TagState news 2023

108 new state legislative leaders elected

Forty-five states have begun their 2023 state legislative sessions. At the start of these sessions, legislators typically select new House and Senate leadership. So far, at least 266 leadership elections have taken place. Here’s a rundown of what we know so far:

Legislators re-elected 158 leaders in 38 states. Legislators elected 108 new leaders. Of those changes in leadership, 55 occurred in states with Republican trifectas, 31 occurred in states with Democratic trifectas, and the remaining 22 changes happened in states with divided government.

Thirty-nine Senate president elections have taken place as of this writing. Out of those, 13 Senate presidents changed. A Senate president presides over legislative sessions and ensures that members of the chamber abide by procedural rules.

Just one Senate president change resulted in a change in party leadership. In Minnesota, whose divided government became a Democratic trifecta as a result of the 2022 elections, Democratic legislators elected Bobby Joe Champion as Senate president, replacing Republican Rep. David Osmek.

Out of all the Senate president elections, 12 Democratic presidents remained the same, and three changed leaders. On the Republican side, 14 Republican presidents remained the same while nine changed leaders.

Forty-three House speaker elections have taken place. Out of those, 14 speakers of the House changed. A House speaker serves as the chief spokesman for the lower chamber, presides over legislative sessions, directs the legislative process, and performs additional administrative and procedural duties.

Two House speaker changes resulted in a change in party leadership. In Michigan, Republican House Speaker Jason Wentworth was replaced by Democratic Rep. Joseph Tate. In Pennsylvania, Republican House Speaker Bryan Cutler was replaced by Democratic Rep. Mark Rozzi. Michigan’s divided government became a Democratic trifecta as a result of the 2022 elections. Pennsylvania is under divided government.

Out of all the House speaker elections, 13 Democratic speakers remained the same, and three changed leaders. On the Republican side, 15 speakers remained the same while 10 changed leaders.

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California voters will decide on a referendum to repeal a law governing fast-food working conditions in 2024

On Jan. 24, the California secretary of state announced that a veto referendum filed to repeal Assembly Bill 257 (AB 257) had qualified for the November 2024 ballot. 

AB 257 would enact the Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act (FAST Recovery Act), which was passed along party lines and signed into law on Sept. 5, 2022. The act would authorize the creation of the fast-food council, within the Department of Industrial Relations, composed of 10 members including fast-food restaurant franchisors, franchisees, employees, advocates for employees, and a representative from the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. AB 257 would also authorize the council to adopt a minimum wage for fast-food restaurant employees not to exceed $22 per hour in 2023 with adjustments annually.

The fast-food council would not be allowed to promulgate rules or standards concerning working conditions until the Director of Industrial Relations received a petition approving the creation of the council signed by at least 10,000 California fast-food restaurant employees. The law would authorize the labor commissioner and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement to enforce the regulations adopted by the state council. The labor commissioner would be required to investigate alleged violations and order appropriate remediation.

In California, the number of signatures required for a veto referendum is equal to 623,212 (5% of the votes cast in the preceding gubernatorial election). Save Local Restaurants, the campaign behind the repeal of the law, filed over 1 million signatures on Dec. 5, 2022. 

On Dec. 29, Save Local Restaurants filed a lawsuit against Director of the California Department of Industrial Relations Katie Hagen, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D), and California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) asking the court to stop the state from enforcing the law, set to take effect Jan. 1, until the signature verification process was complete for the petition. On Jan. 13, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang granted a preliminary injunction keeping the bill from taking effect until the petition is verified by the state.

On Jan. 24, the secretary of state reported that the final random sample count contained at least 712,568 valid signatures.

Save Local Restaurants said in a statement, “During the highest inflation in more than four decades, consumers want to know that the restaurant meals they need in their busy lives will continue to be affordable, and that the jobs their communities rely on will still be there. Before they lose the brands that they love, voters will get the chance to have their say.”

The campaign has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Restaurant Association PAC, and International Franchise Association Franchising PAC. The top donors to the committee funding the campaign include Chipotle Mexican Grill, In-N-Out Burgers, Starbucks, Yum! Brands, and Wing Stop.

Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), the author of AB 257 and a former fast-food franchisee, said, “AB 257 creates minimum standards for wages and work conditions, protects workers from being fired for organizing and establishes sectoral organizing with a fast food worker council. I’m proud to have ushered an inclusive approach to the industry by giving employees the chance to be included in a process that has always impacted them.” 

