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NF LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: WEEK OF MAY 10, 2021

This week, states and municipalities passed legislation relevant to our fight for social justice. Our Legislative Roundup showcases some of the most recent bills that caught our eye!

 

Arizona

  • SB1485
    • Why we’re watching: We’ve been tracking this bill for a while, and now it’s finally law. SB1485 is like many other voter suppression bills from across the country – discriminatory and founded upon a fear of widespread voter turnout. Now, the legislature passed legislation that would remove inactive voters  from the state’s early ballot list, which will punish mostly minority voters.

Colorado

  • SB199
    • Why we’re watching: In 2006, Colorado passed legislation that banned undocumented immigrants from receiving state benefits. Lawmakers are seeking to reverse the effects of that bill with SB199, which would permit undocumented immigrants to receive state benefits.
  • SB87
    • Why we’re watching: This is a bill we’re especially excited about. The proposal would allow agricultural workers to unionize, establish a minimum wage, and create other workplace standards surrounding safety and workers’ rights. In an especially difficult year for agricultural laborers, this bill is the right way to honor their sacrifices and ensure their prosperity.

Connecticut

  • Constitutional Amendment
    • Why we’re watching: Connecticut continues to make strides in voting rights as many states move the opposite direction. Lawmakers there approved a constitutional amendment to switch to no-excuse absentee ballots, a measure that will appear on a ballot for voters in 2024.

Baltimore County, Maryland

  • Master Plan 2030
    • Why we’re watching: For the first time ever, Baltimore will have a housing and community development department focused on improving access to affordable housing for everyone. This more permanent move comes as activists and legislators alike call for longer eviction moratoriums throughout the state.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or at info@neighborhoodforward.com or you can contact us through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

NF LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: WEEK OF MAY 3, 2021

As some states’ legislative sessions come to a close, the fight for social justice lives on. Here is this week’s legislative roundup highlighting bills from around the country! 

Colorado

  • SB21-62
    • Why we’re watching: For years, sheriffs in Colorado have complained about overcrowding in jails. This bill calls for police-issued tickets rather than incarceration for some crime in a bid to solve the aforementioned problem and reverse the disproportionate punishment of minorities.
  • SB21-169
    • Why we’re watching: Insurance companies can subtly perpetuate discrimination. This proposal, which passed committee this week, would prevent insurers from using some types of data in practice to prevent de facto or de jure

Connecticut

  • SB6611
    • Why we’re watching: To create affordable housing, the zoning domino must fall. For decades now, white America has unfairly resisted affordable housing projects. A proposal in Connecticut seeks to reverse that harmful legacy, despite a legislative setback in committee.

Illinois

  • HB0088
    • Why we’re watching: As Illinois works through its recent legalization of marijuana, State Rep. Mary Flowers proposed that drug felony convicts should still be able to access cash welfare assistance, which they were previously barred from. This marks one in a series of proposals that urge statehouses to catch up on more progressive drug policies.

Texas

  • SB7
    • Why we’re watching: We usually don’t cover Texas, but we couldn’t let this one slide. The state just passed a restrictive voting rights bill like those we’ve seen pop up across the country in response to widespread voter turnout in 2020. The proposal would ban extended voting hours and further limit polling places in majority-minority precincts.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s legislative roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or at info@neighborhoodforward.com or you can contact us through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Buckle Up, the Next Decade Might be a Bumpy Ride

Every decade, our state elected officials sit down to draw congressional districts following the census. The U.S. House of Representatives allocates representation by state population, so this process is vastly important. And because it has ramifications on the efficacy of our vote, the most important thing we have to influence policy, leaders often reach across the aisle and demonstrate common sense and teamwork.

Just kidding, that last part is a huge lie.

Redistricting is just about the most political thing that happens in our halls of power. State legislators are charged with creating these maps and can rig them in their party’s favor. If neighborhoods of mostly white, older voters from opposite sides of the city are somehow linked, that district would become virtually noncompetitive. This act is called gerrymandering, a problem that disproportionately affects marginalized voters across the country.

