Improving Public Policy

  • May 20, 2019

A cow elk wades into a small lake in Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park, in Alberta. Farther north in the province, the new Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park protects a swath of boreal forests where wildlife thrives.

Alberta expands protections for Canadian boreal forests

The Alberta government announced in March the designation of Kitaskino Nuwenëné Wildland Provincial Park, protecting another 400,015 acres of boreal forestland. The new park is the latest addition to a network totaling more than 11 million acres—the largest expanse of protected boreal in the world. Located in northeastern Alberta, the region is home to caribou, wood bison, lynx, bears, and moose that thrive in numbers rarely seen farther south. Pew will continue to support partnerships with Indigenous communities and land use planning to protect 1 billion acres of Canada’s boreal forest by the end of 2022.

‘Stand Up to Superbugs’ push for federal support to combat antibiotic resistance

In March, Pew conducted its eighth annual “Superbugs” Capitol Hill event, highlighting the human toll of antibiotic resistance and the urgent need for federal action to combat it. Forty scientists, physicians, farmers, and patient advocates representing 32 states visited 104 Senate and House offices, meeting directly with approximately 30 members of Congress. The advocates urged support for increased appropriations for stewardship and surveillance activities, as well as new economic incentives to address the critical shortage of antibiotics in development.

Three states improve fiscal policy

  • In April, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts (R) signed legislation that modified the state’s rainy day fund, which ensures the state saves when revenue growth exceeds normal levels. The law also creates a limit for how large the fund may grow, which prevents over-saving while still ensuring the state has enough in reserve to offset a recession. Pew provided research and best practices related to state rainy day funds. Gov. Ricketts also signed into law requirements for Nebraska to implement two fiscal best practices:
    a long-term budget that would project state revenue and expenditures several years into the future, and a budget stress test that analyzes the impacts of different economic scenarios, including recessions, on state taxes and government spending.
  • Arizona Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation in April that will increase the maximum size of the state’s rainy day fund. Over the past two years, Pew’s state fiscal health team has provided research to the state legislature and executive office related to best practices for reserve fund size. In February, the team presented an analysis of evidence-based savings targets before the state Senate’s appropriations committee and the governor’s office.
  • Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) in May signed a law that requires a range of fiscal analyses to assess the long-term fiscal health of the state’s budget, including general fund budget stress testing and long-term revenue and expenditure forecasting. Since 2017, Pew’s state fiscal health team has worked in coordination with the bill sponsor and the legislative fiscal director to provide technical guidance on how to manage volatility and ways to implement these types of fiscal studies.

Council adopts management plan for chub mackerel

The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council adopted a new management plan in March for Atlantic chub mackerel that protects the key forage species throughout its U.S. Atlantic range. Chub mackerel is an emerging fishery along the U.S. East Coast, where the annual catch has recently spiked from under a million to more than 5 million pounds. Marlins, tunas, swordfish, and a variety of marine mammals and sharks depend on chub mackerel as food. Pew worked with fishery managers, scientists, and fishermen to develop the plan and engaged the public to generate tens of thousands of supportive comments.

New protections for prepaid card users 

Prepaid cards now have consumer protections similar to those for credit cards and debit cards, thanks to a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule that took effect on April 1. The CFPB made certain that consumers can rely on prepaid cards as budgeting tools by ensuring that these accounts are protected from overdraft penalty fees, hidden charges, and loss of funds due to malfeasance. In its final regulation, the CFPB heavily cited Pew’s research on prepaid cards and its recommendations to improve their safety.

Wyoming enacts community supervision reform

Governor Mark Gordon (R) in February signed a package of bills to reform Wyoming’s probation and parole systems. The legislation curtails supervision terms, expands mental health services, and establishes sanctions for rule violations. It’s projected to reduce the number of people who return to prison for violations and save $18 million by fiscal year 2024, allowing for continued reinvestment into community-based behavioral health treatment. Pew’s partner, the Council of State Governments Justice Center, provided data, research, and consultation at the request of state leaders.

The Kansas State Capitol dominates the skyline in Topeka, where the state’s economic development incentive programs will now receive regular reviews.

States evaluate economic development strategies

  • In May, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (R) signed legislation that cemented a new addition to the state’s portfolio of manufacturing incentives by creating a new tax credit for the purchase of manufacturing equipment. This law includes several best practices identified by Pew, including a cap on the incentives to protect the state’s budget, and a sunset of the program after four years, ensuring that policymakers will evaluate the program in the future. This is the latest in a series of reforms to the state’s tax incentive practices recommended to the full legislature by an evaluation committee that Pew helped create in 2015.
  • Kansas Governor Laura Kelly (D) approved a bill in May that creates a framework for regular review of the state’s economic development incentive programs. The Legislative Division of Post Audit will evaluate the effectiveness of each of the state’s economic development incentives at least once every three years. The evaluations will address key questions about the state’s incentives, such as how they affect business behavior, their impact on the state’s economy, and whether they are achieving their goals. Pew’s tax incentives team has worked with the bill sponsor, state Senator Julia Lynn (R), since 2017, and shared best practices with the legislature, offered guidance and language on an evaluation process, and testified on two different evaluation proposals.

States prioritize Results First evidence in policy decisions

  • In February, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed into law a measure that improves the state’s Accountability in Government Act by requiring evidence of program effectiveness in agency budget requests. The law creates statewide definitions for key terms—such as evidence-based, research-based, and program inventory—and requires collaboration between government branches to implement the new policies. Elements of the Pew-MacArthur Results First initiative, an evidence-based approach to policymaking, and the project’s research on best practices both informed the legislation.
  • The biennial budget recommendations of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz (D), released in February, included  16 evidence-based changes, using the Results First approach and tools and informed by the project’s work with the Department of Management and Budget. These program funding proposals, totaling approximately $150 million, include continued or additional funding for interventions that have been proved to reduce criminal behavior, improve academic achievement, increase housing stability, and prevent substance use disorders and premature death.
  • In March, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R) signed legislation that broadens evidence definitions for greater flexibility and applicability, includes language around cost-effectiveness, and mandates the inventorying of programs in all agencies. The legislation came from recommendations from the Mississippi Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER); the Results First team has been working with PEER to promote evidence-based policies and practices since 2012.
  • Montana Governor Steve Bullock (D) signed a bill in April directing the state’s Department of Public Health and Human Services to develop a strategic plan for child welfare prevention programs. The plan includes many Results First principles, such as conducting an inventory of existing programs, comparing programs with research, standardizing key terms, and advancing evidence-based programs where appropriate. The law, passed by the legislature with broad bipartisan support, was informed by the National Conference of State Legislatures’  legislative policy academy, a January event co-organized by Pew that included best practices in evidence-based policymaking.