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How upcoming state laws could make it to Washington next

As the calendar turned to 2019 this week, new laws are taking effect, and new state legislatures are looking to push even more changes. In some states, these measures will address gun safety, roll back business licensing regulations and legalize marijuana. Amna Nawaz checks in with The Hill national correspondent Reid Wilson, who tracks changes to state policies, for an overview.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Earlier, we reported on the number of new laws taking effect today.

    Yesterday, I spoke with Reid Wilson of The Hill newspaper, who tracks state politics.

    I began our conversation asking him why new rules in specific states matter to the rest of the country.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Well, over the last 30 years or so, we have seen that what happens in state capitals today is going to happen in Washington, D.C., tomorrow, whether we're talking about welfare reform in the 1990s or health care in the 2000s that became the Affordable Care Act, or now even criminal justice reform.

    Over the last decade, we have seen about 30 states pass criminal justice reform efforts in their state capitals. And just before they left the U.S. Senate passed, gave final approval to a big sweeping criminal justice bill here.

    So, what happens in these capitals today will happen nationally tomorrow.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, states can lead the way on a lot of these issues.

    Let's talk about some of those new laws and what the states are doing. Let's start with guns and gun control. What are you watching in the new year?

  • Reid Wilson:

    So, Democrats won a huge number of state legislative seats in this November's midterm election. They won a number of governorships in states where they already controlled state legislative chambers.

    And so what we're going to see is a number of states pushing gun control, gun safety laws, if you will, what they like to call red flag laws, that is, laws that would prevent somebody who represents a danger to themselves or somebody else from possessing a gun, allowing law enforcement to take those away.

    And we're going to see those in states like Colorado, New Mexico, states that have not had a willing Republican governor or Republican legislatures for a long time.

    We're going to see a pretty sweeping reform come out of New York, where Democrats have just regained control for the first time in — basically in modern history.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And some of those changes coming about because the Democrats won those state legislatures.

    Talk to me about marijuana. What are some of the new laws coming on the books in 2019?

  • Reid Wilson:

    So, this is fascinating.

    Marijuana so far has so far has become legal in a lot of states where citizens get to vote on ballot measures. State legislators don't want to be the ones who approve new drugs being legal or something like that.

    But now, given that we're up to 10 states that have come online for recreational use, state legislatures are actually taking a look. And Vermont became the first state to pass its own form of legalization through the legislature, not through the citizens.

    A Republican governor signed that law. Now we're seeing governors in Democratic-controlled states like New Jersey, Illinois, and New York, and possibly even Rhode Island, all talking about legalizing themselves.

    They see how much money these other states are generating in tax revenue. They want a piece of that pie.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, it's the economy that's driving some of the decisions there.

    More on the economy there. What are some of the other issues on the state level that you're watching?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Yes.

    So, we're taking — there seems to be a bipartisan push lately to roll back some regulations on certain types of businesses or jobs. If you happen to be — want to become a beautician in a lot of states, you need hundreds of hours of training before you can get certified.

    That works in favor of the people who are already in the market, right? They're keeping out some competition, but a lot of state legislators on both the Democratic and Republican sides think that that's unfair, it's too high of a barrier for entry in a lot of jobs, especially as the U.S. economy becomes much more service-oriented.

    So I expect a lot of rollbacks over regulations and on business licensing in the next couple of years.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned some of the big wins by Democrats and how that changes the state legislatures, changes their agendas and priorities.

    Where else are you looking? What could some of the other big issue changes be with some of these newly elected Democrats?

  • Reid Wilson:

    I think California is going to be ground zero for the big sort of liberal push for whatever agenda the Democrats have this year.

    They have a more liberal Democratic governor than the outgoing Governor Jerry Brown in Gavin Newsom. They have a huge majority, three-quarters of the seats in both chambers of the state legislatures.

    What we're starting to see right now is a lot of California Democrats saying, we're going to pause a little bit and pump the brakes on things like a single-payer bill. We're going to take our time to figure out how to do it right.

    There is this huge, pent-up liberal ambition in Sacramento. They're trying to pause a little bit. And that's sort of a national trend here, because a lot of state legislatures are worried that the — that there is another recession or economic slowdown coming.

    So, states like California and Texas and states across the country have budget surpluses now. They have saved more money for their rainy day funds than they ever have in the history of this country. But they're worried that the next time is coming. And so everybody's being just a little bit cautious on spending on new programs.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, they may be cautious, but what are some of those issues that they might touch on? You mentioned housing to my producer earlier in a conversation.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Housing is a huge — yes, housing is a huge crisis in a number of coastal states, big urban cores, places like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Yes.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Homelessness is on the rise.

    And so states are now typically getting into the housing market. California is trying to address its — sort of where density can happen, where more growth can take place, because people are simply being priced out. And there — and the homelessness is on a rise — on the rise, as a result.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, a great part of your job is to get to track some of the sort of off-kilter new laws coming on the books too.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Reid Wilson:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What are some of those that you have seen?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Well, as a parent of a toddler, I'm very happy that two states now will require men's rooms to have baby changing tables. It's a good thing. I would appreciate that.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    … news, yes.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Reid Wilson:

    There are new sexual harassment policies coming online in California and Louisiana, two state capitals that were rocked by sexual assault and harassment allegations over the last few years.

    I expect that we're going to see more of the sort of MeToo movement happening in state legislative chambers across the country, because state capitals are really a place where there's not a lot of oversight of people's behavior. And, therefore, people have been behaving badly, so we're going to see more fallout on that.

    And then, funny enough, there is now a new state — again, California, which tends to lead the way on a lot of these things — that is not only — they're doing two interesting things. They are banning straws, plastic straws at restaurants, unless you ask for one, so your waiter wouldn't hand you a plastic straw in the beginning.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    OK.

  • Reid Wilson:

    And they're also going to start treating pets like children when it comes to divorces.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Explain that to me.

  • Reid Wilson:

    So, people will be able to debate custody in front of a judge over pets. This is now the second state to do it. Illinois has already come online with this, but…

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Illinois was the first?

  • Reid Wilson:

    Illinois was the first.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    California is following Illinois?

  • Reid Wilson:

    California is following Illinois.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    OK.

  • Reid Wilson:

    And now, if anybody gets divorced, their pet is just as subject to custody hearings as their children.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You are tracking it all at The Hill.

    Reid Wilson, thank you very much for being here.

  • Reid Wilson:

    Thank you.

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