Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for turkey, football, and afternoon naps. A time to step away from our daily routines and visit with family. And a time to reflect on what we’re thankful for in our lives.
But in a year filled with an ongoing pandemic, worker shortages, inflation, increasing gas prices, and expensive groceries, it’s hard to stay positive and count the many blessings in our lives. It’s even harder when we look at the policy space. Is there anything to be thankful for when it comes to policy and politics?
While it’s hard to find bright spots in Washington DC, it’s a different story in the states. In 2021, states across the country passed policies that give more children access to a quality education, help patients receive better healthcare, and help workers find jobs and provide for their families.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, here are seven state solutions to be thankful for.
Please note this list is not comprehensive. If you have a win you’d like to add, please email Camille Walsh at email@example.com
ARIZONA: Building upon the Goldwater Institute’s win for school choice a few years ago, Arizona passed several provisions to strengthen and improve access to their Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). The most significant piece allows students at D/F rated schools to switch immediately into the ESA program if they are also low-income.
ARKANSAS: The Arkansas Legislature passed a bill that provides scholarships for students whose family income is less than or equal to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The Arkansas Policy Foundation has been raising awareness on the growth of school choice in Arkansas and how this bill will help Arkansas families.
CALIFORNIA: There will be a school choice initiative on the California ballot in November 2022. The California Policy Center noted that while passing is not an absolute certainty, the grassroots support for school choice is strong, and the infrastructure necessary to nurture a grassroots effort is now in place.
FLORIDA: The James Madison Institute helped Florida pass an expansion of the Family Empowerment Scholarship to 61,000 more families. These scholarships help K-12 students attend the school that best fits their unique needs and interests.
GEORGIA: Georgia became the first state in the nation to ensure families could continue to participate in “learning pods.” A learning pod is a small group of children who come together to learn and socialize. Thanks to the efforts of the Georgia Center for Opportunity and Georgia Public Policy Foundation, along with SPN’s model legislation, Georgia passed the Learning Pods Protection Act, which ensures families can continue forming small groups of children to learn outside of traditional schools. Texas and Louisiana quickly followed suit and passed its own protections.
The Georgia Legislature also advanced legislation that will expand the state’s special needs scholarship program by allowing more children with physical or learning disabilities to participate.
ILLINOIS: After nearly a year at home, students in Chicago Public Schools finally returned to the classroom thanks in part to the efforts of the Liberty Justice Center. The Chicago Teachers Union threatened to strike if the district began in-person instruction. But LJC pushed back, informing the community and the union that they were prepared to sue because the strike would be in violation of state law and teacher contracts.
IOWA: Iowa passed several essential measures that expand school choice in Iowa and put students first. The Tax Education Foundation of Iowa explained some of the key measures, including expanding charter schools, expanding open enrollment, increasing the tuition and textbook tax credit, and increasing the School Tuition Organization tax credit.
KANSAS: Kansas expanded its Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program, which provides tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate to nonprofits who grant scholarships to student. The Kansas Policy Institute noted that policies like these are a constitutionally sound method to expand educational opportunities and foster academic excellence.
KENTUCKY: Kentucky established a $25 million tax credit ESA program after lawmakers—with the help of the Bluegrass Institute—overrode the governor’s veto.The Bluegrass Institute drove the policy with support from an SPN grant and training on how to effectively advance ESA reforms.
MISSOURI: The Show-Me Institute helped establish a $25 million ESA program funded by a tax credit in Missouri. SPN led a coalition of local and national partners to support this legislation and provided statewide polling, ongoing strategy and media advice, and marketing materials.
MONTANA: Montana significantly expanded their tax credit scholarship program in the wake of the historic Espinoza v. Montana ruling—which said states cannot exclude religious schools from school choice programs. Individual donations are now capped at $200,000 instead of $150, the program can raise up to $2 million in future years, and there is no longer a requirement that the average scholarships are only 30% of public-school funding.
