March 24 Legislative Roundup

Did you catch last week’s legislative roundup? If not, go read it! We’re covering more states this week – read it here!

Colorado General Assembly

  • On criminal justice reform, Colorado House lawmakers passed a bill that would reduce non-violent offenders’ sentences if they complete higher education while incarcerated.
    • Sentence reductions range from six months for a certificate, one year for an associate or bachelor’s, a year and a half for a master’s and two years for a doctorate.
  • On housing, House Democrats passed a bill to create more protections for renters, barring landlords from evicting tenants without proper justification.
  • As expected, legislators in both chambers are tackling a number of gun reform initiatives: three day waiting period, expanding the state’s red flag law, increasing age requirements for some guns, expanding the ability for gun violence victims to sue manufacturers.

Illinois General Assembly

  • This week, Illinois House lawmakers are focused on sending bills to the Senate before the deadline on Friday. The house sent 41 bills to the Senate on Tuesday.
  • An antidiscrimination proposal passed by the House would allow Illinois residents to sue in state court for federal violations.
  • Multiple bills remove gendered language from current laws, in an effort for the state to become more gender inclusive.
  • Tackling voting rights, two bills to implement ranked choice voting are being considered in a House committee.

Maryland General Assembly

  • Monday was “Crossover Day,” the deadline for each respective chamber to send approved bills to the other chamber. Bills on a plethora of topics are now being considered by both chambers.
  • The Senate passed SB555, a bill to expedite the adoption of a $15 minimum wage statewide.
  • Both chambers passed a version of a bill requiring the state DOT to consider equity when making transportation reports, goals, and plans.
  • A popular move by other state legislatures, and one which the federal government is considering, House lawmakers passed a bill banning the app TikTok from state-owned devices.

Nevada Legislature

  • In Nevada, this is the final week for lawmakers to introduce any bills. Lawmakers have several prioritiesincluding education, healthcare, criminal justice, and more.
  • Between the Republican governor and Democratic-controlled legislative chambers, debates will continue on school funding allocation (public vs. charter) and teacher raises, among other education initiatives.
  • Legislators are considering joining interstate compacts to address the nurse shortage and allow those professionals to be licensed in more than one state.
  • Both sides are expected to come to address a couple criminal justice items: fentanyl deaths and catalytic converter thefts.

Pennsylvania General Assembly

  • The state’s first independent Speaker of the House John Rozzi resigned, making way for Democrat Joanna McClinton to be elected; she is the first woman to do so.
  • With Democrats holding the majority in the House and Republicans with the Senate majority, the legislative session in the state could be marked by gridlock.
  • So far, lawmakers held a hearing with Norfolk Southern’s CEO after the large train derailment and subsequent chemical burn in February this year.
  • Education is at the forefront of lawmakers’ minds this year also, as state universities requested a larger funding increase than Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed.

Ohio General Assembly

March 13 Legislative Roundup

Welcome back to our third legislative roundup of the year! Legislative sessions are in full swing across the county, and much has happened since we last updated. Check out this blog for updates on important topics, and we’ll be back soon to cover more states!

Arizona State Legislature

California State Legislature

Connecticut General Assembly

Georgia General Assembly

Minnesota Legislature

Missouri General Assembly

New York State Legislature

February: Time to Stand Up for Black History

Happy Black History Month! February is a time for us to celebrate Black history, culture, and excellence, in addition to supporting Black communities and businesses. Furthermore, everyone should remember that supporting Black communities and our history should be a year-round activity, not be a month-long performative event. With the disgraceful Florida AP African American Studies debacle happening during Black History Month, we feel called to further discuss multiple facets of the situation.

  • The College Board made the wrong decision in bending the knee to the Florida Department of Education. The unclear statements and actions provide ambiguity, not transparency.
    • The College Board’s reaction to Florida’s rejection of the AP African American Studies class was extremely strange and opaque. The board expressed regret for not responding quickly enough and called out Florida’s Department of Education for slander. Meanwhile, the board changed the curriculum to be in line with what Florida and Gov. DeSantis requested – claiming these revisions were planned before Florida rejected it. It seems like an awfully strange coincidence that the College Board was planning to make these revisions beforehand, and we have a tough time buying that. Even if they were planning these revisions, why? The board essentially said they voluntarily whitewashed this history class! Either voluntarily or under pressure by Florida, changing the curriculum was the wrong decision.
  • Companies that are celebrating Black History Month, while contributing monetarily to Gov. DeSantis, are clearly hypocritical.
    • As we mentioned at the beginning of this blog, Black History Month is a time for genuine celebration and recognition, not performativity. We know, however, some companies will promote Black History Month all while still supporting elected officials or initiatives not in line with our community. Take this situation, for example, where companies like Coca-Cola, Walmart, DoorDash, AT&T, etc. all have donated to Gov. DeSantis while promoting Black History Month. Quite hypocritical and performative of these corporations if you ask us.
  • Thank you to Gov. Phil Murphy for setting an example of inclusivity.
    • New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy did the right thing – expanding the AP African American Studies class to be taught at more New Jersey schools. Murphy is correct our schools should “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even when it hurts.” Our kids gain nothing by learning an incomplete or inaccurate version of history.

Now, other states – Arkansas, North Dakota, Mississippi, and Virginia – are reviewing the AP African American Studies class. All of this is part of the larger attack on Critical Race Theory in grade schools – a fake problem that doesn’t actually exist. We’re thankful to the activists and elected officials, like Gov. Murphy, who are committed to teaching a full and accurate account of history, including Black history.

Rest In Peace, Tyre Nichols

Like many others across the country, we are heartbroken and angry about Tyre Nichols losing his life to police brutality. For much too long, Black and Brown bodies have been subjected to unfair, and usually dangerous treatment at the hands of police. This conversation is a complex one, but the bottom line is legislative change must occur imminently.

Neighborhood FORWARD was founded after the murder of George Floyd out of a desire to protect Black and Brown populations and end police brutality. In the wake of Mr. Nichols’ horrific murder, we remain steadfast in our advocacy for comprehensive police reform.

During Tuesday’s State of the Union address by President Biden, Tyre’s parents were in attendance to hear Biden’s impassioned plea for police reform. We agree with President Biden and a plethora of other individuals advocating for passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.  We cannot afford to wait any longer; this legislation is expansive and should be passed immediately.

The bill would enact several key reforms including, but not limited to…

  • Increasing accountability for police misconduct
  • Establishing best practices and more training requirements
  • Restricting usage of certain practices like no-knock warrants, chokeholds, etc.
  • A national registry of data and records on police misconduct
  • Using a new framework to prevent racial profiling
  • Directing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to create accreditation standards for police

While it’s a long road ahead to completely end police brutality, this bill is a very strong start. Any action is better than no action because the status quo is not working. Black and Brown folks deserve to feel safe in our communities, just as anyone else.

It’s good that the perpetrators of Tyre Nichols’ murder were swiftly fired and criminally charged, and the unit was quickly disbanded. However, we must point out the racial disparities here. The officers involved in Tyre’s death were Black; when white officers are involved in police brutality, they are not always disciplined as quickly. Passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and increasing police accountability across the board is vital to ensure equal discipline, regardless of the officer’s race.

Mr. Nichols should still be with us today, just as every other victim of police brutality. The least we can do is change policing in this country to protect our fellow Black and Brown Americans. Contact your U.S. senators and representatives to let them know we can’t wait any longer for change, and it’s time to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Teach Black History

We’re just a week away from Black History Month, and of course, the relentless attacks on Black history continue. Thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, it’s time to revisit the ongoing “woke critical race theory” discourse.

If you haven’t heard, Gov. DeSantis recently directed the Florida Department of Education to ban an Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course. Gov. DeSantis has claimed the course teaches critical race theory, and therefore, will indoctrinate students with “woke” ideology.

Every sane person knows that an AP African American Studies class is just that: a normal history class. Somehow, a faction of the political punditry started to falsely equate Blackness with “woke, political ideology.”

As we said in our most recent blog on the CRT debate, it’ the newest anti-Black and -Brown fear tool. There is no legitimate reason Florida high school students shouldn’t be able to take an AP African American Studies class.

The reality is that everyone, Black and non-Black students alike, would benefit from learning an accurate account of our history. Black students deserve the opportunity to take an AP class on their history, just as other students can take Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, or European history and culture classes.

It’s quite ironic Gov. DeSantis laments “indoctrination” while simultaneously denying students the opportunity to learn about topics he doesn’t like. If it’s bad for students to be indoctrinated, shouldn’t multiple ideological viewpoints be available to them? What good comes from banning a Black history class and denying students educational opportunities?

