Category Archives: Laws/Legislation

Legislative Influence Detector (LID)

Source: University of Chicago, Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship, 2015

Journalists, researchers, and concerned citizens would like to know who’s actually writing legislative bills. But trying to read those bills, let alone trace their source, is tedious and time consuming. This is especially true at the state level, where important policy decisions are made every day. State legislatures consider roughly 70,000 bills each year, covering taxes, education, healthcare, crime, transportation, and more. To solve this problem, we have created a tool we call the “Legislative Influence Detector” (LID, for short). LID helps watchdogs turn a mountain of text into digestible insights about the origin and diffusion of policy ideas and the real influence of various lobbying organizations. LID draws on more than 500,000 state bills (collected by the Sunlight Foundation) and 2,400 pieces of model legislation written by lobbyists (collected by us, ALEC Exposed, and other groups), searches for similarities, and flags them for review. LID users can then investigate the matches to look for possible lobbyist and special interest influence.
When Lobbyists Write Legislation, This Data Mining Tool Traces The Paper Trail
Source: Jessica Leber, Fast Company, Co.Exist, October 26, 2015

Big data is helping to bring transparency to the darker corners of politics. …. But even for expert researchers, journalists, and government transparency groups, tracing a bill’s lineage isn’t easy—especially at the state level. Last year alone, there were 70,000 state bills introduced in 50 states. It would take one person five weeks to even read them all. Groups that do track state legislation usually focus narrowly on a single topic, such as abortion, or perhaps a single lobby groups. Computers can do much better. A prototype tool, presented in September at Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange 2015 conference, mines the Sunlight Foundation’s database of more than 500,000 bills and 200,000 resolutions for the 50 states from 2007 to 2015. It also compares them to 1,500 pieces of “model legislation” written by a few lobbying groups that made their work available, such as the conservative group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the liberal group the State Innovation Exchange (formerly called ALICE). …. Like a plagiarism detector, the prototype can detect similar language in different bills. ….

State legislators’ sources and use of information: bridging the gap between research and policy

Source: Elizabeth A. Dodson, Nora A. Geary and Ross C. Brownson, Health Education Research, Advance Access, First published online: October 13, 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Research can inform policymakers of public health issues and shape policy decisions, hopefully benefiting public health; thus, improving dissemination of research to policymakers is important for developing effective public health policies that improve health and health equity. However, the utilization of research among policymakers is often not fully realized. This study builds upon current knowledge about what types of information legislators seek when working on health issues and where they go for information. Further, it explores what kinds of information legislators find most helpful and if there are ways researchers could better provide this evidence. Key-informant interviews were conducted with 25 U.S. state legislators holding health committee leadership positions between July and November, 2010. Regarding types of information sought, most legislators discussed their desire for data and statistics when working on health-related issues. When asked about their most trusted sources of information, participants mentioned government sources as well as advocacy, lobby and industry groups. A few mentioned universities and healthcare professionals. Results from this study offer public health researchers and practitioners’ insights into the types of information that may be most helpful to policymakers. Insights gathered may improve the dissemination of research and bridge the gap between knowledge users and knowledge producers.

Beyond Respectability: New Principles for Immigration Reform

Source: Angélica Cházaro, University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2015-34, September 24, 2015

From the abstract:
Current pro-immigrant reform efforts focus on legalization. Proposals seek to place as many of the eleven million undocumented people in the United States as possible on a “path to earned citizenship.” However, these reform efforts suffer from a significant and underappreciated blind spot: the strategies used to advocate legalization harm those to whom the path to citizenship is barred — such as those with prior deportation orders, prior criminal convictions, and those who have yet to arrive. The problem begins with rhetoric: in making the push for legalization, immigrant rights groups have deployed imagery of the undocumented as law-abiding, hard-working, and family-oriented — the ideal respectable candidates for an invitation into the protected sphere of citizenship. The flaw in this approach is evident in the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in 2013. While the bill would have provided additional safeguards for those who qualify for the path to legalization, it would have simultaneously rendered more vulnerable the millions of immigrants who do not qualify. For that latter group, the bill would have meant further criminalization of employment, increased border enforcement and deaths, and a cemented pipeline between local law enforcement, detention, and deportation.

This Article proposes that the push for legalization is responsible for the legislative bait-and-switch, which appears to fix a broken system by offering legalization to some, but in fact makes the system worse for many. To avoid that result, advocates should avoid prioritizing legalization, and instead address the systemic harms related to the category of “illegality.” Pro-immigrant advocacy and scholarship should be guided by the question, “Will this intervention increase or decrease the harms related to living without lawful status?” Such a strategy would move the focus away from an individual’s eligibility for citizenship and towards issues that confront the most vulnerable among the undocumented. By addressing those most harmed by “illegality,” new opportunities emerge for crafting reforms that dismantle immigrant vulnerability.

