Pressure's On: How SiX Legislators are Fighting Back

August 2, 2023

Pressure's On: How SiX Legislators are Fighting Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We championed working families and advanced economic justice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting democracy remains a crucible for our work together.

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

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

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

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

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

The road ahead.

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

This is co-governance at its finest.

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