As more decisions are being left up to states, state houses, like the one in Massachusetts, are taking on larger roles in their constituents' lives.

As more decisions are being left up to states, state houses, like the one in Massachusetts, are taking on larger roles in their constituents' lives.

The White House wants more decision making to happen at the local level. How might that change the debate on issues like reproductive health, the law on marijuana and the surge in citizen-generated ballot initiatives?


  • Scott Greenberger Executive editor, Stateline; @sgreenberger
  • Reid Wilson National correspondent, The Hill; @PoliticsReid
  • Joshua Miller Politics reporter, Boston Globe; @JM_Bos
  • Representative Julie Fahey State representative, Oregon's 14th District; @juliefahey

Highlights From The Stateline Report

State legislatures don’t get much attention. The number of reporters in statehouses is dwindling, and the federal government receives more attention.

But state lawmakers can set budgets and pass legislation related to drugs, voting and a number of other issues that affect daily life.

The Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline tracks the major trends in state-level lawmaking. Since state legislatures began working in January of this year, Pew has found trends in five areas:

Reproductive Health

“As Washington moved to reduce federal funding for women’s health this year, adversaries in the war over affordable birth control and other women’s health services shifted the battleground to state capitals — resulting in a spate of new laws that both expand and contract women’s access to care,” Stateline reports.

This map shows the states where lawmakers have sought to reduce access to contribution:

However, the trend doesn’t just go in one direction. As Pew reports:

In sharp contrast, Nevada and Maine, both led by Republican governors, enacted new laws mandating insurance companies cover the costs of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved forms of contraception without delay and without requiring women to try the cheapest method first, as some insurers now do.

Marijuana Regulation

In the last few years, voters have pushed lawmakers on legalized marijuana. And this year, Stateline reports, “Lawmakers in at least 23 states considered legislation to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana this year and 16 states weighed bills to establish medical marijuana programs.”

Each year more bills to legalize recreational marijuana are being introduced in state legislatures. But most lawmakers are still unwilling pass them, leaving it up to voters to decide if the plant that opponents say is a gateway to hardcore drug use should be available for mass consumption and regulated similarly to alcohol.

Gas Tax

The White House has made overtures toward infrastructure spending, but much of the actual work has to be done — and paid for — by the states. If not from a federal program like the Obama-era stimulus, then much of that funding needs to come from gas taxes.

“The federal government helps states pay for some highway projects and other transportation costs. But the federal gas tax hasn’t been raised in over 20 years,” Stateline reports. “And while President Donald Trump has talked about investing $1 trillion in infrastructure, states are unlikely to get an influx of new cash anytime soon.”

That, combined with more efficient vehicles, has pushed some states to raise their own gasoline tax. Though the Stateline report shows that many states have held out against a gas tax increase.

Prisoner Re-Entry

“People exiting prison often struggle to find work and housing, and many legislators say the law continues to punish them as they are hit with court debt and barred from entering certain professions and, in some places, from getting public assistance,” Stateline reports.

To keep released offenders from landing back in jail, several states have begun taking steps to make criminal record expungement easier, while others have passed legislation that blocks employers from asking about criminal records on job applications.

Pushing Back On Ballot Initiatives

In one of the more surprising trends, Stateline finds that states have avoided enacting laws pushed by voters as ballot initiatives (rather than proposed by lawmakers as referendums), either by watering down the legislation, or by changing the law to make ballot initiatives more difficult to create and pass.

These ballot initiatives can cover anything from legalized marijuana (see above) or a higher minimum wage. But just because voters like them, that doesn’t mean lawmakers do.

South Dakota state legislators scrapped voter-approved campaign finance and lobbying restrictions. Maine lawmakers repealed a new tax on the wealthy. And in Florida, lawmakers decided a new law legalizing medical marijuana wouldn’t allow users to smoke it — prompting a lawsuit by one of the primary backers of the initiative.

You can find more on all these trends in the full report from the Pew Charitable Trust’s Stateline.

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