This week, President Obama traveled to Colorado to continue to press Congress to pass legislation on gun violence prevention. Next week, he is set to travel to Connecticut to do the same. Both are states that have witnessed horrific mass shootings over the past year, and both have since seen their legislatures act to pass bipartisan gun violence prevention bills. Connecticut's new law, passed and signed into law this week, strengthens a ban on assault weapons, limits magazine sizes, and creates the nation's first statewide dangerous weapon offender registry. Maryland also saw strong gun legislation pass their legislature this week, likely to be signed into law next week. All of this movement comes the same week that a new report was released showing that state gun laws likely do have a significant impact on levels of gun violence.
For-profit charter school companies and their allies were hoping to push so-called "parent trigger" bills this year in over a dozen states -- bills which purport to "empower" parents of poor-performing schools by allowing them to vote to turn over their neighborhood schools to private companies. But in state after state, parents themselves have been pushing back.
Not to be outdone by Arkansas or any of the record number of other states advancing restrictions on abortion in recent years, North Dakota this week passed anti-choice legislation so draconian it is alienating even self-described "pro-life" lawmakers. Legislatures in states including Texas and Kansas also tried to keep up in the race to be the most backward state on reproductive rights this week, passing legislation that would shut down clinics and endanger women's health. Texas Gov. Rick Perry told lawmakers back in December that his goal was to "make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past" in his state -- and it looks like lawmakers in other states have also set that as a key priority for legislative sessions this year:
Following a national debate over the Bush tax cuts that saw federal income tax rates go up on the wealthiest Americans this January, state legislatures continue to diverge sharply on their approach toward taxes in the first few months of 2013. Anti-tax conservatives in some states, looking to hold fast to a Norquistian vision of tax cuts for the wealthy, are running into opposition. Meanwhile, other states are moving in the opposite direction on revenue for the first time in years. Reports this week show this divergence continuing, even as new research revealed the inefficacy of personal income tax cuts as a strategy for economic growth:
The pressure to fully implement the Affordable Care Act continued to build in state capitals this week as new reports showed the extent of the financial pain that both business and hospitals will feel if their states refuse to participate in the expansion of Medicaid (since the pain felt by the millions of people who would find themselves uninsured in those states was clearly not enough to win conservative support). In some states where previously opposed governors have already agreed to support expansion, conservative legislators are putting up a fight.
In contrast to the conservative policies we've seen move in the states over the past two years, 2013 has so far seen at least a handful of states where progressive policies are being introduced and enacted across a range of issue areas. With legislative sessions about midway through, here's a roundup of the policies moving in a couple of those states -- Minnesota and Colorado:
On Friday, the across-the-board cuts of the federal budget sequester started to kick in. While planes have hopefully not fallen out of the sky (yet), as President Obama noted in a press conference on Friday, the pain will be felt incrementally, and it will be real to millions of Americans. What's worse, the self-inflicted damage to the economy predicted to result from the sequester is entirely avoidable, and in fact does little to reduce the deficit. State legislators from 46 states this week urged Congress to avert the sequester and make sure that "significant revenues" were included in any new deal. Here's more on that, and on how the cuts are set to hit the states in the coming weeks:
Last year, the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) came under fire for their support of voter suppression and "shoot first" laws. In response, ALEC claimed they would "redouble their efforts on the economic front" this year. But, in fact, ALEC has long focused on policies that weaken wage standards and otherwise endanger working families — and a new report released this week by the National Employment Law Project (with research support from PSN) shows just how. At the same time, efforts to combat the ALEC economic agenda advanced in states including Maryland and Washington as polls and research continue to show that policies like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, and paid sick days are popular and good for the economy:
Ninety-eight to zero. That was the vote of the United States Senate in July 2006 in favor of re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights law which this week came under withering — and disturbing — attack from conservative Supreme Court Justices during oral arguments in Shelby Co. v. Holder. At the very same time that Chief Justice Roberts was quoting dubious election statistics and Justice Scalia was claiming the protection of the right to vote was a "racial entitlement," states across the nation continued to press forward with voter suppression measures that underscored the need to continue to protect voting rights for all Americans:
With the debate in D.C. currently centered around exactly how much more federal budget austerity to enact, and with the budget sequester threatening 750,000 jobs nationwide looking more and more likely to go into effect March 1st, the jobless also continue to be under attack in the states. This week, one state signed devastating cuts to their unemployment insurance system into law, another advanced a restructuring of their system that would endanger their federal funding, and efforts to ban employer discrimination against the jobless ran into the veto pen of a billionaire big-city mayor: