One month after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, legislative efforts to combat gun violence are starting to advance swiftly in some states — even as lawmakers in others are reacting to shifting public opinion by seeking to make enforcement of federal laws a felony and mandate more firearms in schools.
The nation let out a collective sigh last week when a deal was made just hours before the country went toppling over the so-called “fiscal cliff.” Although the agreement passed by Congress and signed by President Obama provides temporary reprieve, it also left much to be desired. While the agreement ultimately reflected the public’s mandate to raise taxes on the super-rich, it also failed to define those who make between $250,000 and $400,000 as “wealthy,” extending all of their Bush-era tax rates permanently. This misclassification contradicts public opinion and will result in a dramatic loss in revenue, setting a dangerous precedent. Perhaps the most threatening decision made was to make no decision at all on across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequester, for another two months. These automatic spending cuts pose a serious threat to states and localities.
Ann Pratt, Executive Director of Progressive States Network, made the following statement today in reaction to yesterday's passage in Congress of bipartisan legislation to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff."
For the past five years, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has partnered with supply-side economist Arthur Laffer to rank the fifty states according to their economic outlook. As Progressive States Network has noted in the past, the rankings published alongside the group's yearly Rich States, Poor States report, are in fact based on a corporate wish-list of criteria such as low state minimum wages and public sector job losses that are hardly concerned with the economic realities faced by millions of families actually living in those states. A new study released today by Good Jobs First and the Iowa Policy Project takes an even closer look at the ALEC-Laffer rankings, and weighs them against actual economic results in the states. The verdict? That these rankings rely on methodologies and arguments "that range from deeply flawed to nonexistent" — and moreover, that states who actually follow ALEC's economic advice have done demonstrably worse economically over the past five years.
This weekend, Progressive States Network's Suman Raghunathan joined the panel on MSNBC's UP with Chris Hayes to discuss some of the decisions voters in states across the nation will be facing at the polls on Tuesday beyond races for elected office, including ballot measures on immigration, taxes, criminal justice, marriage equality, and more. Watch the video here:
Frustrated by stagnation in the job market and in statehouses alike, worker advocates have increasingly taken to direct democracy and local governments to balance the economy in 2012. A combination of political gridlock in Congress and many state legislatures since the 2010 elections has largely stalled a wave of progress led by states raising workplace standards like the minimum wage and paid sick leave, as well as toughening up laws to combat workplace violations like wage theft and payroll fraud. Over the last year, advocates have turned to ballot initiatives and local government measures, where the immense levels of popular support for workplace fairness policies historically have proven likely to carry the day. But, unwilling to let such clear majorities carry the day, conservative business lobbies have rolled out a range of increasingly ruthless tactics to roll back and block progress.
(With 2012 legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, this is the fifth in a series of issue-specific session roundups from Progressive States Network highlighting trends in different policy areas across the fifty states. Read the full article here.)
With a close presidential election on the horizon, this year saw conservatives continuing to ramp up their voter suppression efforts. Party leaders in Pennsylvania and Florida admitted as much, confessing that their efforts were intended to benefit conservatives in time for the elections. However, attempts to stack the deck for partisan gain encountered a number of obstacles and were nowhere near as successful as they were last year, ultimately ensuring that — despite a continuing spate of efforts in legislatures, the courts, and by partisan elections officials to roll back the fundamental right to vote — 2012 was not the banner year that the right was hoping for. If 2011 was “The Year of Voter ID,” then 2012 will certainly go down as “The Year of Right-Wing Overreach,” as courts and federal enforcement agencies struck down such blatantly partisan tactics. Though the year is far from over and several important voter suppression battles have yet to be decided in advance of Election Day, there were some key victories for democracy that bode well for 2013. [Read More]
Though UFO sightings are more common than in-person voter impersonation, over thirty states introduced or carried over legislation focused on an almost entirely non-existent problem. These included an assortment of new voter ID proposals and measures to “strengthen” existing laws by requiring photo ID, but also some bills to expand the type of photo ID acceptable at the polls. The national right-wing strategy behind voter ID laws became clearer this year as the corporate backers of the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were taken to task by the public for their support of state legislation to suppress the vote. [Read More]
Performing an important check on partisan right-wing legislators eager to tilt the electoral playing field in their states, the courts have made a number of important rulings that largely affirmed individuals’ right to register to vote and access the polls easily. [Read More]
Conservatives attempted to exploit anti-immigrant sentiment by using the same faulty rationale for voter ID laws — keeping non-citizens from “stealing” our elections — to push for a new initiative: purges of non-citizens from the voter rolls. [Read More]
2012 also featured some bright spots that bucked the trend of imposing barriers to registration and voting. From same day registration to online voter registration to eliminating waiting periods for ex-felons, progress was made on expanding voting rights in some states. [Read More]
Though more studies showed in 2012 that voter ID is a misguided, ineffective means of addressing electoral fraud, the upside of the conservative focus on “protecting the sanctity of the vote” and the rolls may be the highlighting of the need to update our antiquated, patchwork voter registration system. The components of voter registration modernization ensure that records are more accurate, opportunities for fraud are reduced, and that the overall process is more efficient — all while saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year, something that liberals and conservatives can agree upon.
If history is any indication, one of the biggest problems plaguing Election Day will be partisan misinformation campaign designed to skew the vote — not undocumented immigrants, as conservatives insist. The confluence of near-universally weak state laws on deceptive practices and a historically close election could result in record numbers of voters kept from the polls. Legislators should take advantage of public discussion of disenfranchisement to champion legislation that protects voters.
In this week’s Research Roundup: Reports from Demos and Common Cause on protecting the freedom to vote against intimidation and suppression attempts both at the ballot box and before election day, the Iowa Policy Project on the invisible epidemic of wage theft, the Herndon Alliance on questions to be prepared to answer on state health exchanges, Demos on fourteen bold policy proposals to build a strong and diverse middle class, the National Women’s Law Center on how public sector job losses have hit women hard, the Department of Health and Human Services on how the health care law has saved an estimated $2.1 billion for consumers, a video from CLASP showing businesspeople in Washington, D.C. talking about the effects of earned sick days, and the Economic Policy Institute’s 12th edition of their authoritative State of Working America report.
New Census data reported just this week painted a distressing picture: 46.2 million Americans still in poverty in 2011, median household income declining by 1.5 percent, and rising income inequality. As a snapshot of an America three years removed from the end of the Great Recession, the numbers serve as an important reminder that it's not just the tepid growth in jobs, but the increasing lack of good jobs and the slow corrosion of the middle class that should be the chief concern of lawmakers.