SEIU California State Council, California Employment Lawyers Association, California Labor Federation, and Gig Workers Rising support upholding AB 257.

Four other ballot measures have qualified for the ballot in 2024 in California. In March, voters will decide on a legislatively referred constitutional amendment to repeal a constitutional requirement that voters approve publicly-funded housing projects classified as low rent.

Three other citizen initiatives will be on the ballot in November:

  • A combined statute and a constitutional amendment to create a state Pandemic Early Detection and Prevention Institute
  • A statute to increase the state minimum wage to $18 by 2026
  • A statute to repeal the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) and replaces it with a new process for remedying labor violations

In California, a total of 402 ballot measures appeared on statewide ballots between 1985 and 2022. Two hundred thirty-one ballot measures were approved, and 171 ballot measures were defeated.

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West Virginia Senate passes unemployment insurance indexing bill

The West Virginia State Senate on January 23 passed a bill 27-5 that would index the length of unemployment insurance benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. During times when the unemployment rate is below 5.5%, unemployed workers could collect a maximum of 12 weeks of benefits. For each 0.5% increase in the unemployment rate, the maximum benefit duration would increase by one week under the bill, with a maximum benefit length of 20 weeks during times of high unemployment.

West Virginia’s current maximum benefit length is 26 weeks. The state’s unemployment rate was 4.1% in November and December, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, meaning the maximum weekly benefit would fall by 14 weeks (to a maximum of 12 weeks) if the bill passes and the unemployment rate remains stable.

The bill would also require WorkForce West Virginia—the agency in charge of administering the unemployment insurance program in the state—to verify the identities of applicants and take additional steps to review what the legislation describes as suspicious claims.

Claimants would also have to complete at least four qualifying work search activities per week (such as interviewing or applying for a job). Under current law, claimants are eligible for benefits if they are “doing that which a reasonably prudent person in his or her circumstances would do in seeking work,” with no specific requirements.

The bill now heads to the West Virginia House of Delegates for consideration.

Unemployment insurance is a joint federal and state program that provides temporary monetary benefits to eligible laid-off workers who are actively seeking new employment. Qualifying individuals receive unemployment compensation as a percentage of their lost wages in the form of weekly cash benefits while they search for new employment.

The federal government oversees the general administration of state unemployment insurance programs. The states control the specific features of their unemployment insurance programs, such as eligibility requirements and length of benefits.

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Willie Wilson leads Chicago mayoral candidates in fundraising through 2022; Mayor Lori Lightfoot leads in spending

Willie Wilson has reported the most fundraising of all nine candidates running for mayor of Chicago, Illinois, on Feb. 28. Wilson reported raising $6.1 million. WTTW reported that $5 million was self-funded. Mayor Lori Lightfoot spent the most at $4.3 million. These figures include all reports filed through Dec. 31, 2022.

Four other candidates reported receipts of more than $1 million: Lightfoot ($4.5 million), former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas ($2.2 million), Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson ($1.8 million), and U.S. Rep. Jesus Garcia ($1.5 million).

Three other candidates reported spending more than $500,000: Wilson ($2.0 million), Vallas ($1.0 million), and Johnson ($578,000).

The other candidates in the election are Kambium Buckner, Ja’Mal Green, Sophia King, and Roderick Sawyer. If no candidate receives a majority of votes in the general election, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff on Apr. 4. The last two mayoral elections (2019 and 2015) resulted in runoffs.

Oklahoma will vote on marijuana legalization in March. Ohio could follow in November

Voters in Oklahoma will decide on State Question 820, an initiative to legalize marijuana, on March 7, 2023. Voters in Ohio could decide on an initiative to legalize marijuana in Nov. 2023.

Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, which is leading the campaign in support of State Question 820, wanted the citizen-initiated measure on the ballot in 2022. However, due to legal challenges and signature deadlines, the measure could not be placed on the ballot and was set to be voted on at a later election date. On Oct. 18, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) called a special election for State Question 820 on March 7, 2023.

State Question 820 would legalize the possession and consumption of marijuana for adults 21 years old and older. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority would be responsible for marijuana business licensing and regulations. Sales of marijuana would be taxed at 15%. People would be allowed to possess, transport, and distribute up to one ounce (28.35 grams) of marijuana, eight grams of marijuana in a concentrated form, and/or eight grams or less of concentrated marijuana in marijuana-infused products. Under State Question 820, individuals could possess up to six mature marijuana plants and up to six seedlings. The initiative would also provide a process for individuals to seek the expungement or modification of certain previous marijuana-related convictions or sentences.

