitations to webinars, technical assistance to help your community get Direct Pay funds, resources to build support for Direct Pay projects, and more. You can also find additional materials, like FAQs on Direct Pay, on the CPCC’s website. You can also request technical assistance on a Direct Pay project through the CPCC’s website by filling out our technical assistance intake form The State Innovation Exchange (SiX) exists to advance a bold, people-centered policy vision in every state in this nation by helping vision-aligned state legislators succeed after they are elected. If you are working to strengthen our democracy, fight for working families, advance reproductive freedom, defend civil rights and liberties, or protect the environment, reach out to helpdesk@stateinnovation.org to learn more about SiX’s tailored policy, communications, and strategy support and how to join a network of like-minded state legislators from across the country. For a constantly updated roundup of resources on the Inflation Reduction Act, Direct Pay, and equitable implementation strategies, please visit the Direct Pay master resources list

 

A joint publication from:

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Fractured: Stories From a Post-Roe America

Fractured: Stories From a Post-Roe America

A new series coming June 24, 2023 chronicles the experiences of state legislators from across the country as they fight to defend abortion rights and expand access for all Americans.

Fractured: Stories From a Post-Roe America
Fractured follows state legislators from across the country as they fight to defend abortion rights and expand access for all Americans after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade

American Responsibility to Afghan Refugees

After twenty years of war in Afghanistan—after 800,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, after 20,744 American service members were injured, and after 2,461 American personnel were lost—President Biden refused to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight in a war that should have ended long ago. We must continue to support the Afghan people through diplomacy, international influence, and humanitarian aid while also supporting Afghan families seeking refuge here. 

Here are some ways to use your power as a legislator to advocate for Afghan families seeking refuge. 

Examples of state legislation to support Afghan and other refugees:

Speak out

Redistricting and Public Health

Redistricting reforms will be considered by state legislators across the country in several states in the Fall of 2021, including Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina. Unfair redistricting practices such as gerrymandering exacerbate disparities in public health outcomes, while fair and equitable redistricting has the potential to help communities better address inequities in public health, including reproductive and maternal health and wellbeing. 

The Impact of Redistricting on Public Health 

Fair, transparent, and accountable redistricting led by independent commissions ensures more equitable representation in state legislatures and increases the likelihood that public health concerns (physical, environmental, and social) are addressed with policy solutions. 

This is particularly important for communities of color, who, due to systemic and structural racism, experience greater disparities in public health outcomes (including mental and physical health during and after pregnancy) than white communities.

Legislatures created with gerrymandered maps allow legislators to pass policy that the majority of their constituents do not support- including policies that can cause significant public health harm such as restrictions on abortion care and contraceptive access.

Gerrymandering keeps conservative politicians in power and hinders the ability of states to expand Medicaid. Communities of color are underrepresented in state legislatures (and Congress) due to gerrymandering and deliberate voter suppression. Medicaid expansion is associated with improvements in health outcomes, mortality rates, lower rates of housing evictions, lower rates of medical debt, and higher rates of financial wellbeing. 

Prison gerrymandering—the counting of incarcerated individuals in the county where they are imprisoned rather than their home communities—impacts representation, power building, and community funding, and disportionately affects communities of color who are incarcerated at higher rates due to the discriminatory judicial system. For example, the Wisconsin legislature's refusal to switch to vote by mail in the midst of the 2020 COVID pandemic resulted in long, crowded, lines and increased risk of voter exposure to infection.

The Impact of Public Health on Redistricting

The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed the 2020 census...which has delayed the redistricting cycle. 

Delaying the map-drawing process could mean that new maps are not ready before legislative elections in some states, such as Virginia. Delayed maps may force other states, such as Texas, to address redistricting during special sessions. Special sessions have less oversight and increase the risk of unfair maps being drawn. 

Digital Tips: Smartphone Photography

As state legislators, you juggle many hats, and sometimes have to be your own photographer.

These five tips will help you capture high-resolution photos using your smartphone:

Smartphone Photography Tips

1) Avoid zooming; instead, move closer to the subject. Most smartphones have a "digital zoom" that enlarges the image artificially, which decreases the resolution. The more you zoom in, the more resolution you lose. So when it's safe to step closer, move towards your subject rather than pressing zoom.

Split-photo of lifesaver ring; on the left side, the photo is low-resolution. On the right side, the photo is high-resolution.
Example: The photo on the left was taken approximately 40 feet away, using the iPhone 7's digital zoom. The photo on the right was taken from about 5 feet away, using no zoom. Notice the difference in photo quality.

2) Stabilize your shot with a tripod or by simply leaning up against a wall.

3) Hold down the shutter button until the photo is complete. If you move your finger away too quickly, the image may be blurry. On an iPhone, you can reduce motion by using the volume controls instead of the shutter button.

4) Find the best lit setting for the photo. Most smartphones can take pictures in low-light conditions, but the photo's quality will suffer as a result. Where possible, use a window or the sun as your primary light source. Generally, you should not shoot facing the main light source. (That's why sunset pics are so hard to nail!) Instead, position the light source behind the person shooting the picture. 

5) Finally, don't text that photo! Ever wondered why pictures you receive via text message look grainy? The likely culprit isn't the phone itself but the method used to send the photo. Most text messaging apps highly compress images sent via cellular networks. (The same issue holds for videos.)

Instead of texting, save the photo to Google Drive, Dropbox, SendAnywhere, or your preferred file storage or photo app, and then share the link with others. You can also use AirDrop or e-mail, but be careful: some e-mail programs also significantly compress images.  

With all that being said, rules are meant to be broken. Sometimes, the best photos are unintentional or gloriously blurry. But when you're taking a professional picture for use in press, print, or the web, be sure to reference the recommendations above.

