2020 is one of the toughest years we’ve faced as a country. In just five months, we’ve seen a deadly pandemic, economic lockdowns, civil unrest, and historic unemployment. Despite these challenges, state think tanks continue to advance policies that improve the lives of the people of their state. And what works in one state can often be replicated in another, leading to meaningful policy change across the country.
State Policy Network’s annual Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement celebrate state think tanks doing exceptional work to develop and disseminate credible policy research and ideas that can help states implement local solutions that will have national impact. Presented at SPN’s 28th Annual Meeting, SPN’s 2020 Bob Williams Awards celebrated wins and innovative solutions that expand personal freedom and opportunity for all Americans. SPN is pleased to announce the following 2020 Bob Williams Award winners:
The Alabama Governor’s Special Task Force on Reopening the Economy asked the Alabama Policy Institute (API) to produce a report on how to return to normal after the coronavirus pandemic. API’s report focused on two main topics. First, API considered the impact of the shutdown on civil liberties and identified five areas in which constitutional rights may be violated if the current emergency orders were to remain in place. Second, API evaluated the Alabama Department of Labor’s (ADOL) response to the economic downturn. The report addressed the unintended consequences of increased unemployment benefits and recommended that the ADOL do more to limit fraud and abuse as well as ensure that the new benefits do not cause individuals to refrain from returning to work. The governor’s Task Force and ADOL immediately used API’s research. In fact, the report quickly made it to leadership at the ADOL and within two days, ADOL updated their website and issued a warning that deciding to leave work or failing to return to work in order to collect increased unemployment benefits may qualify as fraud and be subject to prosecution.
After the Minnesota Governor issued one of the strictest lockdown orders in the country, Center of the American Experiment launched a campaign to protect the livelihoods of millions of Minnesotans. Back 2 Work Minnesota included a website, video, op-eds, and blog posts to encourage Minnesota’s leaders to end the coronavirus shutdown. The campaign also included billboards to promote the “Back2WorkMN” message, as well as digital and Facebook ads. On the website, visitors could easily send emails to their representative. Through these efforts, American Experiment generated 51,957 emails sent by Minnesotans to the governor and legislators. Multiple legislators contacted American Experiment to say that they were being inundated by anti-shutdown emails from their constituents that came from Back2WorkMN.com. American Experiment’s campaign drove an enormous amount of public debate and discussion that resulted in a substantial relaxation of the shutdown.
On March 18, 2020, the Yankee Institute released policy suggestions to mitigate the economic effects of the coronavirus on the people of Connecticut. Just days later, the Connecticut Governor adopted several of Yankee’s suggestions. First, the governor implemented a hold-harmless tax provision for small businesses forced to lay-off employees. This temporary hold on this tax increase helped ease the financial burden on business owners and helped prevent businesses from closing permanently. Second, the governor waived occupational licensing requirements and filing fees for an extended range of services. Easing these regulations helped Connecticans get back to work more quickly. Removing annual licensing renewals helped businesses trying to re-open or continue operating during this difficult time. Third, Yankee suggested Connecticut convene a task force to determine how businesses can reopen. Two days later, the governor announced the creation of a task force for reopening. Finally, the governor suspended a tax on plastic bags after Yankee publicly raised concerns about its health and financial implications.
Thanks to Commonwealth Foundation’s sustained efforts, Pennsylvania passed two bills that create better access to drug treatment, automatic parole for non-violent short-term offenders, improved data-sharing on potential parolees, increased resources and training for overwhelmed county-level probation departments, improved sentencing practices, and increased efficiency in the state’s criminal justice system. These reforms were necessary to continue reducing Pennsylvania’s second-highest-in-the-nation correctional supervision rate, its more than $2.5 billion Department of Corrections budget, and its high parolee recidivism rate. The legislation is projected to save taxpayers $48 million while still enabling increased funding for Pennsylvania’s ailing and overwhelmed local probation offices. Thanks to these expanded resources, more Pennsylvanians will now be able to rebuild their lives.
Congratulations to these organizations for advancing state reforms that will improve the lives of millions of Americans! Thanks to their leadership, Americans have more freedom and opportunity to pursue a good life. Other states have the potential to build on these wins, leading to national impact.
This opportunity is open to current SPN state think tank affiliate members only. All affiliate members are invited to nominate their work in one or more categories. Category finalists are chosen by a selection committee, and the winners are determined by votes from the Network and its supporters. Learn more about the awards here.