Policy Matters: A Look at How States are Addressing Social, Health and Economic Issues

By Jim Meszaros

May, 2022

With federal policymakers in Washington at a near standstill on many economic and social issues, state-level elected officials are having an increasing impact on Americans’ daily lives.

Most state legislatures are completing their 2022 sessions within the next month and will not reconvene until next year — so legislative actions underway now could impact the political landscape in the run-up to the November mid-terms.

This edition of Policy Matters looks at how states are handling key issues from family leave and data privacy to wages, education and climate change. With the recent leak of the Supreme Court’s pending Roe v. Wade ruling, reproductive health issues are dominating news coverage as well as state legislative agendas.

The Big Picture

  • Thirty-six states are electing governors on November 8, 2022. Republicans are defending 20 gubernatorial seats and Democrats are defending 16 in this mid-year election.
  • There will be elections in 88 state legislative chambers across 46 states in November. Republicans currently control 61 of the 98 state legislative chambers across the country, while Democrats control 37.

Abortion and Reproductive Healthcare

  • On May 2, 2022, Politico released a draft document from Justice Samuel Alito that would overturn the landmark case Roe v. Wade and return the question of legal abortion to the states.
  • As of May 3, thirteen states have implemented “Trigger Laws,” or legislation that would ban abortion as soon as Roe was overturned. Nine states have not implemented trigger laws but are likely to put past restrictive laws into place. Sixteen states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — are likely to keep or strengthen laws granting access to abortion.

Data Privacy

  • Congress has been unable to pass a national data privacy law. Four states — California, Colorado, Utah and Virginia — have enacted consumer data privacy laws. Several other states are considering bills.
  • The laws have some common provisions, such as the right to access and delete personal information and an opt-out on the sale of personal information.

Climate and Environment

  • President Biden has set a national target for the United States to achieve a 50–52% reduction (from 2005 levels) in economy-wide net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2030. Separately, 24 states and the District of Columbia have adopted their own GHG reduction targets to address climate change.
  • Thirty-three states have released a climate action plan or are in the process of revising or developing one. These plans include resilience strategies, clean energy targets and economic and social goals.
  • Three states have passed fossil-fuel vehicle bans to be implemented within the next two decades: Washington state (2030) and California and New York (2035).
  • States have broad authority to be more protective than the federal government in setting standards for water quality, air emissions from oil refineries and power plants, and other stationary sources of air pollution, as well as contamination of hazardous substances. California regulates air pollution from vehicles more strictly than the federal government.

Congressional Redistricting

  • As a result of the 2020 Census, states are revising their Congressional districts to reflect population changes. State courts have blocked attempts by both parties to reconfigure congressional districts in a manner that benefits them politically. A Maryland state judge threw out a redistricting plan drawn by Democrats, while in North Carolina, the State Supreme Court struck down Republican-drawn maps. In New York, a state judge ruled that a map drawn by Democrats had been “unconstitutionally drawn with political bias,” as it would have eliminated four House seats currently held by Republicans.

Education

  • Education issues have emerged in several states with potential national implications. In Virginia, the Department of Education is conducting a review of critical race theory’s implementation in classrooms. Forty-two states have either introduced bills or taken steps to limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism since January 2021. Seventeen states have codified such measures.
  • Florida has enacted the Parental Rights in Education law, which bans teaching on sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. The law also allows parents to sue a school district for violating the policy.

Election Procedures

  • While Congress has not passed the Freedom to Vote Act that would essentially set national rules for federal elections — or the narrower John Lewis Voting Rights Accountability Act — more than 2,000 bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country to modify voting procedures and/or how local officials manage elections.
  • During the 2021 legislative sessions, 36 states adopted legislation that changes the way citizens vote. States that have passed comprehensive new election laws since 2020 include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas, most of which create new restrictions.

Immigration

  • Over the past year, states have won nationwide injunctions blocking President Biden’s moratorium on deportations, prosecutorial discretion policies and attempts to reverse Trump-era border policies.
  • States are currently asking a court to enter a nationwide order halting the Biden administration’s effort to end Title 42, a law which grants authorities the power to expel migrants and block asylum seekers who have recently been in a country where a communicable disease was present. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced its plans to end Title 42 on May 23.

Minimum Wage

  • While Congress has not raised the national minimum wage ($7.25 per hour) since 2009, 30 states and the District of Columbia have increased their minimum wage above the federal level. In the beginning of 2021, 21 states had increased minimum wages. Five states will raise minimum wages later this year. Seventeen states (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia) raised wages through legislation and ballot initiatives, while nine states automatically increased their rates based on living costs.
  • Five states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — have not adopted a separate state minimum wage.

Paid Family Leave and Paid Sick Leave

  • Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have paid sick leave laws. In response to COVID-19, Congress enacted emergency legislation to temporarily give many Americans paid leave for time off due to the virus. A handful of states temporarily broadened access to paid sick leave, including Colorado, New York, and North Carolina.

Vaccine Mandate

  • A coalition of states sued the federal government to block the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine-or-test mandate for health care workers, federal contractors and businesses with more than 100 employees.
  • The Supreme Court in a 6–3 decision blocked the COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers but allowed the mandate to continue for workers at federally funded health care facilities.

States participating in the lawsuit were Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

Jim Meszaros

Author

Washington DC | International consultant to governments, multinational corporations and foundations on global economic, trade, development and climate issues.

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