The state presented six reasons for denying the curriculum – two of the most prominent being queer and abolitionist educational themes among others like intersectionality and reparations. Additionally, the criticism wrongly discounted several incredible Black academics like bell hooks, Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, and others.

The piece of the equation that doesn’t add up is the fact that the curriculum is for an Advanced Placement course – one which older and advanced high school students would take. When Florida implemented the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, also dubbed as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, politicians were concerned about elementary students learning about complex topics like sexuality. That isn’t the case here; high school students are plenty old enough to learn about difficult topics.

Students learn by using higher-order thinking skills to understand complex issues, and it’s good for them to learn about difficult or controversial topics. There’s a plethora of information and data showing diversity in education is positively impactful.

Overall, it’s shameful to ban an entire class based on fear of complex topics and Black academics’ work teaching our history. We will not relent in our belief that America’s youth deserve to learn an accurate and whole account of history, no matter the difficulty of the conversation.

January 19 NF Legislative Roundup

Happy belated MLK Day! This week, we’re back again with legislative roundups and an overview of several states we didn’t cover last week. Stay tuned in 2023 for more blogs and legislative roundups.

Colorado General Assembly

  • Colorado legislators started the 2023 session on Jan. 9 in Denver. It’s the fifth session in a row Democrats have a trifecta. According to Axios Denver, the majority has a number of priorities, ranging from gun violence prevention to education and affordable housing reform.
  • A couple bills to highlight include…
    • SB 23-1: This bill aims to create affordable housing by allocating funding to the Public-Private Partnership Office.
    • HB 23-1001: Colorado lawmakers propose expanding eligibility for loan forgiveness for educators, hoping to address the teacher shortage.

Illinois General Assembly

  • In Illinois, Democrats continue to hold supermajorities in both chambers. Additionally, this legislature will be more diverse than years past with the first two Muslim American lawmakers elected in the state.
  • A couple notable moments so far…

Maryland General Assembly

  • Maryland Democrats have both chambers of the legislature and a newly elected leader in Gov. Wes Moore.
  • There are several issues the legislature is expected to act on.

Nevada Legislature

  • Nevadans elected Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo in the midterm election, and Democrats increased their majorities in both chambers.
  • Lombardo has billed himself as an “education governor” and is pushing more school funding according to Nevada Public Radio.
  • The budget and how to utilize a surplus from COVID funding will be hot topics in the state as well.

Pennsylvania General Assembly

  • Over 50 new lawmakers have been sworn in to the historically diverse 2023 Pennsylvania General Assembly.
  • Already, this legislature is an interesting one in Pennsylvania.
    • Interestingly, House lawmakers selected a bipartisan choice for speaker in independent Mark Rozzi.
    • Three upcoming special elections will determine the partisan control of the House.
    • Newly elected Shapiro, in his first order of business, signed an executive order to eliminate college degree requirements for state jobs.

Ohio General Assembly

  • In Ohio, Republicans hold a trifecta. The first hiccup of the session came when the Republican caucus struggled to decide on a House speaker.
  • According to Axios Columbus, lawmakers are expected to focus on a number of issues.
    • Lawmakers are anticipated to further restrict abortion, overhaul the education system, cut taxes, and reform the state’s medical cannabis program, and fund mental health programs.

January 11 NF Legislative Roundup

Happy new year! 2023 is here, and state legislatures will be back in session soon if they haven’t already started. We’re picking up legislative roundups again, and this week will be an overview of key issues to watch across several states.

Arizona State Legislature

  • It should be an interesting year in the Arizona Legislature after the state elected a Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.
    • Will lawmakers waive the spending cap on public schools or the new school voucher system?
    • Will there be a bipartisan effort on affordable housing, election issues, or water legislation?

California State Legislature

  • California lawmakers, the most diverse legislature in state history, have a number of priorities, but must first resolve the potential $24 million budget deficit.
    • In 2023, Californians can expect implementation of several new programs. The state is ready to roll out programs to expand access to mental health care and overhaul the Medi-Cal system.
    • Lawmakers will continue to place priority on improving inventory of affordable housing and lowering the homelessness rate.

Connecticut General Assembly

  • According to CT Insider, Connecticut lawmakers are likely focused on several different legislative topics.
    • After voter approval of the ballot measure, watch for lawmakers to debate regulations on early voting.
    • Housing reform has been another major focus in Connecticut over the last year. Hot topics include zoning reform, housing voucher reform, and more protections for renters.

