Trends in State Legislatures Show Dramatic Contrast Between Progressives and Conservatives on Economic Security, Civil Rights, Criminal Justice Reform, Other Issues.
DENVER – The State Innovation Exchange (SiX), a national resource and strategy center supporting efforts to advance progressive policies at the state level, released its 2016 End-of-Session Legislative Report, underscoring the stark contrast between progressives and conservatives on key issues being tackled this year in state legislatures across the country.
With conservative control in the states at historic highs – conservatives control nearly 70 percent of state legislative chambers nationwide – this report details the continued full-scale assault on America’s middle class and efforts to roll back progress on everything from criminal justice reform and voting rights to LGBTQ equality and women’s health. Meanwhile, progressive legislators fought to pass legislation ensuring equal pay for women, expanding paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage, investing in clean energy, and modernizing our election systems.
The report, which aggregates legislative activity from all 50 states across nine primary issue areas, is available here.
“As partisan gridlock in Washington keeps Congress at a standstill, and we remain in limbo with a deadlocked Supreme Court, the decisions made at the state level will be the ones that define our future,” said SiX Executive Director Nick Rathod. “With a long-term vision of building progressive power in the states, SiX is issuing not only a report but a call to action: this November, the American people should take a look at how these issues are playing out locally and make choices down the ballot that truly reflect their values.”
One issue highlighted in the report with significant progressive momentum this year is equal pay. In 2016, legislators in 29 states introduced bills to close the gender pay gap. While conservatives blocked this legislation in the majority of those states, four saw equal pay bills actually signed into law: Delaware, Maryland, Nebraska, and Utah. Many of these efforts were supported by SiX through the #EqualPayCantWait campaign, a multi-state push in January 2016 that garnered significant media coverage, resulted in equal pay bills being introduced in 24 states in one week, led to the #EqualPayCantWait hashtag trending online with 56 million impressions, and encouraged tens of thousands to take action on the issue.
On the issue of voting rights, while conservative legislators proposed, passed, or carried over at least 70 restrictive voting laws in 28 states, Vermont and West Virginia became the third and fourth states in the nation to enact automatic voter registration (AVR), which eliminates major barriers to voting. As of the release of this report, AVR legislation in Illinois had also passed both chambers, and a ballot initiative in Alaska had secured enough grassroots support to be decided by voters in November. If both were to become law, nearly one-fifth of the country’s population would live in states where voter registration was automatic.
A dangerous trend in the states this year was the issue of preempting local control, as conservatives in state capitols went to great lengths to block localities from making their own policy decisions. This hypocritical effort is in direct opposition to the supposed conservative principles of local control and resistance to so-called “big government.” With Republicans fully controlling the legislature and governor’s office in 23 states, versus only seven states under full control by Democrats, conservatives have successfully preempted local laws on issues like wages and benefits, immigration, and LGBTQ equality. Perhaps the most controversial example is HB 2, North Carolina’s anti-transgender “bathroom law” that sparked nationwide outcry. Altogether, conservatives introduced more than 150 anti-LGBTQ bills in more than 30 states, while progressive legislators fought to advance more than 60 bills in more than 20 states that would protect the LGBTQ community against continued discrimination.
And while 2016 saw legislation providing for earned sick leave defeated by conservatives in 19 states, Vermont became the fifth state to codify paid sick days into law – joining California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon. New York became the fourth state with a paid family and medical leave law on the books. It provides up to 12 weeks – double the six weeks allowed in California and New Jersey and triple the four weeks allowed in Rhode Island.
“By highlighting some of this year’s most important state-level advances, as well as the most devastating setbacks, SiX hopes to emphasize the danger of conservatives having such disproportionate legislative power in the states,” Rathod added. “It’s an advantage the corporate-backed right has been quietly investing in for decades, and with so much at stake for working families – good schools for our kids, access to affordable health care, and the ability to earn a decent living – it’s time for the American people to take back their democracy.”
SiX’s 2016 End-of-Session Legislative Report is available here.