OHIO: The Ohio Governor signed a new budget that created the state’s first-ever ESA program, which was championed by The Buckeye Institute. This historic education savings account initiative will help parents to afford desperately needed resources and give them the flexibility necessary to improve their children’s educational outcomes.
OKLAHOMA: Oklahoma passed legislation that increases the size of the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act—a program that provides tax credits to those who donate to organizations that provide scholarships. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs noted there are many beneficiaries of the program and celebrated the passage of this bill.
PENNSYLVANIA: Thanks to the efforts of the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania protected their recently expanded school choice tax credit program amidst COVID-19 related budget cuts.
WEST VIRGINIA: Thanks to the Cardinal Institute and other partners, West Virginia passed the state’s first Education Savings Account (ESA) program and the country’s most expansive. The program, which will start in 2022, applies to all public-school children in the state and offers $4,600 per child to use for an education that meets their needs
WISCONSIN: The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty stepped in to defend private schools forced to close during the pandemic in Dane County, Wisconsin. The lawsuit made its way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which ruled 4:3 in WILL’s favor, bringing an end to the ban on in-person instruction.
In November 2021, the Wisconsin Governor signed public school spending transparency legislation into law, initiating a new process to shed more light on how public schools spend public dollars. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty an Institute for Reforming Government supported the bipartisan legislation to establish a commission of public-school representatives to determine how to collect and display the information online.
Finally, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to pass powerful new Academic Transparency legislation to bring sunlight in—and take politics out—of its K-12 classrooms. Based on the Goldwater Institute’s model policy language, and with the support of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, the Wisconsin State Senate and State Assembly passed mirror bills establishing parents’ rights to know what is being taught in their schools by requiring school districts to post on a publicly accessible portion of their website a listing of the specific learning materials being used at each school.
ARIZONA: The Arizona Governor signed into law a first-in-the-nation telehealth reform. Developed by the Goldwater Institute, it is considered one of the most comprehensive telehealth bills passed in the nation and allows people to get help from their healthcare providers directly on their smartphones, computers, and landline phones.
MICHIGAN: The Michigan House Health Policy Committee unanimously passed legislation that will help lawmakers have a better understanding of the effect that the state’s certificate-of-need commission has on the quality of healthcare. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy noted the bills would increase transparency by requiring that the public have access to the CON commission’s meeting materials and reports in a timely fashion. The bills would also require a joint committee of the Legislature to meet annually to oversee the commission and provide a review its activities.
MISSISSIPPI: In March 2021, Mississippi passed a law that allowed licensing reciprocity for healthcare professionals. In addition, Mississippi policymakers, with the help of Empower Mississippi, passed a bill that will expand the scope-of-practice for optometrists and will allow them to examine, diagnose, manage, and treat conditions and diseases of the eye, something they are currently prohibited from doing.
MONTANA: With the help of the Frontier Institute, Montana passed the biggest Direct Primary Care (DPC) expansion to date, giving patients an affordable alternative to insurance companies. This builds upon the Network’s multi-state efforts over the past several years to enact Direct Primary Care in at least 26 other states. Montana also passed several other reforms including repealing certificate-of-need laws and telehealth reforms.
NORTH CAROLINA: North Carolina passed significant reforms to the state’s certificate-of-need (CON) laws. The John Locke Foundation has advocated for CON reform for decades. The Foundation noted that although this reform stops short of complete repeal, it is a great move forward.
OHIO: Ohio passed a law reducing unnecessary regulatory restrictions on pharmacists and allowing them to test for COVID-19 and administer COVID-19 vaccines. The Buckeye Institute recommended this reform as part of its Policy Solutions for the Pandemic series.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Palmetto Promise Institute in South Carolina advanced several items on their healthcare agenda which were signed into law, including scope-of-practice expansion, medical licensure expansion, expanded prescription limits.
TENNESSEE: With the help of the Beacon Center, Tennessee passed certificate-of-need reform to reduce the requirements, timeline, and costs for the opening, reopening, or expanding of hospitals.
UTAH: Utah passed four healthcare bills with the support of the Libertas Institute that expand scope-of-practice, including for mental health providers.
ARIZONA: Thanks to the Goldwater Institute and a broad coalition of partners, the Arizona Legislature passed legislation that requires the government get a criminal conviction before taking someone’s property. The bill addresses civil asset forfeiture, a practice that allows police and prosecutors in states across the country to take, keep, and profit from someone’s property without even charging them with a crime.
CALIFORNIA: On September 14, 2021, Californians headed to the voting box for the recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom. Two policy organizations in the state—the California Policy Center and Pacific Research Institute—have been keeping a close eye on Governor Newsom’s policies and how those policies have been impacting California families. These organizations have called attention to the state’s growing list of problems and explained how policies from Sacramento have exacerbated these issues.
HAWAII: The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled against a long-standing but deceptive legislative practice called “gut and replace”—a procedural loophole that allowed the Hawaii Legislature to pass laws without a full set of public hearings. The tactic generally involved taking a bill with a vague title that had already been heard by one of the Legislature’s two chambers, removing its language, and replacing that language with new and unrelated content. The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii long criticized the practice and noted this new court decision is a great victory for transparency and accountability in Hawaii.
NEW YORK: The Empire Center for Public Policy won a crucial court victory against the Cuomo administration that brought much-needed transparency to the government’s COVID-19 response. Their lawsuit forced the Department of Health to release data about deaths of nursing home residents caused by a policy that allowed COVID-19 positive patients back into nursing homes early in the pandemic. The data confirmed that the death count was much higher than previously stated—from 9,000 to 16,000 deaths. Key members of the administration are now under investigation and Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned in August 2021 amid multiple scandals.
ILLINOIS: Illinois, Mike Madigan was denied a 19th term as speaker of the House. Madigan held that post for 36 of the past 38 years. For the last decade, the Illinois Policy Institute has written thousands of articles and launched a major communications campaign to inform the public of his corruption and poor leadership that ultimately led to him losing his seat.
KANSAS: With the help of the Kansas Policy Institute, Kansas lawmakers passed a law that reforms the decades old Kansas Emergency Management Act, which gives the governor powers during a crisis like the pandemic.
KENTUCKY: The Kentucky Legislature voted to override the governor’s veto of legislation that would restore constitutional government by placing safeguards on executive emergency powers. In June of 2020 the Pegasus Institute produced a report on state declarations of emergency and their Executive Director testified on the subject before the Interim Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
MICHIGAN: The Michigan Legislature repealed the Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945. The Michigan Supreme Court had ruled that the law was unconstitutional in response to a case brought by the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation and removing the law from state statute ensures that it can’t be used in the future.
OHIO: The Ohio Legislature overrode the governor’s veto of legislation that provides legislative oversight of the governor’s emergency orders. The Buckeye Institute noted the use of extraordinary emergency powers must be subject to democratic checks and balances.
PENNSYLVANIA: Pennsylvania voters approved two ballot questions which permanently limit the governor’s emergency powers. The two amendments will reduce the length of a governor’s emergency proclamations, requires that the General Assembly approve any extension, and grants the General Assembly power to end a state of emergency by a majority vote. The Commonwealth Foundation worked diligently to educate voters on the issue.
UTAH: Utah passed a law to limit restrictions on public health orders and emergency declarations, limit executive authority, and impose significant legislative oversight and control into the process. Libertas noted that, while these new restrictions on emergency powers aren’t perfect, they are an improvement.
In addition, Utah also passed a bill that clarifies how emergency authority can be exercised relating to religious worship services and other religious exercise. Sutherland Institute noted how this new law creates important guideposts—and clear limits—for state and local governments’ emergency powers over religious gatherings in a public health crisis.
WISCONSIN: The Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a ruling in Fabick v. Evers that declared the Wisconsin Governor’s use of multiple, consecutive emergency declarations unlawful. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sued the governor in August 2020 over his emergency declarations, but the case was stayed as a result of the Fabick original action.
KENUCKY: The Pegasus Institute in Kentucky worked with a coalition to help pass The Dignity Act (2018) and Dignity Act 2 (2021)—two comprehensive bills that focus on resources and humane treatment of incarcerated women.
MISSISSIPPI: Thanks to Empower Mississippi’s efforts, the Mississippi Governor signed the Earned Parole Eligibility Act—legislation that will reduce Mississippi’s prison population, make prisons safe by providing hope and incentive, and cut down on the added taxpayer burden. Mississippi also passed the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, which will guarantee a certain level of care for pregnant women who are incarcerated, and a new requirement to issue driver’s licenses to ex-offenders leaving prison.
OHIO: The Buckeye Institute led an effort to expand Ohio’s highly successful Targeted Community Alternatives to Prison (T-CAP) program, which keeps low-level felony offenders in local rehabilitation programs rather than sending them to overcrowded state prisons.
TEXAS: The Texas Governor signed legislation that will help reduce in–court costs and fines that often follow the formerly incarcerated—removing a significant barrier to successful reentry for former inmates. The Texas Public Policy Foundation applauded the governor for supporting reentry reform and noted this legislation is a great example of Texas can empower individuals reentering their communities to achieve the independence and self-sufficiency they desire.
UTAH: Utah passed a law that will help more than 10,000 Utahns every year by ensuring they can continue to drive legally, even if they are unable to make a court payment for a past run-in with the law. The Libertas Institute worked on this bill which fixed something easily overlooked in the system. Utah also passed a law that stops the state from releasing booking photos until the individual has been convicted of the crime with which they were charged.
WISCONSIN: The Wisconsin Legislature passed three important police reform bills supported by Badger Institute research that will increase accountability and trust between police departments and the communities they serve by requiring better collection and reporting on use-of-force incidents, publication of use-of-force policies, and the sharing of employment files when an officer applies to a new department.
ALABAMA: Inspired by the Alabama Policy Institute’s “Restore Alabama Plan,” the state passed a law that removes impediments to business growth and modernizes the state tax code into one more attractive to business and investment. The bill also ensures coronavirus relief funds given to individuals and businesses are not taxable by the state.
ARIZONA: The Goldwater Institute helped the state pass a budget that includes a big tax cut for Arizona families. The budget moves the state from a progressive income tax to a flat tax of 2.5 percent for nearly everyone.
HAWAII: The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii helped defeat a bill that would have given Hawaii the highest personal income tax rates in the nation, among other tax increases. Throughout the legislative session, Grassroot told lawmakers this is the worst possible time to burden Hawaii residents and businesses with more taxes.
ILLINOIS: To save millions of Illinois families from a devastating “fair tax,” the Illinois Policy Institute launched a campaign to defeat the most expensive ballot initiative in Midwest political history. 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.
IOWA: Iowa passed a comprehensive tax relief package that is expected to provide $1 billion in tax relief to Iowa residents. The Tax Education Foundation of Iowa noted that, if Iowa policymakers continue to follow a path of fiscal conservatism, Iowa could become a pro-growth leader in the Midwest.
KANSAS: Kansas’ new Truth in Taxation legislation the Kansas Policy Institute championed is already providing Kansans with millions of dollars in property tax savings. Faced with the prospect of finally having to be honest with taxpayers, 108 cities, counties, school districts, and a community college have already declared they will not increase property taxes in 2022.
LOUISIANA: The Pelican Institute helped the Louisiana Legislature pass 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.
NEBRASKA: The Platte Institute helped secure tax reform that maintained Nebraska’s favorable treatment of business net operating losses and bonus expensing for new investments. In addition, Nebraska passed a bill that cut the top corporate income tax rate, putting it more in line with its region.
NORTH CAROLINA: The North Carolina Legislature passed legislation that would allow job creators to avoid a tax hike. The John Locke Foundation noted that at a time when there is a significant worker shortage, the last thing North Carolina needs is to hike taxes on employers seeking to hire or maintain workers.
CALIFORNIA: California passed a bill that cuts the number of hours of training cosmetologists and barbers have to put in before they’re considered by the state qualified to do their jobs from 1,600 for the latter and 1,500 for the former to 1,000 each. The Pacific Research Institute added that the bill alone won’t mean much to consumers and licensed workers. But it should inspire “a thoughtful examination” of the licensing process that will produce further reforms.
FLORDIA: The James Madison Institute helped provide regulatory relief for Floridians, including a policy that allows small business entrepreneurs to make and sell food products from their homes, and one that prohibits local governments from taking actions related to the businesses that operate in areas zoned for residential use.
NORTH CAROLINA: The North Carolina Governor signed the North Carolina Regulatory Sandbox Act into law. This is a significant policy victory for the John Locke Foundation, which worked in earnest to see this bill through to the finish line.
UTAH: The Libertas Institute passed the nation’s first all-inclusive regulatory sandbox. The policy fosters innovation by allowing entrepreneurs to temporarily experiment with new business models, products, and services with limited regulation. The project was accelerated through SPN’s LaunchPad program and the Libertas Institute is now working through the Network to see this state solution spread to others. Since 2018, at least five states have adopted some form of this policy.
Utah also passed a bill which exempts mobile hair-dryers from occupational licensing under the cosmetology act.
OHIO: Thanks to The Buckeye Institute, Ohio restaurants can permanently offer alcohol on their carryout and delivery menus. This was a recommendation Buckeye made in their “Policy Solutions for the Pandemic” report.
SOUTH CAROLINA: The Palmetto Promise Institute worked with policymakers to ease regulations to allow mobile barber shops—something especially helpful during the pandemic.
TENNESSEE: Tennessee passed a bill that stops local governments from regulating online marketplaces such as Uber, Turo, Etsy, Handy, and other online platforms. Thanks to the efforts of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, Tennessee is the first state in the country to pass a law like this.
WISCONSIN: Wisconsin passed a law that makes it clear natural hair braiders do not need to obtain an occupational license to practice in Wisconsin. The Badger Institute championed this law and noted they are encouraged by this bipartisan measure that will have a real impact on many women who are simply trying to make a living in their desired field.
MICHIGAN, INDIANA, & TEXAS: The Mackinac Center for Public Policy and several other organizations worked together to enact “opt-in” reforms in Michigan, Indiana, and Texas. This protection, first achieved in Alaska in 2019, ensures that states are respecting the rights of workers to freely choose union membership by notifying them of their rights and asking for their consent. In Michigan, which has long been a right-to-work state, approximately 13 percent of unionized civil service employees dropped unwanted membership after this new policy was implemented.
NEW YORK: Through their employer engagement strategy, the Empire Center helped police officers in Albany learn and exercise their right to leave their union. About 80 percent of the city’s officers ultimately left the union, with the leader of the effort telling reporters that the US Supreme Court decision Janus had “given us freedom from the coercion” of the statewide union. In 2021, Albany police voted to leave Council 82 and form their own local union.
TENNESSEE: With help from the Beacon Center, Tennessee lawmakers voted by supermajority to ask voters next year to protect right-to-work through a constitutional amendment. Now, other states like North Carolina are looking to follow their lead. This win is especially timely as federal lawmakers consider policies like the PRO Act, which would remove right-to-work in 27 states. This win resulted from a multi-year policy, communications, and government affairs campaign led by the Beacon Center of Tennessee with grant support from SPN. Other partners included the Mackinac Center, Americans for Prosperity, and the Association of American Educators.