State Policy Network
Announcing the finalists for the 2021 Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement
Cast your vote for the winners here.

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 for Freedom.

SPN is proud to highlight these finalists and to share their success with the Network. All nominees and finalists will be highlighted on SPN’s website and channels in more detailed stories to celebrate their success and share strategies across the Network.

Voting is now closed for the 2021 Bob Williams Awards for Outstanding Policy Achievement.

Winners will be announced at SPN’s 29th Annual Meeting in Orlando.

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Biggest Win for Freedom

Cardinal Institute — Bringing Hope to Students, Parents, and Teachers

Since 2015, the Cardinal Institute has worked to improve education opportunities for West Virginia families. Throughout their multi-year effort, Cardinal has brought a diverse set of groups together to build a powerful coalition and ensure all students receive the quality education they deserve. When the pandemic revealed the weaknesses of the state’s lack of education options, Cardinal Institute led this coalition’s efforts in advancing and defending the powerful Hope Scholarship bill. This bill set a new national standard in school choice, opening Education Savings Account options for more than 90 percent of the K-12 students in the state, which means 250,000 West Virginia students will now be able to access an education that fits their unique needs. See the full story.

Kansas Policy Institute — Litigation and Legislation Brings Due Process to Emergencies

During the pandemic, many states encountered vagueness in oversight of emergency powers, which led to several arbitrary and unrestrainable mandates from health officials and governors. To restore balance of power to state government and protect the individual rights of Kansas residents, the Kansas Policy Institute (KPI) launched a campaign in summer 2020. KPI took a two-pronged approach to this campaign. First, their litigation arm, the Kansas Justice Institute, sued Douglas County on behalf of a small business owner to protect their due process rights during the pandemic. Second, KPI launched legislative efforts to dramatically reform the state’s Emergency Management Act. Both efforts led to a groundswell of public opinion against arbitrary executive power and resulted in the passage of SB 40 over the governor’s objections. The first-in-the-nation legislation placed county health officers in an advisory capacity and strengthened county commissions, gave legislative bodies explicit oversight of continued emergency action, and ensured that all Kansans had due process rights when subject to shutdowns, mandates, and the like during an emergency. See the full story.

Libertas Institute — Playing in the Sandbox, Winning in the Legislature

Government regulations were put in place to protect the consumer. Although well-intentioned, these regulations sometimes do more harm than good. New business models or services do not always fit neatly into previous regulatory models. In short, government regulatory agencies frequently don’t understand how to regulate a new product or service. And entrepreneurs and innovators don’t know what regulations they have to follow. Enter Libertas Institute and their innovative idea for “regulatory sandboxes” — 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. Spurred by the transformative experience of SPN’s LaunchPad, the Libertas Institute believed a regulatory sandbox could attract new businesses and jobs, grow the state’s economy, and help hard working Utah residents. It could also position Utah as a state that welcomes and encourages innovation. Libertas outlined a three-year plan to make Utah the first state in the country to adopt an all-inclusive regulatory sandbox. Through a comprehensive campaign, Libertas convinced Utah lawmakers to adopt the nation’s first all-inclusive regulatory sandbox. Through this reform, state lawmakers will be better able to find and remove burdensome regulations, hard working Utah residents will now be able to more easily set up a business and create opportunities and jobs for the people in their communities. See the full story.


Biggest Home State Win

Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives — Pennsylvania Enshrines Emergency Power Restrictions

During the pandemic, the Pennsylvania Governor unilaterally maintained emergency powers for more than a year. The governor’s actions had ruinous consequences for communities and families, especially small business owners. Early on in Pennsylvania’s legislative session, Commonwealth tapped into its network of lawmakers and helped them write several bills to curb the governor’s unchecked authority, but his veto power allowed him to ignore many of their attempts. To address this challenge, Commonwealth rallied a broader, bipartisan coalition of business leaders, lawmakers, and citizens to create a public outcry against the governor’s abuse of power. After a comprehensive campaign, Commonwealth encouraged lawmakers to pass two constitutional amendments that would prevent the governor from extending his emergency declarations beyond 21 days without the approval of the General Assembly and allow lawmakers to end an emergency by majority vote at any time. On May 18, 2021, after more than a year of economic devastation wrought by the Pennsyvlania Governor’s pandemic-era shutdowns, Pennsylvania became the first state to amend its constitution to permanently limit its governor’s power to indefinitely extend a disaster emergency. Commonwealth Foundation was the key to this victory, advocating for this policy change both in the Legislature and directly to Pennsylvanians. See the full story.

Texas Public Policy Foundation — Conservative Texas Budget Becomes the Standard for Texas

Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) has established a credible brand for commonsense fiscal policy. In 2015, they introduced the “Conservative Texas Budget (CTB)” as a model for state legislators. The CTB sets realistic maximums for spending growth, based on factors such as inflation and population growth, which can prevent the rampant and unchecked government spending that plagues many states. Before TPPF introduced the CTB, the state averaged a 12 percent growth in spending, which has since fallen to 4.8 percent. Not only has TPPF provided Texas with a reliable means of budgeting without excess growth in normal times, this policy helped the state immensely during the pandemic. This year, despite the challenges of the coronavirus, Texas passed a budget that is well below the threshold set by the CTB and introduced reforms that entrench the fiscal wisdom of the CTB in state law, protecting future generations of taxpayers and ensuring the state economy and families can have more opportunities to flourish. See the full story.

Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty — Protecting Private Schools from an arbitrary ban on in-person schooling

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 tended to lean 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. See the full story.


Best Issue Campaign

Empower Mississippi helps reform Mississippi’s broken prison system

Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the country. It comes at a high human and fiscal cost. Over the last decade, Mississippi has spent more than $3 billion in corrections, not to mention benefits to affected families. Even with this steep cost to taxpayers, the Magnolia State’s prison system has been plagued with scandal and dozens of inmate deaths—leading to a Department of Justice investigation. To address this problem, Empower Mississippi launched the ‘Second Chances’ campaign. Empower wanted to safely reduce the prison population by providing an incentive for individuals in prison to commit to rehabilitation and allow those who had earned it a second chance. Through op-eds, radio and television interviews, message testing, and more than 30 blog posts, Empower made the case for reform. Empower organized a coalition of stakeholders across the state, including key sheriffs and prosecutors. Empower also coordinated legislative hearings on Mississippi’s prison system and participated in conference negotiations in the Mississippi Legislature. Thanks to these efforts, the Mississippi Governor signed the Earned Parole Eligibility Act—legislation that will safely reduce Mississippi’s prison population, make prisons safe by providing hope and incentive, and cut down on the added taxpayer burden. See the full story.

Illinois Policy Institute saves millions of Illinois 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. See the full story.

Pelican Institute for Public Policy simplifies Louisiana’s tax code to help working families

Louisiana’s tax code is driving jobs and opportunities to other states. To address this problem and help hardworking Louisiana families, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy launched a campaign to simplify Louisiana’s tax code and phase out the franchise and income taxes on corporations and individuals. Pelican targeted state lawmakers and activists throughout the state. Through a comprehensive owned audience strategy, op-eds, radio interviews, one-pagers, and digital traffic ads, Pelican informed key stakeholders about how tax reform could reignite the state’s economy and help everyday Louisianans. One of Pelican’s most effective tools was their “Take Action” website which allowed activists to email their legislators directly from their website. These efforts paid off. In June 2021, the Louisiana Legislature passed a tax simplification package that creates greater stability and predictability, lowers income tax rates, eliminates the punishing franchise tax for 85 percent of filers, and guarantees that growth of state income will be used to lower rates in coming years. The constitutional amendment now heads to voters, who will decide its fate in October 2021. See the full story.


Most Influential Research

Empire Center for Public Policy sheds light on New York’s nursing home catastrophe

At the onset of the pandemic, all eyes were on New York. To prepare for a coming wave of coronavirus patients, the New York Governor issued an executive order on March 25 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. By late April, 3,448 residents of nursing homes or adult-care facilities had died. A few weeks later, that number grew to 5,300. The media, lawmakers, and the families of loved ones who died began to criticize the governor for his March 25 directive. 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, the Empire Center for Public Policy uncovered soaring vacancy rates in nursing homes. In a report, 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 that the government was not providing. The data confirmed what had been suspected for months: 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, both the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and US Attorney’s office in Brooklyn are now investigating the New York Governor’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic. See the full story.

Montana ignites economic recovery with Frontier Institute’s ‘Montana Recovery Agenda’

After a historic election in 2020, Montana policymakers needed ideas on how to get the economy back on track after the coronavirus. To address this challenge, the Frontier Institute developed and promoted “The Montana Recovery Agenda”—an extensive report outlining eight specific policy proposals aimed at limiting government growth, reforming the state’s healthcare system, and protecting individual rights. After releasing the report in December 2020, Frontier developed a strategy to get these ideas in front of lawmakers, the media, and the public. Frontier shared the report with key policymakers and even had a meeting with the new governor’s transition team. Throughout the legislative session, Frontier met with legislators weekly to present ideas in the report and answer policy questions. In addition, Frontier placed several op-eds on the study and several prominent television and radio outlets interviewed Frontier’s CEO Kendall Cotton to discuss the findings. After the legislative session ended in May, Montana adopted seven of the Frontier Institute’s eight recommendations from the Montana Recovery Agenda. The new policies will improve access to healthcare, make the state more attractive to businesses and entrepreneurs, and protect taxpayers by putting firm limits on spending growth. See the full story.

Ohio adopts 15 of The Buckeye Institute’s ‘Policy Solutions for the Pandemic’

To help Ohio fight and recover from the pandemic, The Buckeye Institute produced “Policy Solutions for the Pandemic”—recommendations that would strengthen Ohio’s healthcare system and provide for families and businesses facing unexpected economic hardship. Buckeye quickly published two comprehensive research reports, eight policy briefs, and 17 policy memos within this project. Through outreach to lawmakers, op-eds, and more than 400 interviews, Buckeye got these important policy recommendations in front of state leaders and the public. As a result of Buckeye’s timely, relevant, and essential Policy Solutions for the Pandemic research project, Ohio adopted 15 of Buckeye’s policy recommendations including: Increasing telehealth access and monitoring; extending universal recognition of out-of-state medical licenses to doctors, physician assistants, and nurses; permitting pharmacists to test for COVID-19 and administer COVID-19 vaccines; enlisting medical and nursing students to support doctors and nurses fighting COVID-19; eliminating unnecessary budget commitments; providing responsible businesses, schools, and workers with critical liability protections from coronavirus lawsuits; and withdrawing from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program. Thanks to Buckeye’s efforts, Ohio was able to boost its healthcare system and support the state’s workers, small businesses, and the economy during the coronavirus. See the full story.

Organization: State Policy Network