WhY FOCUS ON state legislatures?

A state legislature is a law making body, like Congress, that makes laws for the state. While they may not get as much attention, many of the decisions that most impact communities will be decided by state legislatures. For example, while there has been much focus on President Trump's executive order threatening to "defund sanctuary cities," legislation proposed in many state legislatures to outlaw sanctuary cities would be much more likely to undo these protections for undocumented immigrants. Convincing state legislators to reject these harmful proposals, and to support positive legislation, is therefore essential to protecting communities.

What Powers Do State Legislatures Have?

Issues that states mostly or entirely control:

  • Criminal Justice and Mass Incarceration
  • Whether or not cities and counties can raise their minimum wage, ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination, or become sanctuary cities
  • Laws governing policing (federal government can incentivize with money and investigate a few police departments each year)
  • Voting rights / voter suppression (federal government can sue states for violating Voting Rights Act)
  • Redistricting / gerrymandering of state and Congressional districts
  • State taxes
  • Benefits and services available to undocumented immigrants (i.e. driver’s licenses, in-state college tuition, healthcare)

Issues that the federal government sets minimum standards which states can go beyond:

  • Affordable housing
  • Reproductive Justice
  • Infrastructure
  • Workers’ Rights (i.e. minimum wage, workplace safety/harassment)
  • Gun Control Laws
  • Climate Protections (i.e. Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act)
  • Disability Rights (i.e. IDEA, ADA)
  • Non-discrimination laws (Title VII, Title IX, Civil Rights Act)
  • Healthcare (ACA sets standards but states decide about Medicaid expansion)
  • Educational Justice (federal government provides different options for accountability standards that states work within)

Issues that states have little to no control over:

  • Foreign policy (i.e. sanctions on other countries, military actions)
  • Immigration policy (i.e. who gets visas, how to obtain citizenship, deportation priorities. However, the federal government relies on state and local police to identify, detain and transfer undocumented immigrants to them)
  • Federal taxes
  • Interstate commerce (i.e. federal banking regulations)
  • Consumer Protections (i.e. Wall Street regulations, food and drug safety regulations)