Through Sept. 30, 2022, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws raised $2.74 million and spent $2.57 million. The largest contributor was the Just Trust for Action, which donated $1.06 million.

In Ohio, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted 136,729 valid signatures for a marijuana legalization initiative. As initiated statutes are indirect in Ohio, the proposal was presented to the Ohio General Assembly. Legislators have until May 3, 2023, to approve the measure. Should legislators reject or take no action on the initiative, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol would be required to collect an additional 124,046 valid signatures within 90 days, which would be around Aug. 1, 2023. A successful signature drive would result in the initiative appearing on the ballot for Nov. 7, 2023.

Through Dec. 9, 2022, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol raised $1.50 million and spent $1.42 million. The largest contributor was the Marijuana Policy Project, which provided $840,000.

As of Jan. 2023, 21 states and Washington, D.C., had legalized the possession and personal use of marijuana for recreational purposes.

  • In 12 states and D.C., the ballot initiative process was used to legalize marijuana.
  • In two states, the legislature referred a measure to the ballot for voter approval.
  • In seven states, bills to legalize marijuana were enacted into law.

From 2011 to 2021, an average of 33 statewide ballot measures — five initiated measures and 28 referred measures — appeared on ballots in odd-numbered years.

Marijuana legalization initiatives targeting the 2024 ballot have also been filed in Wyoming, Florida, and Nebraska.

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Seattle to decide on Social Housing Developer initiative on Feb. 14

On Feb. 14, Seattle voters will decide on Initiative 135, an initiative to create the Seattle Social Housing Developer, a public development authority to own, develop, and maintain what the initiative describes as social housing. According to Initiative 135, this housing would provide publicly financed apartments that are “removed from market forces and speculation” and built “with the express aim of housing people equitably and affordably … to remain affordable in perpetuity.”

Under Initiative 135, the public developer’s housing units would be available to those with a mix of income ranges from 0% to 120% of the area median income (which was $120,907 as of 2022). Rent prices would be limited to 30% of household income. Applications would not include prior rental references, co-signers, background checks, or application fees. Tenants would be selected using a lottery-based system.

As a public corporation, the Seattle Social Housing Developer would be allowed to issue bonds, receive federal funds and grants, receive private funds, and collect revenue for services.

House Our Neighbors! (HON), also known as Yes on I-135, is sponsoring the initiative. House our Neighbors needed to submit 26,520 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. The group submitted 27,220 valid signatures.

HON stated, “Social Housing is publicly owned forever, permanently affordable, and creates cross-class communities and resident leadership. In countries around the world, such as Singapore, Austria, France, Uruguay and Canada, housing is a public good. Unlike in the United States, governments, not the private sector, are directing the housing market. By creating a community-controlled Social Housing Developer to buy and build housing that will be available to those across the income spectrum, Seattle will have another critical tool to address the suffering, displacement, and inequity that defines our housing landscape. We can create a Seattle not just for those with generational wealth and high incomes, but where ALL can live and thrive.”

The measure has received endorsements from State Sens. Joe Nguyen (D) and Rebecca Saldana (D) and State Reps. Frank Chopp (D) and Nicole Macri (D). It is also endorsed by the Green Party of Seattle and the Working Families Party of Washington.

The Housing Development Consortium, a non-profit organization based in Seattle with a mission to “build, sustain, and inspire a diverse network committed to producing, preserving, and increasing equitable access to affordable homes” released a statement on Initiative 135, writing, “The primary constraint on our ability to scale proven affordable housing models is the limited public resources available to fund affordable housing. … we are concerned [the initiative] distracts funds and energy away from what our community should be focusing on – scaling up affordable housing for low-income people. We do not need another government entity to build housing when there are already insufficient resources to fund existing entities. … The proposed new public development authority (PDA) would not have the authority to impose taxes on its own, so the funds necessary to set up the additional citywide PDA would likely draw from existing affordable housing funding that could otherwise be dedicated to creating homes for our lowest-income neighbors.”

Currently, the Seattle Housing Authority, an independent public corporation, provides low-income housing and rental assistance to 17,945 households. The SHA owns and operates 8,530 apartments and single-family homes in Seattle. Eighty-five percent of SHA housing serves households with incomes at or below 30% of the area median income (about $36,270). Funding for the Seattle Housing Authority comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), rent revenue, and public and private grants. The Social Housing Developer would not replace the Seattle Housing Authority.

Mail ballots must be postmarked no later than February 14 or returned to a ballot drop box by 8 p.m. on February 14. In Washington, individuals who prefer to vote in person rather than by mail may do so at voting centers, which are open during business hours for 18 days prior to the election. Washington allows for same-day voter registration.

Governor Ron DeSantis aims to ban COVID-19 mandates in Florida

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) on January 17, 2023, announced a legislative proposal to permanently ban mandates relating to the COVID-19 pandemic in the state. He stated that the legislation would aim to “permanently protect Floridians from losing their jobs due to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, protects parents’ rights, and institutes additional protections that prevent discrimination based on COVID-19 vaccine status.”  

DeSantis signed legislation during a special session in November 2021 in response to the federal vaccine mandate issued by the Biden administration. The bill prohibited businesses from requiring vaccinations, banned mask requirements in schools, and prohibited schools from requiring students to quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure. DeSantis aims to make the measures outlined in the 2021 legislation permanent, as they are set to expire in June 2023. The proposal also aims to provide what the governor has referred to as freedom of speech protections for medical professionals in the state.   

In a press release announcing the proposed legislation, DeSantis said, “When the world lost its mind, Florida was a refuge of sanity, serving strongly as freedom’s linchpin.” He continued, “These measures will ensure Florida remains this way and will provide landmark protections for free speech for medical practitioners.” 

Democratic lawmakers in the state opposed the 2021 legislation. Florida House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell (D) spoke against the governor’s proposal, stating, “It is a fake ideology with real consequences – 84,000-plus dead Floridians and counting. Masks work, the CDC has proven that. The mRNA vaccines work,” according to CNN.  

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Florida creates new appellate court district

A new appellate court district has been established in Florida following a November 2021 recommendation by the Florida Supreme Court to redraw the district court boundaries. In June 2022, the Florida Legislature passed HB 7027, which was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), to establish the court effective January 1, 2023. The Sixth District Court of Appeal is located in Lakeland and has jurisdiction over the Ninth, Tenth, and Twentieth circuit courts. The Second District Court of Appeal, which previously heard arguments in Lakeland, has relocated to St. Petersburg.

A committee working under the Supreme Court found that the addition of a new district would “provide adequate access to oral arguments and other proceedings, foster public trust and confidence based on geography and demographic composition, and help attract a diverse group of well-qualified applicants for judicial vacancies.”

DeSantis appointed judges to fill each of the court’s nine seats prior to the formation of the court. The nine judges are:

  • Chief Judge Meredith Sasso, who was reassigned from the 5th District.
  • Judge Jay Cohen, who was reassigned from the 5th District.
  • Judge John Stargel, who was reassigned from the 2nd District.
  • Judge Daniel Traver, who was reassigned from the 5th District.
  • Judge Mary Alice Nardella, who was reassigned from the 5th District.
  • Judge Carrie Ann Wozniak, who was reassigned from the 5th District.
  • Judge Keith White, who was a judge on the 9th Circuit Court.
  • Judge Jared Smith, who formerly sat on the 13th Circuit Court.
  • Judge Joshua Mize, who was a judge on the 9th Circuit Court.

The last addition to Florida’s appellate courts was the Fifth District Court of Appeal, which was established in 1979.

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Kentucky threatens to divest from 11 banks over ESG policies

Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball (R) on January 2 issued a statement notifying 11 banks that their environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) policies amounted to energy boycotts that harmed the state’s economy according to definitions passed into law last spring. The statement says the banks have 90 days to stop what Kentucky argues are energy company boycotts or face divestment from the state. According to Fox Business:

“Kentucky issued an official notice Monday morning listing 11 banks it accused of boycotting energy companies and which would be subject to divestment within months.

“Kentucky State Treasurer Allison Ball announced that, after a review of their energy and climate policies, the listed banks — which included BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and HSBC among others — were found to be in an active boycott of fossil fuel companies. The Kentucky state government could begin divesting from the firms if they didn’t reverse their boycotts, according to the notice obtained first by FOX Business.

“‘Kentucky is a coal, oil, and gas producing state,’ Ball told FOX Business. ‘Our energy sector helps power America. Kentucky refuses to fund the ideological boycotts of our own fossil fuel industry with the hard-earned taxes and pensions of Kentucky citizens.’

“Kentucky’s Republican-led legislature passed a bill requiring the state government to identify and divest from banks that are determined to be engaging in a boycott of energy and fossil fuel companies. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear signed the bill, which was endorsed by both the Kentucky Oil and Gas Association and Kentucky Coal Association, into law on April 8, 2022.

