In our annual State of the States series, Stateline reporters look at some of the pressing issues state lawmakers are facing as they begin their work this legislative session.
After seeing the effect of strict voting laws in Florida, North Dakota and Georgia, state Democrats across the country will make the expansion of voter access a big priority. Look no further than New York, where Democrats finally took control of the Senate. Lawmakers are introducing a complete overhaul of the voting system there. Other states, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania, are also looking to make big gains on voter access. Other issues to keep an eye on for Democrats: voting rights for felons, automatic voter registration, same-day registration and ranked-choice voting. Meanwhile, Republicans will continue to push for voter registration purges and voter ID laws. We’ll also look at modernizing voting equipment in Pennsylvania and the battle over gerrymandering in states such as Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Inadequate funding for schools was one of the most talked-about issues in 2018 state races and a marquee issue for several governors. But several of those leaders are facing budget problems or an adversarial legislature that will make it tough to deliver on their promises to increase school funding, expand access to preschool or increase teacher pay. Meanwhile, teachers are already planning demonstrations in California and Virginia to pressure state and local policymakers to improve their pay.
The opioid epidemic is costing the nation more than $78 billion per year in health care expenses, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice. More than a dozen states plan to tax opioid painkillers to raise money for treatment and prevention – but pharmaceutical companies are lobbying hard against such taxes, and last month a federal court overturned the first opioid tax law in New York. Meanwhile in March, a federal court in Ohio will hear cases brought by hundreds of cities, counties, states and tribal governments against opioid makers and distributors. A settlement, which is considered likely, would give states millions or billions to spend to fight the epidemic. How would they use it?
More states and cities are signing up to help ensure a complete count in the 2020 census, despite political feuding over the impact of immigrants on representation. That’s because even in red states, more population can mean gains in Congress and more national political power. The pressure to find more residents will be particularly intense in California, Illinois, Minnesota and New York, where only a few thousand people could stop the loss of a congressional seat. U.S. House seats also hang in the balance in Alabama, Florida, Montana, Ohio and Texas.
States will continue to test their authority to regulate drug pricing. Last year, Maryland and New York suffered setbacks in their attempts to control high prices, although the New York case seems headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. This coming year, Louisiana and Vermont both have innovative pricing proposals, but to move forward they will need permission from the federal government. Last year, the Trump administration sent mixed signals, turning down Massachusetts’s proposal for creating a closed formulary while approving some innovative pricing proposals from other states.