States are kicking off new legislative sessions. These are the top issues
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Many state legislatures will meet in the new year. And they will have the power to address some polarizing issues.
ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:
The most polarizing may be abortion, which the Supreme Court threw to the states when it overturn Roe v. Wade. But they may try to pass new laws. The new Congress is divided between the parties. But many state legislatures are not, which gives them more power to act.
INSKEEP: Reid Wilson is following all of this. He's the founder and editor of Pluribus News. Welcome to the program.
REID WILSON: Well, good morning.
INSKEEP: OK, so some states already acted on abortion in 2022, some of them expanding abortion rights, some of them limiting abortion rights. How much further might they go?
WILSON: Well, I think we're going to see a lot of action on abortion rights this year. Blue states are moving to add abortion rights and reproductive care to their state constitutions. California did so last year. We'll see similar proposals in places like Washington, Colorado and Illinois. Democrats are also interested in adding privacy protections for those who might travel from out of state to seek an abortion. Washington is working on a data privacy measure specifically aimed at reproductive rights. Imagine if somebody from Idaho travels to Washington to seek an abortion. The bill would protect that person's data from any law enforcement agency in Idaho that might seek to prosecute them. The Dobbs decision is also forcing a really interesting debate in red states. How far do they go in banning abortion? Fifteen weeks? Six weeks?
WILSON: Or a total ban? And there's also a debate over whether to add exceptions in the cases of rape or incest and even in some cases, to protect the life or health of the mother.
INSKEEP: I'm really interested listening to you because I'm also hearing battles between the states in some of the legislation you mentioned - states trying to influence how much they will influence people who go to a different state, for example.
WILSON: Right. That's a big part of this discussion, especially because there are several blue states that are sort of islands where abortion access can be provided in the midst of a bunch of red states that are trying to restrict that access.
INSKEEP: Rob mentioned other issues. How are states addressing the economy in 2023?
WILSON: You know, Steve, when I started covering state-level politics about a decade ago, the dominant story was about states competing with each other to attract businesses. Now what we're seeing is states competing with each other to attract workers. States have thousands of vacant teaching positions, thousands of vacant government jobs. And even more are going to open up as baby boomers retire. And, you know, as Congress has approved billions of dollars in spending on new high-tech manufacturing sectors, even those jobs are going to need to be filled. So states are using every tool they have to build future workforces. They're building new apprenticeship programs, opening up community colleges and technical schools. And they're cutting licensure requirements.
A good example of this is in Tennessee, where companies like Ford are building big electric vehicle facilities. The state is building a branch of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology near the site of a Ford plant so that students can get training for the high-paying, blue-collar manufacturing jobs that Ford's going to provide. And Ford wins, too, because they get the workforce they need to actually operate the plant. This is one of the few things today in America that I think is totally bipartisan. I mean, both Democrats and Republicans know that a state without a workforce is a state without an economic future.
INSKEEP: Although, again, going to be competing there between the states. Is there another issue we would think of as a national issue that's going to be addressed at the state level this year?
WILSON: Yeah, I'd point to technology. I mean, here's a good example of gridlock in D.C. forcing state action. Congress isn't doing anything to regulate technology companies. So the states are really stepping into the void. And that's becoming something of a partisan minefield. Democratic states have tried to force social media companies to cut down on hate speech. Republican states have tried to bar those companies from applying what they call censorship, specifically of conservative states. But there is at least some low-hanging fruit that I think we'll see in both red states and blue states. And that's specifically around how social media companies treat children and data privacy around kids.
INSKEEP: Reid Wilson of Pluribus News, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
WILSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.