2020 State Look Ahead

Legislatures in 46 states are set to meet in regular sessions this year. While the time each will spend in session varies dramatically (and is usually shorter in odd-numbered years), every state returns to business facing pressing policy issues. Based on our tracking of priorities in statehouses and governors’ mansions nationwide, we believe major areas of debate are likely to include topics such as health care coverage and pricing, the legalization of cannabis, data privacy, the future of transportation, and the environment. 

Our state and local team is engaged across the country looking after client interests. For more information, please reach out to Steven Palmer (spalmer@forbes-tate.com), Peter O’Keefe (pokeefe@forbes-tate.com), or Paul Dioguardi (pdioguardi@forbes-tate.com). For a complete calendar of 2020 state legislative sessions, please see our document here.

Health Care

Medicaid expansion and the nature of state Medicaid and exchange programs will continue to be a priority issue, with several developments already taking place early into the year. After Governor Andy Beshear (D-KY) rescinded proposed Medicaid work requirements, the Supreme Court officially declared the Kentucky-related lawsuit over these requirements moot. Even so, states are likely to continue considering such requirements and courts are still expected to weigh in this year, as a similar lawsuit from Arkansas remains pending on the Supreme Court’s docket. Meanwhile, the debate over expanding Medicaid continues, with Kansas being the latest to release a bipartisan proposal to expand the program. Expansion could also be considered on ballot initiatives at the end of the year, including in Missouri and Oklahoma.

Health care costs, especially in relation to prescription drugs, will also be discussed at length. Under a new proposal from the Trump Administration, states would be permitted to allow the importation of brand-name medicines from Canada after they get their plans approved by the federal government. States seeking to avail themselves of this potential policy are expected to consider bills establishing — or directing the establishment of — such plans. Many states are also going to step in on issues being considered at the federal level, such as the use of an international drug pricing index or addressing surprise medical billing. Finally, response to the opioid crisis will continue to be a priority.


The continued regulatory debate on the legalization of cannabis products will also be a leading issue. As the year begins, 19 states are actively considering legalizing adult use, while eight states may establish medical use programs. Should these states move to legalize cannabis for either medicinal or recreational purposes, the U.S. population living in states and jurisdictions with legal cannabis will increase to 54 percent of the country’s population. States to watch this year include Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, and New Jersey. Hemp production will also be an issue as state governments are expected to work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish and certify plans allowing farmers to produce industrial hemp.


While Congress faces the expiration of its major surface transportation law, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, states will be busy on infrastructure, highway funding, mass transit, and micromobility. On highway funding, states will continue their efforts to bring in new revenues to fix crumbling infrastructure. For example, Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) and the Michigan Legislature have backed increases in funding for fixing roads and highways in the state. Proposals are likely to include considerations of increases to the gas tax and imposing additional costs on the use of electric vehicles. States are also going to consider the issue of micromobility (electric scooters, bicycles, etc.). New York, for example, will likely follow up on vetoed legislation from last year which would have legalized electric bikes and scooters after Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) indicated he remains open to compromise. Other states, such as Massachusetts, are also likely to consider legislation that would broaden the ability of electric scooters to be legally operated.


On the heels of the January 1 implementation of California’s major privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act, states are likely to continue considering their own privacy bills as Congress fails to act. In doing so, legislators will likely take into account lessons learned in California and Europe to craft proposals which address current and future issues as technology continues to pervade daily life. Outside of privacy, other pressing technology issues at the forefront of states are election security, especially in the lead-up to the 2020 elections, and cybersecurity.

Energy & Environment

The lack of federal action on climate change has led to red and blue states pulling in opposite directions on environmental and energy issues. With the Trump administration continuing to roll back environmental protections at the federal level, Democratic-led states have already worked to respond. Last year, several states, including California, New Mexico, and New York, passed legislation aimed at targeting carbon emissions. Meanwhile, Ohio bailed out several coal and nuclear-fired power plants while reducing renewable energy standards for certain utilities and energy efficiency programs. 2020 will likely see a continued legislative divergence between red and blue states as there will likely be little change in federal oversight.