SEATTLE – With most state legislative sessions now wrapped up for 2015 and thousands of legislators gathered in Seattle for the annual National Conference of State Legislatures Legislative Summit, the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) released its first-ever review of the top progressive policies passed in the states this year. The results may not be what you expect.
Despite the recent dominance of conservatives in state capitols, 2015 was a year where progressive legislators achieved remarkable success in passing key economic and social policies that will help middle- and working-class families and strengthen civil rights.
“We are convinced that progressives are right on the issues, and the SiX review of the states bears that out,” said SiX Executive Director Nick Rathod. “From advancing the economic security of working families to improving access to voting, we saw that even in a map that is deeply red, progressives were able to achieve some important policy victories in 2015. I’m confident that as SiX grows and is able to better resource, train, and organize legislators around the country, we can help to see that progressives are able to achieve more of the types of policy victories like those that made the list this year.”
The policies featured in this year’s review are:
- Closing the Wage Gap for Women & Minorities
- Accommodating Pregnant Workers
- Earning Sick Leave
- Expanding Access to Higher Education
- Tackling the Student Debt Crisis
- Reducing Carbon Emissions
- Modernizing Voter Registration
- Repealing the Death Penalty
- Increasing Police Accountability & Public Safety
- Keeping Guns Away from Abusers & Stalkers
On a conference call with reporters, legislators from several states featured in the review spoke about the policies they helped pass and the impact these reforms will have on millions in states around the country.
Oregon was featured in a spotlight section of the review as a model for progressive legislators around the country, due to the wide array of good policies they passed this year. During the call, Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson said, “In Oregon, we just completed one of the boldest, most successful legislative sessions for working families in recent history. We pledged to voters last year that we would prioritize policies that improve the everyday lives of all Oregonians, particularly those who’ve been left behind by the economic recovery. We delivered on an agenda that expands opportunities, makes our communities safer and healthier, and levels the playing field for working people.”
Senator Aaron Ford, Democratic Leader of the Nevada State Senate, spoke about legislation he sponsored that requires Nevada Department of Public Safety officers to wear body cameras. He explained how this important victory will increase public safety: “In situations where an officer’s use of force is called into question, body cameras can help exonerate an officer when force is justified, or, as in Cincinnati, ensure that appropriate charges are brought against an officer who goes too far. I hope that recent events will reinforce our commitment to expanding the use of body cameras in Nevada as a means of establishing relationships based on trust and mutual respect between the police and the community.”
SiX’s 2015 review also shows that important progressive reforms happened not just in blue states, but also in red and purple states across the country. Nebraska State Senator Adam Morfeld talked about major advances in his state: “The Nebraska legislature concluded a historic session that repealed the death penalty, provided additional protections for working mothers, advanced bipartisan criminal justice reform, and renewed hope and opportunities for DREAMers.”
With congressional action in Washington at a standstill, policymaking at the state level will have a growing impact on the lives of most Americans. The state budget in Connecticut is a clear example of how responsible policymaking can impact the pocketbooks of working families and increase their economic security.
“As other states around the country addressed looming budget deficits by decimating services for middle-class families, Connecticut bucked the trend,” said State Representative Matthew Lesser. “In 2015, Connecticut produced a progressive budget which protects the services working families rely on, increased funding for education and infrastructure, and established a plan to implement paid family and medical leave. We closed tax loopholes, asked Fortune 500 companies to pay the same tax rates as small businesses, and raised income tax rates on our top earners. We also became the first state in the nation to pass a Student Loan Bill of Rights, regulating an industry which Washington has largely ignored.”