Georgia General Assembly

  • Axios Atlanta reported several key issues for Georgia lawmakers this session.
    • After runoffs in back-to-back elections, reform initiatives might be on the table such as ranked choice voting or lowering the runoff threshold to 45%.
    • On EVs, lawmakers may implement new policies to encourage usage but protect the state from lost gas tax revenue.

Minnesota Legislature

  • Democrats in Minnesota will try to take advantage of their first trifecta in eight years. Minnesota Public Radio expects a number of priorities from the DFL party.
    • A tax proposal could be on the governor’s desk by Friday.
    • A bill to legalize marijuana for adults 21+ and expunge records is another priority.
    • DFL party members also hope to deliver on other initiatives – ensure access to contraception and abortion, paid family leave, inflation plan, mental health, and more.

Missouri General Assembly

  • Missouri’s Republican trifecta is laser-focused on a few issues, some of which Democrats are expected to help with.
    • Lawmakers on both sides are ready to legalize sports betting.
    • Education will likely be a hot topic, as legislators weigh proposals to implement curriculum guidelines, raise teacher wages, and potentially expand funding for school choice.

New York State Legislature

  • It’s Gov. Hochul’s first elected term, and Democrats still have supermajorities in both chambers despite a rocky 2022 election for the party.
    • Like California, housing will be a top priority this session for New York Democrats. Lawmakers want rent caps, eviction reform, and more affordable housing.
    • The assembly may also focus on criminal justice issues, including but not limited to, sentencing, parole, and bail reform.

Strengthen source of income laws

After reading a story this week in Bloomberg called Section 8 Lawsuit Accuses Philadelphia Landlord of ‘Modern-Day Redlining,’ we feel compelled to further discuss discrimination in housing. While redlining was technically banned with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the fallout continues to affect our lives, and we need new protections on the federal level to prevent discrimination.

Last week, Bloomberg reported the nonprofit Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania is bringing a lawsuit against a Philly property management company. The organization alleges the landlord denied Section 8 applicants in majority white neighborhoods, instead suggesting they apply for units in majority-Black areas.

The landlord’s actions were illegal on multiple levels, firstly due to protections called source of income laws. The city has outlawed source of income discrimination, meaning qualified Section 8 applicants cannot be turned away based on their usage of the voucher.

Philly having source of income protections is the exception, however. Most U.S. cities and states do not have this legal protection, meaning applicants with housing vouchers can be denied solely on that basis.

Secondarily, the landlord’s actions were clearly racial discrimination which has been patently illegal in the U.S. for many years. When landlords operate in areas without source of income laws or landlords break those laws, they can get away with racial discrimination. The actions taken in Philadelphia exemplify this fact.

This case seems to be a combination of two types of discrimination: racial and source of income. The fact that it happened is evidence we need much stronger legal protections to prevent all types of discrimination in housing.

Moreover, source of income laws better facilitate government housing programs like Section 8. The goal of the program is to increase choices of safe and affordable homes for low-income families. If landlords are allowed to participate in discrimination based on usage of the voucher, the efficacy of the program is greatly diminished.

For these reasons, it’s clear that we need to strengthen source of income laws that already exist and implement those laws in areas without them. The simplest way to accomplish this is to pass federal legislation adding source of income as a protected class, similar to race, religion, sex, etc.

Renters should not be discriminated against due to their lawful source of income, nor should this type of discrimination be a loophole for landlords to participate in racial discrimination. Source of income laws also improve housing programs and help renters find suitable, affordable housing. Congress should strongly consider pursuing federal source of income protections.

How did 2022 ballot measures fare?

In October, our blog covered ballot measures across several states and topics. From voting rights to recreational marijuana and more, we’re revisiting the ballot measures to see how they fared.

Voting Rights

In our first blog about ballot measures, we covered seven states with voting-related ballot measures. Five of six were approved in November, and Louisiana votes on Amendment 1 in December.

  • Voters in Nevada approved Question 3, joining Maine and Alaska in using open primaries and ranked-choice voting. This system is widely considered to better represent voters’ preferences, and it requires candidates gain broad support.
  • In Connecticut, voters approved Question 1 to allow in-person early voting. In a win for voting rights, there are now only four states not utilizing early voting.
  • Michigan saw another major voting rights win after voters approved Proposal 2. The measure amended the state constitution to implement several voter protections.
  • Voters in Arizona narrowly defeated Prop 309, which would’ve restricted protocols around voter ID and mail-in ballot laws. Native groups celebrated the outcome of the ballot measure, contending that it would’ve created barriers for tribal voters.
  • Nebraskans approved Initiative 432, allowing the state legislature to pass a law requiring a photo ID to vote.
  • Issue 2 passed in Ohio, prohibiting local governments from allowing people lacking qualifications to vote in local elections.

Recreational Marijuana

Of the five ballot measures seeking to legalize cannabis, Missouri and Maryland prevailed. Residents of Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota voted against legalizing cannabis for recreational use.

Enslavement, Servitude, and Criminal Punishment

Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont approved ballot measures to remove racist language and involuntary servitude from their state constitutions. In Louisiana, however, Amendment 7 failed by over 20%.

There were two main issues that contributed to the result, the first being voter confusion over the amendment’s language. The second issue was the amendment not going far enough; it still allowed for forced labor in prison, making the measure the same as the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Reported by NBC News, Black voters in the state are rightly feeling confused, angry, and embarrassed. We hope the amendment will be reworked and brought back in another election soon.

Other ballot measures

In Colorado, voters approved Proposition 123, which will create an affordable housing fund. The state will now have several new programs aimed toward building affordable housing and keeping folks in their homes.

Voters in Nebraska and Nevada approved minimum wage increases for their respective states. Initiative 433will bring Nebraska minimum wage to $15 by 2026. Question 2 increased Nevada’s minimum wage to $12 by July 1, 2024, and now allows the state legislature to pass minimum wage laws higher than $12.

New York voters, through approval of Proposal 1, acted on climate change and environmental justice. Over $4 billion will now be used on initiatives related to the environment, natural resources, water infrastructure, and climate change mitigation. At least 35% of the money will go to disadvantaged communities; it’s great to see the strong pursuit of environmental justice.

Ballot measures, such as these, can make a huge difference on state policy. It’s important to be informed each election about the proposals on the ballot in your state, in addition to being knowledgeable about the candidates.

Affirmative action on the chopping block

The U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases in late October about affirmative action policies in university admissions. Folks are bracing for the decision from the 6-3 conservative Supreme Court and expect it to end affirmative action. In this week’s blog, we’ll discuss the real problem in university admissions and the misguided ire against affirmative action.

At the center of the cases are Harvard University and the University of North Carolina; while the former is a private school and the latter is a public school, both are highly prestigious institutions with very low acceptance rates compared to other schools within each respective category.

The main argument against affirmative action is that considering race in the admissions process is “unfair,” to people not considered racial minorities. Opponents of the policy argue that racial minorities are given preference, which contributes to discrimination against white people. The argument essentially claims “reverse racism,” which is a historically shortsighted myth.

Affirmative action helps ensure equality in educational opportunities and reduces continued perpetuation of the systemic racism our country was built upon. Affirmative action, which aims to redress historical wrongs, is under attack; it’s not the culprit of “unfairness” in college admissions, however.

The admissions policy that should actually be abolished is the practice of legacy admissions or giving an advantage to students if their family members attended that institution. If it’s unfair to consider race in a prospective student’s application, wouldn’t it also be unfair to consider admitting a student because the institution is their parent’s alma mater?

At Harvard, one of the institutions in question in the SCOTUS cases, the 2022 class was comprised of over one-third legacy students. According to data from 2010 – 2015, Harvard legacy applicants were five times more likely to be admitted than non-legacy applicants. How is this considered fair, yet affirmative action isn’t?

Moreover, diversity in higher education is beneficial for everyone involved. Students surrounded by peers with different backgrounds will gain a broader perspective. So not only is affirmative action good for reckoning with decades of racial inequality, but it also improves the education experience.

If SCOTUS strikes down affirmative action, we know what to expect. In 1996, California voters passed a ballot measure banning race-conscious admissions at the state’s public universities. Research shows the ban hindered Black, Native American, and Latino enrollment. Black student enrollment remains disproportionate compared to the number of Black high school graduates in the state.

Affirmative action exists to correct decades of discrimination, while legacy policies reinforce that history. We do have a bias problem within college admissions, but it’s not affirmative action.

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