A Glimpse at the 2017 State Policy Horizon: the Legislative Branch

Last week we took a closer look at what governors are saying, this week we turn to the legislators.  The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) tracks the status of all bills each session. 

State legislators weighed in heavily with 351 bills focused on the early years filed at the end of January. If history is a guide, this number will more than double before the sessions end, and 10-15 percent of bills will become laws.   Like the governors, there is bipartisan support among legislators to improve funding and policies for young children, and a few bills have already been enacted this session.  Here is a glimpse at what is happening around the state houses.

Social and Emotional Health.  Maternal depression and the social-emotional health of young children have the attention of multiple legislators.

  • On January 20, Illinois enacted legislation requiring routine health examinations to include social-emotional screening (S 565).
  • Representative Cody (D-WA) and Senator Rivers (R-WA) are working to ensure behavioral health, and not just medical health, are covered by health insurance.  (H 1117, H 2114, S 5619).
  • In Connecticut, the Joint Committee on Children wants the Commissioner of Children and Families to develop a comprehensive plan to meet the mental, emotional and behavioral health needs of all children in the state (S 812).
  • New York legislators introduced four bills on maternal depression:  two that require maternal depression screenings (S 1319 and A 857), one to develop a list of providers who treat or provide support for maternal depression (S 4000), and one to establish a public awareness campaign on the risks and remedies associated with maternal depression (A 1697).
  • Senator Miles (TX-D) and Senator Denn (WA-D) want to require heath insurance coverage for maternal depression screening (Texas S808, Washington H 1713).

Child care.   Legislation on child care focuses heavily on the regulation and licensing of child care businesses, but some legislators are working to improve access and quality. 

  • Representative Rivero (R-AZ) wants higher child care subsidy reimbursement rates for higher quality care (H 2288).
  • Representative Sanchez (D-CT) seeks better compensation to recruit and retain qualified early educators (H 5197).
  • Representative Jordan (R-OK) wants to modify eligibility and phase-out of child care subsidy to eliminate the “cliff effect,” when a small increase in family income makes families ineligible for subsidies, resulting in a large decrease in net income (H 1965).
  • Legislators in Illinois, Maryland, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia have introduced bills to address or eliminate preschool suspensions (Illinois S 1557, Maryland S 244, Tennessee S 1394, Texas H 674, Virginia H 1536).

Tax Credits.  Child Care tax credits are also proving popular, with 15 states introducing 29 bills in the early months of the 2017 session.

  • 15 bills focused on tax relief for families with child are expenses.
  • 4 bills gave tax relief to child care teachers or child care business owners.
  • 9 bills incentivized employers to provide on-site child care or subsidize care for their employees.
  • 1 bill from Missouri allows cities in Greene County to levy a sales tax to support early care and education.

Home Visiting.  Legislators in New Jersey and New Mexico are working to ensure children eligible for Medicaid receive home visits. 

  • The bill sponsored by Senator Ruiz (D-NJ) establishes a three-year demonstration project to provide young families ongoing health and parenting information, parent and family support, and links to essential health and social services during pregnancy, infancy, and early childhood.  The legislature passed the bill and it is waiting for the Governor’s signature (S-1475).
  • Senator Ortiz y Pino (D-NM) is working to create a program that provides home visiting services to Medicaid-eligible infants and toddlers (S-175).

To view the most up-to-date status of 2017 bills, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Early Education and Child Care Bill Tracking Database, updated weekly.

To view summaries of bills that became laws in the 2016 state sessions, see:

Follow us on Twitter @4earlysuccess to hear 2017 legislative updates for young children when they happen.

-Helene Stebbins
Senior Policy Director
(February 24, 2017)