Believe it or not, state legislatures in ten states – Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming – have already adjourned for the year. Despite these short sessions, state legislatures have been highly productive.
As a brand or advocacy organization, it is critical to pay close attention to issues in each legislature to be on the front end of identifying nation-wide trends. As this first wave of state legislatures adjourn, we have seen bipartisanship, increased state budgets, and a broader conversation on medicinal marijuana. The following snapshot captures what we often miss in Washington, DC.
New Mexico started and ended its 60-day legislative session focused on how to make up for a massive budget shortfall due to a lackluster economy and a downturn in the oil and gas industry. With the legislature now adjourned, the debate about the state’s budget is just beginning to heat up. Governor Susana Martinez has vowed not to sign the $6.1 billion budget proposal sent to her as it calls for tax and fee increases – instead she is expected to call a special session to renegotiate the budget package.
Similarly, lawmakers in Wyoming were faced with some tough decisions and passed a supplemental budget that cuts health programs to make up the deficit they are facing in the state.
Georgia’s budget process was largely drama-free this year as they passed a budget that closely mirrored Governor Nathan Deal’s proposal. It’s a win for Georgia’s teachers and state employees, who will receive salary increases.
Virginia also passed a budget that contained pay raises for state employees, teachers, state police, and nurses at state mental hospitals.
Despite conventional thinking, many states with Republican-led legislatures increased their state budgets, with the exception of states like New Mexico and Wyoming. (We assume they are outliers as they are heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues.)
Education funding was increased in Republican-controlled state legislatures, focusing particularly on teachers’ salaries. Virginia and Idaho both boosted their public school funding as well as teachers’ pay. In Utah, legislators invested 80% of the state’s new revenue in K-12 education. Mississippi passed a budget that included teacher bonuses for well-performing schools.
Vocational education also received new support as Kentucky passed a bill to allow lottery funds for apprenticeships for skilled trades. Until the passage of this bill, state lottery funds were restricted to offset traditional college costs.
Georgia and West Virginia passed bills to authorize or expand the use of medical marijuana for people living with terminal illnesses or who have other specified conditions. This was a first for West Virginia, which had never permitted the use of medical marijuana until this point. Georgia expanded medical marijuana laws to include additional conditions as treatable with marijuana and cannabis oil.
While Maryland legalized medical marijuana in 2013, the Maryland General Assembly spent much of their session discussing whether or not to increase the number of licenses for growers in the state. Ultimately, the bill died in the House before a vote could happen. Expect this debate to reignite next year.
Legalization of medical marijuana, or the expansion of medical conditions permitted for use of medical marijuana, came from Republican-dominated states showing that local governments are not waiting for federal action.
As the entire country continues to combat the opioid overdose crisis, several states passed legislation to stem the tide – often with bipartisan support.
New Mexico became the first state in the country to require local and state law enforcement to provide officers with antidote kits. In addition, the same legislation requires federally-certified treatment centers and the state’s prison and jails to provide naloxone, an anti-overdose drug, to their patients and inmates, respectively.
Virginia also took a number of steps to increase access to naloxone in the Commonwealth. One bill required that all opioid prescriptions be made electronically by 2020. Perhaps the most interesting development was that the Virginia Board of Medicine issued new regulations that require at-risk patients to be provided naloxone preemptively to prevent an overdose.
The Maryland General Assembly passed multiple bills to address the opioid epidemic in the state. Most notably, the HOPE Act required a new process for discharging patients with substance abuse disorders from hospitals, increased access to naloxone, and provided additional funding for community behavioral health providers.
Kentucky followed other states’ leadership and passed legislation that will limit doctors to writing a three-day prescription of opioids.
Once thought to be limited to rural areas, the addiction to opioids has touched nearly every part of the United States. During this legislative session, we saw a flurry of activity to address the crisis – from limiting prescriptions of addictive pain killers to increasing access to naloxone. Here is where we, most notably, see state legislators working towards bipartisan solutions.
Meghan DiMuzio is a Vice President at Forbes Tate Partners, where she leads national and state-based campaigns. This is the first part of a yearlong series, monitoring legislative and regulatory developments across all state governments.