13 new state laws progressives can applaud

Thanks to some smart and courageous state legislators around the country, the progressive agenda actually inched forward in 2011. Yes, you read that correctly: This year, progressive state laws have been enacted that may actually have a positive economic effect for families and state economies. And their passage came despite unprecedented assaults on the middle class by opponents on the right. Although I’m not one who customarily uses religious imagery or exclamations, I can say amen to that.

A recent article by Progressive States Network [PSN] lists 13 new, landmark laws that “may point the way forward for future years in other states—when [conservatives] will surely find themselves out of power once again…and promise to continue gaining momentum across the nation in years to come.”

Here, briefly, are Progressive State Network’s baker’s dozen of refreshing, progressive bills that don’t assault workers’, women’s or immigrants’ rights, that don’t balance state budgets on the backs of children and poor people, don’t give unneeded tax breaks to millionaires and corporate CEOs, and do responsibly raise revenues for struggling economies. More details, including states that have similar bills pending, are on Progressive States Network web page.

(1) Oregon: A new law increases accountability for corporate subsidies, by requiring a state agency to publish, on the state website, detailed information about the amount, purpose and intent of tax incentives directed to corporations.

(2) Illinois: SB 2505 raises the state corporate and personal income tax as a responsible way to generate revenue in a state whose governor said that its “fiscal house was burning.”

(3) Oregon: The legislature agreed to set up “Partnership Banks”—state-sponsored banks that serve as alternative depositories for state revenue, return part of their profits to the state, and keep public dollars in the community. [South Dakota’s public bank is the model for this plan.]

(4) Maryland: A new law, representing an effort to counter Citizens United, requires corporations, unions or other organizations that make independent expenditures and/or engage in electioneering to influence public policy or elections, to report their activities to their shareholders. Maryland is the first state to require this sort of transparency.

(5) Connecticut: In 2011, the legislature enacted the first statewide law guaranteeing workers the right to earn paid sick days. [The significance of this guarantee comes in its contrast to Wisconsin, where legislators enacted a law preempting municipal paid sick days ordinances and quashed the will of Milwaukee voters who overwhelmingly enacted such a law in 2008.]

(6) Texas: Even a red state can pass blue-tinged laws, as Texas did this year in SB 1024, which protects workers from wage theft by their employers.

(7) Maine: Despite efforts to roll back workers’ rights, the legislature created a work-sharing program: It helps employers avoid layoffs by “temporarily reducing their staff’s hours uniformly and entitling workers to a proportional share of unemployment insurance”. Even conservatives and Tea Partiers supported the bill, smartly recognizing it as an example of the fact that what is good for workers is also good for business, the economy, and the state as a whole,” says PSN.

(8) Oregon: Two bills passed in the 2011 session added funds to help rural and low-income families gain affordable access to the internet.

(9) Vermont: SB 78 empowers municipalities to regulate contruction and development of broadband networks. It also creates a “certificate of public good” for communications, to make it easier for communities to build their own networks, which is especially helpful in areas where “corporate providers have no economic incentives to deploy broadband networks.”

(10) Connecticut is setting a path toward a green economy by creating a green jobs task force. “The bill’s intention is to encourage the creation of innovative new jobs and specifically to ensure that students educated in the state have access to good, green jobs, and stay in-state to contribute to Connecticut’s economy,” says PSN.

(11) Colorado:  Although a partisan vote killed it, Colorado’s emblematic tuition-equity bill will come up again next year and has many cousins in other state legislatures. Its purpose is tuition equity, allowing undocumented students to attend public colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates.

(12) California:  Closing in on passage is an immigration-enforcement bill that would “set safeguards against racial profiling, protect children and domestic-violence victims from deportation and ensure access to due process for individuals who are accused but never convicted of a crime.”

(13) Connecticut: SB 921, which passed in the 2011 session, is a significant first step toward setting up the state-based healthcare exchanges at the heart of health-care reform.

So, progressives, take heart. In a year when Republicans swept into state legislatures and US Congressional seats in unprecedented numbers, and in a year that saw those new Republicans going on a right-wing, slash-and-burn rampage–reason, sanity, responsibility and even concern for the public good still managed to rise above selfishness, greed and corrupting influences, and trickle toward a better future. Hallelujah.