State Policy Network’s Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement recognize state think tanks doing exceptional work to create and disseminate credible policy research and ideas that will help states implement free-market solutions and expand personal freedom and opportunity for all Americans. The awards celebrate achievements in four categories: Most Influential Research, Best Issue Campaign, Biggest Home State Win, and Biggest Win.
Voting has closed. Winners will be announced at SPN’s virtual Annual Meeting on September 2, 2020.
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This category recognizes organizations whose original research achieved a high level of influence in academia, media, or policy-making arenas.
Alabama Policy Institute: Healthy Citizenry, Healthy Economy, Healthy Society
In the midst of protecting against the health threats posed by COVID-19, many states have faced questions of balancing public health with civil liberties and economic well-being. Anticipating these questions, Alabama Policy Institute produced a report, “Healthy Citizenry, Healthy Economy, Healthy Society,” which outlined recommendations for approaching crisis responses through a liberty-first lens. The proposed framework makes it possible for government to take responsible action without permanently undermining civil liberties and discouraging work. Because API anticipated several challenges related to reopening and returning to work, both the governor’s reopening task force and the Alabama Department of Labor used API’s research to respond to those challenges. For API, this research and its impact has further positioned the Institute as a trustworthy watchdog against government growth in times of crisis.
Beacon Center of Tennessee: Poverty to Prosperity – Reforming Tennessee’s Public Assistance Programs
Are welfare programs available for those who truly need them in the midst of a crisis? To answer this question for Tennessee, the Beacon Center conducted the first audit of Tennessee’s welfare system in years. Beacon found over one billion in improperly allocated welfare funds—money that could have been used to help those most in need, to lower taxes and stimulate economic opportunity, or even to fund other programs to prevent new taxes later on. On top of this, Beacon Center uncovered $700 million in federal funds that had been accepted but not spent, meaning state tax dollars were going towards expenses that were supposed to have been covered by federal dollars. Through this research, Beacon Center started a critical conversation about massive funding issues that have long been overlooked and represent a great opportunity for reforms.
Pioneer Institute: Informing the COVID-19 Response & Reopening Strategy
As Massachusetts was ravaged by one of the highest contractions and mortality rates, in ways disproportionate to their state’s population, the Pioneer Institute rose to the occasion to help the state recover. The Institute shifted focus quickly and provided the state and local leaders with invaluable research. Over 500 media outlets referenced their work, and Massachusetts’ governor relied on their research extensively. They offered solutions and insight into topics ranging from digital learning and expanded telehealth to reopening efforts and industry-specific suggestions to maintain economic well-being. Their efforts have positioned the Institute as a go-to and trustworthy resource for many decision-makers and communities in Massachusetts.
This category recognizes organizations that ran the highest quality issue education campaign, including strategic thinking, exemplary outreach tactics, audience reach, and team alignment. Submissions are judged based on measures of execution, not necessarily if a win was ultimately achieved.
Center of the American Experiment: Back 2 Work Minnesota
Minnesota enacted strict economic lockdown measures to combat COVID-19, but the state still had a relatively high contraction and mortality rate, along with crippling economic and social consequences. Center of the American Experiment launched a campaign to highlight the consequences of the shutdown and call for looser restrictions and return to the right to earn a living. To spread the message far and wide, the campaign deployed everything from billboards and videos to newspaper and social media ads. Legislators contacted the CAE to report they were being inundated by anti-shutdown emails from their constituents that originated with Back2WorkMN.com. Through the campaign, Minnesota citizens sent 51,957 emails to their governor and legislators. The Center’s efforts led to a loosening of restrictions and a better understanding of those restrictions’ consequences among those who mean to govern.
Illinois Policy Institute: Owning the Narrative – Exposing the Economic and Human Costs of Illinois’ Lockdown
Storytelling is crucial to sharing and understanding the human experience. That’s why Illinois Policy Institute focused on storytelling to shed light on the personal struggles being caused by the pandemic-driven economic shutdown. IPI highlighted the climbing unemployment rate and backed up the numbers with stories of real people struggling to survive the shutdown. With these stories and clever cartoons, IPI reframed the narrative about what closure really costs. Their stories were featured in multiple media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal. Their website attracted 1.5 million people, and it has maintained its impact with over a million steady users. Without spending any money and instead relying on the organization’s existing infrastructure, IPI also generated a grassroots campaign of over 37,000 citizen emails to policymakers.
Mackinac Center for Public Policy: Michigan’s Arbitrary Lockdown Rules as Cartoonish as They Sound
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mackinac Center was quick to realize the arbitrary and absurd nature of Michigan’s extensive lockdown. Mackinac created a cartoon series to illustrate the drastic range of restrictions across similar occupations or activities. Coincidentally, the release of each new cartoon was soon followed by a change to the restriction being highlighted. Through the campaign, Mackinac nearly tripled its regular audience for its “Opportunity Michigan” newsletter.