Fighting Back Against Anti-Trans Legislation

Anti-transgender lawmakers set records this year with their harmful and hateful legislations: thirty-three states introduced more than 100 anti-transgender rights bills across the country.

SiX convened a panel with Colorado Rep. Brianna Titone, Dominique Morgan (Black & Pink), and Corinne Green (Equality Federation) to discuss how state legislators can fight differently and fight better against anti-trans legislation.

Q&A: Fight Better Against Anti-Trans Bills

What SCOTUS’s Latest Blow to Voting Rights Means for States

The Supreme Court has dramatically weakened one of the remaining, most vital tools we have to defend and advance multi-racial democracy in America: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In today’s 6-3 decision, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the Court held that two Arizona voting laws that disproportionately disenfranchise Latino, Black, and Native voters do not violate the Voting Rights Act. While the Court did not eviscerate Section 2 wholesale, as many feared, it imposed stricter standards for evaluating future voting rights claims. Moving forward, it will be significantly harder to challenge and overturn racially discriminatory voting laws in federal courts – including the wave of anti-voter bills enacted in 2021.

To help unpack the details of the case, check out pieces from The Guardian, Election Law Blog, Vox, and Slate. You can read the Court’s opinion here, including Justice Kagan’s powerful dissent (starting on p. 45).

Why the Brnovich decision matters for states

Our democracy is at a turning point. In 2021 alone, conservative legislators in nearly every state have introduced over 400 anti-voter bills in a coordinated, national strategy to win elections for the Right. This wave of laws poses an alarming threat to our freedom to vote and intentionally silences the voices of voters of color, young voters, low-income voters, and new Americans. With Republicans in control of 61 of 98 state legislative chambers, there is no end in sight to the assault on our democracy.

The Supreme Court already struck down the Voting Rights Act’s crucial preclearance requirement in Shelby v. Holder (2013), and the For The People Act – which would create national standards for voting – is being blocked by conservatives in Congress. By narrowing the application of Section 2 in Brnovich v. DNC, the court damaged one of the last, most vital tools we have to defend and advance multi-racial democracy in America.

In his majority opinion, Justice Alito endorsed conservative state legislators’ baseless lies and policies on election fraud, noting that a state “may take action to prevent election fraud without waiting for it to occur within its own borders” – even if those laws discriminate against Black and Brown voters. SCOTUS’s nod to a known conservative strategy – invoke fraud to deny our freedom to vote – makes the threat to our democracy even more urgent. 

What To Do

State legislatures are the key battlegrounds to protect the freedom to vote. Absent federal legislation, it's crucial that legislators in every state step up. Following the Brnovich decision, legislators can:

  1. Review and strengthen your state’s voting rights protections and legal remedies (like Virginia just did in passing their own voting rights act this year, and as Campaign Legal Center’s report recommends);
  2. Speak boldly about protecting the freedom to vote (using these messaging resources);
  3. Connect directly with your constituents on voting rights (like these legislators in North Carolina and Florida);
  4. Collaborate with your caucuses to advance a cohesive pro-voter and defensive democracy strategy, well in advance of the 2022 legislative season;
  5. Make every effort to engage communities directly in the 2021 redistricting process to ensure political maps are fair and representative (as we discussed in a recent webinar); and,
  6. Advocate for national standards for voting, redistricting, and campaigns proposed in The For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Additional Information on the Case

The Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee decision substantially narrows Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act – one of the last remaining tools Americans have to fight racial discrimination in voting.

In 2016, the Democratic Party challenged two Arizona voting laws as racially discriminatory under Section 2 of the VRA and the 15th Amendment. Section 2 enables voters to dispute policies that disproportionately prevent minority voters from casting ballots and electing representatives of their choice. The two Arizona policies in question barred mail ballot collection by anyone other than a voter’s immediate family, and required election officials to discard all ballots cast by voters in the wrong precinct. 

While Section 2 has been primarily used to defend against racial gerrymanders and minority “vote dilution,” this section has become much more important for election policy cases after SCOTUS halted the VRA’s preclearance requirements in Shelby v. Holder (2013). Before Shelby, places with histories of racial discimination in elections had to preclear all voting policy changes with the federal government before going into effect. In fact, Arizona’s ballot collection policy in question in Brnovich was effectively blocked by preclearance in 2011.

In January 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that – in Arizona’s context – ballot collection and out-of-precinct voting restrictions have discriminatory impacts on Native, Latino and Black voters in violation of Section 2. Native Arizona voters who live far away from precincts and mailboxes are much more likely to rely on community ballot collection than White voters. Native, Latino, and Black Arizonans are also much more likely to move residences and to have their precincts relocated than White voters. The Ninth Circuit also found evidence that the ballot collection law was purposefully enacted to target minority voters.

Arizona Republicans petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case, and conservatives nationwide urged the Court to limit the application of Section 2 going forward. Amid an unprecedented wave of racialized, anti-voter laws, Brnovich v. DNC further restricts options for protecting voting rights in America. And it could reshape our democracy for years to come. For additional background on Brnovich, check out resources from The Brennan Center and Harvard Law School.

Digital Tips: Using Instagram Highlights

This resource is adapted from our Digital Tips e-mail series. To sign up to receive these resources in your inbox regularly, join our network.


Did you know you can see how many people visit your Instagram profile each month? Every visitor may not opt to follow your Instagram, but each visit is a valuable chance to introduce yourself to constituents and shed light on your current priorities.

Instagram Stories Highlights are an easy way to ensure new visitors can easily find updates about you and your work. You can use Instagram Stories Highlights to highlight legislative updates, break down important issues, and share your personal story.

Screenshot of Kansas Rep. Haswood's Instagram Stories Highlights
Kansas Rep. Haswood's Instagram Story Highlights

Below, find three steps to create a quick Instagram Highlight. I did all of the following steps on my iPhone 7 in a few minutes. 

