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.
President Donald Trump lost the election, but he used his four years in office to change the face of the federal judiciary, appointing more than 220 conservative judges. The altered legal landscape will profoundly affect how state lawmakers grapple with legislation that is likely to end up in the courts, especially measures to restrict abortion or expand access to it.
The national reckoning over racial discrimination is far from over. Many state legislatures across the country will soon convene for the first time since the killing of George Floyd last year. Bolstered by a nationwide racial justice movement, state lawmakers are preparing to debate changes to policing, health care and other policy areas that have disproportionately impacted people of color.
The pandemic has revealed weaknesses in local and state public health systems. Legislators in many states will focus on shoring up those deficiencies and on measures designed to rebuild trust in public health experts.
Many people who lost their jobs during the pandemic have been propped up by unemployment benefits and temporary bans on evictions and utility shutoffs. State lawmakers are working on proposals to soften the blow when those emergency measures end. Legislatures are trying to provide relief for tenants and landlords, hoping to avoid a worsening homeless crisis while also dealing with budget struggles of their own. And some states will consider proposals to extend or expand unemployment benefits.
States will be under pressure to redraw districts in time for next year’s elections, without the federal guidance they had in 2010. Needed census data has been delayed, and some states have passed legislation to stop gerrymandering.