A look back at progress in states and localities during 2016

Posted on December 21, 2016

While the past year turned out to be a political disaster, a great deal of important progressive legislation was enacted in states, cities and counties across the nation. Here are the top ten progressive policy victories in 2016:

  1. Minimum wage. On the day that Clinton lost, the minimum wage won referenda in four states. As a result, Arizona, Colorado and Maine will increase the minimum wage to $12/hour by 2020 while Washington will raise it to $13.50 also by 2020. Earlier in the year, Oregon enacted SB 1532 which raises the minimum wage in three geographic tiers ($14.75/$13.50/$12.50) by 2022.  California enacted SB 3 to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2022 and 2023 (depending on the employer’s size). New York raised the minimum wage for New York City to $15/hour by 2018 and Washington, D.C. followed suit with $15/hour by 2020. The governor of Pennsylvania signed an executive order to raise the minimum wage by nearly $3 an hour, to $10.15, for state government employees and workers on jobs contracted by the state.
  1. Paid sick leave. The successful Washington minimum wage ballot initiative also approved a requirement that employees accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, beginning in 2018. The winning Arizona minimum wage ballot initiative also approved a paid sick leave mandate similar to Washington’s. Earlier in the year, Vermont became the fifth state with a paid sick leave law (after CT, CA, MA and OR). Paid sick leave laws were also enacted in 2016 in Spokane WA, Minneapolis and St. Paul MN, Chicago and Cook County IL, Berkeley, Santa Monica and Los Angeles CA, and Morristown and Plainfield NJ. At the very end of the year, the City Council of the District of Columbia passed one of the most progressive paid family leave proposals in the nation.
  1. Pay equity. Maryland enacted HB 1003 to strengthen state law that prohibits pay discrimination based on gender and gender identity. California enacted AB 1676 which prohibits employers from paying women less than male colleagues based on prior salary, as well as SB 1063 which prohibits employers from paying workers doing “substantially similar” jobs different wages based on their race or ethnicity. The Portland, Oregon City Council passed a groundbreaking ordinance that charges publicly traded corporations a surtax if they pay their CEO more than 100 times their median worker.
  1. Marijuana. In November, voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada  approved ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana, voters in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota approved medical marijuana, and voters in Montana loosened restrictions on medical marijuana. Pennsylvania enacted SB 3 and Ohio enacted HB 523 to allow medical marijuana. Now eight states allow recreational use and 20 others allow medical use.
  1. Tobacco age. California enacted SB 7 becoming the second state after Hawaii to raise the minimum age of sale for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21 years of age. Similar legislation was subsequently enacted in Washington, D.C., Columbus OH, Louis MO, and Ann Arbor MI. As of December 2016, at least 200 localities have raised the minimum sale age for tobacco products to 21.
  1. Climate change and clean energy. California enacted the most sweeping legislation in U.S. history to address climate change. SB 32 will slash greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, which will ultimately affect many aspects of life across the state. Massachusetts enacted SB 2092 to cut pollution 80 percent by 2050. And Maryland enacted SB 323 to reduce current greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030.
  1. Plastic bag ban or tax. Around the world there has been a phase-out of lightweight plastic bags. In November, California voters approved Proposition 67 which upheld state legislation to ban grocery stores and other retailers from providing single-use plastic carryout bags to customers. Bans on thin plastic bags were also enacted in Tacoma WA, and Adams, Amherst, Aquinnah, Bridgewater, Chilmark, Edgartown, Framingham, Lee, Lenox, Shrewsbury, Tisbury, Watertown and Wellesley MA.
  1. Gun violence protections. Four states approved gun violence prevention ballot initiatives in November. Maine Question 3 and Nevada Question 1 required background checks for all gun sales and transfers. Washington Initiative 1491 authorizes courts to temporarily remove guns from dangerous individuals. And California Prop 63 banned the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines, required background checks for ammunition purchases, and required gun owners to report when firearms are lost or stolen. The California legislature previously enacted SB 880 which expands the definition of prohibited assault weapons. Hawaii enacted SB 2954 which authorizes county police departments to enroll firearms applicants and individuals registering their firearms into a criminal record monitoring service.
  1. Voter registration. Oregon was the first state to enact automatic voter registration and California was second, both last year. Through this system, eligible voters who interact with state agencies—including those who have driver’s licenses—are registered unless they decline. In 2016, Vermont and West Virginia which adopted the system through legislation and Connecticut did so through administrative action. In November, Alaska adopted automatic voter registration by referendum. Maryland enacted a law that comes close, a Freedom to Vote Act which expands registration opportunities to nearly every state agency and updates technology at existing agencies offering voter registration services.
  1. Abortion rights. While successful state legislation was overwhelmingly anti-abortion, there were some notable abortion rights victories in 2016. Illinois enacted SB 1564 which requires hospitals with religious objections to reproductive health services to inform patients about different facilities where they can access those services. Delaware enacted HB 316, called the “Not My Boss’ Business” law, which bans discrimination against an employee or potential employee based on reproductive health decisions. And Oakland CA adopted a strong ordinance that prevents crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) from employing false or deceptive advertising and allows the city attorney to enforce it.