Creating a quick Instagram Highlight 

1. Find visuals: Start with an app like Unsplash (also available on desktop) to find free, high-quality photos related to the theme of your Instagram Story. 

If the subject matter is difficult or inappropriate to visualize, use a photo of your legislature instead, or search "texture" on Unsplash to find an abstract background.

2. Create the first Story: In the first Story, add a photo and a large title to introduce the topic.

Instagram Stories Example

3. Add details in consecutive Stories: You can use the same background photo or a different one in the next set of stories. Break up your explanatory text across multiple stories, so the information is not overwhelming. And always provide context: keep in mind that visitors to your profile may be entirely new to the issue you're discussing or even to how a state legislature works.

If you'd rather create a selfie video instead of using text, go for it! Just be sure to add captions, which can be auto-generated within Instagram Stories

Use emojis and GIFs to help illustrate the information, but don't go overboard. (Tip: You can paste in any photo or GIF from your phone to Instagram Stories!)

Instagram Stories example

4. Create the Highlight: After posting your Story, you can easily create an Instagram Highlight. Then, give the Highlight a short title and "cover." or thumbnail.

Instagram Highlights demo
After posting your Instagram Story, you can add it to your Instagram Highlights

Free Downloads

Here's a little help to get started: download one of SiX's Instagram Stories templates and use our collection of icon thumbnails to make your highlights easy to identify. You can also screenshot all of these resources in SiX's Instagram Highlights!

Digital Tips: We ❤️ Legislator Tweets

This resource is adapted from our Digital Tips e-mail series. To sign up to receive these resources in your inbox regularly, join our network.


In this issue of Digital Tips, we'll help inspire your social strategy by analyzing three tweets from legislators in our network.

Tutorial: Tweets from Legislators

A check-in tweet from Sen. Julie Gonzales

Why We Love It

Colorado State Sen. Julie Gonzales' tweet illustrates how informal but genuine posts can enrichen your social media strategy. Asking your audience a question—and then engaging with their answers— is a great way to build community and connect directly with constituents.

Tips

It takes time to build a space where people feel comfortable sharing publicly. Don't be discouraged if, at first, you don't get responses. Try enlisting a colleague or friend to answer the question (using their account) so that you can reduce the barrier to participation for other followers.

You can also tailor your question to a particular issue you're championing. For example, if you're advocating for expanded child care access, you can ask, "Parents and caretakers: what's been your experience finding child care for your kids?"

An accessible explainer thread from Rep. Rayner-Goolsby

Why We Love It

This tweet from Florida Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby is the first in a four-part thread about the ongoing battle over voter restrictions in Florida. Sometimes, it's precisely when an issue is front-page news that an accessible explainer is needed.

Tips

 In addition to drawing upon facts, use personal anecdotes (or constituent experiences) to present a complete picture and leave readers with a memorable mental image.
 

Whenever possible, avoid legislative jargon if there's a more straightforward way to get across the same point.

A heartfelt message from Sen. Polehanki

Why We Love It

Michigan State Sen. Dayna Polehanki's video for Teacher Awareness Week is an excellent example of how a thoughtful message—whether written or on video—can set your content apart and make your followers feel seen.

Tips

Captioning your videos is essential, and there are lots of low-cost and free ways to do it. Here are a few tools I like: MixCaptions (free or paid; for desktop and mobile), Kapwing (free or paid; best for desktop), and Rev.com (paid; for desktop.)

Finally, note that the length of Sen. Polehanki's video is just 37 seconds. Though Twitter videos can be up to 140 seconds long, it's best to keep them short.

Quick Links: Digital Resources From Around The Web

📱  Why Do Videos Sent from My iPhone Vary so Much in Quality?

🪄  How to Make The Facebook Algorithm Work For You

📸 5 Instagram Accessibility Tips

🤳🏾  Taking Great Selfie Videos and Photos

Digital Tips: Text Spacing in Graphics

This resource is adapted from our Digital Tips e-mail series. To sign up to receive these resources in your inbox regularly, join our network.

Tutorial: Line Height

Look at the paragraphs below. Which one is easiest for you to read?

Two paragraphs with different styles of line spacing; the first paragraph is cramped, while the second paragraph displays optimal line spacing.

If you chose option 2, you, like most people, find proper spacing essential to readability.

One of the most important elements to consider when adding text to graphics is line spacing, also known as leading.

Here's a handy rule: Line spacing should be 125% to 150% of your font size. Different programs measure line spacing differently; since many legislators use Canva for graphic design, I'll use it in this example.

Canva line spacing demo

In Canva, the line spacing value (called "line height") is relative to the font size. So you should set your line spacing to a value between 1.2 and 1.5.

Bonus Tip: Don't squash too many details in one graphic! Remove unessential information and include extra details in the post or tweet's caption.

Quick Links: Digital Resources From Around The Web

🗣  Tips for Getting Used To The Sound of Your Own Voice

🏳️‍⚧️  The Gender Spectrum Collection: Stock Photos Beyond the Binary

📸  Twinsta: Share Your Tweets on Instagram

🔠  The Ultimate List of Social Media Acronyms and Abbreviations

Against Hate: Responding to Anti-Asian Violence

Asian American communities have experienced an alarming rise in racially-motivated attacks since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and experts fear many incidents are going unreported.

No one should have to live in fear of being attacked for who they are. The resources below can help you and your constituencies report, respond, and join in collective action against anti-Asian attacks.

Learn how to intervene and stand against racism

Take action in your state

Document incidents

By sharing what you experienced or witnessed, you can educate the public, empower others, show service providers where help is needed, and strengthen advocacy efforts for hate crimes response and prevention.

Other resources

What Should I Post? Building a Social Media Strategy for Legislators

Legislators and staffers often wear many hats, including the role of social media manager. Is it possible to build an engaged social media following while juggling other priorities? Yes! And having a solid strategy can help. 

A successful social media strategy requires more than tweeting regularly—it involves identifying realistic goals and concrete steps to reach those goals. Use the prompts and resources below to start developing a social strategy today.

Strategy Prompts

Big Picture
Style & Tone

Content

Cheatsheet: Help! What Should I Post?

Got time?
Don't have time?

Tools & Resources

(All of these websites are free to use, but some have premium options for more features.)

Articles:

Downloads

Preparing for Statehouse Violence

Table of Contents

Following the January 6 attacks, we have compiled important information with recommendations on how legislators can protect their personal and digital safety, demand accountability, and commit to a generation of cultural transformation.

Govern Safely

Commit to transformation

As we allow ourselves the space to grieve and rage, let us also be emboldened by the knowledge that our strategy is working. We must continue to fight tirelessly to build a robust, multi-racial democracy and dream of the country we want to live in.

Downloads & Other Resources

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.

COVID 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 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 we've linked to 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 helpdesk@stateinnovation.org.


Canva null scaled

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

The spread of COVID-19 took longer to reach rural America, however, once it did, it highlighted some basic infrastructure needs that are lacking for rural residents. During COVID-19, rural people have faced many of the same challenges as urban residents, yet have struggled to access adequate information, medical services, food and medicine due to an erosion of public investment in rural infrastructure. 

See more here.


hospital scaled

Health Care

In addition to the risks to individuals’ physical health, the COVID-19 pandemic affects every health care system in the United States (medical, public health, insurance) and each of their corresponding workforces. State legislatures have a responsibility and opportunity to ensure that these systems are operating effectively and equitably for the health of all people.

See more here.


business office scaled

Unemployment and Worker Protections

The Covid pandemic has had devastating impacts on every single worker and every aspect of our economy, particularly women and Black, Brown, and Indigenous workers. Too many are grappling with how to pay for the basic necessities they need to survive and many are being forced to decide between going back to a job that may be unsafe or protecting their health. Fortunately, legislators and partners can implement  innovative solutions that will make our workforce and our local economies safer and stronger.

See more here.


projects housing apartments scaled

Preventing Evictions

Our nation is in the midst of a housing crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Under our nation’s system of racial capitalism, housing serves more as a financial asset or investment than a basic human right. The current system disproportionately harms working-class, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color (BIPOC)—leaving them out of both asset building opportunities and housing protections. Evictions already place a disproportionate harm on Black women and their families, who are almost four times as likely to be evicted as households led by white men. Housing stability has always been a civil rights issue that directly descends from our nation’s history of segregation and racist housing practices. 

See more here.


Official Election mail voting register scaled

Democracy and Voting

2020 Census 

Voting & Elections


albany

Reproductive Rights

COVID-19 poses specific threats to reproductive health care access and needs; further, some states have taken advantage of the crisis to play politics and restrict abortion care access. But research shows that even in the midst of COVID—and despite disinformation spread by the anti-choice opposition—people continue to oppose restricting access to reproductive freedom. 

See more here.


education young black student writing on white board

Education

The Department of Education and the White House are pressuring schools to open in the fall but are providing little to no guidance for doing so safely, threatening to withhold funding for states or districts who do not comply. While the pressure to reopen schools in the fall grows, so does the number of coronavirus cases, leaving school districts and states scrambling to keep up with a quickly changing situation. States will have to consider how to keep all students, teachers, faculty and support staff safe—not just those in wealthy communities—through budget considerations, remote learning options, financial aid, school meals, testing and tracing, and more.

See more here.


tolu bamwo nappy

Food Systems and Agriculture

Covid-19 demonstrated that the corporate food supply chain is one crisis away from failing, which puts communities at risk of being food insecure and could cause barriers for local farmers working to address the food needs of their community. In order to ensure that communities are resilient in their ability to access food during a crisis, legislators should work to ensure that there is a sound regional and/or local alternative food supply chain with a plan to get food to those who need it while also ensuring that food and farm workers are adequately protected in their workplaces.

See more here.


Canva Close up of Globe scaled

Immigration

Undocumented Immigrants make up a disproportionate share of frontline workers and are especially concentrated in high-risk industries such as food production, health care, and transportation. However, these same immigrant workers have been excluded from any economic relief included in the CARES Act and are unable to access unemployment insurance. To compound this devastating situation, Trump’s immigration enforcement machine continues to target undocumented residents and separate families at astounding rates, which has led to extreme health risks within immigration detention centers across the United States.

See more here.


rural wind turbine scaled

Rural Communities

The spread of COVID-19 took longer to reach rural America, however, once it did, it highlighted some basic infrastructure needs that are lacking for rural residents. During COVID-19, rural people have faced many of the same challenges as urban residents, yet have struggled to access adequate information, medical services, food and medicine due to an erosion of public investment in rural infrastructure. 

See more here.


shutterstock 1091186714 scaled

Defend 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. 

See more here.

COVID Resources: Unemployment and Worker Protections

The Covid pandemic has had devastating impacts on every single worker and every aspect of our economy, particularly women and Black, Brown, and Indigenous workers. Too many are grappling with how to pay for the basic necessities they need to survive and many are being forced to decide between going back to a job that may be unsafe or protecting their health. Fortunately, legislators and partners can implement  innovative solutions that will make our workforce and our local economies safer and stronger.

Resources:

COVID Resources: Reproductive Health Care

COVID-19 poses specific threats to reproductive health care access and needs; further, some states have taken advantage of the crisis to play politics and restrict abortion care access. But research shows that even in the midst of COVID—and despite disinformation spread by the anti-choice opposition—people continue to oppose restricting access to reproductive freedom. 

Always work with your state’s reproductive rights, health, and justice coalition - contact us for support if needed!

