Leaders face workforce shortages, infrastructure growth and a federal election in the coming year

By Lexington Souers

Many state legislatures are convening in 2024 to discuss complex public policy issues and to find proactive solutions. Renewed focus on workforce, artificial intelligence, health, infrastructure and the environment are among the top issues of bills submitted so far this year.

Expert-supported remedies for these challenges include the use of federal funding to create new jobs in technology and infrastructure, the utilization of individuals with disabilities and apprenticeships to address workforce challenges, the implementation of interstate compacts to address occupational licensure mobility, and regulation to manage the potential benefits and harms of artificial intelligence.

At The Council of State Governments, policy work in these areas continues. In 2024, public policy and research departments in offices across the country — alongside the CSG National Center of Innovation and CSG National Center for Interstate Compacts — will implement a renewed emphasis in the areas of health, fiscal policy, education and other utilities including infrastructure, transportation and the environment.

Read more to see what public policy issues are surfacing across the country this year and to learn more about how CSG is working for the states in these areas.

Ensuring Americans have fulfilling, focused careers will continue to be of interest to policymakers. The impact of COVID-19, the departure of workers from the workforce and other concerns continue to exacerbate the worker shortage across states. With caregivers and aging employees choosing to refocus their energy, along with a smaller population of teenagers seeking employment or higher education, policymakers and employers understand the importance of workforce development. Other trends include helping entry level workers advance in their roles, apprenticeship, skills-based hiring, and a focus on technology and digital skills.

Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, a senior fellow at the National Skills Coalition, said policymakers can pull from either a state’s general fund or from federal funds to creatively approach workforce development.

“One thing state legislators can do is take advantage of the provisions in federal law that let them spend a chunk of those infrastructure dollars on workforce development,” Bergson-Shilcock said. “States can kind of take that money and run with it, doing creative and entrepreneurial and exciting things with it. If states have a vision for … building a clean energy workforce or building a broadband infrastructure workforce, put that vision out there and get the [federal government] to sign off on that as a use of federal funding.”

Focusing on external factors is another solution, according to Bergson-Shilcock. Meeting fundamental needs, like housing or child care, may help fill vital roles with the community. One approach is providing a resource coordinator to help connect job seekers with resources that may not traditionally fall under education and workforce policy. Bergson-Shilcock also said communicating existing workplace supports and marketing them to promote interest can help policymakers, employers and job seekers.

“At CSG, we understand the importance for states to have a growing and thriving workforce. Through our work, we help states create, improve and expand pathways to employment. Whether it is looking at expanding apprenticeships or identifying factors that are impacting the workforce, we are a resource to states when it comes to workforce development.”

Lindsay Lucas, a CSG project manager with the Center for Advancing Policy on Employment for Youth (CAPE-Youth)

Lucas encourages state leaders to reach out to learn more about how CSG can support their workforce goals. Interested individuals can receive assistance via email at [email protected].

In alignment with the focus on workforce, states are continuing to ease licensing constraints on a mobile workforce through interstate compacts. Interstate compacts create reciprocal professional licensing practices between states, while ensuring the quality and safety of services and safeguarding state sovereignty. These agreements allow individuals with occupational licenses to navigate between states various requirements and quickly enter a new workforce.

Compacts surrounding mental health continue to grow in popularity, especially as states face an increasing need for highly qualified practitioners. Even though mental health services are in high demand, state borders and individual licensing requirements can limit the services providers can offer.

“Access to care and workforce shortages are key issues facing states,” said Matt Shafer, deputy policy director at the CSG National Center for Interstate Compacts. “Compacts represent a flexible tool that policymakers can leverage to make improvements to health care in their state.”

States that adopt occupational licensure compacts allow for increased portability of licensure for mental health professionals, while also supporting military families and improving access to services. Compacts are successful because they remove barriers to licensure because states agree to uniform minimum standards. With the rise in telehealth, especially for mental health practice, compacts are increasingly helpful.

The CSG National Center for Interstate Compacts offers compact education, development and administration for states. NCIC has facilitated the development of occupational licensing compacts that address counseling, psychology, social work and more. As of February, the Counseling Compact has reached 33 member states within three years of becoming available to states, while the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact, known as PsyPact, has 41 member states. Just this year, the Social Work Compact has been filed in 22 states and is already enacted in Missouri and South Dakota.

