Legislative Dockets Across the Nation Packed for 2015 Sessions

Bolstered by their overwhelming success in the 2014 elections, Republicans have charged into 2015 prepared to harness their strength for significant reform across diverse policy platforms. Republicans now hold total control in 24 states, 31 total governorships and 68 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers, up from their control of 59 chambers last year. Democrats hold total control in just seven states, down from last year’s claim on 13 states.

Because of this new dynamic, state laws will undoubtedly play an oversized role in the GOP’s strategy to limit the power of the federal government. Along with their attempts to pick apart the Affordable Care Act, including the state-by-state expansion of Medicaid, the GOP is likely to renew their fights over the Common Core state standards, which the party sees as a federal takeover of local schools. Balancing budgets is expected to be even more contentious this year, as are disputes over emissions, privacy and labor issues.

Yearly growth since the Great Recession has allowed states to increase spending while reducing taxes and fees and closing budget gaps. Most states have exceeded pre-recession revenue spending levels. However, slow revenue growth combined with rising spending indicates fiscal challenges will continue. According to the National Association of State Budget Officers’ (NASBO) Fiscal Survey of the States, “Overall, states are in a better position than they were a few years ago; most have surpassed pre-recession revenue and spending levels, a key milestone in resuming long-term budget growth. However, it has taken states many years to recover, and with annual increases in revenue and spending still below historical averages, difficult decisions regarding budgetary tradeoffs are likely to remain for states.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will continue to grapple with the privacy concerns created by technological advancements. This issue will permeate diverse fields including education, specifically with regard to student privacy, as well as law enforcement surveillance, drone use and social media. Notification requirements for data security breaches were propelled into the national headlines with the cyber attack on Sony Pictures late last year, and legislators will certainly take this opportunity to shore up cyber security laws.

Other issues to keep an eye on this year include transportation funding, as continued fallout from the recession, crumbling infrastructure and an increase in the use of alternative transportation fuels will provide greater hurdles; genetically modified organisms, especially in light of labeling laws already passed in three states; emissions – another target for Republicans seeking to scale back the Clean Power Plan, a significant timeline for carbon reduction released by the Environmental Protection Agency last year; and right-to-work laws, which at least nine states are seeking to weaken in 2015.