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Controversial Issues Facing States in the New Year

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Richard Moore
January 22, 2019

Looking ahead to the year 2020, there are many issues beyond a crucial Presidential election that will be considered by the public and its elected leaders. As policymakers and academics look forward to the beginning of a new year and new decade, the general election will determine the control of the White House, the United States Senate and House. Results in those elections will affect the direction of our democracy at the national level as well as the state level. Two issues of critical national importance in 2020 will be the conduct of the United States Census and the control of state legislations, both of which play a role in the make-up of the Congress.

Most states will choose legislatures that in 2021 will redistrict congressional and legislative seats on the basis of the census. Some 6,000 of the nation’s 7,383 state legislators will be elected. Eight governors, who in many states play a role in redistricting, also will be elected in 2020. “This is the Big Kahuna of elections for redistricting,” said Tim Storey, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), who observed that next year’s state elections could determine the partisan composition of the United States House of Representatives and most state legislatures for a decade. 

Those currently serving in state legislatures will consider a number of key issues in the second half of the 2019-2020 legislative sessions, and those who are re-elected or who take office for the first time will have a lot to say about issues that will continue to need attention. State actions in FY 2019 and FY 2020 reflect an innovative, dynamic Medicaid program that is constantly evolving to address the most pressing healthcare issues facing the nation, including initiatives to control prescription drug spending, improve birth outcomes, reduce maternal mortality, address the opioid epidemic and allow seniors to age in place. With fewer budget pressures, many states reported expansions or enhancements to provider rates and benefits. While several states implemented, adopted, or continue to debate the ACA Medicaid expansion, a number of states continue to pursue policies promoted by the Trump administration that could restrict eligibility such as work requirements.

The United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in December stopped short of declaring the entire law unconstitutional, as had a lower-court judge ruling in a case brought by Texas and 17 other red states. The judges, voting 2 to 1, sent the case back to the same judge who had invalidated the entire law in the first place, in a ruling almost exactly a year ago condemned by many legal authorities as a judicial absurdity. This action could have complex and far-reaching consequences for Medicaid and the entire healthcare system if the ACA is overturned. Looking ahead, the trajectory of the economy, the direction of federal policies around Medicaid Section 1115 waivers, and the focus of the debate and attention to healthcare issues in the lead up to the November 2020 elections will also be factors that continue to shape Medicaid in FY 2020 and beyond.

A number of issues related to the impact of technology in state and local governments will continue to face policymakers in the New Year and beyond. Deloitte’s Government and Public Service Practice has prepared a detailed report on government innovation, looking at what’s behind adoption of new technology and management practices, including the impact and uses of AI (Artificial Intelligence). With state and local technology increasingly the target of cybercriminals and the growing concern of the public about privacy, this area of public policy is becoming more sensitive.

Abortion. Transgender rights. Voting access. Polarizing issues could dominate statehouse agendas in 2020, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). With about 38 state legislatures set to reconvene in January, lawmakers are preparing to debate issues that affect life’s most intimate decisions. In Georgia, a Republican lawmaker wants to criminalize prescribing hormones for transgender youth. In California, criminal justice advocates are pushing to create, “Safe consumption,” locations for drug addicts. And nationwide, antiabortion activists are gearing up for another round of efforts to curb access, with parental-notification requirements and bans on abortifacient medications. 

The coming statehouse battles reflect the deepening divide in the United States’ culture wars, and advocates expect state policy debates will influence how voters think about the 2020 presidential election. But centering those contentious issues risks alienating swing voters for both parties, said Andrew Taylor, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University. “If there’s a sense that a state legislature is going too extreme, too unfair, too intolerant in either direction for moderate voters, this might make an impact,” Taylor said. Republicans still control a majority of state capitals, holding 26 governorships and 29 state legislatures. But Democrats have made gains in statehouses for the past two years, including the governorship of Kentucky and both houses of the Virginia legislature. 

Author: Richard T. Moore has served in both elective and appointed public office at local, state, and federal levels of government. He served for nearly two decades each in the Massachusetts House and Senate, as well as being chosen as President of the National Conference of State Legislatures.. He also served in Washington, DC as Associate Director of FEMA in the Clinton Administration and as a Presidential Elector in 1992. A former college administrator and adjunct assistant professor of government at Bentley University and Bridgewater State University, Mr. Moore is a long-time member of ASPA serving terms as Massachusetts Chapter President and National Council member. His email address is [email protected]

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