States interested in learning more about occupational licensure compacts are encouraged to visit compacts.csg.org or contact the CSG NCIC via email at [email protected].

Rising interest around artificial intelligence has led policymakers to implement new approaches to the emerging technology. State leaders are taking a thoughtful and curious approach to AI regulation, as much of the technology’s potential is unknown. Several states, including Texas, implemented a task force to study AI and offer best practices for the state. AI policy is unique in that states may opt to take both a broad and specific approach depending on the issue. For example, several state lawmakers are focusing on the use of deepfakes in political ads or in sex abuse material. Because AI is so new, policymakers may need to reexamine regulation and rely on input from industry leaders and task force members. More information on AI governance can be found in “AI in the States.”

State leaders are also looking to increase digital literacy and proficiency. Digital literacy allows individuals to “find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills,” according to the American Library Association. Increasing a population’s ability to understand data allows for more specific use of funds or actions, resulting in a higher impact. Cities across the U.S. use “data academies” to teach employees at all levels about the importance of data and how it’s use can make jobs easier. Indiana has a statewide program through the Office of the Indiana Chief Data Officer. These programs provide accessible and approachable content, and, following an assessment, provides employees proof of their proficiency. Data analysts also warn that without increased literacy, AI technology may not be as useful.

There is also an increased interest in teaching digital literacy, especially as it pertains to social media, in schools. Florida lawmakers passed HB 379 (2023), introducing sixth to 12th grade students to some of the dangers of social media and how students can stay safe while online. New Hampshire and Virginia have similar plans.

A rise in storms, floods and natural disasters has led some policymakers to look to hardening infrastructure to better protect citizens. Common weather patterns that intensify and become severe can place pressure on infrastructure that is naturally reaching the end of its life.

Trina Sheets, executive director at National Emergency Management Association, said hardening infrastructure is essential for communities adapting to increasing and intense climate related disasters.

“Hardening infrastructure is a proactive and strategic approach to disaster preparedness that aims to mitigate the impact of disasters, protect lives, maintain essential services, and contribute to the overall resilience of communities and regions,” Sheets said.

Funding climate-resilient infrastructure is key for policymakers who may look to their Department of Transportation and other government agencies for grant funding. Gas taxes, which long sustained infrastructure and roadway projects, are proving to be a less reliable source of funds, especially with the rise in public transit and electric vehicles. Oregon, Pennsylvania and Utah are implementing changes to each state’s respective gas tax, providing other lawmakers a test case for future action.

Critical Infrastructure, including broadband and increased funding, is needed to not only physically connect people, but to also provide subsidies that are critical for access. States are able to utilize billions of dollars in federal funding to enhance technology through updating cable and 5G resources, among other telecommunication services. Additionally, the expansion of broadband and other telecommunications avenues creates jobs and provides citizens with access to stable internet connection and other resources.

The U.S. is the world’s second largest market for electric vehicles, otherwise known as EVs. As consumers and the federal government drive interest, state leaders are working to support a growing market. The federal government set a goal that half of all vehicles sold in 2030 would be zero-emission vehicles. This push, along with $5 billion in funding from the 2022 Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, encouraged states to build infrastructure and adjust requirements for car manufacturers.

Nearly every state offers incentives for the use of EVs, but only 13 require car manufacturers to sell a certain number of electric or emissions free vehicles a year. As of Jan. 17, legislators have filed 44 bills concerning EVs, covering topics from infrastructure to tax credits. Policy solutions include incentives, rebates and grants for purchasing EVs or supporting related infrastructure. Still, states face challenges in meeting the needs for rural communities, including access to charging stations.

The infrastructure needed to meet consumer needs for EVs may slow down the rapid growth. Consumers may be hesitant to buy in because of struggles to find charging stations and the initial cost of vehicles. Additionally, charging stations may offer different power levels and charging times. Communities can use readiness planning, which connects stakeholders — like city departments, utilities and local businesses — to set goals on EV infrastructure. The Department of Transportation also provides grants to help communities meet their unique needs, including increased charging sites, signage and access for underserved communities.

The switch to EVs may have a larger impact on infrastructure, as less fossil fuel use depletes gas tax revenue. Gas tax revenue typically goes to road upkeep and safety. States may transition to taxing vehicles by the mile or imposing fuel taxes on commercial charging stations. In Kentucky, lawmakers passed a 3-cent raise per kilowatt to help with the loss of gas tax revenues. Additionally, Georgia lawmakers passed a tax on public chargers. This revenue, along with a higher registration fee for electric vehicles, would go toward transportation infrastructure.

Per and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, known as PFAS, are manufactured chemicals used since the 1940s. Seen as a way to protect industry and household items, the chemicals are now known as “forever chemicals” because of their slow decomposition. These thousands of chemicals now contaminate the environment and are linked to serious health concerns, including increased cholesterol, decreased birth weight, and kidney and testicular cancer. However, the wider risks of PFAS are unknown, despite studies from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

At least 23 states are renewing their approach to banning PFAS, or forever chemicals, with a growing number seeking to ban the use of them in cosmetics, textiles and household items. In 2019, Maine created a task force to explore PFAS contamination to better direct state efforts and legislation. Broad regulation of the pervasive chemicals continues to be a challenge for states. Legislation instead focuses on specific products, most notably the 12 states that banned the sale of PFAS containing firefighting foam and Minnesota, which brought forth several bills addressing PFAS, including a ban on the chemical’s use in cookware, dental floss and menstrual products.

Minnesota Rep. Sydney Jordan said her state’s history with PFAS creation and production, as well as community research and support for banning the chemicals, helped legislation succeed. She added that the bill, known as Amara’s Law, received bipartisan support, in part due to the apparent effects of the chemicals on communities. Despite success, Jordan acknowledged there is still work to do.

“These are not like chemicals that just happened to be in our water because of geology or hydrology,” Jordan said. “These are problems because of human-made chemistry. Minnesotans introduced this to our own water. They’re called forever chemicals because now we’re stuck with them … Last year, what we did was turn off the tap so we could start to drain the bathtub. The bathtub is still full of PFAS.”

CSG East held roundtable sessions on the issue at its 2023 Annual Meeting and Regional Policy Forum in Toronto, and also hosted a panel at the CSG National Conference in December. In April, they are moving forward with a larger summit. Those interested in learning more about the work CSG East does on PFAS policy can contact Chris Keller via email at [email protected].

This November, voters across the nation will gather at their local polling locations to cast their ballots in a federal election. This influx of voters can lead to stress on local systems and logistics. Elections officials are watching to see how federal and state funding will affect offices already struggling to fully staff their offices.

“Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution places the administration of federal elections on states. States are responsible all aspects of state and federal elections in their state, typically without any financial support from the federal government. This means no two states or territories conduct elections in the same way and election officials must find innovative approaches to successfully conduct elections.”

Casandra Hockenberry, a CSG project manager with the Overseas Voting Initiative

In addition to issues associated with financial support, a 2023 Brennan Center study showed elections officials also feel less safe performing their duties. Between swatting, doxxing, fentanyl-laced envelopes, and a series of bomb threats aimed at secretaries of state, election officials report feeling less safe at work. A number of states are considering legislation on criminalizing harassment and attacks on election officials and offices.

Aging voting machines are also among concerns, especially as Congress only provided $75 million for elections, barely making a dent in the nearly $600 million needed to replace machines. Outside of this year’s election, officials face steep costs into the future. According to a study by MIT Election Lab, the cost to fully fund elections administration this decade would cost at least $53 billion shared between county, state and federal governments.

Pressure on officials to report results quickly and accurately, while also under scrutiny, may lead to increased wait times for unofficial results. Some states allow for ballots to be preprocessed, cutting down on the time needed to release unofficial results. Experts worry that there will be increased challenges to or efforts to disrupt certification results. Challenges followed elections in 2020 in New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Arizona, but were resolved through a court order. Stay up-to-date on elections throughout the year with the expansive offering of informative resources provided at election.csg.org.

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