Improving Public Policy

  • July 28, 2017

The Pew Charitable Trusts applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life, as these recent accomplishments illustrate.

Trust Magazine Summer 2017

The Rio Grande River flows through the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos County, New Mexico. (© Michael Melford/National Geographic/Getty Images)

Land conservation legislation moves forward

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources passed two bipartisan bills in March that would permanently protect nearly 125,000 acres in Oregon and New Mexico. One proposal, sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would conserve 104,000 acres in southwestern Oregon. The other, by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Mark Udall (D-NM), would designate 20,500 acres of wilderness in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who chairs the committee, expressed interest in developing a package to move the legislation to the full Senate. Pew’s U.S. public lands team helped build support for the bills with local stakeholders and Senate staff as part of its goal to preserve ecologically and culturally diverse places through congressionally designated wilderness areas, national monuments, and administrative protections.

New legislation to support national parks

In March, Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the National Park Service Legacy Act of 2017, which would establish a 30-year restoration fund, initially allocating $50 million annually for three years for national park maintenance and eventually increasing the amount to $500 million annually. In May, Representatives Will Hurd (R-TX), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), and Dave Reichert (R-WA) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, staff from Pew’s initiative to restore America’s parks offered testimony on improving infrastructure in national parks. Since its launch in September 2015, the project has worked to address deferred maintenance in national parks by raising public awareness of the issue, promoting dedicated federal funding, encouraging public-private collaboration, and implementing innovative policy solutions.

South Carolina signs pension reform bill

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster (R) signed legislation in April that will boost funding and strengthen governance of the state’s retirement system. The bill paves the way toward stabilizing the state’s pension fund with an increase in state contributions of $1.8 billion over the next five years. As a result, the state projects it will begin reducing its pension debt by 2023. Over 500,000 workers and retirees, including city, school, university, and hospital employees, are directly affected by this law. The Pew pensions team provided technical assistance to the joint committee that developed the bill last fall.

Utah passes juvenile justice bill

The Utah Legislature passed comprehensive juvenile justice reform in March. The legislation is projected to reduce the population of young people placed in state custody by 47 percent, freeing up more than $70 million in state funds. Savings from averted operating costs and out-of-home placements will fund evidence-based programs in local communities. The legislation is based on recommendations from the Utah Juvenile Justice Working Group appointed to evaluate the state’s juvenile justice system and issue data-driven, consensus-based recommendations for consideration by the state Legislature. At the request of leaders from all three branches of Utah’s government, Pew’s public safety performance project provided technical assistance to the working group.

North Dakota shifts direction on drug sentencing

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (R) in April signed a package of bills that change the way the state approaches substance abuse and crime. The legislation reduces penalties for people convicted for the first time of using drugs or possessing drug paraphernalia, eases mandatory minimum penalties for drug dealing, and allows people convicted of felony drug offenses access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits for a period of time upon release. The drug sentencing reforms were part of a comprehensive justice reinvestment plan that prioritizes prison space for serious and violent offenders. The state appropriated $7.5 million in prison savings to bolster evidence-based behavioral health programs in the community. The legislation was crafted with technical assistance from Pew’s partner, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, at the request of state leaders.

Virginia will create system to signal fiscal distress

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) in April signed into law a state budget provision that will create an early warning system alerting local governments when signs of fiscal distress appear. This step puts Virginia on a path to join 22 other states that have procedures in place to monitor the fiscal health of their local governments. Identifying fiscal distress early gives state and local officials more time and flexibility to respond and helps states protect their credit ratings. Pew provided state-specific research and technical assistance to Virginia legislators, members of the executive branch, the office of the auditor of public accounts, and local government representatives.

Supermoms Against Superbugs advocate for antibiotic safety

Advocates from around the country traveled to Washington in April to seek sustained federal funding for combating antibiotic resistance. Called Supermoms Against Superbugs, the group includes mothers, fathers, farmers, chefs, and doctors. They met with representatives from approximately 30 congressional offices and officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Defense, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. This was the fifth annual Supermoms fly-in event, organized by Pew’s antibiotic resistance project