The Role of State Legislative Leaders in Policymaking

By Ishara Nanayakkara

State legislative leadership roles directly impact the agendas and actions of legislatures. Although voters are responsible for electing officials, they have little direct say in who holds leadership positions within each chamber as the legislatures usually select their own leaders.

These leadership roles, such as creating the calendar or presiding over debates, allow elected officials to play a more significant role in policymaking than the typical legislator. For instance, presiding officers, such as the House speaker and Senate president, have the power to exert decisive control over legislative proceedings. They oversee the process through which legislation is referred to a committee and are responsible for setting and executing agendas.

Those holding leadership positions play explicit and implicit roles in elections by making appearances at campaign events or developing strategies to hold a majority in or change control of a chamber. Other institutional management duties consist of making committee assignments, appointing committee chairs and legislators to task forces, enforcing disciplinary measures, and overseeing staff. This means leaders have the power to advance or even stall the careers of individual legislators.

Quick Facts About Legislative Leaders

  • The late Sen. Thomas Vincent Miller Jr. served as Maryland’s president of the Senate from 1987 to 2019 and is the longest serving state senate president in the U.S.
  • The Nebraska Legislature has only one chamber, called the Unicameral, meaning there are fewer legislative leadership roles. Instead of having a speaker of the House and a president of the Senate, Nebraska has a speaker of the legislature.
  • In 26 states, the lieutenant governor serves as the president of the Senate. In other states, members of the chamber choose the president of the Senate. 
  • Lieutenant governors are usually elected, but the title in Tennessee and West Virginia is given to the member-selected Senate leader.

Overview of Legislative Leadership Roles

The president of the Senate is the primary leader of the Senate and the speaker of the House is the primary leader of the House or Assembly. Their duties for each respective body include:

  • Presiding over daily sessions.
  • Preserving order in the chamber.
  • Stating parliamentary motions.
  • Ruling on parliamentary questions.
  • Appointing committee chairs and members.
  • Referring bills to committee.
  • Signing legislation.
  • Acting as the official Senate spokesperson

President pro tempore and speaker pro tempore preside over the Senate or House and exercise all powers and duties in the absence of the Senate president or House speaker. They also carry out other duties as assigned by the Senate president or House speaker, which can vary by state. These positions may be honorary ones, but in states where the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate, the president pro tem serves as a de facto president.

The majority leader is the lead speaker for the majority party during debates. They also develop the calendar and assist the president or speaker with program development, policy formation and policy decisions.

The majority caucus chair is responsible for developing the majority caucus agenda with the president and speaker, presiding over majority caucus meetings and assisting with policy development.

The majority whip’s duties include assisting the floor leader, ensuring attendance, counting votes and communicating the position of the majority.

The minority leader serves as the principal leader of the minority caucus. They are responsible for developing the minority position, negotiating with the majority party, directing activities on the chamber floor and leading debate for the minority.

The minority caucus chair’s duties include presiding over caucus meetings and assisting the minority leader with policy development. The minority whip is responsible for assisting the minority leader on the floor, counting votes and ensuring attendance of members of the minority party.