Resources:

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

Existing demographic data has revealed the disproportionate health effects of the coronavirus on Black and Brown people, communities of color, and Indigenous people. However, comprehensive racial and ethnic data does not exist in every state nor are there uniform reporting guidelines across the country. In order to better address racial disparities, legislators are pushing for improved data collection, an investment in contact tracing programs, and greater transparency on racial impact.

Resources:

COVID Resources: Preventing Evictions

Our nation is in the midst of a housing crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Under our nation’s system of racial capitalism, housing serves more as a financial asset or investment than a basic human right. The current system disproportionately harms working-class, Black, Indigenous, and communities of color (BIPOC)—leaving them out of both asset building opportunities and housing protections. Evictions already place a disproportionate harm on Black women and their families, who are almost four times as likely to be evicted as households led by white men. Housing stability has always been a civil rights issue that directly descends from our nation’s history of segregation and racist housing practices. 

Now, with the pandemic and economic crisis already harming Black Americans and people of color at astonishing rates, inaction by policymakers will drastically intensify the housing crisis, destroy the lives of millions of people, and destabilize our entire nation.

As of September 4, there is now a federal eviction moratorium from the CDC that extends protections to some renters at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent during the COVID pandemic. For more on this, see  NLIHC for this overview of the moratorium and this FAQ for Renters. At-risk renters should contact their local legal aid  offices, tenant associations, or local bar associations ASAP.  

In addition to pressuring Congress to pass emergency rental assistance, broaden eviction preventions, and suspend rent and mortgage payments, what action can state lawmakers take?

First, see how your state ranks on Eviction Lab’s COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard. Then consider what immediate emergency measures your state needs to prevent mass evictions and what longer-term solutions should come next.

IMMEDIATE MEASURES

Whether by bringing legislation (if in session) or by pressuring the governor, these are key policies to consider to immediately put in place:  

LONGER TERM 

The national housing crisis will exist past the end of the pandemic, and we need systemic solutions to provide affordable housing and protect renters. These are key policies that states can pursue:

RESOURCES: 

To watch and listen:

Organizations, online resources, and written materials:

COVID Resources: Immigration

Undocumented Immigrants make up a disproportionate share of frontline workers and are especially concentrated in high-risk industries such as food production, health care, and transportation. However, these same immigrant workers have been excluded from any economic relief included in the CARES Act and are unable to access unemployment insurance. To compound this devastating situation, Trump’s immigration enforcement machine continues to target undocumented residents and separate families at astounding rates, which has led to extreme health risks within immigration detention centers across the United States. 

Resources:

COVID Resources: Health Care

In addition to the risks to individuals’ physical health, the COVID-19 pandemic affects every health care system in the United States (medical, public health, insurance) and each of their corresponding workforces. State legislatures have a responsibility and opportunity to ensure that these systems are operating effectively and equitably for the health of all people. 

Resources:

COVID Resources: Food Systems and Agriculture

Covid-19 demonstrated that the corporate food supply chain is one crisis away from failing, which puts communities at risk of being food insecure and could cause barriers for local farmers working to address the food needs of their community.

In order to ensure that communities are resilient in their ability to access food during a crisis, legislators should work to ensure that there is a sound regional and/or local alternative food supply chain with a plan to get food to those who need it while also ensuring that food and farm workers are adequately protected in their workplaces. 

Resources

Support for Farmers

Local Food Infrastructure

Food Security

Farm & Food Worker Safety

COVID Resources: Education

The Department of Education and the White House are pressuring schools to open in the fall but are providing little to no guidance for doing so safely, threatening to withhold funding for states or districts who do not comply. While the pressure to reopen schools in the fall grows, so does the number of coronavirus cases, leaving school districts and states scrambling to keep up with a quickly changing situation. States will have to consider how to keep all students, teachers, faculty and support staff safe—not just those in wealthy communities—through budget considerations, remote learning options, financial aid, school meals, testing and tracing, and more.

General Resources

Resources: K-12

Resources: Institutions of Higher Education (IHE)

COVID Resources: Rural Communities

The spread of COVID-19 took longer to reach rural America, however, once it did, it highlighted some basic infrastructure needs that are lacking for rural residents. During COVID-19, rural people have faced many of the same challenges as urban residents, yet have struggled to access adequate information, medical services, food and medicine due to an erosion of public investment in rural infrastructure. 

Resources:

Paid Sick Leave Policy Playbook Supplement and Polling Memo

Over 33 million people in the US do not have access to paid sick leave, and this has a disproportionate impact on low and moderate wage workers. Access to paid sick days is even more critical in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus health crisis has revealed the need for access to paid sick leave more than ever — particularly for lower wage, Black, or Hispanic workers and working mothers whose incomes and families are more directly affected by the coronavirus. Fortunately, states without robust paid sick leave laws are taking action to help increase access.

Since we first released our Paid Sick Days Policy Playbook in 2016, the number of states requiring employers to provide paid sick days has jumped from 5 to 14. In light of these changes, and folks’ urgent need for paid sick leave access, SiX has released the Paid Sick Days Policy Playbook Supplement. In addition to reflecting new paid sick leave legislation, SiX is releasing Pre-Session Polling on Paid Sick Leave which evidences the high public support for paid sick leave in three states where legislatures have yet to act — Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Abortion is Essential Healthcare

Crisis does not erase inequality. It lays it bare.

We've seen how low-income communities of color, have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. And we've seen how anti-abortion officials are pulling out all the stops to use this crisis as an excuse to ban abortion.

During this unprecedented pandemic, our elected officials should be focused on our families’ health and safety. It’s unconscionable that politicians would use a national crisis to try to deny critical health care to anyone. Now more than ever we should be coming together as communities to make sure everyone can safely get the healthcare they need, not actively working to deny our neighbors care--including and especially abortion care.

That's why SiX Repro Team worked with legal, medical, and legislative experts to release a 19-minute video on abortion as essential healthcare.

Legislating in a Pandemic: Transparent & Remote Governance

Contents


As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing list of state legislatures have postponed session and legislators themselves have started testing positive for the virus. While some states quickly moved to remote sessions and amended open meeting laws to prevent crowds at state capitols, many are struggling to make this transition in a transparent and accessible manner. Other states have limited or no government continuity plans in place, and some are grappling with constitutions or state laws that appear to prohibit remote governance and voting altogether.

While this is an unprecedented time in American history, where preserving the public health and the continuity of government collide, it will not be the last time that legislatures must shift how they do business. At extraordinary moments like today, state legislatures must adopt methods of flexible, remote governance while prioritizing transparency and public access.

State legislatures adapting to the new reality of governance can learn from early experiences, challenges, and critiques that other state and local governments have faced in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize that shifting your state’s approach to governance will not be easy and that there will be hiccups and mistakes along the way. To anticipate and overcome these challenges and to find viable solutions to keep government working and accessible, we encourage state legislators to work with their executive branch counterparts, state technology officers, local officials, state/local advocates, peer legislators from across the country, and of course, SiX.

After reading this blog, email democracy@stateinnovation.org with your remaining questions and your asks for direct support. We are all taking this transition one step at a time, and we want to meet you and your state where you are.


Considerations for Transparent & Accessible Governance in Emergencies

Common Cause released a strong set of transparency recommendations for national, state, and local officials to follow when transitioning to remote forms of governance and adjusting open meeting laws. SiX strongly recommends that state legislatures consider these guidelines when setting up new, emergency governance structures: 

SiX also recognizes that, even by following the above principles, a rapid transition to remote governance can and will exacerbate barriers to participation in governance for many community members. While continuity of governance through remote voting and committee hearings is key as this crisis evolves, legislators must consider how this transition will impact equitable access for marginalized constituents and work to find creative solutions. This includes (but is not limited to) ensuring access for people with:


Examples of Remote Governance Transitions

Below we highlight several examples of rule changes, statutory changes, and executive orders that have enabled states to adapt and govern flexibly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Note that these are not perfect examples and many could benefit from stronger or clearer transparency provisions in line with the above guidance from Common Cause. That said, we hope sharing these examples offers a helpful base of information for other states to analyze and build on.

We will continue to update this list with new examples as more states make this transition and learn from each other.

Vermont

Vermont legislators and other public bodies must now convene electronically and provide virtual public access to all meetings. Legislators are primarily using Zoom to convene and deliberate. (This Tweet from a Vermont government reporter offers a taste of what remote legislating looks like!)

2020 Vermont H 681

Sec. 5. LEGISLATIVE INTENT; COVID-19 RESPONSE AND OPEN MEETINGS BILL AS PASSED BY THE HOUSE AND THE SENATE

It is the intent of the General Assembly that during the continued spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the State of Vermont public bodies should organize and hold open meetings in a manner that will protect the health and welfare of the public while providing access to the operations of government. Public bodies should meet electronically and provide the public with electronic access to meetings in lieu of a designated physical location. Accordingly, this act sets forth temporary Open Meeting Law procedures in response to COVID-19.

Sec. 6. OPEN MEETING LAW; TEMPORARY SUSPENSION OF DESIGNATED PHYSICAL MEETING LOCATION REQUIREMENTS

(a) Notwithstanding 1 V.S.A. § 312(a), during a declared state of emergency under 20 V.S.A. chapter 1 due to COVID-19:

(1) a quorum or more of the members of a public body may attend a regular, special, or emergency meeting by electronic or other means without being physically present at a designated meeting location;

(2) the public body shall not be required to designate a physical meeting location where the public may attend; and

(3) the members and staff of the public body shall not be required to be physically present at a designated meeting location.

(b) When the public body meets electronically under subsection (a) of this section, the public body shall use technology that permits the attendance of the public through electronic or other means. The public body shall allow the public to access the meeting by telephone whenever feasible. The public body shall post information on how the public may access meetings electronically and shall include this information in the published agenda for each meeting. Unless unusual circumstances make it impossible for them to do so, the legislative body of each municipality and each school board shall record its meetings held pursuant to this section.

(c) In the event of a staffing shortage during a declared state of emergency under 20 V.S.A. chapter 1 due to COVID-19, a public body may extend the time limit for the posting of minutes prescribed in 1 V.S.A. § 312(b)(2) to not more than 10 days from the date of the meeting.


Rhode Island

On March 16, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo issued Executive Order 20-05 which relieved state/local officials from open meeting law prohibitions on the “use of telephonic or electronic communication to conduct meetings.” Though the Executive Order provided for virtual public access to government meetings, technical challenges and ambiguities to these rules became apparent in just the first week. Common Cause Rhode Island and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island quickly sent a letter to state officials urging modifications to the Executive Order including: clarifications to transparency requirements for government bodies that continue to meet in person but are no longer accessible to the public (i.e. because of closed capitols) and protocols to safeguard public participation in the event of technological glitches or connectivity issues (i.e. dropped video conference or conference call lines). Other states can anticipate and learn from the Rhode Island experience.


Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania lawmakers enacted multiple pieces of legislation to enable remote governance. Legislators in both the House and Senate are now able to vote on legislation and participate in committee hearings remotely. As of March 26, 2020, the State Capitol remained open for (in-person) session but a large portion of legislators intentionally participated remotely via video chat to enable social distancing.

2020 Pennsylvania HR 834 RESOLVED, That a member who is not present in the Hall of the House may designate either the Majority or Minority Whip to cast the member's vote on any question as to which there has been consultation between the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader; and be it further
RESOLVED, That, after consultation between the Majority Leader and the Minority Leader, if the process permitted for designated voting under this temporary rule is not agreed upon, the vote shall be cast pursuant to the Rules of the House of Representatives in existence on March 15, 2020; and be it further
RESOLVED, That a designation shall be accomplished by filing an attestation with the Chief Clerk which affirms that the member will not be present in the Hall of the House and identifies either the Majority or Minority Whip as the designee; and be it further [...]
RESOLVED, That, unless amended or revoked by the House, the temporary rules adopted in this resolution shall expire when the declaration of disaster emergency issued by the Governor on March 6, 2020, is terminated by executive order, proclamation or operation of law.

2020 Pennsylvania S.R. 318 RESOLVED, That, notwithstanding Rule 14(h) of the Senate, members may remotely participate in committee meetings as follows: remote participation means simultaneous, interactive participation in a committee meeting by committee members not physically present at the location of the meeting, through means of communication technologies designed to accommodate and facilitate such simultaneous, interactive participation; committee members participating remotely shall be counted for the purpose of determining a quorum; a quorum shall be established through a roll call; and technology employed for remote committee meetings must safeguard the integrity of the legislative process and maintain the deliberative character of the meeting by providing for simultaneous, aural and verbal communication among all participants.

Maine

Before adjourning early for 2020, Maine lawmakers enacted legislation to allow public bodies covered by the state’s open meeting law to conduct business remotely provided that the public is given advance notice, all participating members are able to hear and speak to one another, there is a clear method of electronic public participation, and all official votes are taken by roll call.

2020 Maine LD 2167 §403-A. Public proceedings through remote access during declaration of state of emergency due to COVID-19

1. Remote access. Notwithstanding any provision of law or municipal charter provision or ordinance to the contrary, during a state of emergency declared by the Governor in accordance with Title 37-B, section 742 due to the outbreak of COVID-19, a body subject to this subchapter may conduct a public proceeding through telephonic, video, electronic or other similar means of remote participation under the following conditions:

A. Notice of the public proceeding has been given in accordance with section 406, and the notice includes the method by which the public may attend in accordance with paragraph C;

B. Each member of the body who is participating in the public proceeding is able to hear and speak to all the other members during the public proceeding and members of the public attending the public proceeding in the location identified in the notice given pursuant to paragraph A are able to hear all members participating at other locations;

C. The body determines that participation by the public is through telephonic, video, electronic or other similar means of remote participation; and

D. All votes taken during the public proceeding are taken by roll call vote.

2. Application to legislative proceedings. This section does not apply to public proceedings of the Legislature, a legislative committee or the Legislative Council, except that while the state of emergency as set out in subsection 1 is in effect, the Legislature, a legislative committee or the Legislative Council may restrict attendance by the public to remote access by telephonic, video, electronic or other similar means. This section also does not apply to town meetings held pursuant to Title 30-A, section 2524 or regional school unit budget meetings pursuant to Title 20-A, section 1483.

3. Repeal. This section is repealed 30 days after the termination of the state of emergency as set out in subsection 1.

Nebraska

On March 17, 2020, “Governor Pete Ricketts issued an executive order [(Executive Order No. 20-03)] to permit state and local governmental boards, commissions, and other public bodies to meet by videoconference, teleconference, or other electronic means through May 31, 2020. The Governor’s order stipulated that all such virtual meetings must be available to members of the public, including media, to give citizens the opportunity to participate as well as to be duly informed of the meetings’ proceedings. The Governor’s order did not waive the advanced publicized notice and the agenda requirements for public meetings [(set forth in (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 84-1411)].”


New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature enacted a fairly simple statute to allow lawmakers to use technology or electronic means to conduct business if the Governor has declared a state of emergency. It does specifically outline transparency requirements. Lawmakers simultaneously enacted a law that allows local government bodies to govern remotely as well (see 2020 New Jersey A 3850).

2020 New Jersey A 3852
b. All sessions of the Legislature shall be held at Trenton or, on a temporary basis, for ceremonial or commemorative purposes or, notwithstanding section 1 of P.L.1963, c.118 (C.52:1-1.1), by reason of emergency or other exigency, at such other locations in the State as shall be designated by the Legislature by concurrent resolution.
c. During a period of emergency or exigency, as determined by the Governor pursuant to the laws of this State or by the Legislature pursuant to concurrent resolution, the Legislature may use any technology or electronic means to conduct its business or otherwise carry out its purposes, or to comply with the requirements of paragraph 6 of Section IV of Article IV or, for the purpose of ensuring the continuity of governmental operations, of paragraph 4 of Section VI of Article IV of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey.

Texas

On March 16, 2020, Texas Governor Greg Abbott suspended provisions of the state’s open meeting law that requires “government officials and members of the public to be physically present at a specified meeting location,” while emphasizing key transparency provisions for remote meetings. According to the Governor’s office:

The directive also allows state and local officials to contact the Texas Department of Information Resources for information and support setting up teleconferences and video conferences. Governor Abbott invoked emergency authority under Texas Gov. Code § 418.016 to change these requirements.


Reads & Resources

COVID-19 Repro Resources

In this urgent global health pandemic, anti-abortion lawmakers are once again playing politics with people's lives and health, and there are very real reproductive health impacts and needs this moment presents.
 

Click here for general RFLC talking points on the coronavirus.


Important: Here are some issues that you should talk to your repro coalition and abortion and family planning providers about. In some states, they may want public support and in other places, it may be harmful to raise these issues at all, even within the administration or with other, less friendly, legislators or officials. Your support of reproductive health care is crucial at this time. Please check in with the state coalition organizations and reproductive health care providers to see how best you can support them during this difficult time, and we encourage you to reach out to us to connect you if you don’t already have an existing relationship.
 

Fighting Back Against Anti-Transgender Legislation in the States

The bad news: Across the country, there's been a rise in hateful legislation that attacks the basic dignity and humanity of transgender youth.

