The Best of the States: 13 Good, Progressive Bills Making Headway This Year
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Editor's note: Last week, all eyes were on the New York state legislature's historic passage of a marriage equality bill -- the first in a GOP-controlled legislature. But as this report by the Progressive States Network reveals, it's not the only positive news coming out of the states.
Working families across the nation may find themselves feeling thankful that state legislative sessions have either reached or are nearing their finish lines for 2011.
After an historic shift in the partisan control of state legislative chambers following last November’s elections, conservatives found themselves controlling new levers of power in many states.
They used them.
From a non-stop assault on the rights of workers, immigrants, and women, to power grabs making it easier for corporations to influence the political process and harder for historically disenfranchised populations to vote, to balancing state budgets on the backs of children and the vulnerable by cutting schools and health care in order to give millionaires and CEOs even bigger tax cuts, the measures that grabbed headlines in the states this year have been almost uniformly bad news for the economic security of the vast majority of Americans.
But dig just a little beneath the headlines, and some glimmers of hope are clearly visible.
In every region of the nation, in red states and blue states alike, momentum increased behind a variety of common-sense, positive, pragmatic measures in the states that contrast sharply with the extreme and unpopular priorities of the right. Even as moderate and progressive lawmakers found themselves forced to play defense against an unprecedented assault on the middle class in many states, they still were able to advance measures to rebuild their state economies, protect the middle class, and build healthier and stronger communities.
And in states where the corporate right did not control the agenda, some landmark legislation passed that may point the way forward for future years in other states—when they will surely find themselves out of power once again.
In no particular order, below are 13 positive, progressive pieces of legislation from around the states that advanced in 2011 and which represent some of the key policy solutions featured in PSN’s Blueprint For Economic Security. Some are more prominent, others less so, but all advanced policies that promise to continue gaining momentum across the nation in the years to come.
1. Oregon’s HB 2825: Increasing Accountability for Corporate Subsidies
Last month, Oregon’s legislature unanimously approved a bill to provide increased transparency of state spending on economic development subsidies. The legislation ( HB 2825) would require the Department of Administrative Services to publish detailed information regarding the amount, purpose, and intent of tax incentives directed to corporate entities on the state's transparency website. State Rep. Phil Barnhart (D), who sponsored the bill along with State Rep. Kim Thatcher (R), commented that “spending on tax breaks should be treated the same as spending on programs,” and that “by putting this information online, as is currently the case with other areas of the budget, we move one step closer to that goal." Governor John Kitzhaber recently signed the bill into law.
The victory in Oregon mirrors legislative movement across the country to increase transparency in the budget process as states continue to experience the lasting impacts of the economic downturn. This past session, lawmakers in several states, including Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island,Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia, championed initiatives to augment accountability of state spending on corporate tax breaks, subsidies, and contracts—all measures that would aid in rebuilding prosperity in state economies in the years to come.