by Olivia Sandbothe | March 18, 2015
State and local lawmakers often don’t have the resources or staff to research how other states have solved complex policy problems. But union-busting politicians have been taking their agenda from state to state at breakneck speed. It’s left pro-worker lawmakers wondering how they can compete with the right-wing juggernaut.
Conservative state legislators owe much of their success to a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which helps politicians spread bad ideas from state to state. ALEC’s methods are shady, but the basic concept of sharing legislation among like-minded lawmakers has been wildly successful. It’s a big part of the reason that the anti-union crowd has such an unshakeable grip on many state capitols.
This month, state legislators from around the country met with White House advisors and Sen. Elizabeth Warren to discuss how progressives can match this level of organization and information-sharing. They are building a new group called the State Innovation Exchange (SiX). “It’s the biggest missing piece in the progressive infrastructure,” said SiX’s executive director Nick Rathod, a former White House aide who helped implement the President’s policies in the states.
But make no mistake—SiX isn’t an ALEC for the left. SiX is building a more transparent organization that helps lawmakers to put their constituents first. Unlike ALEC, it won’t be directed by a board of CEOs and it won’t require its members to pledge loyalty to the group’s mission. All a lawmaker needs to participate in SiX is a shared commitment to policies that help working families.
The group is building a “library of legislation” that allows any lawmaker or community group to upload their idea for a bill into a searchable database. By using the SiX library, a lawmaker in Florida can instantly see how her counterparts in Minnesota or Washington tackled the problem of paid sick leave.
The experiment is just getting off the ground, but thousands of bills and briefs already were added to the library. Times are tough in politics these days, but pro-worker lawmakers will face these challenging times armed with new ideas.