The Policy Effects of the Partisan Composition of State Government

Source: Devin Caughey, Chris Warshaw, Yiqing Xu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2015-24, September 28, 2015

From the abstract:
How much does it matter which party controls the government? There are a number of reasons to believe that the partisan composition of state government should affect policy. But the existing evidence that electing Democrats instead of Republicans into office leads to more liberal policies is surprisingly weak, inconsistent, and contingent. We bring clarity to this debate with the aid of a new measure of the policy liberalism of each state from 1936-2014, using regression discontinuity and dynamic panel analyses to estimate the policy effects of the partisan composition of state legislatures and governorships. We find that until the 1980s, partisan control of state government had negligible effects on policy liberalism, but that since then partisan effects have grown markedly. Even today, however, the policy effects of partisan composition pale in comparison to the policy differences across states. They are also small relative to the partisan divergence in legislative voting records.

Nondiscrimination and the ACA

Source: Mara Youdelman, National Health Law Program (NHeLP), Health Advocate, Vol. 41, September 2015

From the summary:
In this month’s Health Advocate, NHeLP provides an overview of the proposed regulation implementing Section 1557 of the ACA. Section 1557 updates nondiscrimination provisions to include prohibiting sex, gender identity, and sex stereotyping discrimination, as well as clarifying standards regarding discrimination based on language, disability, and other protected groups. The first week in September 2015, HHS released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to clarify and implement Section 1557 of the ACA.

Indentured Studenthood: The Higher Education Act and the Burden of Student Debt

Source: Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, New Labor Forum, Vol. 24 no. 3, Fall 2015
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Promising to do something about student debt has become the means for politicians to pretend they are doing something for the 99 percent. That was true even before the 2016 election campaign really got underway. Obama, after all, promised two free years of community college in his 2015 State of the Union address. That idea, like so many others from Republicans and Democrats, did not go anywhere, even though the most recent re-authorization of the 1965 Higher Education Act (HEA) expired in 2013. However, inaction is not just a symptom of Washington gridlock. The reality is that paying for college is a confounding, sprawling sector of the economy involving loans, grants, scholarships, and tax credits. …

50 Years of the Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics

Source: Khalilah Brown-Dean, Zoltan Hajnal, Christina Rivers, and Ismail White, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, 2015

From the summary:
… The report is critical to understanding the impact of the Act and the future of voting rights. The report provides data on minority voter turnout, racially polarized voting, policy outcomes by race, and the number of minority elected officials from the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 until today. ….

Key findings:
– The black/white racial gap in voter turnout has decreased dramatically in presidential elections since 1965.
– Local election turnout is generally less than half of presidential general election turnout. As overall turnout declines in local elections, the electorate may become less diverse.
– Turnout rates among both Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans in presidential elections remain 15 to 20 points below white Americans.
– Since 1960, the party identification and partisan voting patterns of blacks and whites have become sharply divided.
– In urban local elections, race is a more decisive factor than income, education, political ideology, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, and political ideology.
– Based on available data from 1972 to 2010, blacks were the least successful group in America in terms of policy outcomes.
– Since 1965, the number of elected officials of color has grown enormously, but people of color remain underrepresented in elected office.

Voter Registration

Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, September 10, 2015

In 49 states, an eligible citizen must be registered to vote. North Dakota does not require voter registration ahead of an election—eligible citizens can simply appear at the polls with required identification and be permitted to vote. In 2015, Oregon passed “automatic voter registration,” a system that automatically registers all eligible voters who are in the Department of Motor Vehicles database. Voters do not need to take any action to register, but they can “opt out” of being on the registered voter list. See NCSL’s blog post on Oregon’s law. ….

Table of Contents:
Register at the Local Elections Office
Register at the DMV
Online Voter Registration
Same Day Registration
Statewide Voter Registration Databases
Maintaining the Voter List
Additional Resources

Washington’s War on the Visibly Poor: A Survey of Criminalizing Ordinances & Their Enforcement

Source: Justin Olson, Scott MacDonald, Sara Rankin, Seattle University School of Law Research Paper No. 15-19, Published by the SU Homeless Rights Advocacy Project, May 6, 2015

From the abstract:
Throughout the country, cities increasingly enact laws that punish behaviors necessary for survival. For those without shelter, there is no alternative but to conduct these behaviors in public. Camping outdoors, sleeping, going to the bathroom, receiving food, sitting or lying down on sidewalks — these laws target homeless people either in practice or outright. But until now, no one knew how widespread these laws are throughout Washington State, or how they are being enforced. This brief answers these questions.

HRAP researchers surveyed the municipal codes of seventy-two cities across Washington to identify ordinances that essentially criminalize homelessness in each jurisdiction. From this survey, researchers created a chart tracking every ordinance they could find. Seven of the cities were selected as case studies for closer examination of the enforcement and citations of these ordinances. The findings reveal that homeless criminalization exists regardless of where you live. From densely populated urban cities to scattered rural townships, city councils are increasingly passing these laws, often drafting them in a way that raises serious legal and policy concerns about how Washington treats its most vulnerable residents.

This brief shines a spotlight on the problems with these laws: how they are written, how they impact the homeless community, and how easily cities can fall into the trap of vilifying already vulnerable populations in the name of safety and public health. This report shows that the problem of criminalizing homelessness, so often buried in municipal codes, is both widespread and systemic.