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Priority One for 2013: Rebuilding The Middle Class

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.

Explaining the Latest Federal Ruling on SB 1070: A Mixed Decision

Last week, a federal district court in Phoenix issued a mixed ruling on Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070. Immigrant communities declared partial victory with Judge Susan Bolton's decision to strike down the portion of the law that makes it a crime to drive, live with, or engage in everyday activities with an undocumented individual. This means Arizonans of good faith who interact with or provide spiritual support to an undocumented friend or neighbor no longer have to worry about getting slapped with criminal penalties or arrest. Several SB 1070 copycats — including laws in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina — feature similar provisions which have also been blocked by federal courts.

PSN 2012 Immigration Session Roundup: Growing Consensus for Common-Sense Efforts as Anti-Immigrant Bills Lose More Steam

(With 2012 legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, this is the fourth in a series of issue-specific session roundups from Progressive States Network highlighting trends in different policy areas across the fifty states.)

In 2012, state legislatures saw a dramatic decrease in anti-immigrant proposals and embraced a growing consensus around common sense, pro-immigrant policies in states across the country. This legislative session illustrated the decreased popularity of broad anti-immigrant proposals, as well as growing interest in targeted campaigns to introduce pro-immigrant policies, especially in states with growing immigrant populations. These policies, which underline the importance of cultivating all of our nation’s talented youth, protecting hard-won wages, and ensuring the safety of our communities, once again outnumbered misguided (and failed) attempts to enshrine racial profiling and deprive crucial industries of workers this year.

Two important developments in immigration policy from the federal government also shifted the landscape and conversation in the states. President Obama’s surprise June 15th Deferred Action announcement, which shields some undocumented youth from deportation and allows them to work legally in the United States, opens up a clear path for talented immigrant students to contribute to state economies once they receive a college degree. The announcement deflates traditional opposition to state tuition equity proposals, which previously branded the policies as impractical because they did not grant work authorization to undocumented college graduates. Now thousands of students accepted through the program will likely be able to legally work and in turn contribute to state economies upon graduating from college. The development ratchets up pressure on states to pass tuition equity proposals as eligible students stand ready to pay their way into higher education systems, which continue to suffer from dramatically decreased funding due to the slow economic recovery and long-standing budget deficits.

The Supreme Court also narrowed the role that states can play in immigration enforcement when they decisively struck down Arizona’s disruptive and economically devastating SB 1070. The Court underlined the federal government’s role in determining and enforcing immigration policy by striking down three of SB 1070’s four provisions while also sending a strong signal that the remaining provision, Section 2(b), will be susceptible to future challenges because it will inevitably encourage racial profiling. The three provisions that were struck down — prohibiting undocumented immigrants from seeking work, allowing warrantless arrests of immigrants for the suspicion of a deportable offense, and making it a state crime to not carry immigration papers — emphasized the role that the federal government must play in immigration enforcement and highlighted the growing reality that Arizona’s unconstitutional approach is far outside the mainstream of American values.

The Supreme Court’s decision notwithstanding, anti-immigrant forces still plan to reproduce the flawed “self-deportation” model in as many states as possible. The principal architect of SB 1070, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, not only led the charge to enshrine the harshest anti-immigrant plank in the national Republican Party’s history, but also announced that he intends to push the “papers please” 2(b) provision in Missouri, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Oklahoma and other states. [Read More]
 

Tuition Equity: More Progress

Even before President Obama’s announcement that “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” (DACA) would protect some DREAM-eligible youth from deportation, legislation that allows qualifying undocumented students to attend public colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates was already gaining momentum in the states. DACA recipients will receive a two-year reprieve from deportation, a renewable two-year work permit, and, depending on the state, eligibility to receive driver’s licenses.

In a big step for these aspiring citizens, students began submitting applications for the program beginning August 15th. The program also re-emphasizes the need for states to pass tuition equity laws, ensuring that these talented students can access higher education and continue contributing to their states. DACA also neutralizes a common anti-immigrant argument against tuition equity laws: that allowing immigrant students access to higher education would be wasteful because they would be unauthorized to work in their states.

Twelve states already have tuition equity laws on the books, with an additional ten states moving the proposal this year.  [Read More]
 

Pushing Back Against Enforcement and Community Policing

Efforts to make immigration enforcement sensible and practical have turned into a powerful bill in California called the TRUST Act which could serve as a model for other states looking to move past the expensive and burdensome detention and deportation dragnet. After a 2-year campaign and strenuous efforts by advocates, the bill is still waiting for Governor Jerry Brown’s signature by September 30th.

The TRUST Act’s focus on building trust between community members and law enforcement statewide by prioritizing violent and serious criminals instead of casting a wide, expensive, and counter-productive dragnet has spurred many to call it the “anti-Arizona” approach. Governors in New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois challenged their state’s involvement in Secure Communities, highlighting the gap between S-Comm’s stated goals and the actual devastation the program has wrought on immigrant communities nationwide through widespread deportations. [Read More]
 

Driver’s Licenses: Ensuring Safety and Saving Costs

A hot-button issue in previous years, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants have the potential to stimulate the economy by allowing immigrants to drive to work and contribute to state economies while also keeping our roads safe. Unlicensed drivers also increase costs for the entire pool of drivers. When New York considered a driver’s license proposal in 2006 the State Department of Insurance estimated that premiums would have saved New York drivers $120 million, a 34% savings.  [Read More]

 

E-Verify: Momentum Ebbs on Flawed Program

Efforts to impose the flawed, federal E-Verify program on states have mostly flopped in 2012. E-Verify is a federal pilot employment-verification system that filters a worker’s identification information through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) databases — in theory flagging as ineligible any worker whose information doesn’t match up with federal records.

After an ascendant couple of years for the policy, which has become highly controversial due its high error rate and job-killing tendencies, 2012 saw proposals to enact or expand mandatory E-Verify fail in 23 states.  [Read More]
 

Wage Enforcement: Promise for 2013

Another important legislative avenue in protecting immigrant workers garnered momentum in 2012, with promises of even bigger action in 2013. Proposals that seek to enforce wage and hour laws, enhance workplace protections, and crack down on employers seeking to duck paying payroll taxes by misclassifying full-time workers as independent contractors play a strong role in protecting workers, both immigrant workers [Read More]
 

State Work Authorization Efforts

In the last session, several states also attempted to address their states’ need for immigrant workers, through a variety of complicated and non-traditional methods. Though none of the proposals passed, legislators in California, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Vermont all proposed some version of a state-based worker authorization models.  [Read More]

 

Rounding Up 2012 Legislative Sessions

With 2012 legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, Progressive States Network is releasing a series of issue-specific session roundups highlighting developments and trends in different policy areas across the fifty states.

PSN 2012 Broadband Session Roundup: Groundswell of Support for Key Infrastructure as ALEC Pushes Deregulation

Broadband has become essential, not optional — critical to the jobs, health, and welfare of millions of Americans. State legislatures around the country were focused on telecommunications infrastructure during 2012, although many bills this year seemed to be born of the rush to deregulate from last decade, seemingly unconcerned about the possibility that we could find ourselves without recourse when the technology goes down or fails to ensure that all people have access. This year, Progressive States Network has focused on two major areas of broadband legislation. The first has been community broadband, which ensures that local governments and non-profits can create their own broadband infrastructure when needed. The second has been the wave of right-wing inspired deregulation bills that would divide our country into haves and have-nots by eliminating the tools states use to ensure that small businesses, the labor force, and individuals have access to new technology. Both are, unfortunately, connected by strong efforts on the part of the ultra-conservative, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

PSN 2012 Workers’ Rights Session Roundup: Surviving Another Round of Attacks… and Bracing for 2013

An historic wave of attacks on workers that defined 2011 state legislative sessions largely continued this year. But just as significantly, widespread efforts to advance basic labor standards — especially the minimum wage — gained momentum this year by harnessing the country’s concerns about economic security and inequality. 2012 opened with another weeks-long standoff in the Midwest, which threatened to steal the limelight as the Super Bowl took place just a mile away from the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis, and ended in a major loss for workers in the state. Significant rollbacks occurred in several more states, as did high-profile attacks that are expected to return in 2013. The recall election victory of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was also a major disappointment for labor, though a labor-backed candidate did win another state Senate recall, flipping control of that chamber in the Wisconsin legislature. However, compared to Indiana, other major efforts to roll back labor standards in the states saw more successful resistance, and the ferocity with which conservatives pressed them was turned down a bit after the battle in the Hoosier state. In addition, as Congress and many statehouses proved increasingly difficult venues for addressing workplace abuses, 2012 saw more and more advocates turning to local governments to advance policies like paid sick leave and wage theft prevention. This has in turn opened up another front for statehouse attacks, with some states seeing bills introduced that would strip municipal governments of their power to protect workers. State legislatures seem likely to remain the critical arenas for advancing and protecting workers’ rights in the near future, with state policy fights set to both influence national trends and control the pace of change workers can achieve at the local level for years to come. 

PSN 2012 Tax and Budget Session Roundup: Austerity Impedes Economic Recovery; Expanded State Spending Leads to Growth

Like several countries in the European Union, conservatives in the U.S. states promised that slashing government spending would fuel economic growth. Thirty states have responded to budget deficits by doing just that. At the same time, 20 U.S. states and a number of other European countries have taken the opposite approach, generating revenue and focusing additional spending on economic recovery. Just like in Europe, the states that chose austerity have been outpaced in job growth and economic recovery by the states that raised revenue to expand government spending.

Five Ways Your State Can Avoid Austerity And Avert Fiscal Crisis

Progressive state lawmakers have been advancing smart, effective policies to take on what the authors of the State Budget Crisis Task Force report accurately describe as the structural problems facing states in the coming years. Here are five solutions that your state can advance to help avert fiscal crisis while promoting economic growth, fairness, and equality.

Report: States Failing on Fracking Chemical Disclosure Laws

This week, OMB Watch released a report taking a comprehensive look at the actions of state governments to require disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), an increasingly controversial and widespread practice used to extract natural gas in many states across the nation. The conclusion? On even this most basic requirement, states are failing to safeguard the health of their residents from the environmental dangers of fracking.

Dangerous Corporate Lawsuit Could Result in Chilling Effect on State Legislatures

A federal court case arising out of Vermont could have dramatic implications for state sovereignty and the ability of legislatures to regulate corporate activities within their borders. Nine states and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) are standing in support of the State of Vermont in the U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit. Vermont is appealing a controversial lower court ruling that, if upheld, would overturn decades of case law defining how courts determine legislatures’ “intent” and whether their actions are preempted by federal authority. Should Vermont lose, NCSL predicts a chilling effect in legislatures across the country and a move toward limiting public debate and open government.