The State of the Union: ALEC Policy Experts Weigh In
As we watched President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address this week, one thing was abundantly clear: in many instances, the President leaned on a top-down, big government approach to many of the issues facing America today. But as ALEC and our members know, it is truly the states that are the laboratories of democracy. This dynamic of competitive federalism will be what it takes to bring real solutions to some of our biggest policy challenges in America. To that end, in case you missed it from earlier this year, take a moment to review our ALEC Essential Policy Ideas for 2022.
Below, the ALEC Policy Team responds to the policy ideas presented in the State of the Union.
Nino Marchese, Director, Civil Justice and Criminal Justice Task Forces
ALEC was pleased to hear last night’s State of the Union address contain a section dedicated to criminal justice reform. “The answer is not to defund the police, it’s to fund the police,” said President Biden, as he began to dive into why policing practices and criminal justice concerns are a priority issue. He discussed the importance of properly funding and training law enforcement so that they may better protect our communities while restoring trust and safety with them. He even mentioned a number of reforms the Justice Department has adopted to equip federal officers with safer use of force practices, including the requirement of body cameras, the banning of chokehold techniques, and restricting the use of no-knock warrants and raids.
However, President Biden’s State of the Union address was not a thorough assessment of the policing and criminal justice issues the states are currently facing. While what he touched on seemed to aim in the right direction, and without holding any partisan passions, there was a lack of reporting on the actual state of affairs surrounding the many criminal justice issues in the U.S. Issues like the violent crime waves seen throughout major U.S. cities and various states, the lack of currently available police data and reporting requirements, practical policing accountability beyond the scope of racial justice, and, of course, the federal war on drugs, all deserved explicit recognition, and President Biden should have provided such.
The criminal justice portion of last night’s State of the Union address was successful in encapsulating the very perspective and spirit held by ALEC’s Criminal Justice Task Force: helping law enforcement helps communities. It is not only possible, but most desirable to appropriately support law enforcement as they carry out their duty to protect and serve, while simultaneously increasing the transparency and accountability we expect in all other spheres of our government. States and local governments can and should enact reforms which do just that.
Gretchen Baldau, Director, Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force
In his State of the Union address last night, President Biden touched on the state of the American economy, which has experienced some rebound from the pandemic but is also struggling with near-historic inflation and a labor shortage. Among other solutions, including reducing childcare costs (read ALEC’s blog on President Biden’s past proposal on this issue), President Biden suggested passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.
Most commonly known at the PRO Act, this labor policy includes several provisions that directly conflict with economic-liberty-focused ALEC model policies, such as the Resolution on Secondary Boycotts, Uniform Worker Classification Act, Right to Work Act, and many more. President Biden is correct that workers are the key to a prosperous and bustling economy. However, policies like those contained in the PRO Act restrict workers’ freedom and rights. Economic development can instead be fostered by policies like those passed by ALEC’s Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force, such as the Universal Regulatory Sandbox Act, the Right to Earn a Living Act, and the Model Interstate-Mobility and Universal-Recognition Occupational Licensing Act.
Jonathon Hauenschild, Director, Communications and Technology Task Force
President Biden called on Congress to act on privacy legislation, but the devil is in the details. First, though, a federal privacy standard is needed. Innovators, technology companies, and anyone who collects data on customers – such as grocery stores, mom-and-pop businesses that are online, and even schools – could be hindered by poorly drafted legislation.
There is a need to protect children’s privacy. But innovators understand the problems and are crafting solutions faster than the government can respond through legislation, as recognized by the ALEC Principles on Online Privacy. Individuals should be able to direct their privacy choices, and many technology companies provide their subscribers the opportunity to control privacy. Individuals need better education on these tools, not government intervention. Unfortunately, principles like those President Biden discussed in his State of the Union will hinder innovation and substitute government solutions for the private sector’s solutions.
While the government should craft a single federal privacy standard, it should also look to protect consumer data from prying government eyes. As new surveillance technologies are developed, law enforcement agencies will be tempted to use them regardless of any Fourth Amendment restrictions. States should be out ahead of the discussion, looking at the ALEC Privacy Protection Act, which seeks to balance civil liberties and emerging technologies.
The state legislators active in the Communications and Technology Task Force have long thought about privacy. In addition to the policies listed above, they have also caused ALEC to adopt policies such as the Resolution For A Single Federal Standard For Consumer Privacy, the Electronic Data Privacy Protection Act, and the Employee Online Privacy Act.
Andrew Handel, Director, Education and Workforce Development Task Force
“It was true before the pandemic and has never been more important to say out loud: Parents Matter.”
“The Department of Justice treats parents like domestic terrorists.”
“[Parents] have a right to know, and to have a say in, what their kids are being taught.”
These were just a few of the lines spoken by Governor Kim Reynolds of Iowa in her rebuttal to President Biden’s State of the Union address. While the President chose to focus his speech on other issues , Governor Reynolds made education and parental empowerment a focal point of hers — correctly recognizing that not every school will be the best available option for every student. She is also leading current legislative efforts in the state to make education freedom a reality for more Iowa families by ensuring that funding follows the students. ALEC’s model policy, the Education Savings Account Act, offers a starting point for lawmakers to implement these policies as well.
Parents do indeed matter, and while there is much happening in the world today, policymakers cannot lose sight of the long-term negative effects stemming from our current system of education. Our students have been falling behind since before the pandemic, with just 37% of 12th graders currently reading at a proficient level and another 30% reading below a basic level. Accounting for the effects of pandemic-related learning loss, one estimate finds that students have lost between $49,000 and $61,000 in lifetime earnings thanks to school closures, emergency remote learning, and other factors. The total cost to the U.S. economy could be as high as $188 billion a year, with the worst effects hitting minority communities as pre-existing achievement gaps widen.
No amount of increased public-school funding will ever correct for a student that is trapped in a learning environment that simply does not work for them. Instead, we can help by ensuring that every student is put in the best possible position to succeed through freedom and choice in their education.
Joe Trotter, Director, Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force
Although wind and solar are an important part of America’s energy generation, other, more traditional forms, are just as important. In a time of growing international unrest, energy independence and export are essential arrows in our country’s foreign relations quiver. Not only would energy independence decrease our reliance on changing regimes and unstable areas of the world, but it would allow us to support our allies by reducing their dependence on adversarial foreign governments.
Handicapping domestic energy production does not just put America at risk, it buoys the international standing of despots and dictators willing to bring the world to the brink of war. Strict regulatory barriers to entry on domestic mining and processing leave us, and our allies dependent on unreliable foreign sources to fuel our energy needs.
Karla Jones, Senior Director, Federalism and International Relations Task Force
Russia’s attack against Ukraine provided a sobering backdrop for this year’s SOTU. Biden called on Americans to reject the divisions that have frayed our national fabric and for the US as a nation to stand united with our likeminded global partners, observing that this is the best way to ensure “that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.” ALEC issued a statement of solidarity with Ukraine, and my article last month echoes many of the President’s ideas describing how Putin’s aggression has inadvertently facilitated Western cohesion and breathed new life into NATO (here is ALEC model policy commemorating the Alliance). ALEC has long led on defending freedom and strengthening democracy internationally.
Biden’s focus on veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was welcome, although we are still waiting for accountability for the disastrous exit from Afghanistan. In the weeks leading up to the US and NATO troop withdrawal, ALEC adopted model policy calling for the expedited evacuation of interpreters and others who assisted US and NATO troops and assembled a group of experts to discuss what had gone wrong (listen to the conversation in this Across the States podcast).
The President is correct to prioritize global supply chain security. Onshoring has merits – especially with respect to accessing the critical minerals and rare earths found in America’s vast federal estate as referenced in an ALEC white paper on the transfer of select public lands to state control. ALEC has also adopted model policy supporting onshoring and nearshoring to secure America’s active pharmaceutical ingredient supply chains. However, strengthening partnerships with trusted global partners is another way to secure supply chains as outlined in this ALEC resolution that calls for stronger US-Taiwan relations to ensure American access to the critical products manufactured by that country.
While the President referenced that his policies would reduce the deficit, he failed to address the threat that America’s ballooning national debt poses. Efforts to rein in federal spending will likely come from the states, as Congress shows little willingness to police its spending habits. An Article V amendments convention to address America’s most intractable challenges, including the debt, is an opportunity for national unity. As my remarks delivered at Utah Valley University’s Functional Federalism Conference attest, federalism has no party affiliation.
Brooklyn Roberts, Senior Director, Health and Human Services Task Force
There was some good news in President Biden’s address to the country last night. First, most Americans will be happy that the COVID restrictions are being lifted. Hopefully this will include FAA mask requirements for travel. We can only hope state governors and legislators listen to this and end mask and vaccine mandates across the country—especially for schools.
I’m also encouraged by President Biden’s willingness to invest in cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and other life threatening diseases. Pharmaceutical innovation has done tremendous things for America especially during the pandemic. Unfortunately, President Biden’s call to cap or fix drug prices for treatments like insulin will derail that investment and innovation. Price fixing will result in fewer new drugs and spur less investment in the industry. Investment in pharmaceuticals has led to new cell therapies that can treat cancers and gene therapies that can address problems from birth.
President Biden also mentioned letting the government negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare. “Negotiate” in this case, will likely result in the federal government setting prices for drugs. This is not the way to lower costs and in fact could be extremely harmful to Part D which is the most solvent program in Medicare.
The President’s comments on addressing the opioid crisis and mental health were somewhat encouraging. Eliminating laws that stand in the way of medication assisted treatment (MAT) for addiction and adopting harm reduction policies are a step in the right direction. Overall, I expected the President to address health insurance costs and Medicare and Medicaid expansion which he really didn’t do. I was also hoping to hear more about price transparency laws since the Biden administration has continued President Trump’s policies in that area, but he didn’t mention it at all.
Jonathan Williams, Lee Schalk, and Nick Stark, Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force and Center for State Fiscal Reform
While President Biden suggested leveling the playing field with China, his call for tax increases on American job creators would be detrimental to these efforts. At the end of the day, businesses don’t pay taxes; people do. Biden also called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, which would destroy opportunities for millions.
The President hailed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) while slamming President Trump’s historic Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) as a handout to the top 1% of earners. In reality, ARPA has proven to be a wasteful and unnecessary spending package that has prolonged the sluggishness of the U.S. economy while pushing the national debt past $30 trillion. For these reasons, our team has warned against massive state bailout packages throughout the pandemic. By contrast, the TCJA was a tax cut for more than 100 million Americans. According to IRS data, the TCJA benefitted middle, working-class Americans the most. It wasn’t TCJA that led to the federal debt trap – rather, it was irresponsible spending growth.
Iowa Governor and ALEC Alumna Kim Reynolds provided a stark contrast to President Biden in her SOTU response. This was unsurprising, given her stellar State of the State Address and tax reform plan, which we lauded in a recent Des Moines Register op-ed.
In her SOTU response, Governor Reynolds cited the major tax reform package that she just signed into law. Thanks to efforts from her and our ALEC legislators, Iowa is becoming more economically competitive. The tax reform package includes lower taxes on business income and a flat personal income tax that will substantially reduce rates for all taxpayers in her state. As we explained at a recent legislator issue briefing in Des Moines, the Hawkeye State is poised for economic growth once these new rates are fully implemented. According to our “Adjust Policies” tool on RichStatesPoorStates.org, Iowa could leap up to 15 spots in our Economic Outlook ranking.