The brazenness of some gerrymandering is astounding (looking at you, Rep. Dan Crenshaw).

 

Republicans dominated down ticket races in 2010, locking in control of redistricting until the 2020 census. So, for the last 10 years, minority voters have been systematically shut out of the political process.

Minority groups are some of the most reliably left-of-center voting blocs out there. As such, they’re targeted and lumped together by Republican efforts to squash voting power. If districts are drawn so minority voters all belong to the same one, it reduces their impact elsewhere.

And for the first time, redistricting won’t be subject to specific federal regulation. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. This essentially permitted partisan gerrymandering and opened the floodgates to a whole new wave of abuses against minorities.

This effort is already underway. The Brennan Center for Justice concluded that Republicans took control of 17 seats in Congress in 2016 as a result of gerrymandering.

Following the 2020 census, lawmakers are trying once more to rob Americans of their right to vote. There’s an extremely high risk of gerrymandering in the South, especially in Georgia, Florida, and Texas. Dominant single-party control, a history of voting rights abuses, and a lack of oversight all contribute to this evaluation.

This issue is symptomatic of the disease that is systemic racism. The deck has always been rigged against communities of color and there’s no indication that it will be shuffled anytime soon. Activists and allies alike must remain vigilant to ensure that the next decade is not another in which their voting power is stripped away.

If you can’t handle the heat…you’re probably in a redlined neighborhood

Year after year, we’re told by meteorologists and climatologists that we experienced the hottest summer on record. As we approach another scorcher, it’s important that we acknowledge the disparities in the summer experienced by marginalized and white communities. For all intents and purposes, they are not at all the same.

Neighborhoods dominated by Black and Brown residents are, on average, hotter than those filled with white residents.

In Maryland, for example, areas with a high percentage of people of color are 6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the city’s coolest sections. That difference may not sound like a lot initially. But scientists have argued that an increase in average temperature by 3 degrees Celsius would have catastrophic effects on the planet. A difference that is three times that measure is significant to say the least.

To understand how this came to be, like so many other ills that marginalized communities are subjected to in this country, you’d have to consider the housing discrimination of the 1900s.

Redlining was a practice by which banks systematically denied giving home loans to applicants of color depending on their preferred destination. Bankers were able to segregate large cities like Chicago, Atlanta, and Detroit almost singlehandedly. The effects of their efforts are around to this day. Large ethnic populations often occupy separate sections of cities than their white counterparts.

Such discrimination is the original sin of sorts for a number of systemic issues faced by Black and Brown Americans. Once local lawmakers could label entire swaths of land as minority-dominated, they were given electoral license to disrupt investment. Instead of allocating resources to community building and infrastructure in nonwhite areas, leaders would adopt a hands-off policy that has prevented intergenerational wealth creation.

Heat inequality is just one symptom of this larger disease. Opponents of social justice reforms would argue that this disparity is an immutable scientific fact. To some degree, they’d be right.

Built-up, highly urban sections of our cities are often warmer than rural and suburban areas. This is due to the “urban heat island” effect, which posits that concrete, bricks, and other hard surfaces trap heat during the daytime and release it at night. In effect, urban areas full of buildings and bridges are generally warmer.

Like so many other public policies, creating a whopping, almost invisible disparity such as this wasn’t the goal. But Black and Brown citizens are paying the price.

The temperature difference can have real health effects. Heat strokes are more common, asthma is more frequent, and emergency hospital visits total unthinkable amounts of money in warmer temperatures. Health concerns are valid for these warmer spots – as are financial worries.

Even now, the public investment doesn’t match the challenge ahead of us. Cooler, sprawling suburban areas enjoy acres of shady green spaces to combat high summer temperatures. Meanwhile, minority-dominated sections of the same metropolitan area are full of concrete and asphalt parking lots due to a lack of public transportation.

cars in parking lot

 

The latter group deserves better than that. As global temperatures continue to rise, it’s this sector of society that will suffer the most.

Solutions to this issue are complex and require a massive paradigm shift in public spending. Allocating resources towards public transportation to reduce reliance on cars is a good start. That may encourage developers to tear up the heat-trapping concrete and swap it with parks. The ensuing shade could provide useful, albeit temporary, relief from the higher-than-average temperatures.

These reforms aren’t easy to achieve, nor simple. Addressing the root cause of such an issue never is. That doesn’t mean, however, it’s a lost cause. As climate change progresses, this issue will demand our attention more and more. The sooner we prioritize solutions, the sooner we can improve all of our neighborhoods.

NF LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: WEEK OF APRIL 26, 2021

This week, lots of different bills from across the country caught our eye. Here’s the ones we feel are the most relevant to our fight to reform our neighborhoods!

 

Arizona 

  • SB1485
    • Why we’re watching: Right now, Arizona is a hotspot of voter suppression bills. This proposal would force officials to purge people from early voting rolls if they didn’t vote early in both the last primary and general election. The measure failed the senate last week but is being reconsidered.

 

Federal

  • Reconnecting Communities Act
    • Why we’re watching: Highway construction helped separate communities of color and divide entire neighborhoods strategically. This proposed grant program would fund projects that seek to remove infrastructure barriers from our cities and educate others on systemic racism.

Colorado

  • HB1280
    • Why we’re watching: Jail time for minorities far exceeds that for white offenders and bail access swings the opposite direction. This bill would permanently cap how long someone can remain in jail during the pretrial process, helping negate the discrimination of cash bail in Colorado.

Connecticut

  • SB753
    • Why we’re watching: Right now, Connecticut allows prison gerrymandering, or the process of counting incarcerated people as residents of an area during the redistricting process. SB753 would ban this practice, which grants developed, mostly white areas far more representation than marginalized communities.

New York

  • Wandering Officers Act
    • Why we’re watching: In the event that a police officer is fired for gross misconduct or negligence, they may cross a state border to look for work. This proposal would prevent disgraced cops from doing this in the state of New York, bolstering community trust and institutional efficacy.

 

What do you think of the bills in this week’s roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or at info@neighborhoodforward.com or you can contact us through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Neighborhood FORWARD statement on the proposed federal menthol ban

Today, the FDA announced its intent to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes, the choice of over 80% of Black smokers according to the Centers for Disease Control. Neighborhood FORWARD stands with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in opposition to this proposal, which will further exacerbate police brutality and overreaching in marginalized communities.

Throughout our history, even the most well-intentioned public policy has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown Americans. We’ve seen that prohibition of a substance doesn’t work and instead leads to over-incarceration, civil rights abuses, and dangerous stop-and-frisk policies. It is our strong belief that any ban on menthol cigarettes will create further tension between minorities and law enforcement.

We cannot repeat the mistakes of our past and expect different outcomes. Neighborhood FORWARD joins dozens of other civil rights organizations in requesting the FDA reconsider its position in order to prevent any more unnecessary loss of life in marginalized communities at the hands of police officers.

NF LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: WEEK OF APRIL 19, 2021

There was no shortage of media attention surrounding social justice issues this week. Here are some of pieces of legislation that caught our eye.

Connecticut

  • SB326
    • Why we’re watching: This legislation would ban menthol-flavored cigarettes, a product enjoyed by over 80% of Black smokers. We’ve seen how prohibition works, however. This proposal will give police unnecessary license to stop and frisk Black smokers, similar to the death of Eric Garner in New York.

Federal

  • COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act
    • Why we’re watching: The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed the US Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. In a time when we’ve seen an uptick in hate crimes against members of the AAPI community, this legislation will expedite review of potential hate crimes and create a new office in the Department of Justice.
  • HR51
    • Why we’re watching: Washington D.C. deserves to be our 51st In a country founded on the principle of no taxation without representation, it’s unsurprising that HR51 passed the House this week. Now, it heads to the Senate for a more difficult floor fight.