2023 State Legislative Leaders

(as of Feb. 13, 2023)
Speaker: Nathaniel Ledbetter
Speaker Pro Tem: Chris Pringle
Majority Leader: Scott Stadthagen
Minority Leader: Anthony Daniels
Lt. Governor/President: Will Ainsworth
President Pro Tem: Greg Reed
Majority Leader: Clay Scofield
Minority Leader: Bobby Singleton
Speaker: Cathy Tilton
Majority Leader: Dan Saddler
Minority Leader: Calvin Schrage
President: Gary Stevens
Majority Leader: Cathy Giessel
Speaker: Ben Toma
Speaker Pro Tem: Travis Grantham
Majority Leader: Leo Biasiucci
Minority Leader: Andrés Cano
President: Warren Petersen
President Pro Tem: T.J. Shope
Majority Leader: Sonny Borrelli
Minority Leader: Raquel Terán
Speaker: Matthew Shepherd
Speaker Pro Tem: Jon Eubanks
Majority Leader: Marcus Richmond
Minority Leader: Tippi McCullough
President Pro Tem: Bart Hester
Majority Leader: Blake Johnson
Minority Leader: Gred Leding
Speaker: Anthony Rendon
Speaker Pro Tem: Christopher Ward Majority Leader: Eloise Reyes
Minority Leader: James Gallagher
President Pro Tem: Toni Atkins
Minority Leader: Brian Jones
Speaker: Julie McCluskie
Speaker Pro Tem: Chris deGruy
Majority Leader: Monica Duran
Minority Leader: Mike Lynch
President: Steve Fenberg
President Pro Tem: James Coleman
Majority Leader: Dominick Moreno
Minority Leader: Paul Lundeen
Speaker: Matt Ritter
Majority Leader: Jason Rojas
Minority Leader: Vincent Candelora
President Pro Tem: Martin Looney
Majority Leader: Bob Duff
Republican Leader: Kevin Kelly
DelawareSpeaker: Peter Schwartzkopf
Majority Leader: Valerie Longhurst
Minority Leader: Michael Ramone 
President Pro Tem: David Sokola
Majority Leader: Bryan Townsend
Minority Leader: Gerald Hocker
District of Columbia Chairman: Phil Mendelson
Chairman Pro Tem: Kenyan McDuffie
Speaker: Paul Renner
Speaker Pro Tem: Chuck Clemons
Majority Leader: Michael Grant
Minority Leader: Fentrice Driskill
President: Kathleen Passidomo
President Pro Tem: Dennis Baxley
Majority Leader: Ben Albritton
Minority Leader: Lauren Book
Speaker: Jon Burns
Speaker Pro Tem: Jan Jones
Majority Leader: Chuck Efstration
Minority Leader: James Beverly
Lt. Governor: Burt Jones
President Pro Tem: John Kennedy
Majority Leader: Steve Gooch
Minority Leader: Gloria Butler
Speaker: Scott Saiki
Vice Speaker: Greggor Ilagan
Majority Leader: Nadine Nakamura Minority Leader: Lauren Cheape
President: Ron Kouchi
Vice President: Michelle Kidani
Majority Leader: Dru Mamo Kanuha
Speaker: Mike Moyle
Majority Leader: Megan Blanksma
Minority Leader: Ilana Rubel
President Pro Tem: Chuck Winder
Majority Leader: Kelly Arthur Anthon
Minority Leader: Melissa Wintrow
Speaker: Chris Welch
Majority Leader: Robyn Gabel
Minority Leader: Tony McCombie
President: Don Harmon 
President Pro Tem: Bill Cunningham
Majority Leader: Kimberly Lightford
Minority Leader: John Curran
Speaker: Todd Huston
Speaker Pro Tem: Mike Karickhoff
Majority Floor Leader: Matt Lehman
Minority Leader: Phil GiaQuinta
President Pro Tempore: Rodric Bray
Majority Floor Leader: Chris Garten
Minority Floor Leader: Greg Taylor
Speaker: Pat Grassley
Speaker Pro Tem: John Wills
Majority Leader: Matt Windschitl
Minority Leader: Jennifer Konfrst
President: Amy Sinclair
President Pro Tem: Brad Zaun
Majority Leader: Jack Whitver
Minority Leader: Zach Wahls
Speaker: Dan Hawkins
Speaker Pro Tem: Blake Carpenter
Majority Leader: Chris Croft
Minority Leader: Vic Miller
President: Ty Masterson
Vice President: Rick Wilborn
Majority Leader: Larry Alley
Minority Leader: Dinah Sykes
Speaker: David Osborne
Speaker Pro Tem: David Meade
Majority Floor Leader: Steven Rudy
Minority Floor Leader: Derrick Graham
President: Robert Stivers
President Pro Tem: David Givens
Majority Floor Leader: Damon Thayer
Minority Floor Leader: Gerald Neal
Speaker: Clay Schexnayder
Speaker Pro Tem: Tanner Magee
President: Page Cortez
President Pro Tem: Beth Mizell
Speaker: Rachel Talbot Ross
Majority Leader: Maureen Terry
Minority Leader: Billy Bob Faulkingham
President: Troy Jackson
Majority Leader: Eloise Vitelli
Minority Leader: Trey Stewart
Speaker: Adrienne Jones
Speaker Pro Tem: Sheree Sample-
Majority Leader: Marc Korman
Minority Leader: Jason Buckel
President: Bill Ferguson
President Pro Tem: Malcolm Augustine
Majority Leader: Nancy King
Minority Leader: Vacant
Speaker: Ron Mariano
Minority Leader: Brad Jones
President: Karen Spilka
Minority Leader: Bruce Tarr
Speaker: Joe Tate
Speaker Pro Tem: Laurie Pohutsky
Majority Floor Leader: Abraham Aiyash
Minority Leader: Matt Hall
President Pro Tem: Jeremy Moss
Majority Leader: Winnie Brinks
Minority Leader: Aric Nesbitt
Speaker: Melissa Hortman Speaker Pro Tem: Dan Wolgamott
Majority Leader: Jamie Long
Minority Leader: Lisa Demuth
President: Bobby Joe Champion
President Pro Tempore: Ann Rest
Majority Leader: Kari Dziedzic
Minority Leader: Mark Johnson
Speaker: Philip Gunn
Speaker Pro Tem: Jason White
Lt. Governor/President: Delbert
President Pro Tem: Dean Kirby
Speaker: Dean Plocher
Speaker Pro Tem: Mike Henderson
Majority Floor Leader: Jon Patterson
Minority Floor Leader: Crystal Quade
President Pro Tem: Caleb Rowden
Majority Floor Leader: Cindy O’Laughlin
Minority Floor Leader: John Rizzo
Speaker: Matt Regier
Speaker Pro Tem: Rhonda Knudsen
Majority Leader: Sue Vinton
Minority Leader: Kim Abbott
President: Jason Ellsworth
President Pro Tem: Kenneth Bogner
Majority Leader: Steve Fitzpatrick
Minority Leader: Pat Flowers
NebraskaUnicameralSpeaker: John Arch
Speaker: Steve Yeager
Speaker Pro Tem: Daniele Monroe-
Majority Floor Leader: Sandra Jaurgui Minority Floor Leader: P.K. O’Neill
President: Stavros Anthony
President Pro Tem: Pat Spearman
Majority Leader: Nicole Cannizzaro
Minority Leader: Heidi Seevers Gansert
New Hampshire
Speaker: Sherman Packard 
Speaker Pro Tem: Laurie Sanborn
Majority Leader: Jason Osborne
Minority Leader: Matthew Wilhelm
President: Jeb Bradley
President Pro Tem: James Gray
Majority Leader: Sharon Carson
Minority Leader: Donna Soucy
New Jersey
Speaker: Craig Coughlin
Speaker Pro Tem: Benjie Wimberly
Majority Leader: Louis Greenwald
Republican Leader: John DiMaio
President: Nicholas Scutari
President Pro Tem: Sandra Cunningham
Majority Leader: M. Teresa Ruiz
Minority Leader: Steve Oroho
New Mexico
Speaker: Javier Martinez
Majority Floor Leader: Gail Chasey
Minority Floor Leader: Ryan Lane
President Pro Tem: Mimi Stewart
Majority Floor Leader: Peter Wirth
Minority Floor Leader: Gregory Baca
New York
Speaker: Carl Heastie
Speaker Pro Tem: Jeffrion Aubry
Majority Leader: Crystal Peoples-Stokes
Minority Leader: William Barclay
President Pro Tempore/Majority Leader:
Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Minority Leader: Rob Ortt 
North Carolina
Speaker: Tim Moore
Speaker Pro Tem: Sarah Stevens
Majority Leader: John Bell
Minority Leader: Robert Reives
President Pro Tem: Phil Berger
Majority Leader: Paul Newton
Minority Leader: Dan Blue
North Dakota
Speaker: Dennis Johnson
Majority Leader: Mike Lefor
Minority Leader: Josh Boschee
President Pro Tem: Donald Schaible
Majority Leader: David Hogue
Minority Leader: Kathy Hogan
Speaker: Jason Stephens
Speaker Pro Tem: Scott Oelslager
Majority Floor Leader: Bill Seitz
Minority Leader: Allison Russo
President: Matt Huffman
President Pro Tem: Kirk Schuring
Majority Floor Leader: Rob McColley
Minority Leader: Nickie J. Antonio
Speaker: Charles McCall
Speaker Pro Tem: Kyle Hilbert
Majority Floor Leader: Jon Echols
Minority Leader: Cyndi Munson
President Pro Tem: Greg Treat
Majority Floor Leader: Greg McCortney
Minority Floor Leader: Kay Floyd
Speaker: Dan Rayfield
Speaker Pro Tem: Paul Holvey
Majority Leader: Julie Fahey
Minority Leader: Vikki Breese-Iverson
President: Rob Wagner
President Pro Tem: James Manning Jr.
Majority Leader: Kate Lieber
Minority Leader: Tim Knopp
Speaker: Mark Rozzi
Republican Leader: Bryan Cutler
Minority Leader: Joanna McClinton
President Pro Tem: Kim Ward
Majority Leader: Joe Pittman
Minority Leader: Jay Costa
Rhode Island
Speaker: K. Joseph Shekarchi 
Speaker Pro Tem: Brian Patrick Kennedy
Majority Leader: Christopher
Minority Leader: Michael Chippendale
President: Dominick Ruggerio 
President Pro Tem: Hanna Gallo
Majority Leader: Ryan Pearson
Minority Leader: Jessica de la Cruz
South Carolina
Speaker: G. Murrell Smith Jr.
Speaker Pro Tem: Tommy Pope
Majority Leader: David Hiott
Minority Leader: J. Todd Rutherford
President: Thomas Alexander
Majority Leader: A. Shane Massey
Minority Leader: Brad Hutto
South Dakota
Speaker: Hugh Bartels
Speaker Pro Tem: Mike Stevens
Majority Leader: Will Mortenson
Minority Leader: Oren Lesmeister
President Pro Tem: Lee Schoenbeck
Majority Leader: Casey Crabtree
Minority Leader: Reynold Nesiba
Speaker: Cameron Sexton
Speaker Pro Tem: Pat Marsh
Majority Leader: William Lamberth
Minority Leader: Karen Camper
Lt. Governor/Speaker of the Senate: Randy
Speaker Pro Tem: Ferrell Haile
Majority Leader: Jack Johnson
Minority Leader: Raumesh Akbari
Speaker: Dade Phelan
Speaker Pro Tem: Vacant
Lt. Governor/President: Dan Patrick
President Pro Tempore: Kelly Hancock
Speaker: Brad Wilson
Majority Leader: Mike Schultz
Minority Leader: Angela Romero
President: Stuart Adams
President Pro Tem: Wayne Harper
Majority Leader: Evan Vickers
Minority Leader: Luz Escamilla
Speaker: Jill Krowinski
Majority Leader: Emily Long
Minority Leader: Patricia McCoy
President Pro Tem: Philip Baruth
Majority Leader: Alison Clarkson
Minority Leader: Randy Brock
Speaker: Todd Gilbert
Majority Leader: Terry Kilgore
Minority Leader: Don Scott Jr.
President Pro Tem: Louise Lucas
Majority Leader: Richard Saslaw
Minority Leader: Thomas Norment Jr.
Speaker: Laurie Jinkins
Speaker Pro Tem: Tina Orwall 
Majority Leader: Joe Fitzgibbon
Minority Leader: J.T. Wilcox 
President Pro Tem: Karen Keiser
Vice President Pro Tem: John Lovick
Majority Leader: Andy Billig
Minority Leader: John Braun
West Virginia
Speaker: Roger Hanshaw
Speaker Pro Tempore: Paul Espinosa
Majority Leader: Eric Householder
Minority Leader: Doug Skaff
Senate President: Craig Blair
President Pro Tempore: Donna Boley
Majority Leader: Tom Takubo
Minority Leader: Mike Woelfel
Speaker: Robin Vos
Speaker Pro Tem: Kevin Petersen
Majority Leader: Tyler August
Minority Leader: Greta Neubauer
President: Chris Kapenga
President Pro Tem: Patrick Testin
Majority Leader: Devin LeMahieu
Minority Leader: Melissa Agard
Speaker: Albert Sommers
Speaker Pro Tem: Clark Stith
Majority Floor Leader: Chip Neiman
Minority Floor Leader: Mike Yin
President: Ogden Driskill
Vice President: Dave Kinksey
Majority Floor Leader: Larry Hicks
Minority Floor Leader: Chris Rothfuss
American SamoaSpeaker: Savali Talavou AlePresident: Tuaolo Fruean
GuamUnicameralSpeaker: Therese Terlaje
Vice-Speaker: Tina Rose Muña Barnes
Minority Leader: Frank F. Blas Jr.
Northern Mariana IslandsSpeaker: Edmund S. Villagomez
Vice Speaker: Joel Castro Camacho Majority Floor Leader: Edwin Kenneth
President: Victor Borja Hocog
Vice President: Jude Untalan Hofschneider Majority Floor Leader: Justo Songao
Puerto RicoSpeaker: Rafael “Tatito” Hernández
Speaker Pro Tem: José M. Varela
Majority Leader: Angel Matos Garcia
Minority Leader: Carlos “Johnny”
Mendez Nunez
President: José Luis Dalmau-Santiago
Vice President: Marially González Huertas
Majority Leader: Javier Aponte Dalmau
Minority Leader: Thomas Rivera Schatz
U.S. Virgin IslandsUnicameralPresident: Novelle Francis Jr.
Vice President: Marvin Bylden
Source: CSG, National Conference of State Legislatures

State Approaches to Marijuana Policy

By Blair Lozier, Valerie Newberg and Dr. Dakota Thomas

The adoption of varying types of policy addressing marijuana legality continues in many states despite the drug remaining a controlled substance at the federal level. As of 2023, 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational adult use of marijuana. By contrast, there are 20 other states to have decriminalized marijuana-related offenses such as small quantity marijuana possession, cultivation and transfer.

Legalizing marijuana allows states to create an adult-use market for cannabis products that is both regulated and taxes, whereas decriminalization typically results in the removal of criminal penalties and the possibility of incarceration for low-level marijuana offenses. Several states that moved to decriminalize or legalize marijuana have also implemented policies allowing for the expungement of low-level marijuana offenses.

State marijuana policy is enacted through legislative and executive action, or by registered voters. The legalized use of recreational marijuana was decided by voters in five states during the 2022 election. Two of those five states voted in its favor. Marijuana remains illegal in federal law and regulations, though President Joe Biden has proposed changes to this policy.

Hovering your mouse over a state will display more information about that state’s policy. Hovering your mouse over a legend category will display all states sharing the highlighted policy.

NOTE: The map shows only the highest level of legalization or decriminalization, which may only apply to specific offenses. Some states have only legalized or decriminalized possession for up to a specific amount, for example, while other related charges are subject to different rules. 

States have taken four main approaches to marijuana policy: full criminalization, legalization of medical marijuana, recreational decriminalization and recreational legalization. Marijuana remains entirely illegal in four states, with criminal penalties for its sale, possession and use. Seven states have legalized medicinal use of CBD oil with THC but no other forms of marijuana, while eight states have legalized all forms of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Twenty states have decriminalized possession/use of marijuana under certain conditions, typically meaning possession of small quantities of marijuana will not result in incarceration or criminal record for first-time offenders. Finally, 21 states have fully legalized recreational use of marijuana, thus allowing the creation of a regulated, recreational adult-use marijuana market that is taxed by the state. Each of these approaches is broken down in the following sections.

Decriminalization of Recreational Use
Decriminalization of recreational marijuana is a step short of legalization and entails removing criminal sanctions from marijuana possession/use while the drug remains illegal. Twenty states have decriminalized recreational marijuana. The drug is still illegal but punishment is not a criminal sanction like incarceration or criminal record for first time offenders. Instead, offenders may pay a civil fine or attend required treatment/education.

Legalization of Medical Use
As of December 2022, 16 states have legalized only medical use of marijuana. These states consist of Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia. In these states, a qualified individual must be diagnosed with a condition whose symptoms can be clinically treated by marijuana, such as those associated with HIV/AIDS, PTSD, glaucoma and other conditions, and receive a medical marijuana certificate.

Recreational Legalization
There are 21 states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. In most of these states, consumers can legally purchase marijuana products from a state-licensed and regulated facility. Use of marijuana products in public may remain punishable by law and there may be limits on possession of high quantities of marijuana. Additionally, the federal government still prosecutes marijuana offenses such as the illicit sale of marijuana (including to minors and across state lines), drugged driving and possession of marijuana on federal property in states with legal recreational use laws.

Hovering your mouse over a state will display more information about that state’s expungement policy. Hovering your mouse over a legend category will display all states sharing the highlighted policy.

Expungement Policy for Marijuana Charges
In some states where marijuana is decriminalized or legalized, the law allows for prior criminal convictions for low-level marijuana offenses to be expunged. Expungement is the legal process by which the record of a criminal conviction is destroyed or sealed from state and/or federal records. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation allowing courts to expunge eligible marijuana convictions, with six of those states requiring automatic expungement for all qualifying convictions.

Recent State Changes to Marijuana Legality
In the 2022 election, five states had marijuana legalization measures on the ballot. Missouri and Maryland voted to legalize recreational use, while Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota voted against full recreational legalization. Medicinal uses will remain permitted in those states.

  • Arkansas voters rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized the recreational adult use of marijuana.
  • North Dakota’s citizens voted against legalizing the recreational adult use of marijuana.
  • South Dakota voters decided against legalizing the possession, distribution and recreational use of marijuana for persons 21 years and older.
  • Maryland voters approved the measure legalizing marijuana for adults 21 years and older. This ballot will allow the state Legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation and taxation of marijuana.
  • Missouri voters approved the legalization of marijuana. The amendment (1) legalized the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacture and sale of marijuana for person use for adults at last 21 years or older, (2) enacted a 6% tax on the retail price of recreational marijuana, and (3) allowed convicted persons with certain marijuana-related offenses to petition for release from prison, parole and probation, while also having their records expunged.

Federal Marijuana Policy
While many states have legalized, decriminalized or allowed use of marijuana in medicine, it remains illegal at the federal level and is considered a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive classification given by the Drug Enforcement Administration for substances with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

In October 2022, President Biden moved to decriminalize marijuana possession at the federal level through a three-step approach that began by pardoning all prior federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana. As of Dec. 2, 2022, Attorney General Merrick Garland is developing an administrative process to pardon eligible individuals. President Biden then urged state governors to issue similar pardons for state possession offenses. The president’s third step tasked the Department of Health and Human Services with declassifying or reclassifying marijuana as a controlled substance under federal law by petitioning the attorney general and the Food and Drug Administration for review of its risks and clinical benefits.

If marijuana is determined to have medical use and a lower level of potential for abuse and dependence, it may be reclassified or declassified entirely. However, President Biden stated that important limitations on trafficking, marketing and sales to minors should remain in place. As of February 2023, the FDA has not approved the cannabis plant for medical use.

Additional Resources
Cannabis Regulators Association:

State Approaches to Address Homelessness and Increase Affordable Housing

By Jennifer Horton

The U.S. has a shortage of affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income households — those whose incomes are at or below the poverty guideline, or 30% of their area median income, whichever is higher. There are just 36 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 low-income households — a deficit of 7 million homes nationwide. For extremely low-income renter households, 71% are severely cost burdened, meaning they spend more than half of their income on housing, making it more difficult to afford healthy food and health care.

In 2022, a person working full time in the U.S. needed to earn $25.82 an hour on average to afford a modest, two-bedroom rental home — $18.57 higher than the $7.25 federal minimum wage. In some states, the two-bedroom housing wage is even higher — up to more than $40 an hour. The average worker earning minimum wage would need to work almost 96-hours-per-week to afford a two-bedroom rental at the national average fair market rent of $1,324.

With the rapid increase in home and rent prices over the last several years, millions of low-income renters struggled to afford their rent even before the pandemic. The economic impacts of COVID-19 exacerbated the problem even further as low-wage workers lost income. While temporary eviction moratoriums and Treasury Emergency Rental Assistance programs kept millions of disadvantaged renters housed during the pandemic, as these programs end, the need for affordable housing for the lowest-income renters will not.

The pandemic also had a negative impact on the nationwide poverty rate, with the number of people living in poverty increasing by 3.3 million in 2020, leaving 11.4% of the population in poverty, struggling to avoid basic necessities like housing and putting them at risk of homelessness.

As of January 2020, the most recent date for which comprehensive data is available due to disruptions in surveying during the pandemic, there were 580,466 people experiencing homelessness in the United States. While this number has been steadily increasing since 2016, some subgroups of the overall homeless population, such as homeless veterans and homeless families with children, have seen significant reductions in homelessness. This is due, in part, to increased attention and resources, showing that reductions in homelessness are possible.

Rates of homelessness vary widely across the states. New York state has the highest rate at 46.9-per-100,000, while Mississippi has the lowest at 3.7-per-100,000. In some instances, the high rates could be attributed to high housing costs, while in others it could be attributed to high rates of poverty. Such nuances facing each state suggest a need for a variety of solutions.

Legislators have taken a range of approaches to address homelessness and increase affordable housing, including transitional housing, changing zoning laws and streamlining the development review process.  


Housing First
Housing First (HF) is an evidence-based approach to ending homelessness that provides people with immediate access to housing and support services without preconditions. Based on the belief that people need to have their basic needs met before addressing other issues like employment or substance abuse, the HF model emphasizes client self-determination within a trauma-informed, harm-reduction framework. The model has been successful when applied to a range of circumstances, including families who became homeless due to a temporary crisis and chronically homeless individuals. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cites HF as a best practice and uses it in its Housing and Urban Development Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program which currently serves almost 90,000 veterans across the U.S.

There are two common models that utilize the HF approach depending on a person’s needs and whether they need long or short-term assistance. One model, permanent supportive housing, provides long-term rental assistance and supportive services to individuals with chronic illnesses, disabilities, mental health issues, or substance use disorders who have experienced long-term or repeated homelessness. A second model, known as rapid re-housing, provides short-term rental assistance and services to help people obtain housing quickly and increase self-sufficiency so they can remain housed.

Research indicates people assisted through the HF model access housing faster and are more likely to remain housed, with studies showing a one-year housing retention rate ranging from 75-98%. The approach tends to also be cost-efficient, generating savings through reduced usage of emergency services, hospitals, jails and emergency shelters.

Through city council resolution number 20110728-031 passed in 2010, the city of Austin, Texas, directed the city manager to develop a comprehensive strategy to construct and operate permanent supportive housing units and prioritized the city’s affordable housing resources, including local and federal funding, for permanent supportive housing (PSH). Elected officials also pledged to create 350 housing units for those most vulnerable to homelessness by 2014. The goal was surpassed, leading to the passage of resolution number 20141002-043, which established PSH as the primary intervention to end homelessness in the city and set another target of 400 additional PSH units in four years.  

California SB 1380 (2016) required all housing programs in the state to adopt the HF model, which it defined with specific core components

Transitional Housing
Some states have paired rapid re-housing with Critical Time Intervention (CTI). Referred to as Critical Time Intervention for Rapid Re-Housing (CTI-RRH), the evidence-based model provides support for vulnerable individuals during periods of transition by facilitating housing stability, community integration and continuity of care. CTI has successfully supported a return to housing for people in a variety of situations, including those with serious mental illness, veterans and others experiencing homelessness.

Several states have implemented CTI-RRH or some form of transitional housing to prevent homelessness in vulnerable populations.

California CA A 592 (2021) requires a transitional housing unit with a host family to include supervised transitional housing services provided by the licensed transitional housing placement provider and authorized a transitional housing placement provider to provide supportive services to a non-minor dependent placed in a certified family home or resource family of a foster family agency if that provider signs a memorandum of understanding with the foster family agency.

In 2010, Connecticut leveraged the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) to expand its rapid re-housing services, re-housing 3,100 people in more than 1,600 households in three years. The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness looked at the outcomes for these 3,100 people and found that 82% of singles and 95% of families had not returned to a state shelter three years after being housed. Currently, the state’s Department of Housing’s rapid re-housing programs are conducting a pilot program directed by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Center for the Advancement of CTI implementing CTI as a way to prepare individuals for independent living.

The state’s Department of Housing was established by Public Act 12-1 as the lead agency for all housing-related matters, including housing development, community development, housing affordability, and individual and family support programming, and provides assistance funds to a wide variety of programs utilizing rapid re-housing and other methods to address homelessness.

Hawaii S 471 (2019) appropriated funds to homeless programs, including outreach, rapid re-housing, the Housing First Program, family assessment centers, law enforcement-assisted diversion programs, and coordinated statewide homelessness initiatives, and established and appropriated funds for a long-term rental assistance pilot program for certain categories.

New Hampshire HB 400 (2017) instructed the department of health and human services to develop a 10-year plan for mental health services, the findings of which were released in 2019 and led to the launch of a statewide CTI program designed to connect people discharging from psychiatric hospitalization with services and supports. The nine-month, no-cost program provides participants with help securing housing, finding employment, and arranging additional mental health and social supports to improve quality of life and prevent homelessness and/or readmission.

The Veterans Administration (VA) has developed a CTI toolkit to assist in the implementation and evaluation of CTI across 32 sites in seven regions over four years. While homelessness has been trending upward in recent years, veteran homelessness has gone down by 47% since 2009. Three states and 83 communities have announced they’ve ended veteran homelessness, defined as having systems in place that ensure homelessness is prevented or is rare, brief and occurs only once.

Washington WA H 1860 (2022) seeks to prevent homelessness among persons discharging from inpatient behavioral health settings, in part by mandating housing-related care coordination services.

West Virginia WV H 3304 (2021) authorized the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation to establish a Reentry and Transitional Housing Program.

Affordable Housing

Zoning Changes to Facilitate the Construction of Higher-Density Housing
Florida Statute 163.31771 (2021) allows localities with a shortage of affordable rental housing to adopt an ordinance permitting accessory dwelling units in single-family residential areas to increase the availability of affordable housing for low and moderate-income individuals.

Massachusetts State Statute 40B enables local zoning boards of appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20-25% of the units have long-term affordability restrictions. 

Oregon HB 2001 (2019) implemented state-level legalization of “missing middle” housing. It expands the areas across the state available for duplex construction.

Streamlining Development Review Process
California Assembly Bill 2162 (2018) encourages the production of supportive housing statewide by mandating streamlined and expedited approval for such projects and the elimination of minimum parking requirements for developments located within half a mile of public transit.  

Iowa House File 772 (2019) amended the administration of the workforce housing tax incentive program, allocating $10 million to qualified housing projects in small cities located in counties that have been declared a major disaster and where individuals are eligible for federal individual assistance.  

Additional Resources

State Actions to Improve Health Care

By Jennifer Horton

Location can be crucial in determining a patient’s experience with the U.S. health care system. For example, residents of Texas are six-times more likely to be uninsured than those living in Massachusetts. In Utah, the rate of premature death from preventable causes in adults under 75 is half that of West Virginia.

The Commonwealth Fund’s Scorecard on State Health System Performance, which provided the aforementioned data, assesses state performance across several measures, including overall health outcomes, access and affordability, and prevention and treatment. The 2022 scorecard was the first to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Americans’ health.

While all states suffered, the impact of COVID-19 depended on how stable a state’s public health foundations were before the pandemic began. States with stronger health systems, indicated by low uninsured rates, strong primary care capacity and effective care management, experienced lower rates of preventable deaths due to COVID-19 and had healthier populations. The health of a population is marked by rates of premature death, health status, health risk behaviors and other factors.

To address health care deficits — some that predated the pandemic and those that were created by it — states are taking a wide variety of policy approaches, including expanding access to care, improving maternal health outcomes, reducing the cost of prescription drugs and expanding direct care.

Access to Care 

Opponents of Medicaid expansion object to the lack of a work requirement for eligible parties and worry an expansion could impact a state’s budget, among other concerns. The federal government covers 90% of the cost of Medicaid coverage for adults under the expansion, leaving states to pay the remaining 10%. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 offered states an additional fiscal incentive to implement the expansion by increasing the federal match to 95% for two years, an estimated net benefit of $9.6 billion to the eligible states, but no states accepted the offer. Proponents pushed back on economic concerns caused by the potential influx of federal dollars on local economies, citing analyses conducted by expansion states suggesting the expansion actually reduced total state spending.

In 2014, the Affordable Care Act gave states the option to expand Medicaid coverage to nearly all adults with incomes up to 138% of the Federal Poverty Level and provided states with an enhanced federal matching rate. As of December 2022, all but 11 states had adopted the expansion. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed states that adopted the expansion experienced budget savings, revenue gains and overall economic growth. Research indicated the expansion also improved access to care, affordability, utilization of services and led to coverage gains and reductions in the number of uninsured citizens, particularly among low-income and vulnerable populations.

While the debate continues, several states took action to expand Medicaid or make enrollment easier:

  • In January 2016, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed executive order JBE16-01, instructing the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to expand Medicaid to adults who are ages 19-64, have an income less than 138% of the federal poverty rate, do not already qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, and meet the citizenship requirement. The state’s Medicaid Expansion Dashboard compiles data on the order’s impact on residents and access to health services.
  • Maryland Senate Bill 802 (2019) established the Easy Enrollment Program, allowing state residents to indicate their interest and facilitate enrolling in Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Plan or subsidized exchange coverage by checking a box on their tax return.
  • Utah House Bill 3 (2022) directed $3 million to establish the One Utah Health Collaborative, an initiative designed to reduce health care costs, improve health outcomes, close gaps in health care and improve quality of life through a public-private partnership centered on patient needs.
  • Washington Senate Bill 5526 (2019) established “Cascade Care,” a semi-public option health care plan offering premium subsidies to allow individuals whose incomes are less than 500% of the federal poverty level to purchase individual market coverage on the state health benefit exchange.

Maternal Health 

Roughly 700 women die each year from pregnancy-related causes in the U.S., resulting in the highest maternal mortality rate among all developed countries. In 2018, the latest available year of data, the national average was 17.3 pregnancy-related deaths per 100,000 live births. But the averages cover up crucial differences in sub-populations: Black people are three times more likely to die in childbirth than white people. Some states have taken steps to address racial disparities in maternal mortality rates:

  • California Senate Bill 464 and Maryland House Bill 837 require health care professionals involved in perinatal care to undergo an evidence-based training program.

States have approached improving the maternal mortality rate from a variety of angles, including doula care, home visiting programs and workforce training.

Research shows pregnant people who receive doula care are more likely to have healthy birth outcomes and positive birth experiences. Medicaid reimbursement for doula services can increase access to health care and strengthen birth outcomes for Black people experiencing pregnancy.

  • Minnesota (SPA 14-07, 2014), New Jersey (SPA 20-0011, 2021), Oregon (SPA 17-0006, 2017) and Virginia (SPA 21-0013, 2021) reimburse doulas as an optional Medicaid benefit. A chart summarizing the components of each state’s Medicaid doula benefits can be viewed here.

Home visiting programs, which helps deliver babies and connect pregnant people and new parents to social, health and educational services, are another strategy for improving health outcomes. Studies show the programs can reduce child abuse and domestic violence and improve maternal and child health outcomes while also delivering long-term cost savings. Federal funding is available to support home visiting services in the U.S., with at least 20 states using Medicaid to support their programs.

  • New Jersey Senate Bill 690 and Oregon Senate Bill 526 established voluntary statewide home visiting programs providing free services to support healthy child development, strengthen families and provide parenting skills. 

Prescription Drug Pricing 

At least twenty states have enacted co-payment caps to reduce the cost of insulin, with most caps only applying to people with private insurance. Minnesota is one of the only states with a co-payment cap for the uninsured and requires insulin manufacturers to provide universal discounts. Other states take different approaches to help make prescription drugs like insulin more affordable, as shown in Table 1 below.


State Actions To Make Prescription Drugs More Affordable

StateBill or ActionStatusSummary
AlabamaHouse Bill 2492021 EnactedRequired a health benefit plan that provides coverage for prescription insulin to cap the total amount of any cost sharing or co-payment, without regard to the policy deductible, regardless of the amount or type of insulin needed.
CaliforniaState Budget2022-2023 EnactedAllocated $100 million to launch an effort allowing the state to contract and make its own insulin at a lower price.
IllinoisHouse Bill 1192021 EnactedFormalized the legal process for donating unused prescription drugs to certified pharmacies or health departments for reuse by eligible populations.
KentuckyHouse Bill 952014 EnactedCapped the cost-sharing requirements for prescription insulin.
LouisianaSenate Bill 1652014 EnactedRequired health benefit plans that cover prescription drugs and use a specialty drug tier to cap copayments or coinsurance.
Maryland House Bill 7612014 EnactedCapped copayments and coinsurance for specialty prescription drugs.
MinnesotaHouse File 31002020 EnactedCreated the Insulin Safety Net Program, allowing eligible individuals to receive a free 30-day supply of insulin in an emergency and caps the insulin copayment for a 90-day supply at $50.
OklahomaHouse Bill 10192021 EnactedCapped cost sharing for a 30-day supply of covered prescription insulin. The bill also requires insurers to provide coverage for equipment and supplies for the treatment and management of diabetes.

Direct Care Direct Care Workers, a broad umbrella term that includes personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants, who support older adults and people with disabilities, comprise the largest workforce in most states and provide essential support to millions of people in a variety of settings. Currently, both a worker shortage and an inability to meet the growing demand for long-term services and support hinders the field’s growth. States approach the long-term care crisis from a variety of angles:

  • New Jersey Senate Bill 3847 (2020) established a program allowing a family member or approved individual of an enrollee in Medicaid or NJ Family Care who is under 21 years old to be certified as a certified nursing assistant and provide services to the enrollee under the established reimbursement rates.
  • Washington state’s Long Term Services and Supports Trust Act (2019) established the WA Cares Fund, a long term care insurance benefit for all eligible Washington state residents to address the future long-term care crisis. The law provides individuals with access to a lifetime benefit amount up to $36,500.

Additional Resources

A national scorecard on energy efficiency policies puts most Midwest states in bottom half, but Minnesota stands out as regional leader

An electrician by trade, Minnesota Sen. Jason Rarick was naturally drawn to energy topics after being elected to the Legislature in 2014.

It wasn’t long before he got interested in the issue of energy efficiency, at first by helping a local electricity co-operative with a problem it was having with the state’s existing conservation program.

“As I got into it more and more, I saw the benefits [of energy efficiency] for the entire state,” he says.

That led to his sponsorship two years ago of the Energy Conservation and Optimization Act (HF 164) — a far-reaching measure that aims to modernize policy in an area where the state already is a recognized regional leader.

Among its key provisions:

• Increase the state’s energy savings goal, from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent.

• Give utilities more options in implementing their ratepayer-funded Conservation Improvement Programs (CIP), the state’s longtime mechanism for ensuring a revenue source for energy-efficiency projects and incentives.

• Require investor-owned utilities to spend more on efficiency programs for low-income customers.

When the measure passed in 2021, it was hailed as one of the year’s biggest breakthroughs by Minnesota’s partisan-split Legislature.

“The best way to cut carbon emissions is to not make them in the first place,” says Minnesota Rep. Zack Stephenson. A Democrat, Stephenson served as chief author of the House bill; Rarick, a Republican, was the lead author and sponsor in the Senate.

Minnesota stands out in a region where most states lag behind other parts of the country on energy efficiency policies, says Martin Kushler, senior fellow at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

Kushler believes the Midwest would benefit by trying to catch up.

“The economics are just so solid and so good for customers,” he says.

“The Midwest states are almost all entirely dependent on imported sources of fuel (oil, coal, natural gas); that’s literally a dollar drain of billions of dollars a year from their states. If you can be energy-efficient, you’re going to reduce that dollar drain.

“And that benefits everybody.”

The ACEEE, a nonprofit research organization, produces an annual scorecard of all 50 states based on its analysis of policies in areas such as:

• building codes and appliance standards;

• the efficacy of utility-based public benefits funds, which provide long-term funding (via a surcharge on customers’ electricity bills) to meet energy-conservation goals; and

• initiatives to improve efficiency in a state’s transportation system as well as among state entities themselves.

The 2022 scorecard, released in December, ranks Minnesota 10th nationally, highest in the 11-state Midwest.

Illinois fell to No. 16 despite enactment of the Clean Energy Jobs Act in 2021, a sweeping law that puts the state on track for carbon-free electricity by 2045, provides new electric vehicle adoption and manufacturing incentives, and includes new programs to help low-income residents with energy efficiency.

Michigan fell to 15th place, but was singled out as a “state to watch” due to the rollout of its “MI Power Grid” Initiative (see map for all Midwestern states’ U.S. rankings).

Minnesota modernizes its efficiency policies

Minnesota earned its top regional ranking in part on the strength of the 2021 law. As part of the ECO Act’s modernization of the state’s longstanding Conservation Improvement Program, utilities now have the authority to include in their plans “efficient fuel-switching” — offering incentives and rebates to customers who change their fuel source to one that reduces energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

The law also gives utilities more financial options to improve load management via projects that shift energy demand from peak times (when electricity is most expensive) to less-expensive times of the day.

Other provisions require efficiency improvements for public schools in a utility’s plans and expand eligibility for programs serving low-income customers residing in multi-family buildings (five or more units).

Greater efficiencies through utility conservation plans is one way that Minnesota plans to meet its new, and higher, overall energy-savings goal of 2.5 percent (previous annual electricity sales are used as a baseline to measure the savings).

Advances in building codes, savings from rate design, and infrastructure improvements also can contribute to this overall goal.

Enactment of the ECO Act ended a six-year journey that included its main legislative sponsors, Stephenson and Rarick, almost from the moments they joined their respective chambers.

Both legislators say they’re pleased with its implementation to date; neither expects any trailer bills in 2023.

Rarick says additional legislation is more likely to come as new energy storage technologies and fuels such as hydrogen emerge. “We may need to help things along” or allow utilities to adopt them, he adds.

Stephenson, however, says he’s open to further efficiency efforts during the 2023 session.

According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the Conservation Improvement Program generates at least $4 in energy savings for every $1 invested by utilities.

Typical CIP activities for residential customers include energy audits and incentives and rebates for energy-related improvements, from high-efficiency lighting, insulation and air sealing, to the purchase of new, more efficient furnaces, air conditioners and water heaters.

For business customers, utilities may offer rebates for high-efficiency boilers, chillers and rooftop units, motors, lighting and lighting control systems; they also provide design assistance for energy-efficient buildings and technical assistance to reduce the energy intensity of manufacturing processes.

Michigan prepares power grid for clean energy

The MI Power Grid Initiative, launched in October 2019 by the Michigan Public Service Commission, aims to ease the transition to clean energy for customers, utilities and regulators by updating the commisson’s oversight of electricity.

“We’re in the midst of a pretty significant energy transition, including from large, centralized plants to more distributed energy resources; for example, home solar systems that can add surplus energy back into the electrical grid,” says Dan Scripps, commission chair.

One of the first steps under the initiative has been to analyze how the rise of distributed energy resources impacts the state’s electrical grid and to explore potential regulatory responses. A report on next steps for the state will be finalized in 2023.

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Bridging the Gap Between Policy and Technology: Statewide Data Privacy Laws

By Caroline Wills

The need for critical data privacy and protection laws continues to increase in the digital era, where sensitive information can be compromised due to data breaches or collected by third-party companies without consent.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 137 out of 194 countries have passed laws ensuring personal data and information collected by third-party organizations and individuals is secured and protected. As of January 2023, the United States has no single comprehensive personal data protection law. In absence of a comprehensive federal privacy law, state and federal legislators have passed hundreds of data privacy and protection laws related to sector or specific kinds of data.

Given the rapid pace of digital innovation and advancement, and the relatively slow process of passing legislation, addressing data privacy in the U.S. is often reactive rather than proactive. As conversations about data privacy and the business that collect, store and sell users’ personal data become more common, Americans are growing concerned and confused about the safety and security of their personal data. The PEW Research Center found in 2019 that 75% of Americans think there should be more government regulations on what companies can do with personal data.

What are data privacy laws and why are they important?
Data privacy laws are federal or state laws or regulations that provide a legal framework on the protection and privacy of personal data in how companies, organizations and individuals collect, store and use personal information or data. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 are federally mandated data privacy laws designed to secure and protect personal data within the health care and education sectors. These acts specify how certain data is stored, who has access to it, and who is allowed to release it under what circumstances.

Data privacy laws and regulations are important to secure and protect vulnerable and sensitive personal data and information. With personal data being weaponized and misused, from widespread data breaches to cyberattacks, data privacy and integrity laws are essential to safeguarding the fundamental individual right of privacy and freedom in the digital world. Policy solutions to data privacy concerns in the U.S. include allowing consumers to access and delete their personal information, opt out of having their data sold to third parties, and consumers getting immediately notified after a data breach.

States with Comprehensive Data Privacy Laws
In 2023, there are five states that have passed comprehensive legislation to secure data privacy: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah and Virginia.


  • The California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (CCPA) allows California consumers to have more control over their personal information collected by businesses. The CCPA allows customers the right to ask companies to reveal any personal information they may have on them, as well as the complete list of third parties with whom their data has been disclosed. CCPA also permits consumers the ability to opt out of the sale of their personal data and delete any personal information the company may have collected. CCPA also ensures that companies cannot discriminate against consumers who exercise these rights.
  • The California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), also known as Proposition 25, effective January 2023 through the enforcement of the California Privacy Protection Agency, amends and expands the California Consumer Privacy Act. According to, the Consumer Privacy Right Act gives specific provisions to CCPA and consumer data protections including the right:
    • For consumers to correct inaccurate personal information.
    • For personal data collected by firms subject to purpose limitations and data minimization.
      • Definitions:
        • Purpose Limitations — Personal data collected must be for a specific and legitimate purpose or objective and may not be used for a different purpose.
        • Data Minimization — Limiting and restricting data collection for what is necessary for a specified purpose.
    • To opt out of a firm’s uses and disclosures of sensitive personal information — health, specified demographic, personal communication information, geolocation and more.


  • Colorado SB 21-90 (2021) establishes the Colorado Privacy Act within the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, effective July 1, 2023. The Colorado Privacy Act regulates and protects the collection, use and dissemination of a consumer’s personal data collected by companies operating in Colorado. It also authorizes the attorney general and district attorney to enforce the law and violations of SB 190 (2021), and defines terms relevant to the Colorado Privacy Act.


  • The Connecticut Personal Data Privacy and Online Monitoring Act (Public Act 22-15), effective July 1, 2023, offers a comprehensive framework of consumer data protections in how personal data is controlled and processed by companies. Public Act 22-15, like other state data privacy laws, allows consumers to obtain a copy of their personal data, correct inaccurate information and opt out in a company’s selling or sharing of their information.


  • The Utah Consumer Privacy Act, SB 227 (2022), is effective Dec. 31, 2023, and grants consumers the right to know what personal information a firm collects, how the data is used and if their information is sold to third parties. Utah SB 225 (2022) safeguards consumers’ personal data by allowing consumers to access and delete their information and opt out of data collection.
  • The Utah Consumer Privacy Act provides companies with guidelines and regulations of how to protect consumer data and is enforced by the attorney general.


  • The Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act, effective Jan. 1, 2023, establishes a framework for how businesses control and process data in the Commonwealth. The bill outlines responsibilities and privacy protection standards for data controllers and processors. This bill also allows consumers the ability to access, delete, correct their data, obtain a copy of their data and opt out of the processing of personal data for advertising purposes. The Consumer Data Protection Act only applies to non-government companies that (I) control or process data of at least 100,000 consumers, or (II) earn over half of their gross revenue from the sale of personal data of at least 25,000 consumers. This law is exclusively enforced by the attorney general and the Consumer Privacy Fund.

Data privacy laws are necessary in the digital age for allowing individuals the right to have control over their personal information and making informed decisions about who has access to their data. Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania have proposed comprehensive data privacy laws using previously enacted laws as model legislation. With states enacting data privacy and protection laws to protect individual liberties, policymakers can close the gap between technology and public policy.

Additional Resources

Ohio begins new chapter in justice policy after passage of far-reaching bill in late 2022; priorities include reducing recidivism, improving reentry

Ohio’s most recent attempt to improve its criminal justice system started with lawmakers gathering a “wish list.”

Shortly after Sen. Nathan Manning was named chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2021, he received marching orders from Senate President Matt Huffman to pass a good omnibus criminal justice bill.

From there, Manning and others met with multiple well-known stakeholders in the criminal justice policy realm to better understand what strategies could improve the justice system — be they new ideas, or ideas from older pieces of legislation that failed to pass.

“We didn’t really have an agenda except for the fact that we really wanted, at least to a certain extent, to focus on collateral sanctions [hurting] people who have turned their lives around,” he says.

“We want to help them become productive members of society and not have this necessarily hanging over their head and limit where they can get jobs.”

All of those talks eventually materialized into SB 288, a measure passed in December during Ohio’s lame-duck session. Although SB 288 incorporated several last-minute amendments, the core of the bill represented years of negotiations and work on its myriad provisions to reduce recidivism by easing the transition for people leaving prison.

Among the goals: increase opportunities for incarcerated individuals to earn time off from their sentences and ease the process for sealing or expunging criminal records.

Previously, the amount of time that an incarcerated offender could take off their sentence in exchange for obtaining earned credits could not exceed a length of days equivalent to 8 percent of their total sentence.

The ceiling is now 15 percent.

Credits can still be earned by participating in educational programs, vocational training and substance abuse therapy, as well as by securing a high school equivalency certificate.

“Ohio was either one of the lowest or possibly the lowest [in the country] in earned credit at 8 percent,” Manning says.

The law also allows more than one eligible felony criminal record to be sealed at a time and caps filing fees at $50. Fees are waived altogether if the applicant provides a poverty affidavit.

For those seeking to have their records expunged, the law creates an application process such as the one already used for record sealing. The chance to erase records, via expungement, can be a valuable alternative to sealing, Manning says.

“I’ve seen that as an attorney where we get a client’s record sealed, for somebody who is really turning their life around and even situations where maybe somebody wants to hire them, but for whatever reason they can’t because the sealed record still comes up,” Manning says.

Additionally, prosecutors now can personally apply to seal or expunge conviction records related to a low-level drug offense.

Reentry 2030: CSG part of new national initiative

Reducing recidivism also is the goal of Reentry 2030, a recently launched national initiative being co-led by the CSG Justice Center, the Correctional Leaders Association and JustLeadershipUSA.

“One of the challenges with reentry is that when people return, multiple systems touch them,” says Nicole Jarrett, director of the CSG Justice Center’s Corrections and Reentry Division.

“The way we typically think about reentry is that it’s a corrections challenge or issue,” she says. “But really, for successful reentry to happen, people need basics like housing. They need a job. If they have substance abuse needs, they need treatment.”

Reentry 2030 asks state leaders and stakeholders alike to think about the logistics of reintegration more broadly, and to let shared data drive policymaking, Jarrett says.

In part, this evidence-based approach involves identifying barriers to employment and other essentials of well-being that can make reintegration a self-defeating exercise.

And it also means listening.

“There’s been a growing movement around having people with lived experience share what the reentry process has looked like for them,” Jarrett says. “People who’ve gone through it will be the first ones to tell you all the inefficiencies. … They know because they’re the common element across all of these well-meaning systems, and programs, and organizations.”

The conversation on reentry and what it means for a former offender to find fulfillment needs to go beyond just reducing recidivism, she says, adding this means gaining a better understanding of existing racial and ethnic inequities in reentry success.

According to Jarrett, the new Ohio law’s emphasis on encouraging participation in pre-release programming is promising.

The challenge for Ohio and other states, she adds, is finding ways to scale up correctional programming, remove long waiting lists for services, expand participant eligibility, and then continue rehabilitation post-release through community programming and employer partnerships.

Strangulation now a felony under new Ohio law

SB 288 touches on many other aspects of Ohio’s criminal justice system. For instance, lawmakers revised their laws in response to the epidemic of drug overdoses and deaths.

First, the new law expands “Good Samaritan” protections for individuals who seek help when witnessing an overdose. These individuals will not be prosecuted if drug paraphernalia is found on them by police responding to the overdose. Second, legislators decriminalized the possession of fentanyl test strips, which can be used to detect the presence of fentanyl (tied to many overdose deaths) in drugs.

Another part of SB 288 marks a legislative victory for lawmakers such as Sens. Nickie Antonio and Stephanie Kunze, who had long sought a change in the state’s law on strangulation.

Now, strangulation in Ohio is considered a felony offense (it had not been prior to SB 288’s passage), much as it is in 48 other states.

The result is increased penalties for domestic abusers.

Antonio says some resistance over the years to a statutory change stemmed from concerns that increasing the criminal severity of strangulation would unintentionally harm “boys roughhousing.”

“This is so clearly not that,” she adds.

Antonio referenced testimony in multiple committee hearings about the physical damage of strangulation, as well as the potential for future violence by people who commit the crime.

A study by Johns Hopkins University, for example, found that a person who has been non-fatally strangled even once by his or her domestic partner is 750 percent more likely to later be murdered by that same partner.

Unlike previous bills where the focus was solely on domestic abuse cases, SB 288 includes tiered penalties based on whether the perpetrator is related to the victim or is a repeat offender for all instances of strangulation.

Antonio credits the provision’s inclusion in a larger omnibus bill as the reason it finally crossed the finish line:

“My hope is that with stopping it at the point of strangulation the very first time … there are a lot of lives to be saved. And maybe the perpetrator can get some help, too [while being incarcerated].”

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States use different models to govern K-12 systems, and these structures are subject to change based, in part, on the will of legislatures

Schools across the region and nation are still reeling, to some degree, from the disruption that the COVID-19 pandemic had on students’ education.

On the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, average student test scores in fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading fell in every Midwestern state — with one exception — compared to results from three years earlier. (Illinois’ fourth-grade math and reading scores were constant with 2019 averages.)

This decline in academic performance, combined with a mix of contentious issues and changing priorities in K-12 education, has led some lawmakers to take a closer look at how school systems are governed and policies are made.

Proposed Overhaul in Ohio

In the Midwest, several different education governance models are used.

Wisconsin and North Dakota have independently elected state superintendents, a position enshrined in each state’s constitution. Indiana also had an elected state superintendent until 2021, when a legislative change (HB 1005 of 2019) made the top school official a governor-appointed rather than elected position.

Governors also have considerable control of state-level education leadership in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota. In those states, the governors appoint members of the state boards of education and/or the chief state school officer (see maps).

Ohio has a hybrid model of sorts, a 19-member State Board of Education with 11 members chosen by voters and eight appointed by the governor.

This board is constitutionally required to exist, but Ohio Sen. Bill Reineke believes many of its powers and responsibilities should be moved to the governor’s office.

For years, he has advocated for a cabinet-level administrator that would have jurisdiction over key policy areas, such as K-12 standards and assessments, school district report cards, teacher evaluation systems, and the distribution of state aid.

The State Board of Education would retain authority over certain administrative duties.

Last year, Reineke sought this kind of overhaul in governance with SB 178. At the time, Ohio had been without a full-time state superintendent for over a year, and Reineke and others felt a lack of leadership had contributed to lower test scores and an increased need for academic remediation.

He says the proposal is partly about improving accountability, by making the top school chief part of the governor’s cabinet, but also about modernizing the mission of Ohio’s K-12 education system.

The proposed cabinet-level position would oversee a “Department of Education and Workforce.” Along with adding “workforce” to the department’s title, Reineke envisions creating a new division focused entirely on career and technical education.

“Currently we have 700-plus employees at the Ohio Department of Education,” he says.

“When I started this quest five years ago, there were three [staffers] in career tech. Today, we’re all the way up to 37, and I just feel like we should have a larger percentage of people really focusing in on these programs.”

SB 178 passed the Senate in December 2022. Language from this legislation was ultimately included in a larger (and contentious) House bill (HB 151) that did not pass.

‘Sing out of same hymnal’

Paolo DeMaria, president and CEO of the National Association of State Boards of Education and a former Ohio state superintendent, says debates over education governance structures can sometimes be a manifestation of something else.

When SB 178 was debated on the Senate floor, for example, some proponents of the bill cited frustrations with unfunded state mandates and how a school-choice scholarship program was being carried out as justification for a new governance structure.

Twenty-five years ago, a high-profile debate over education policy in Minnesota led lawmakers to end their state’s structure and replace it with one unique in the Midwest — a governor-appointed, cabinet-level education commissioner, with no state board of education. Minnesota’s elimination of the governor-appointed board marked the first time any U.S. state had made such a move.

At the time, Education Week notes, one catalyst for this change was negative reaction to a board-approved policy known as the “diversity rule,” which required Minnesota districts to develop plans to address student achievement gaps along racial and ethnic lines.

Rep. Gene Pelowski — who voted for the bill at the time — says K-12 education policymaking in Minnesota today is dominated by the Legislature and the governor. He worries about the level of “meddling” that now comes from St. Paul.

“A one-size-fits-all [approach] on what is going to be done in the classroom has probably done more harm to education than anything else, coupled with statewide testing,” he believes.

Regardless of the governance model, DeMaria notes, legislatures have significant authority over education practices.

“The fundamental question is, Are there certain governance models that are better than others? And the answer to that is ‘no.’ ”

Instead, he says, the emphasis should be placed on an effective sharing of responsibilities and goals.

“When I go to a state and I see the board, and the superintendent, and the governor, and the legislature all singing out of the same hymnal and working collaboratively on a common agenda, that’s where you actually [move forward],” says DeMaria, who cites Mississippi’s successful efforts over the past decade to improve literacy scores as an example.

Controversy in Nebraska

DeMaria acknowledges because education has always been a political issue, politics undeniably plays a role in the few states that have elected state board of education positions.

“If I am running in a state and I know that to win I have to accumulate a certain number of votes, then that goes into the platform-setting and the representations that are made,” he said in an interview last year with Politico.

Three Midwestern states — Kansas, Michigan and Nebraska — have all members of their respective state boards of education publicly elected. During the 2022 elections in Nebraska, there was heightened interest in these races.

That’s in large part because of a controversy which arose one year prior, when the Nebraska State Board of Education released draft proposals for state health education standards. The first draft was met with heavy criticism due to the inclusion of learning goals centered around gender identity and descriptions of sexual acts starting in elementary grades. The second draft made significant
changes, but the board ultimately voted to postpone implementation indefinitely.

A significant legislative and political fallout ensued.

During Nebraska’s 2022 legislative session, an unsuccessful proposal (LB 768) sought to prevent the State Board of Education from adopting standards unrelated to reading, writing, math, science or social studies.

Meanwhile, a coalition of people opposing the 2021 sex education standards were able to transform a Facebook group into a political action committee that backed several candidates for the Nebraska State Board of Education. Most of those candidates won their election in November, resulting in a major change in the makeup of the board.

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Minus federal action, states ramp up activity on consumer data privacy

One reality about serving in the nation’s laboratories of democracy: On some issues, the lab can get shut down at any time, if a federal measure passes and includes preemption language.

Consumer data privacy appears to be one of those issues.

Minus action by the U.S. Congress, state legislators across the country have been crafting bills to establish new privacy protections for their constituents amid growing concerns about how companies collect, use and sell consumer data. As of early 2023, five states (none in the Midwest) had consumer data privacy laws in place, often mirroring each other in many ways in order to avoid a “patchwork” of laws and definitions.

At the same time, these enacted measures have enough substantive differences to get the label of “business friendly” or “consumer friendly.”

Since 2021, legislation has been introduced in most Midwestern states, and last year, measures were approved in three legislative chambers (see map). Many proposals will be under consideration this year as well, all while lawmakers watch for a breakthrough in the nation’s capital, where congressional leaders came closer than ever in 2022 to agreeing on a comprehensive federal law.

“I expect that whatever I get passed here in Minnesota is eventually going to be preempted by federal legislation,” says Rep. Steve Elkins, whose long professional background in data management and information technology made him a natural fit to be a point person on the issue. “But I also expect the legislation that we’re passing in the states is going to have a heavy influence on what Congress eventually does.

“That’s what I view as the long-term legacy of the work that we’re doing now — identify the issues, flesh them out, and then write good legislation that Congress can use as a model.”

David Stauss, a leading national expert on states’ work on consumer data privacy, agrees that all of this work of states is shaping the direction of federal policy. He points to laws taking effect this year in the “3 C” states (California, Colorado and Connecticut) as examples.

“Everybody realizes that a 50-state approach to privacy law would be a mess,” says Stauss, a partner at Husch Blackwell LLP and co-leader of the firm’s privacy and data security practice group. “What I think the advantage of the state approach right now is it allows things to be tried, rules to be proposed and changed. Also, it ingrains certain concepts and sets floors [on privacy rights] for what will happen at the federal level.”

One state may lead to another

In the meantime, Elkins believes this year’s implementation of new privacy laws in a handful of states will give momentum to legislative proposals in other states, including his own.

He recounts a recent experience of logging into the site of a national hotel chain.

“I went to update my [membership] profile, and there was an option that says, If you’re a resident of California or a couple of other states, you have these additional rights. Click here,” Elkins says. Increasingly, he believes Minnesotans will be asking: Why don’t I have these same rights?

In his work on consumer data privacy, Elkins has used as a starting point the Washington Privacy Act. (As of early 2023, the state of Washington had not passed the measure, but other state laws, with the exception of California’s, were modeled after it.) Elkins expects his legislation this year to again rely on the Washington framework, while incorporating recent enhancements in other states as well as some of his own ideas in areas such as how “precise geolocation” is defined in statute.

What are Elkins’ “must haves” for laws on consumer data privacy?

“They need to have things like the right to have an opt-out of having your data sold,” he says. “The right to know what data a company has about you. The right to correct inaccuracies in that data. The right to question decisions that have been made about you based on that data.”

‘What are the rules?’

Like Elkins, Wisconsin Rep. Shannon Zimmerman came to the legislature as a “data guy.” He and his wife started and successfully built up a language-translation company. More generally, too, Zimmerman embraces the value of “big data,” as a means of improving the experience of consumers and the lives of people.

“As a guy who loves tech, I think we’re living in the best times, this convergence of big data, AI and quantum computing,” he says. “We’re going to see cures to cancer, I hope, in my lifetime as a result of all this. “But I think one of the things that has been overlooked is, what are the rules? What are the ethical considerations as it relates to personally identifiable information?”

That’s where he believes state government, especially minus action at the federal government, must step in, and Zimmerman lays out three pillars for how his state should set new rules in the area of consumer data privacy.

“Number one, I want a Wisconsin resident to be able to say to a data collector, what do you have on me? What have you collected? Number two, to whom have you shared or sold my private and personal information? And then, third, I, the consumer, should be able to say, ‘No, stop, delete it.’ ”

The International Association of Privacy Professionals tracks legislative activity in states, comparing the measures based on their inclusion or exclusion of eight specific “consumer rights” and five “obligations” put on business. The former category includes a consumer’s right to opt out of sales, a right not to have his or her sensitive data processed without first opting in, and a right not to have automated decisions made about him or her without human input.

Among the obligations on business: no discrimination against individuals who exercise their privacy rights and disclosure to consumers of data practices (see full list below).

New obligations on business

From the perspective of Caitriona Fitzgerald, for a law to be truly “consumer friendly,” it must uproot a model that she believes puts an unrealistic burden on consumers to secure privacy rights from each and every business with which they interact online.

“Instead, put an obligation on the companies that they can only collect what is reasonably necessary for what service they’re providing, and a few other limited services such as fraud prevention,” says Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. According to Fitzgerald, the five U.S. states with laws on the books have not met this “reasonably necessary” test; in contrast, the 2022 federal legislation did.

Minus this kind of blanket limit on data collection, Stauss says, some states have included statutory language that allows for a “universal opt-out mechanism.”

“There are emerging technologies, through browsers or browser conventions, that can send a signal to a website, ‘I want to opt out,’ “ he explains.

For consumers, this means not having to opt out every time, on every different company website.

Stauss notes, too, that some of the new state laws require businesses to obtain consent before collecting certain sensitive data. In its definition of “sensitive data,” for instance, Connecticut includes race and ethnicity, religious beliefs, health conditions, sexual orientation, biometric and genetic information, a child’s personal information, and the precise geolocation of an individual.

Another consideration for legislators: whether or not to require businesses to conduct data protection assessments.

“In a nutshell, the concept behind these provisions is that a business can be engaging in certain high-risk processing activities,” Stauss says. “So the states are saying you should conduct an analysis of your processing activity. You should consider factors to make sure that you’re only collecting the information that you need to collect. You’re getting rid of information after a certain time period. Those types of things.”

Private right of action?

Stauss adds that no states have yet to “ring the bell” on giving consumers a right to private action. Consumer advocates want individuals to be able to bring lawsuits for privacy violations, as opposed to relying on actions being initiated by state law enforcement.

Zimmerman balks at the idea of including such a private right of action in Wisconsin. “We already have a hyper-litigious society,” he says.

His measure from 2022 (AB 957) included a “30 day right to cure,” in which Wisconsin companies that violate the state law are given the opportunity to fix the violation. “If there is a second time, then the attorney general can say, ‘We’re going to now invoke action,’ ” he says.

The federal legislation from 2022 included a private right of action, Fitzgerald says, along with enforcement by federal and state authorities.

“There’s an Illinois biometric privacy law that has a private right of action,” she notes, “and that’s just proven to be a really, really valuable tool.”

The Illinois law dates back to 2008 and, among other provisions, requires entities to obtain written consent from an individual before collecting his or her biometric data. Individuals harmed by the violations have the right to pursue legal action. Last year, in a class-action lawsuit involving more than 45,000 truck drivers, an Illinois jury brought a $228 million judgment against BNSF Railway for violation of the biometrics statute, according to the Chicago Tribune. The suit centered on the railway’s collection of fingerprint data from the truck drivers.

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