State Policy Network
2018 Bob Williams Awards: Most Influential Research Nominees

The nominations for the Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement are in! Thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate a state-based organization this year.

These organizations’ efforts to increase Americans’ freedom and prosperity are truly inspiring. Since all nominees have done great things in their states, we wanted to take a minute to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments shared through the Bob Williams Awards nomination process. The winners in each category will be announced at SPN’s 26th Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City on October 9-12, 2018. In the meantime, please join us in congratulating these think tanks on their nominations in the “Most Influential Research” category.

Most Influential Research

This category recognizes organizations whose original research achieved a high level of influence in academia, media, and/or policy-making arenas.

Beacon Center of Tennessee – The Dirty Dozen: Eliminating Red Tape for Blue Collar Workers
Tennessee ranks among the worst states in the nation for burdensome occupational licensing laws, which tend to harm low and moderate-income residents seeking to climb the economic ladder. The Beacon Center’s Blue Collars, Red Tape project, specifically their “Dirty Dozen” report, exposed the 12 worst examples of licensing laws in the state and led to the outright elimination of three licenses: shampooing hair, animal massage therapy, and operating beauty pageants.

Caesar Rodney Institute – A Review of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
The nine-state carbon tax Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) results in higher electric rates and fewer jobs, while doing nothing to reduce global carbon dioxide. Prior to the Institute getting involved, the only available research on its impact was by RGGI or carbon tax advocates. The Institute’s independent review found adopting carbon dioxide taxes would do great harm to the national economy, as well as states’ economies. Many organizations effectively used their research to oppose the expansion of RGGI and proposed national carbon tax legislation.

California Policy Center – California Local Elected Officials – Sample Reforms
In California, reform is only possible at the local level. Providing sample reforms that have been or could be enacted gives reformers research to educate public officials. And, sample reforms give local elected officials usable material to take to their city councils and county boards of supervisors. One of the Center’s model ordinances—banning the use of public funds for political campaigning by cities or counties—has already been picked up and enacted by the Newport Beach city council.

Commonwealth Foundation – Restoring the Dignity of Work
Welfare spending is a major contributor to Pennsylvania’s economic stagnation and fiscal instability. It is also causing healthy individuals to become trapped in the cycle of poverty. The Commonwealth Foundation produced a comprehensive report, “Restoring the Dignity of Work,” detailing case studies on the dramatic, positive results of work requirements. Their evidence and stories convinced policymakers to pursue change, and two work requirement bills passed in the House this year.

Foundation for Government Accountability – Waiting for Help: The Medicaid Waiting List Crisis
The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act opened the welfare program—traditionally reserved for truly needy individuals—to able-bodied adults. The funding structure incentivizes states to prioritize these able-bodied adults, pushing the truly needy onto waiting lists for coverage. “Waiting for Help: The Medicaid Waiting List Crisis” exposed this serious flaw and has been instrumental in defeating Medicaid expansion in Kansas and Idaho, as well as serving as a resource for policymakers and leaders implementing reforms that prioritize the most vulnerable and needy in our society.

James Madison Institute – Free Expression and Intellectual Diversity: How Florida Universities Currently Measure Up
While most Floridians assumed the campus free speech problem was concentrated at elite, private universities in other states, the Institute’s research found the problem was greater than imagined at Florida’s state universities. Not only did the Institute’s work establish them as “players” on this important issue, but it also led to the Florida Legislature abolishing so-called “free speech zones” at public universities and adopting a second proposal to require Florida’s universities to participate in a statewide intellectual diversity survey of faculty.

John Locke Foundation – Raise The Age: Bringing North Carolina’s Juvenile Justice System Into the 21st Century
North Carolina was still treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for criminal justice purposes—just as it had been doing since 1909. This approach put young offenders at a severe disadvantage to those in other states and made it difficult for them to become productive, law-abiding citizens. Previous research from the Foundation brought this problem to the public eye, and when three different raise-the-age bills were introduced, the Foundation provided a report analyzing the pros and cons of each. The next month, the General Assembly approved the Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Act that included virtually all of the features the Foundation had recommended. Now, North Carolina has one of the best juvenile justice regimes in the country.

MacIver Institute – Wheels Have Fallen Off Liberals’ “Minnesota Is Utopia” Argument
When groups were using a flawed Economic Policy Institute study to try to discredit Wisconsin Governor Walker’s conservative policies, the MacIver Institute stepped in to fact-check their claims and provide fair, honest analysis to opinion leaders around the state. The report sparked significant conversations and was widely shared on social media.

MacIver Institute – Glide Path to a 3% Flat Tax
Wisconsin has long been considered a “tax hell,” often ranking in the top ten most heavily taxed states. The Institute’s research, “Glide Path to a 3% Flat Tax,” showed the viability of a flat tax. A few months later the Wisconsin Assembly released a similar plan and reorganized the Ways and Means Committee to study the tax structure as a whole.

Mackinac Center for Public Policy – Prevailing Wage Law
For 50 years, Michigan has had a “prevailing wage” law requiring all public projects to pay union wages. In 2015, free-enterprise groups started gathering the 200,000+ signatures and lawmaker support needed to repeal the law without the governor’s signature. Mackinac Center research helped make that possible by providing clear arguments about a complicated issue. The reports countered arguments about “fair wages” and showed how the law was particularly onerous in low-income areas. The Center’s research was featured in the Wall Street Journal, and now that the law has been repealed, Michigan stands to save hundreds millions of dollars each year on government construction projects.

Palmetto Promise Institute – Santee Cooper’s Uncertain Future
Santee Cooper, a state-held utility company, was part of a failed $9 billion nuclear reactor project that could result in higher utility bills of more $20,000 per customer. The Institute released a report on the fiasco, calling for a commission to be formed to explore the sale of the state utility and provide relief to rate payers. The South Carolina Governor tweeted that the report should be “required reading for lawmakers,” and a few months later the suggested commission was approved.

Platte Institute – Strings Attached: How Federal Funds Impact Local Communities
Before the Institute’s study, no work had been done on federal funds and their impact to Nebraska. The study found not all the funds were being used as intended or claimed, and that some of the funding was leading to decisions that were not in Nebraskans’ best interests. The report resulted in a bill passing the Appropriations Committee and increased receptivity among lawmakers to the Institute’s work.

Show Me Institute – Missouri Checkbook Project
The Missouri Checkbook Project sought spending information from all levels of Missouri government – including cities, school districts, counties, and other local taxing jurisdictions – to help taxpayers understand how legislators and local officials are spending their money. The project has garnered positive attention from Missouri media and other organizations, and it has increased awareness of the need for greater government transparency.

Texas Public Policy Foundation – Balancing the Scales of Due Process: The Conservative Case for Grand Jury Reform in Texas
In Texas, the grand jury system has turned into a process that allows for unnecessary secrecy and abuse, which tilts heavily in favor of government. The Foundation’s report highlighted this abuse of government power, making the conservative case for reform and providing concrete examples of successful reforms across the country. It was the first academic research paper from a conservative angle and resulted in national attention and a robust bill moving through the Texas legislature.

Right on Crime, Texas Public Policy Foundation – Texas Adult Corrections: A Model for the Rest of the Nation
Since Texas’ first criminal justice reforms more than 10 years ago, the state has lowered its overall crime rate by 31%, saving taxpayers over $2 billion. Recently, the Foundation’s Right on Crime initiative produced research outlining how Texas’ criminal justice reforms can be implemented in other states. As a result, Louisiana overhauled its criminal justice system in 2017; four states implemented a national initiative called Safe Streets, Second Chances; and the FIRST STEP Act is awaiting a vote in the US Senate.

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty – Fencing Out Opportunity:  The Effect of Licensing Regulations on Employment
In response to the increased national interest in occupational licensing reform, the Institute conducted a 50-state study on how licensing laws impact employment and examined the relationships between licensing laws and regulations that vary from state to state. The study was part of the successful effort to pass two occupational licensing reform bills in Wisconsin and support similar efforts by organizations in other states. It was even included in testimony before the Federal Trade Commission.

See the nominees in other categories

The winners in each category will be announced at SPN’s 26th Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, UT (October 9-12, 2018). To join us, register here.

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