Minnesota

  • HF600
    • Why we’re watching: As states across the country double down on legal marijuana, Minnesota isn’t going to miss out. This omnibus cannabis proposal is inching its way through the legislative process and promises to reform the criminal justice system throughout the state.

New York

  • Daniel’s Law
    • Why we’re watching: Over and over again, police officers prove that they’re incapable of handling mental health crises. In early 2020, the Rochester Police Department murdered Daniel Prude, who was suffering from a mental health episode. This proposal would create a statewide alternative to sending law enforcement in situations such as those.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or at info@neighborhoodforward.com or you can contact us through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Legalize it! But also, do it right

In recent years, calls to decriminalize and legalize recreational cannabis have exploded in number. For perhaps the first time ever, many high-profile elected officials have publicly stated their approval of what was once a left-wing fantasy.

Many states are moving forward with legalization proposals because of the revenue implications. Honestly, it’s hard to blame them. Five years after being the first to legalize recreational cannabis, Colorado surpassed $1 billion in state revenue from marijuana sales.

Last month, New York became the most recent state to follow in Colorado’s footsteps.

But much of the driving force behind these reforms are activists and advocacy groups focused on social justice. The criminalization of marijuana and resulting mass incarceration of minorities is a pillar of the systemic racism that plagues our communities. Demonstrators who marched against this inequality in the summer of 2020 may have been chanting about police brutality, but their mission extends to this policy debate as well.

The substance’s criminalization has set the United States down a regrettable, horrific path of mass incarceration. The “War on Drugs” has dramatically diverged from its admittedly debatable intent to combat addiction in inner cities while our legal system thrives on the incarceration of individuals from marginalized groups. It’s come to the point that corporations are profiting by keeping jail cells full.

inmate laying in bed

 

But don’t just take our word for it. Despite using marijuana recreationally in comparable rates, people of color are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it. In 2017, Black people made up over 27% of total drug violation arrests, despite constituting only 13.4% of the population.

When it comes to drug-related crime, there are two different Americas.

Reforming a system that incentivizes locking up Black and Brown Americans and throwing away the key will take time. Legalization is a good first step. But to live up to its potential, social justice must be at the heart of the legislation.

Any meaningful reform will not only legalize recreational cannabis but expunge records of those convicted of some related crimes. To keep this group locked up while dispensaries operate would be cruel and unusual, even for our criminal justice system.

There are also economic considerations.

The legal cannabis industry is almost entirely white. A 2017 survey found that only about 4% of dispensaries were owned by Black entrepreneurs. Even though legalization has gone mainstream, white business owners continue to dominate the marketplace at 90% ownership. The lack of Black influence in marijuana company boardrooms relates to the high barriers between people of color and business ownership. But many states don’t consider this disparity during the legislative process, and they should.

 

In Pennsylvania, legislators have taken this to heart. The recent push to legalize marijuana has included the caveat of examining business board membership in the licensing process. In other words, the state can decide which businesses are legally allowed to sell cannabis within their borders and give preference to those with diverse leadership. In this way, this progress comes from a place of intending to alleviate systemic inequality.

The legalization of recreational marijuana is largely a good thing. It will help prevent more generations of Black and Brown people from occupying a disproportionate number of jail cells. However, we cannot pass up the opportunity to make a dent in the deeply embedded inequality of our country.

Let’s pressure lawmakers to make equity the driving force behind legalization and to consider the rest of their agendas with the same mindset.

 

NF LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: WEEK OF APR. 12, 2021

Amid a number of issues that affect marginalized communities, we’re paying attention to the action that states are taking – or lack thereof. Take a look at some highlights!

California

  • SB2
    • Why we’re watching: Even as the trial of Derek Chauvin unfolds, officers still feel emboldened to murder Black and Brown Americans. Often, they face little punishment for their misdeeds. California, however, wants to institute a citizen panel with the power to decertify any officers found to have used unnecessary force in the line of duty.

Colorado

  • HB1209
    • Why we’re watching: Our criminal justice system is the most enthusiastic the world has ever seen. We imprison more of our citizens than Soviet Russia did in an authoritarian regime. This bill will help those who committed crimes at a young age return to life outside of a prison cell.

Connecticut

  • SB956
    • Why we’re watching: There are millions of undocumented individuals living in America. Not all of them live in Connecticut, but the state is considering expanding Medicaid insurance coverage to any that do. Despite some debate over the bill’s age restrictions, this would be a massive sign of progress in immigration policy.

Maryland

  • Maryland Police Accountability Act
    • Why we’re watching: Maryland’s legislators rebuked Gov. Larry Hogan last weekend, overriding his veto of this sweeping reform bill. The legislation strips old legal protections for law enforcement, institutes modern use of force policies, and creates a citizen oversight board.
  • Dignity Not Detention Act
    • Why we’re watching: The hits keep coming for Maryland! Earlier this week, the General Assembly voted to ban for-profit immigration detention centers. Additionally, the bill limits cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, creating a more hospitable state for undocumented individuals.

What do you think of the bills in this week’s roundup? Did we miss anything? Drop us a line on any of our social channels or at info@neighborhoodforward.com or you can contact us through our contact us form. Let us know what’s happening in YOUR neighborhood!

Income taxes: A complicated symptom of a simple issue

In a normal year, today is Tax Day in America. Millions of households would typically hit submit sometime this week to file their taxes and receive returns from state and federal governments. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed the federal filing deadline back, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are blatant racial disparities in our tax system.

woman doing her taxes

Currently, the IRS doesn’t ask for a filer’s race or ethnicity. Other disparities reveal themselves in our actual tax code; the rules that dictate how much we owe our government every year.

One of the most obvious expressions of such inequality is who benefits the most from tax breaks. While your mind might jump to billionaire tax breaks that have allowed figures like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to avoid surrendering significant chunks of their wealth, these tax breaks exist for the middle-class too.

For example, the government offers deductions for mortgage interest payments. In other words, if you’re paying a mortgage, you end up paying less on your taxes. Studies have determined that such provisions will cost the federal government over $280 billion between 2019 and 2022 alone.

It’s well-documented that homeownership varies widely by race. White taxpayers are about 16% more likely to own their home than the next highest group, the AAPI community. Black people are more than 30% less likely than their white counterparts to own their home.

This gap in homeownership and corresponding inequality in tax benefits is the result of discriminatory housing practices like redlining. Redlining was the practice of denying home loans to people of color based on where they wanted to move, creating intentionally majority-white neighborhoods.

Such historical discrimination surfaces when we look at the tax policy of today.

The IRS asks for identification information when filling out taxes. Requiring a social security number leaves millions of undocumented immigrants unable to pay taxes. Black filers are also less likely to seek eligibility for marriage deductions as well as IRA contributions, pensions, and dividends.

Another blind spot in our tax code is student debt. The IRS offers deductions for payments on the interest of student loans – as long as households earn less than $80,000 for singles and $165,000 for joint filers. This can’t be used by those with no income tax liability, however, and therefore benefits mostly middle- and upper-class white families.

Although students of color are more likely to borrow, they don’t really enjoy noticeably more tax relief. Families of Black and Brown borrowers have debt-to-asset ratios way higher than white families, making it more likely the former group will default on loans.

Tax policy helps reveal systemic inequities that already exist. Admittedly, a number of deductions and relief mechanisms seek to lessen the burden on lower-income families. But those are small, retroactive solutions to vast problems. To reflect social justice and equality in our tax code, we can’t simply change IRS policy and move on. The root causes of these gaps (affordable housing, the student loan crisis, citizenship, etc.) are more worthy of reform.

We think about “leveling the playing field” through taxation so often. Proposals from a number of high-profile federal legislators seek to bolster social services through taxing the ultra-wealthy among us. And these changes can really make a difference in the lives of marginalized groups.

If we think of taxes as a product of – not the cause of – inequality, we can shift focus to the larger discrimination inherent to our institutions.

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