This category recognizes the organization that achieved a significant policy win in their home state.
Idaho Freedom Foundation: Seizing the Moment for Property Tax Reform
Long before COVID-19 threatened economic well-being, property taxes in Idaho were limiting people’s ability to maintain a roof over their head. As CARES Act dollars quickly eclipsed the earlier budget of the state, the Idaho Freedom Foundation ensured that citizens weren’t saddled with a massive spending increase and higher taxes later on. IFF championed a property tax cut, using research and infrastructure established during their 2019 campaign to highlight the wasteful government use of property tax dollars. Through their efforts, IFF will save Idaho residents up to $200 million this year through the successful passage of a property tax cut.
Kansas Policy Institute: Litigation to Protect Civil Liberty
In an effort to protect public health, civil liberties can often be the first to go. Recognizing this, the Kansas Policy Institute and their litigation arm worked to resist several encroachments on freedom. The most successful of these was their litigation effort to shut down a mandatory contact tracing effort in Lynn County, Kansas. Their litigation received support from across the political spectrum, including left-leaning newspaper outlets, and was later cited by the Kansas Attorney General to stop a similar state-level program. Their efforts not only protected the residents of Lynn County, but also the entirety of Kansas from infringements on liberty.
Yankee Institute for Public Policy: Positioning Connecticut’s Economy to Weather the Pandemic
Sometimes the best defense of liberty and economic well-being is a good offense. Yankee Institute proved this when they quickly secured six different victories for liberty, protecting Connecticut residents well-being before the full threat of the pandemic was even obvious. Among these victories were an unemployment tax reduction, which bolstered economic opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs, and occupational licensing reform, which relieved hundreds of professionals of the expense and time involved in seeking a government permission slip to work. Yankee also helped establish a commission on reopening, temporarily repealed the plastic bag tax to protect the poor when buying groceries, and preempted violative regulations on houses of worship. Their efforts included an emphasis on storytelling through a Beam of Light series highlighting acts of civil kindness. These proactive successes strengthened citizens’ liberties and peace of mind, while building Yankee’s reach and trust within communities across Connecticut.
This category recognizes organizations whose effort was instrumental toward securing a significant policy victory this year that has implications for future state-level or national reforms.
Alaska Policy Forum: Opting In to Expand Workplace Freedom
Through the Janus v. AFSCME decision, states have an opportunity to give public employees a voice and a choice in union membership by allowing them to opt in instead of requiring them to opt out. When Alaska Policy Forum demonstrated the logic of this approach to Alaska’s Governor, Attorney General, and Department of Administration, the state was inspired to take action. By putting an opt-in process in place, Alaska expanded workplace freedom and ensured that no Alaskan government employee would be forced to pay dues to a union they didn’t know they were a part of. This reform sets a precedent that other states can follow to restore and strengthen workers’ First Amendment rights.
Commonwealth Foundation: Justice Reform Act 2.0
Criminal justice reform is an issue that garners bipartisan support, but that agreement isn’t always as obvious as it should be. Sometimes it takes a talented mediator to point out the similarities between two rivals, which is exactly what Commonwealth Foundation did to promote sensible reform in Pennsylvania’s justice system. After the 2012 passage of their Justice Reinvestment Initiative Part 1, Commonwealth worked for five years to demonstrate its success and build bipartisan support for further reform. Hard work combined with sound research positioned Commonwealth Foundation as the key voice balancing progressive and conservative viewpoints within the legislature—a thoughtful voice that ultimately inspired Pennsylvania lawmakers to overhaul a troubled probation system. Thanks to Commonwealth’s leadership, former criminals can now pursue meaningful contributions to society after their release, and fellow states have a new model for criminal justice reform.
Goldwater Institute: Breaking Down Barriers to Work Across the Country
Occupational licensing often serves as more of a barrier to earning a living than a mechanism for ensuring quality or safety. After attaining even the most reasonable of licenses in one state, many Americans have to repeat the entire licensing process they move to another state. This repetitive expense of time and money multiples the barriers to work and ignores the merits of hands-on experience. Goldwater Institute worked to eliminate this second barrier by encouraging Arizona to pass universal licensing recognition, a reform that allows individuals licensed in other states to have their licenses recognized in Arizona. And Goldwater’s efforts didn’t stop there. Since achieving victory in Arizona, Goldwater has worked in seven other states to expand universal licensing recognition. Their success has empowered people to find meaningful work in several states and has promoted economic freedom across the nation.