State Policy Network
2021 Bob Williams Awards celebrate solutions empowering entrepreneurs, taxpayers, students, and coronavirus patients

As Washington, DC, grows more gridlocked and dysfunctional, Americans are looking for better solutions closer to home. Because they are closer to the people they serve, state and local leaders have significant opportunities to implement policy solutions that change Americans’ lives for the better. The Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement celebrate state think tanks doing exceptional work to develop credible policy research and ideas and to collaborate with communities and leaders to turn these ideas into real-world, life-changing solutions. The Bob Williams Awards recognize a variety of states, organizations, approaches so that other states can seize and replicate the best policy ideas, leading to national impact and greater freedom and opportunity for all Americans.

SPN is pleased to announce the 2021 Bob Williams Award winners:

2021 Biggest Win for Freedom: Libertas Institute inspires Utah to adopt the nation’s first regulatory sandbox

Government regulation often stands in the way of hard-working Americans from starting new businesses or creating new products. When entrepreneurs face onerous regulations, it doesn’t just hurt those individuals. It also hurts the economy, which doesn’t get to reap the financial benefits of new companies. It hurts consumers, who never receive the benefits of a new product or service. And it hurts workers, who are never able to benefit from the job opportunities that come with new businesses. The Libertas Institute had an innovative idea to overcome this problem.

Spurred by the transformative experience of SPN’s LaunchPad, Libertas believed something called a regulatory sandbox would allow new, innovative businesses and ideas to thrive while still protecting the consumer. A regulatory sandbox is a space where participating businesses won’t be subject to onerous regulations—usually for a specified amount of time. The point is to allow these businesses to “play” in the sandbox without regulations. After “playing” for one year without regulations, lawmakers evaluate what’s working and what isn’t—namely, what regulations the business needs to follow once it transitions out of the “sandbox,” or regulation-free space. Libertas outlined a comprehensive plan to make Utah the first state in the country to adopt an all-inclusive regulatory sandbox—and won. Libertas is now using their expertise and experience to help other states pass regulatory sandboxes so even more Americans can benefit from this innovative policy. 

Read more about how regulatory sandboxes help entrepreneurs and businesses here.

2021 Biggest Home State Win: Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty gets students back in the classroom after months of pandemic learning loss

In the summer of 2020, school districts and private school boards across the country faced decisions on whether to re-open to in-person instruction in the fall. In Dane County, Wisconsin, the public schools leaned towards remaining closed. Meanwhile, private schools in the area worked towards reopening in conjunction with health officials and their guidance. However, shortly before these private schools were scheduled to resume in-person instruction, those same health officials decided to ban all in-person schooling in the entire county.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) stepped in with their unmatched legal expertise to defend these schools from this sudden, chaotic, and arbitrary restriction. WILL’s lawsuit made it all the way to the state supreme court, which ruled 4-3 in favor of WILL. Not only did this bring an end to Dade County’s random ban on in-person instruction, it paved the way for school reopening efforts across the state.

Read more about how WILL helped thousands of Wisconsin students here.

2021 Best Issue Campaign: Illinois Policy Institute saves millions of families from devastating ‘fair tax’

Illinois flat tax protection, the most important taxpayer protection in the state, was under attack in 2020. Special interests in the state, including the Illinois Governor, succeeded in getting a measure on the 2020 ballot that would eliminate the flat tax and replace it with a progressive income tax. This progressive tax package not only would have hiked income taxes in Illinois by $3.4 billion per year, costing the state an estimated 54,000 jobs and making Illinois home to highest corporate tax rate in the nation—but it also would have given lawmakers the power to divide taxpayers into smaller groups and tax as they saw fit.

To save millions of Illinois families from this devasting “fair tax,” the Illinois Policy Institute launched a campaign to defeat the most expensive ballot initiative in Midwest political history. Illinois Policy engaged their owned audience of 1.5 million Illinoisans across the political spectrum and compelled that audience to act. Through a comprehensive messaging campaign, the organization ensured voters had the information they needed to reject the progressive income tax and the higher taxes that would come along with it.

Read more about Illinois Policy’s campaign here.

2021 Most Influential Research: Empire Center for Public Policy sheds light on New York’s nursing home catastrophe and holds powerful governor accountable

The Empire Center for Public Policy held one of the nation’s most powerful governors accountable through their comprehensive campaign to reveal the true number of coronavirus deaths in New York nursing homes. On March 25, 2020, the New York Governor issued a controversial executive order that required the state’s nursing homes to accept coronavirus-positive patients from hospitals, even if they had not fully recovered yet. As the weeks passed, nursing home deaths climbed. A growing debate ensued over how big a role this policy played in exacerbating the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes.

In June 2020, Empire released a report that uncovered soaring vacancy rates in nursing homes. Empire argued this suggested the state was not revealing the true death toll of nursing home residents. That number, according to Empire, had to be thousands higher than officially reported. Empire filed a Freedom of Information Law request to give New Yorkers the accurate picture of nursing home deaths. New York released the data, and the document listed the dates and locations of nearly 16,000 deaths involving long-term care residents—six thousand more deaths than the New York government had claimed. Thanks to the work of the Empire Center, the US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn investigated the New York Governor’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. And after that scandal broke, the governor was subject to several sexual assault allegations that led to his resignation on August 10, 2021.

Read more about how Empire stood up for thousands of vulnerable nursing home residents here.

Congratulations to these organizations for advancing policy changes that help American families thrive!

Organization: State Policy Network