The good news: These bills have already been stopped in states including South Dakota and Florida, and there are resources to help in every state! 

The bottom line? Transgender young people know who they are and all of the data shows that when they are affirmed in their gender they have comparable outcomes to their peers. By contrast, when denied treatment and affirmation, transgender people experience high rates of suicidality and negative health outcomes. These bills are based on false and/or deliberately misleading notions of health care for transgender youth and on fear of trans inclusion in public life.

Please reach out if you would like support defeating these bills in your state. 

Anti Trans Bill in the States: A Conversation

Jessie Ulibarri, SiX Co-Executive Director teamed up with Chase Strangio from the ACLU, Katrina Karkazis from Yale University and Florida State Rep. Carlos Smith for a conversation about these bills. Watch or listen below.

Audio: Anti Trans Bill in the States: A Conversation

Inspiration from South Dakota and Florida

Check out  this video of FL Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith taking down the false claim that care for transgender youth is experimental or unproven: 

As with any issue, stories are the most powerful messengers. If you have five minutes, check out this story from 17-year-old Quinncy Parke, one of the many heroes who helped stop South Dakota's #HB1057, which sought to ban transition-related care like puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for trans minors. 

Resources

Restoring A Fair Workweek

State Policies to Combat Abusive Scheduling Practices

By the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and SiX

Today a majority of working Americans – over 80 million people – clock into a job with an hourly wage. As millions of families benefit from higher minimum wages (thanks to the work of many of you!), these victories are undermined by unstable work hours. Many hourly workers are expected to be available 24/7 to work part-time jobs with no guaranteed hours, and experience huge fluctuations in weekly income.

That's why we've teamed up with the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) to bring you resources on how you can restore a Fair Workweek for workers in your states.

See below for a new policy brief, video and audio interviews with experts, an example op-ed, and sample social media. 


Download the brief here.

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We all need a workweek we can count on – one that allows all of us to care for our families, stay healthy, and get ahead. This new policy brief outlines the problem, the research, and the ways to create new work hour protections that ensure that hourly workers at large service-sector chains have a greater voice in their workweek, predictable schedules, and the opportunity to work full time. 


Also check out these video and audio interviews on Fair Workweek legislation that break down research on the problem, policy reforms, and legislative strategy:

Protecting the Power of the Ballot Initiative

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The SiX Democracy Project is teaming up with the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC) to help state legislators protect the ballot measure process and champion direct democracy.

The resources below highlight why you, as a state legislator, should care about this important tool for change and how you can identify and disrupt common tactics conservatives deploy to undermine direct democracy.


A Video Guide for Legislators: Protecting the Power of the Ballot Initiative

BISC State Legislative Manager, Jaspreet Chowdhary, introduces us to ballot measures, reviews major progressive policy wins at the ballot box, and outlines common tactics conservatives deploy to undermine direct democracy.

Ballot Measure Basics

Ballot measures, specifically citizen initiatives, are direct democracy – a place where eligible voters can make decisions about policies that impact their daily lives. Advocates use ballot measures to win public policy that has stalled under the dome, apply pressure, raise awareness about an important topic, or change the underlying narrative about an issue. Here are a few quick resources to get legislators up to speed on ballot measures:

Legislative Threats to Direct Democracy 

Legislative threats to direct democracy are on the rise. In 2019, there were more legislative attacks on the ballot measure process than the previous two years combined. 2020 is on track to be another record breaking year. The resources below highlight common tactics used to undermine direct democracy and how legislators can evaluate proposed changes to the ballot measure process.

Five Ways Legislators Can Learn More & Support Ballot Measures

  1. When considering changes to your state’s ballot measure process, check with local progressive allies, BISC, and SiX to make sure you don’t inadvertently create barriers to direct democracy.
  2. Help advocates draft language for ballot measures that is politically and legally sound. When legislators and advocates team up, ballot measures are more likely to withstand challenges and less likely to be undermined.
  3. Email democracy@stateinnovation.org and bisc@ballot.org to learn more about your state’s ballot measure process, threats, and how to fight back.
  4. Become a SiX Democracy Champion. Join a cohort of over 200 legislators from all 50 states who have committed to championing reforms for an equitable, inclusive, and participatory democracy – with dedicated policy, messaging, and strategy support from SiX. Visit stateinnovation.org/democracy to learn more and join the fight.
  5. Join the BISC listserv to receive the latest news on ballot measures, ballot.org.

The Census Is a Year Away: How State Legislators are Ensuring a Fair & Accurate Count

DENVER, Colo. – Advocates across the nation are recognizing April 1, 2019, as Census Day of Action, marking a year until the 2020 Census begins. Every ten years, the federal government conducts a census to track changes in population and demography, and this data is used for important determinations related to how federal, state, and local actors allocate their resources, essential public research, and the determination of future political representation. State legislators play a crucial role in ensuring that all people count.

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 funding for a range of programs and services like fire departments, highways, hospitals, and the national school lunch program. It would also compromise crucial supports for all communities – white, black, and brown alike. Census data are also used for the processes to draw local, state and federal political maps – known as reapportionment and redistricting – and therefore are vital to advancing a fair and representative democracy.

“Progressive lawmakers across the country are using their voices and their positions to ensure every single resident in their state is counted, fairly, accurately and without fear in 2020,” said SiX Executive Director Jessie Ulibarri. “State legislators recognize that critical resources and electoral representation are at stake for their communities. We recognize that all people must count and applaud legislators who are dedicating resources to reach hard-to-count groups such as communities of color, low-income communities, immigrants, and young children.”

Below is an overview of various state legislation to support a fair and accurate census. So far this year, at least 59 bills from 25 states have been introduced to support 2020 Census preparation and participation. Most bills aim to do one or more of the following: