It’s that time of year again when almost all of the State Legislatures are in session. And while the Federal government takes up a lot of space in the headlines, it’s the state and local governments that are taking up space in the law books. Each year the Federal Government may pass up to a couple hundred new laws, while state governments pass thousands, and cities and counties enact thousands more around the country.
In addition to their big numbers, these laws are often big impact. State and local ordinances and statutes affect fewer people than federal laws, but they often have the kind of effects that can make a big difference in people’s day to day lives. These are the laws that control things like property and sales taxes, how schools are run, which roads get worked on, zoning laws, and on and on. So here’s a sample of just a few of state and local bills and laws that are happening around the country right now.
A few days ago Austin Texas passed a law mandating that all private employers provide paid sick leave to employees. This is one of those benefits, like maternity leave, that almost all other developed countries require but the U.S. does not. Places in other parts of the country have been enacting similar mandates over the past couple years but Austin is the first area in the southern U.S. to require this type of leave. It will be interesting to see if this spurs businesses to simply move out of the city, if the new rule causes companies to cut job and raise prices, or if this inspires other areas to pass similar laws.
Meanwhile in New York State Tesla has launched a lobbying campaign on wheels trying to get legislation passed to lift the cap on the number of stores the car manufacturer is allowed to have in the State. New York is not the only state the restricts consumers’ ability to buy vehicles directly from manufacturers, other states ban it outright and force people to go through third party dealers. This blatantly protectionist practice has been going on for decades, and if Tesla can help change it it could open the door for a whole new way to buy all kinds of cars.
Today in Hawaii two legislative Committees will hear a bill that would legalize medical aid in dying. Oregon and California both have similar legislation, and a bill of this type has come close to passing in Hawaii in the past. The Governor and Attorney General have both expressed support for the measure, as has the ACLU, and a range of advocacy groups. But there is also strong opposition from certain Doctors and Nurses organizations, religious groups, and others who worry that this will lead to situations where those with terminal illness are pressured to end their life. It’s an incredibly complicated and emotional issue, with very stakes.
Finally, in Georgia a bill has advanced that would allow adoption agencies, even taxpayer funded agencies, to discriminate against potential adoptive or foster parents who are LGBT. This will of course impact not only the potential adoptive and foster parents that the bill targets but also over ten thousand Georgia children who are in foster care and/or waiting for permanent adoption. It’s worth noting that both the bill’s primary introducer, and the Chair of the Senate Committee that passed it ran unopposed in 2016. Which illustrates the importance of not just paying attention to state politics but also participating in it.
Luckily participation in state laws is also often a lot easier than making your voice heard at the federal level. State, county, and local elected officials each have a few thousand constituents as opposed to a few million so they tend to be more accessible, and as mentioned above some could be fairly easily challenged if they fail to meet the needs of their constituents. And most state and local governments post information about bills on line and also take testimony on those bills via the internet. These bills can end up becoming laws that impact how people work, make major purchases, form families, and even how lives are ended. They will never get as much media attention as the Federal government, but they should be getting at least as much voter attention.
Georgia anti-LGBT law:
Hawaii Medical Aid in Dying: