State legislators return to capitols this week for election-year sessions that begin under the clouds of gathering budget storms, amid heated social debates and at the dawn of a new technical revolution. Lawmakers have already pre-filed thousands of bills, and in many states those legislators face a limited amount of time to get their work done.
The Pluribus News team has spent months reporting on the priorities key legislators will spearhead this year, on the outside influences that will sway their votes, and the countervailing pressures they have and will come under in the coming weeks.
Here’s what we expect:
Artificial Intelligence is a hot topic in every state capitol in America. Lawmakers will consider how to regulate the emerging AI landscape and how to adapt to it. More states are likely to adopt laws regulating election deepfakes. Watch for states like California and Connecticut to take the early lead on broader AI guardrails.
Lawmakers show no sign of slowing down on efforts to regulate social media with the goal of protecting kids. Requiring parental permission and targeting addictive features are two of the most popular approaches. Backers of California’s first-in-the-nation youth data privacy law will try again to export that idea to more blue states.
Eight states passed digital privacy laws or digital bills of rights in 2023. Expect more states to follow in 2024 as the movement to give consumers more control over their digital footprint grows.
At the same time AI begins taking up lawmaker time, those legislators are increasingly cognizant of the energy requirements AI servers will demand. Those requirements put a strain on state goals to shift from a carbon-based energy supply to carbon-neutral and renewable sources.
New Jersey is likely to join other Democratic-led states in setting a date for a clean energy grid. Senate Energy Committee chairman Bob Smith (D) is advocating for the state to follow in the footsteps of Minnesota and Michigan, which enacted new requirements in 2023.
North Carolina’s decision to accept federal money to expand Medicaid to more low-income people has prompted conservative lawmakers in some of the 10 remaining non-expansion states to reconsider their opposition. We’ll be watching proposals in South Carolina, Alabama, Wyoming, Georgia and Mississippi where advocates and some lawmakers say they have hope for a breakthrough.
Florida and Colorado lawmakers are pressuring the Biden administration to approve their proposals to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, which could break the logjam in the six other states that have passed laws approving a drug importation program.
Several states are in the process of setting up panels that can set payment limits on certain high-costs drugs – so-called prescription drug review boards – that, if successful, could catch on in other states despite staunch opposition from drug manufacturers.
And states have shown no signs of letting up the pressure on pharmacy benefit managers, the companies that manage drug benefits for insurers and employers that have also faced intense scrutiny from Congress.
Expect to see lawmakers continue to test innovative responses to the opioid crisis. Rising death rates from fentanyl overdoses are prompting some blue states to consider harm reduction strategies. Massachusetts and Vermont legislatures are looking at bills that would create safe injection sites, and other Democratic legislatures are likely to follow Minnesota’s lead in legalizing all drug paraphernalia.
Meanwhile, Oregon could scale back its groundbreaking measure 110, which decriminalized the possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine and other illicit drugs in favor of an emphasis on addiction treatment.
After states rushed to either protect or restrict abortion rights in 2023, the first full year of legislative action after the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, most of the legislative action next year is likely to focus on peripheral issues.
Blue states are likely to continue efforts to protect data privacy for sexual and reproductive health services. Measures in Colorado cracking down on controversial abortion pill reversal claims and in Vermont, Colorado and Illinois restricting the marketing practice of so-called crisis pregnancy centers could catch on.
Conservative states, meanwhile, might look to Idaho and several Texas localities that have sought to restrict interstate travel for abortions.
And abortion will also play a role in the November elections. Maryland and New York already have measures on the ballot to protect reproductive rights. Advocates for and against abortion rights are working on potential ballot questions in at least 10 additional states.
State budgets are tightening and we’re watching how lawmakers in some states (hello, California!) close budget gaps and address long-term deficits. The good news: States have more in their rainy day funds than ever before, and the economy appears headed for a soft landing.
In states where budget pictures remain bright, lawmakers will move to cut taxes further. Watch for tax cut proposals in states like Georgia, Oklahoma, Nebraska — and Mississippi, where newly re-elected Gov. Tate Reeves (R) is expected to take another crack at eliminating the state income tax.
New universal school choice programs are attracting far more students than anticipated in states that passed expansions in 2023, presenting new budget challenges for lawmakers ahead.
Red state lawmakers continue their focus on higher education systems, and especially diversity, equity and inclusion offices that have set off national opposition. It’s the next front in the GOP’s efforts to embrace education reform as a way to appeal to new voters.
The influx of migrants will always be a challenge to lawmakers in border states, but the recent initiatives — spearheaded by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) — to bus and fly migrants to blue cities and states is expanding the crisis. Democratic governors are sounding the alarm, which threatens to become a political headache in an election year.
In the short term, questions over redistricting will be decided in the courts, where litigation in a dozen or more states is wending through the docket. In the long term, more states are considering reforming the way redistricting happens every decade. Ohio will be ground zero this year, as reform advocates promote a constitutional amendment reforming the remap process.
Election integrity is the watch word in conservative states, where legislators are using antipathy stoked by former President Donald Trump to crack down on early and absentee voting — and in some cases considering long-shot attempts to require hand-counted ballots.
Democratic-led states are likely to continue working to restore the franchise to former felons who have completed their sentences.
And every state is likely to face questions over election funding. Conservative states objected to local elections departments accepting funding from outside sources in 2020 and 2022 — principally, from a civic group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. Those objections mask the larger issue that elections departments are chronically under-funded, especially in rural areas where conservatives live. Expect lawmakers to increase budgets to help elections there, and everywhere, run more smoothly.