On this Thanksgiving holiday, many Americans will pause and give thanks for the people, opportunities, and blessings in their lives. As we gather with family and friends, Thanksgiving is a good time to remember that accelerating state-based, free-market solutions is really about helping all Americans thrive—our own loved ones included.
While the news headlines may seem grim, the states have seen many successes that have given Americans more reasons to count freedom among their blessings. Here are ten such successes that have gained ground in 2017:
1. More Americans can give to causes they believe in without fear of intimidation or harassment. This year, 16 states introduced legislation that would have required nonprofits to disclose names and addresses of their donors on a public government list. None of those proposals passed—a victory for free speech and individual privacy. Learn more about why these victories are so important.
2. More workers can choose whether they want to join a union. Kentucky and Missouri became right-to-work states this year, bringing the total number of states that protect employees’ freedom to 28. Thanks to this reform, workers in both the private and public sectors can choose whether they want to join a union and pay dues. Workers are no longer forced to fund causes or political agendas that don’t match their own values; instead, they can opt out without fear of losing their jobs. Right-to-work has even given some unions reason to be thankful. In right-to-work states, unions have added members as they have learned how to better serve workers.
3. More public employees know their rights when it comes to paying union dues. In states without right-to-work, state think tanks have implemented education efforts to help union members learn their options for union membership. These states often have specific opt-out windows or processes for union members who don’t want their dues funding causes or activities they don’t agree with. In Washington alone, the Freedom Foundation’s education campaign has helped thousands of union members opt out of paying dues.
4. Americans are going back to work. We all want to see jobs increase so that Americans can provide for themselves and their families and experience the dignity and fulfillment found through meaningful work. Several states are enabling job growth and entrepreneurship by cutting red tape. Five states repealed licensing requirements for eleven professions, making it easier for individuals to enter those fields. Arizona passed the nation’s first Right to Earn a Living Act, which enables workers to take agencies and cities to court over burdensome and unnecessary regulations.
5. Public employees are getting greater retirement security. Pennsylvania and Michigan saw historic changes this year when state leaders passed legislation to shift public employees to defined contribution retirement plans. The Commonwealth Foundation in Pennsylvania and the Mackinac Center in Michigan recommended that their respective states transition to 401(k)-style plans as a way to prevent unfunded liabilities from crippling the states financially. Pennsylvania and Michigan will be able to keep their retirement promises to current public employees, and new public employees will gain more confidence and control over their retirement savings.
6. Affordable, accessible healthcare is expanding. This year, eight new laws removed barriers to direct primary care, an arrangement which removes insurance as a middleman. Under a direct primary care model, doctors charge patients a monthly fee for access to a range of basic services, and doctors are often more available for their patients when they need care. So far, 23 states have passed direct primary care laws.
7. States paved the way for smarter energy policies. For the last two years, SPN and the network of free-market state think tanks have worked to educate policymakers and the public about the consequences of the Clean Power Plan, which would have constituted a federal take-over of the electricity system. In October, the EPA announced it would repeal the Clean Power Plan. Now state and local policymakers will be able to pursue energy and natural resource policies that truly meet the needs of their communities.
8. Students are being empowered through education choice. This past spring, Arizona made history by enacting the nation’s first enforceable universal private school choice program: Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. Through these scholarships, the state government deposits a child’s share of school funding into a flexible spending account similar to those used to pay for healthcare expenses. If a parent or student decides their assigned public school is not meeting their needs, they can leave the school and use these funds for alternative education options and expenses.
9. New Jersey has a new voice for freedom. This fall, the network gained its 66th state think tank: Garden State Initiative (GSI) in New Jersey. With one of the most oppressive tax climates in the country, New Jersey is struggling to reclaim its once proud position as an economic engine of growth and prosperity. GSI, under the leadership of Regina Egea, is serving the state as a much-needed force for fiscal responsibility and innovative policy solutions. Egea is optimistic about the future: “New Jersey doesn’t have to remain an economic laggard as it has been in recent decades. Our public discourse needs a strong, independent organization that seriously examines public-policy options and offers alternative, intellectually honest solutions. This is the role GSI will fill.”
10. The network welcomed two new leaders. This year, SPN was pleased to welcome two new state think tank CEOs in states that are rich with opportunities for state-based reforms. Daniel Erspamer joined the Pelican Institute for Public Policy in Louisiana where he will lead the organization’s vision to remove government-imposed barriers and ensure access to jobs and quality education. John Tsarpalas took the helm at the Nevada Policy Research Institute where he and his team are dedicated to spreading limited government ideas and solutions that will allow Nevada to prosper.
We at State Policy Network are humbled and grateful to work alongside the passionate state-based leaders who are strengthening and supporting their communities through these solutions. If you would like to be part of accelerating state solutions that will have national impact, please consider making a gift to SPN and the network during this holiday season.