State Legislatures Are at the Front Lines of Securing Generational Wins
As the 2022 midterm elections approach, the media has focused much of its attention on which political party will secure control of Congress.
But this nationally focused coverage often overshadows other equally important elections that will also take place this November, including state legislative elections. In fact, 46 states have elections in at least one of their legislative chambers this November—that’s 85 percent of all state legislative seats up for election.
While national elections may be more entertaining for media consumption, the reality is that states have moved to the front lines of legislating some of the top issues affecting our constitutional freedoms, giving a particular gravity to state elections.
As Congress has become more deadlocked and seemingly unable to pass substantive policy, the bulk of the work to protect our fundamental freedoms now takes place in state legislatures.
Given this trend, it is important to understand what legislative advocacy in the states looks like and how we can all get involved in the fight to secure generational wins in state legislatures across the country.
What does legislative advocacy in the states entail?
Just like Congress, state legislatures are tasked with enacting laws for their states. This can include everything from education and infrastructure to highly important issues that involve our constitutionally protected freedoms.
The Founders designed a government rooted in federalism, in which power is shared between state governments and the overarching federal government. The Founders designed this system to ensure that the federal government could not trample on the rights of the people and so state and local lawmakers could be more responsive to constituents. Because they represent fewer people, state lawmakers are also much more accessible to their constituents, giving them ample opportunity to be directly engaged with their communities.
While most state legislative sessions last for only a few months annually, state legislators are often crafting their legislative agenda throughout the year. Constituent opinions can have a major influence on which policies state lawmakers prioritize during the upcoming legislative session.
What policy areas are states tackling?
More and more, we are seeing state legislatures push back against federal government overreach by taking a stand for the First Amendment rights of their states’ residents. Here are a few examples:
- After the COVID-19 lockdowns, when many churches were shut down while other businesses were allowed to operate, several states passed legislation to protect churches from discrimination in future states of emergency.
- When the Biden administration moved to remove conscience protections for medical professionals, states enacted laws to ensure doctors, nurses, and medical students in their states were able to practice medicine in accordance with their ethical and religious beliefs.
- When the federal government attempted to intimidate parents who raised concerns at local school board meetings about the curriculum their children were being taught in schools, states enacted legislation to strengthen the rights of parents to oversee the upbringing and education of their children.
These actions were a direct result of state lawmakers understanding which laws will best protect their constituents’ freedoms and being able to act swiftly and decisively to implement them.
One of the best examples of states stepping up to defend fundamental freedoms is the wave of women’s sports protections that have been enacted since Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, and Alanna Smith first took a stand against Connecticut’s discriminatory policy that allowed male athletes to compete in their races.
After the 2022 state legislative session, 18 states had enacted some form of protections for female athletes. In just three years, over a third of all states have taken up the charge and passed laws that ensured an equal playing field for female athletes.
How is Alliance Defending Freedom involved in legislative advocacy?
While legislative advocacy is something in which everyone can—and should—participate, ADF’s Center for Legislative Advocacy strategically complements ADF’s efforts in the courtroom by supporting laws that protect religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, marriage and family, and parental rights. Our team provides legal analysis, valuable resources, and expert testimony on our nation’s most pressing First Amendment legislation in state legislatures across the country.
There is no better example of the power of collaboration between ADF’s legislative and litigation teams than this year’s landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
In 2017, ADF attorneys worked with Mississippi to help draft the Mississippi Gestational Age Act, a bill that would pose a strategic, direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and give the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to revisit its ruling in that case. Then, ADF attorneys assisted the Mississippi legal team in the defense of its pro-life law, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually to victory.
How can I become involved in legislative advocacy?
While every state’s lawmaking process varies to some degree, all 50 states’ legislative systems are designed to encourage direct constituent engagement. State legislatures provide citizens with abundant opportunities to have a tangible effect on laws affecting the most pressing issues facing our culture and country.
As a constituent, it is vital that your state representatives hear from you.
Here are some easy ways that you can get involved in your state legislative process:
- Discover who your state lawmakers are: Find out who your state legislators are by using a resource like Open States.
- Learn to track legislation: Search for bills and follow their progress using your state legislature’s website or a free bill-tracking tool like LegiScan.
- Meet with your legislator in person: Taking the time to meet with your legislator shows them how much you care about a policy. Check to see if an appointment is required, or if there’s a good time for you to simply drop by your legislator’s office. They are often more accessible than you realize.
- Call your legislator: Tell your legislator how you’d like them to vote on a bill and why. Legislators often use the number of phones calls they receive as a gauge for how important a bill is, which could factor into their vote.
- Send your legislator an email or letter: Putting your position in writing ensures you’re making all the points you want to convey about a particular piece of legislation. Legislators receive far more emails than letters, so if you have the time to put pen to paper, that is likely to get even more attention. In addition, legislators are more likely to positively receive and respond to communications that are conveyed with civility.
- Testify before a committee: Before a bill receives a vote from the full legislature, it must be approved by a committee. Legislative committees hold public hearings where constituents and experts can testify as to why a bill should or should not be passed. If you will be personally affected by a bill, testifying at a committee hearing is a great way to make sure the decision-makers on the bill hear from you.
If you want to learn more about becoming an advocate in your state’s legislature, ADF has compiled a helpful guide for legislative advocacy that you can download here.
While ADF engages with state lawmakers across the country, the greatest advocates for our fundamental freedoms are you: the constituents.
As Christians, we have an obligation not to stand idly by and simply watch the news about policymaking, but rather to take an active role in the creation and enactment of state laws. If we don’t show up, rest assured that those hostile to our First Amendment freedoms will.
It's time to become passionate, vocal advocates for truth on the front lines of consequential legislative battles in every state.