“The law directs the state treasurer’s office to publish an annual list of financial firms engaged in energy boycotts. State agencies then must notify the office if they own direct or indirect holdings of the listed companies and send a notice to the relevant companies within 30 days. If the companies don’t halt their boycotts within 90 days of receiving such notice, the state government could divest from their holdings.

“When companies boycott fossil fuels, they intentionally choke off the lifeblood of capital to Kentucky’s signature industries,” Ball said in a statement Monday. ‘Traditional energy sources fuel our Kentucky economy, provide much needed jobs, and warm our homes. Kentucky must not allow our signature industries to be irreparably damaged based upon the ideological whims of a select few.’…

“Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia have already announced they will divest hundreds of millions of dollars from banks engaging in energy boycotts. Texas and Oklahoma have taken legislative steps akin to Kentucky’s that will likely soon lead to divestment.”

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Wisconsin State Legislature sends three ballot questions to the April ballot

Wisconsin voters will be deciding on three ballot questions—two constitutional measures and one advisory question—on April 4. 

The constitutional measures relate to the conditions of release for an accused individual before conviction and cash bail. The two questions were referred to the ballot with the final passage of Senate Joint Resolution 2 (SJR 2) on Jan. 19.

In Wisconsin, the state legislature is required to approve an amendment by a majority vote in two successive sessions for the amendment to appear on the ballot.

During the 2021-2022 legislative session, the amendment was introduced as Assembly Joint Resolution 107 (AJR 107). The state Assembly approved AJR 107 by a vote of 70-21 on Feb. 15, 2022. The state Senate approved the amendment by a vote of 23-10 on Feb. 22.

During the 2023-2024 legislative session, the amendment was introduced as SJR 2. It was approved by the state Senate on Jan. 17, 2023, by a vote of 23-9. It was approved by the state Assembly on Jan. 19, 2023, by a vote 74-23. In both chambers, Republicans supported the amendment. In the House, Democrats were divided 12-23. In the Senate, Democrats were divided 2-9.

Questions 1 and 2 both amend Article I, Section 8 of the state constitution. Question 1 would authorize the state legislature to define serious harm in relation to the conditions—designed to protect the community from serious harm—a judge imposes on an accused person released before conviction. Question 2 would authorize judges to consider the following conditions when imposing and setting cash bail:

  • a previous conviction of a violent crime, 
  • the probability the accused will not appear in court,
  • the need to protect the community from serious harm as defined by the state legislature,
  • the need to prevent witness intimidation, and
  • the potential affirmative defenses of the accused.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R), one of the sponsors of the amendment, said, “The proposed amendment also broadens the factors that a judge can consider when setting a monetary condition for release, or cash bail for violent crimes. As I said earlier, Wisconsin is the only state that only allows judges to consider a single factor when setting cash bail. Under our proposal, and for violent crimes only, judges will have the flexibility to determine bail based on the totality of circumstances.”

ACLU of Wisconsin opposes the amendment saying it “would undermine the safety and stability of people detained pretrial and their communities, exacerbate inequities in the state’s cash bail system, and raise significant concerns under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and the excessive bail prohibition under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Wisconsin voters last amended this section of the state constitution in April 1981 with the passage of Question 3. It was approved by a vote of 73.15% to 26.85%. The amendment permitted the legislature to allow courts to deny, revoke, or set terms of bail.

In 2022, Ohio voters approved a similar constitutional amendment that requires courts to consider factors such as public safety, the seriousness of the offense, a person’s criminal record, and a person’s likelihood of returning to court when setting the amount of bail.

The Wisconsin State Legislature also voted to send an advisory question to the April ballot asking voters, “Shall able-bodied, childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?” The advisory question would have no binding effect. 

To place an advisory question on the ballot, the state legislature is required to approve it by a simple majority vote in each chamber in one legislative session. The governor’s signature is not required to place it on the ballot.

The advisory question was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 4 (SJR 4). It passed the state Senate on January 17, 2023, by a vote of 22-10. On January 19, the state Assembly passed SJR 4 by a vote of 62-35. Legislative Republicans and one Democrat supported adding the question to the ballot. The remaining Democrats opposed the question.

Between 1985 and 2022, 18 measures appeared on odd-numbered year ballots in Wisconsin. Eleven measures were approved, and seven were defeated. The last spring odd-year election to include a ballot measure in Wisconsin was in 2015. Voters approved the measure, which provided for the election of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice by a majority of the justices serving on the court.

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