Michael D. Reed NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.

11-NBCSL Goes to Washington MainPhoto(left to right) Congressman G.K. Butterfield (NC); Congresswoman Eddie Berniece Johnson (TX); NBCSL President, Rep. Joe Armstrong (TN); CBC Chair, Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH); Congressman Sanford Bishop (GA); and Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (OH)In September,  members convened in the the nation’s capital to take part in NBCSL on the Hill, a symposium held biennially in Washington, D.C. to foster dialogue between NBCSL leaders from across the country and members of Congress, Administration officials, and other national stakeholders. The symposium consists of issue forums for members to hear from national experts on a range of policy issues, as well as to discuss shared priorities with members of Congress. This year’s NBCSL on the Hill was held in conjunction with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, which gave members a greater opportunity to engage with their federal counterparts and other national leaders on issues of importance to African Americans.

NBCSL on the Hill participants began the meeting over lunch, where NBCSL President Joe Armstrong welcomed everyone and provided an outline of the purpose, goals, and agenda of the symposium. President Armstrong also initiated a discussion about NBCSL’s Federal Priorities, a document developed to guide NBCSL discussions with the Administration, Congress, and national stakeholders. The members were divided into teams based on their policy expertise and leadership within NBCSL to focus on specific aspects of the NBCSL Federal Priorities. Each team was tasked with generating questions and discussions on the topic areas over the course of the symposium.

Following lunch, NBCSL members went to the White House to meet with Obama Administration officials on a host of priorities of joint importance. The meeting opened with a welcome from Tara Corrigan, White House Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, who also served as moderator for the meetings. The first meeting was with Marlon Marshall, Special Assistant to the President and Principal Deputy Director of Public Engagement.

NBCSL’s Federal Priorities is a document that summarizes NBCSL’s positions on federal policy issues. Using NBCSL’s policy resolutions as a foundation, this document focuses on five (5) primary areas: civil rights, health, job creation & economic development, education, and environment & energy.

Mr. Marshall first updated legislators on implementation of the Affordable Care Act.  He indicated that October 2014 marked one year since ACA’s inaugural open enrollment period. Despite challenges with the website for the federal insurance exchange, as well as a handful of state exchanges, Mr. Marshall noted that the White House exceeded its goal of enrolling more than 7 million Americans in health care through the exchanges. He also noted that this year’s open enrollment period is approaching and lasts from November 15, 2014 through February 15, 2015. Despite a shortened open enrollment period, Mr. Marshall reiterated the White House’s goal to use this period to reduce the nation’s uninsured rate. He encouraged NBCSL on the Hill participants to partner with the White House to publicize the open enrollment in their communities, fight to expand Medicaid in states that have not yet done so, and identify local ACA success stories for the White House to highlight.

Mr. Marshall also provided an overview and update on President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Initiative Initiative. He focused on the MBK Community Challenge, launched in September, which seeks to engage mayors and local executives to commit to carrying out the goals of the initiative. He called on NBCSL members to serve as ambassadors for MBK and the Community challenge, through social media, sharing information among other elected officials and community leaders, and encouraging businesses in their communities to commit to the initiatives as well.

Rohan Patel, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, spoke to the members on the administration’s climate change and environmental initiatives. Mr. Patel indicated that the President’s climate change strategy is geared toward working on a state-by-state basis, similar to ACA implementation. Instead of forcing states into a one-size-fits-all approach, President Obama’s goal has been to focus on implementing his Clean Power Plan, which takes into account unique energy and economic realities of each state. The Clean Power Plan also works with those states to craft energy strategies that work best for their circumstances. Mr. Patel also noted that African Americans are disproportionately harmed by pollution, which impacts their health, education, and safety. Mr. Patel shared the story of his own daughter, who suffers from respiratory issues, as one reason why this work has additional importance to him.

Following Mr. Patel, the legislators then heard from Roy L. Austin, Jr. (Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity) and Myesha Braden (Senior Policy Advisor, Executive Office of the President, serving a detail assignment from the U.S. Department of Justice), who focused on voting and civil rights. Ms. Braden began her presentation by noting NBCSL’s support for the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) and reiterating the Administration’s commitment to supporting EAC’s work and strengthening EAC’s engagement with election administrators across the nation. Mr. Austin focused his remarks on several law enforcement and criminal justice issues, primarily police militarization, over-incarceration, reentry, and accurate incident-based reporting. Mr. Austin reiterated the goal of President Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder to reduce mass incarceration in the United States, noting that in 2013 the federal prisoner population declined for the first time in history. He also acknowledged that to truly reverse over-incarceration, more work must be done to address the criminal justice system and inmate populations on the state and local levels, where two million prisoners are housed.

Mr. Austin highlighted the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a national database that tracks disaggregated data on crimes, victims, and suspects on a range of categories. He noted that NIBRS relies heavily on accurate reporting from state and local law enforcement agencies, but that inconsistent reporting between agencies limits the database’s efficiency and effectiveness. He recommended that legislators review their individual states’ reporting protocol to ensure that NIBRS can be a useful tool for law enforcement and policy makers.

The legislators then heard from Eugene Cornelius, Jr., Deputy Associate Administrator for Field Operations for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), who discussed work that SBA has done in the African-American community. He provided examples of creative strategies some communities had used to accomplish major community redevelopment projects. To close the meeting, Adrian Saenz, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs thanked the speakers and NBCSL members in attendance, and pledged his offices’ support for any additional follow-up or question that may arise.

The same evening, legislators and corporate sponsors enjoyed a reception held in partnership with the State Government Affairs Council (SGAC). The SGAC is a non-profit composed of corporations and industry associations with multi-state government affairs operations. The SGAC’s sponsorship of NBCSL on the Hill allowed NBCSL exposure to new potential corporate members during the reception, while also exposing SGAC’s members to new legislators from around the country. President Armstrong introduced SGAC Executive Director Beth Loudy, who brought warm remarks and touted the partnership.

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(Seated, left to right) Sen. Hillman Frazier (MS); Sen. Arthenia Joyner (FL); Rep. Greg Porter (IN), President-Elect, Sen. Catherine Pugh (MD); President, Rep. Joe Armstrong (TN); Immediate Past President, Rep. Barbara Ballard (KS); Past President, Rep. Calvin Smyre (GA); Rep. Laura Hall (AL); and Rep. Howard Mosby (GA). (Standing, left to right) Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler (GA), Sen. Gerald Neal (KY), Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (NV), Sen. Constance Johnson (OK), Del. Talmadge Branch (MD), and Rep. Cherrish Pryor (IN)

The following morning, SGAC also sponsored a joint social media boot camp allowing its members to learn along with NBCSL legislators. The boot camp featured experts who shared the latest in technology and strategic messaging for key social media platforms.  The purpose of the session was to help NBCSL members explore digital opportunities, learn how to better use social media tools for campaign initiatives and strategic communications, and to learn the range of social media platforms.

Representative Alan Williams (FL), NBCSL’s Secretary and an active user of several social media platforms, moderated the session. Representative Williams highlighted that African Americans are more likely to use social media and mobile phones to access the internet than most Americans, and he shared how social media has positively impacted his work as a legislator. Despite being an active social media user, Representative Williams admitted that youth in his community, including his children, tend to understand, embrace, and use social media “all day every day.”  The result is that they stay connected to each other and the issues that are important to them in ways that have previously been unimaginable.

The first trainer was Robyn Orth, Manager, Digital and Social Media Communications at Eli Lilly and Company. Ms. Orth provided an overview of the explosion of social media in public and political discourse, particularly since 2008. In her presentation, she noted that 60% of U.S. adults are active on a social networking website or platform, and that nearly 40% of those users engaged in some form of political activity through social media during the 2012 elections. Ms. Orth related to the group that there are several ways policymakers can engage in campaigns to reach social media users and to build on the natural benefits social media presents. As an example, Ms. Orth highlighted Eli Lilly’s LillyPad digital platform, which the company uses to share its message, engage with customers, and shape business decisions. The goals of LillyPad are to educate stakeholders on Lilly’s public policy priorities, empower supporters, engage policymakers, and evolve its efforts. LillyPad uses social media tools such as Facebook posts, blogs, and cross-promotion of partners.

The legislators also heard from David Lipscomb, Director of the Writing Center at Georgetown University. Mr. Lipscomb provided technical assistance to the lawmakers on how they can customize their own social media campaigns. Dr. Lipscomb explained that while there are many issues a lawmaker may be interested in leveraging via social media, without adequate planning these efforts may not yield the expected results. Dr. Lipscomp provided the members with several templates to help legislators craft the most appropriate social media campaign to meet their needs, including guidance on how to establish engagement goals, target audiences, timelines, message building, and platform options.

The final trainer was Don Seymour, Jr., who handles U.S. Politics & Government Outreach for Facebook. Mr. Seymour went in depth on many of the merging tools Facebook provides for policymakers to optimize their engagement with communities and constituents.

The next panel was entitled “Working Together to Tackle Obesity.” The purpose of the panel was to educate NBCSL members on state, federal, and private sector solutions lawmakers can utilize to reduce obesity in their communities, particularly communities of color. Senator Constance Johnson (OK), Chair of NBCSL Health and Human Services Committee, moderated the session. In Senator Johnson’s opening remarks, she discussed the impact of obesity in the African-American community, as nearly half of all African Americans are classified as obese, with obesity-related diseases trending as one of the most deadly diseases for African Americans. Senator Johnson also addressed the significant cost of obesity, which amounts to $147 billion annually for the nation.

The first speaker was Joy Johnson Wilson, Health and Human Services Policy Director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ms. Wilson provided an overview of state-by-state strategies to address obesity. Her first recommendation was to engage communities on obesity by folding it into a general wellness or health approach, to avoid stigmatizing target audiences. Ms. Wilson also recommended that lawmakers make a concerted effort to break down their strategies into subgroups, such as youth, prevention, weight loss, etc.  Ms. Wilson stressed that one of the most important things lawmakers can do is determine what is already being done in their state or community. She indicated that state public health departments receive federal funds through various streams that can be used to address obesity issues, which lawmakers can immediately tap into for their communities. Above all, Ms. Wilson recommended that whatever steps lawmakers take, they should be as easy as possible for target audiences to adapt, because even the programs most effective in theory will fall short if they are too disruptive to the lives of those targeted. 

Ms. Shelley Stewart, Federal Government Affairs Director at Takeda Pharmaceuticals America, discussed her role in the Treat and Reduce Obesity Coalition, which advocates for a range of pharmaceutical solutions that can be used to reduce obesity. Currently, Medicare Part D excludes certain classes of drugs for coverage, including obesity medication. Ms. Stewart gave an overview of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, which is legislation pending before Congress that would permit Medicare Part D to cover FDA-approved obesity medication and increase access to certain behavioral health treatments for patients suffering from obesity.

The final speaker was Ms. Acacia Bamberg Salatti, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ms. Salatti discussed efforts that the administration has taken to engage the faith community to implement small changes to improve health outcomes. She emphasized that faith leaders play a major role in addressing these issues and noted that her team works with faith leaders to share best practices, proven models, or even anecdotal evidence to encourage healthy practices.

At a luncheon hosted by General Motors, NBCSL members heard remarks from Wayne Weikel, Director of State Affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Mr. Weikel was introduced by Senator Kelvin Atkinson (NV). In his remarks, Mr. Weikel discussed emerging issues facing lawmakers relating to automobile manufacturing and regulation. Specifically, Mr. Weikel focused on technological advancements in cars such as broadband, satellite, and smart data that manufacturers are integrating into vehicles and how these advancements lead to additional public policy concerns over privacy of data collection. Mr. Weikel also discussed self-driving automobiles and briefed the members on new areas on which state lawmakers and regulators will likely focus in the near future.

On Wednesday afternoon, the NBCSL on the Hill delegation met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to foster further collaboration between NBCSL and the CBC, share NBCSL’s federal priorities, and discuss policy issues of joint importance. The lawmakers also focused heavily on civic engagement in African American communities, and how to develop comprehensive Black policy agenda across multiple layers of government. 

The meeting opened with President Joe Armstrong and CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-OH).  Both President Armstrong and Representative Fudge reemphasized the historic relationship between NBCSL and the CBC, noting that 21 of the 43 members of the CBC are former state legislators. Other CBC members who joined Representative Fudge included Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Chair Representative Chaka Fattah (D-PA), CBC First Vice-Chair Representative G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Representative Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Representative Steven Horsford (D-NV), and Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).

That evening, the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA) held an informal reception and interactive dinner allowing members to connect with CDIA representatives around areas of mutual concern. Conversations included consumer credit, expanding access to credit and financial institutions, and credit scores broadly. 

For the final session, NBCSL on the Hill participants attended a session titled "Improving Brain Health in Our Communities," during which experts presented on Alzheimer ’s disease and other forms of dementia. The purpose of the panel was to educate legislators on policy solutions and other best practices to prevent, address, and reduce Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain diseases impacting their communities. The panel was moderated by NBCSL Financial Secretary, Representative Laura Hall (AL), who has been a leader on Alzheimer’s legislative initiatives in Alabama.

The first speaker was Stephanie Monroe, Executive Director of the African American Network Against Alzheimer’s. Ms. Monroe remarks focused on the health disparities facing African Americans as it relates to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia. Ms. Monroe noted that approximately one million African Americans are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and that African Americans are more than twice as likely to develop the disease and four times as likely to develop early cognitive impairment.  Ms. Monroe also warned that the African American community suffers from inaccurate diagnoses of Alzheimer’s due to inadequate screenings and lack of visits to a doctor’s office.  Ms. Monroe also highlighted the economic costs of Alzheimer’s disease, which leads to a $71.6 billion economic burden on the African American community alone, and estimated these costs would only grow as the baby boomer generation ages and the minority population in the United States grows.

Randi Chapman, Director of State Affairs and the Alzheimer’s Association (AA) spoke next and updated the members on work the AA carries out to reach individuals and families impacted by Alzheimer’s. Ms. Chapman highlighted AA’s State Plans, which provides individualized state-by-state data and recommendations for leaders to improve brain health outcomes in their communities and a roadmap on how to deal with emerging issues.

Ian Kremer, Executive Director of the Leaders Engaged on Alzheimer’s Disease (LEAD) Coalition, focused on prevention strategies to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and treatment options for those impacted. These recommendations included living a heart-healthy lifestyle through proper nutrition and exercise, maintaining intellectual vigor, getting proper sleep, and staying socially engaged. Mr. Kremer also noted there are indications that suggest there is a strong correlation and possible causation between diabetes and dementia. Kremer recommended that communities work together to educate individuals as young as pre-kindergarten in the preventative measures to avoid dementia, noting that while not a guarantee against dementias, instilling good habits can positively impact a range of health areas.

As NBCSL on the Hill concluded, participants were given time to visit with their members of Congress and other stakeholders in the District for ALC week. This unique opportunity allowed NBCSL members to share information on the policy discussions that were held during the symposium and to provide feedback.  In concluding the meeting, President Joe Armstrong thanked members in attendance and encouraged them to take lessons back to their respective states with the goal of successfully enacting policies in their legislatures.

13-Quad Caucus State Legislators MainPhoto(Seated, left to right) Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (SC), Rep. Kyle Yamashita (HI), Mr. Simon Wooley (United Kingdom), Del. Talmadge Branch (MD), Rep. Joe Armstrong (TN), Asw. Annette Quijano (NJ), Sen. Catherine Pugh (MD), Sen. Carmelo Rios Santiago (PR).

(Standing, left to right) Sen. Donovan de la Cruz (HI), Sen. Brian Taniguchi (HI), Rep. Alan Williams (FL), Rep. Carolyn Pease-Lopez (MT), Sen. Jim Bradford (SD), Rep. Roy Takumi (HI), Sen. John McCoy (WA), Rep. Karen Awana (HI), Rep. Anastasia Pittman (OK), Rep. Hubert Vo (TX), Rep. Mike Shelton (OK), Rep. Regina Barrow (LA), Mr. David Mark (Poland), Ms. Gabriele Gün Tank (Germany), Rep. Greg Porter (IN), Rep. Ken Ito (HI).
In August and November, NBCSL reconvened with the National Asian Pacific Caucus of State Legislators (NAPACSL), the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators (NCNASAL), and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) to wrap up a three-year Quad Caucus project. These meetings took place in Minneapolis, MN (in conjunction with the 2014 NCSL Legislative Summit), and Miami, FL, respectively.

The Quad Caucus began in 2012 through the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s America Healing grant to advance the dismantling of structural racism, promote racial healing, and reduce barriers that keep children impoverished (particularly children of color). The Minneapolis and Miami meetings were the eighth and ninth of the project.

In Minneapolis and Miami, the symposia opened with special activities to expose members to diverse cultures and to further build relationships.  The meeting in Minneapolis began with a visit to the 2014 Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community Wacipi, which is one of the largest Pow Wows in the United States. A Wacipi is a Native American gathering that includes traditional dance, music, clothing, and customs. Wacipis are some of the most important events in Native American cultures and communities. In Miami, the Quad Caucus attendees participated together in salsa lessons.

The purpose of the last two meetings was to finalize recommendations on policy solutions state legislators can use to counteract structural racism. Over the course of the project, legislators participated in small groups to focus on four policy areas: education, health, juvenile justice, and secured families.  Small groups enabled legislators to recap the issue-relevant panel presentations from prior meetings and synthesize lessons from those sessions to establish priorities. These policy priorities are intended to serve as avenues for lawmakers to pursue ending the cycles of structural racism, particularly as it impacts children. Many of the priorities spoke to cultural competency, wrap-around services for parents and children, and an emphasis on prevention rather than reactionary policies.

The education group focused on embedding cultural competency and responsiveness into teacher training and curriculum development. The group also emphasized the need for improved transparency and accountability structures to allow parents and teachers to better collaborate on the academic needs of children.  In addition, it focused on implementing school funding structures that ensure resources are directed toward children with the greatest need and to programs that are the most effective at reaching them.

The health group recommended that state lawmakers focus on health disparities through education, prevention, and treatment improvements. The legislators learned that communities can use myriad resources to meet these goals, such as telemedicine and mid-level dental providers to reach more diverse communities that need medical services the most. The group also reviewed oral health, obesity, and other health issues which have a tremendous impact on children, but can be treated with modest investments and reforms.

The juvenile justice group’s priorities centered on reversing inequities in the justice system that have resulted in failing  to rehabilitate young people when they break the law, and  changing systems that disproportionately punish youth of color. Their recommendations included reforming zero-tolerance policies, eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline, improving services for at-risk youth (including mental health, mentorship, and educational programs), and supporting cultural competency for agencies that have a role in the justice system. The group also recommended that states improve staff diversity in law enforcement, criminal justice, and similar professions.

The legislators in the secure families group made several recommendations to improve the economic security of families. Their recommendations included wealth and asset-building policies for families through tax incentives. The members supported financial literacy programs for children and families, housing policies that facilitate affordability, community development, and job creation. The members also recommended steps to create opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs that serve communities of color.

Groups continued their work at the Miami meeting in November, where legislators were provided with a series of communications and media training sessions to assist them with messaging their priorities in their legislatures and communities. These sessions were also designed to help the legislators build support and coalitions around their goals.

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Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (MN) Wacipi

The first training session featured communications experts and researchers, and began with remarks by Safiya Jafari Simmons, Chief of Staff & Communications Director at the Center for Policing Equity. Ms. Simmons provided an overview of steps legislators could take to pitch their priorities to media outlets, improve their messaging during interviews, and how to frame discussions for maximum impact. She was followed by Rachel Godsil, Director of Research at Perception Institute, a national consortium focusing on the role of the mind sciences in law, policy, and institutional practices.  Ms. Godsil shared research she and her institute colleagues conducted on variances in how different groups process, associate, and empathize on matters regarding race, particularly in messaging. She highlighted the importance of communications techniques that emphasize shared experiences as a way to improve the chances of successfully conveying one’s message. Ms. Godsil was followed by Alexis McGill Johnson, Executive Director of Perception Institute, who helped legislators understand how to frame their discussions on race for skeptical audiences and even hostile media outlets and interviewers.

Following their panel, the members were split into groups to receive more specialized training with each expert. During these interactive sessions, members worked with the trainers to develop communications strategies for their previously developed policy priorities as they sought to communicate with diverse communities and legislative stakeholders. The sessions also gave members an opportunity to practice the techniques with one another and provide peer feedback.

In addition to communications training, members attended a media training session at the Miami Media School.  Media training facilitators provided the members with tips on how to improve their presentations in several media situations, including television interviews, radio interviews, and press conferences. The members were given an opportunity to practice with professional equipment, and receive immediate feedback from instructors at the school.

The Miami Quad Caucus meeting also featured a delegation of legislators and leaders from Europe, the result of a partnership with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). The international delegation provided a unique opportunity to discuss common struggles minorities face across the globe as they also seek to topple structural racism in their own nations.

The Quad Caucus was greeted by Congressman Alcee Hastings, who serves on the U.S. Helsinki Commission; Dr. Mischa Thompson, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Helsinki Commission; and Lora Berg, GMF Senior Fellow and Senior Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. State Department. The international delegation included Simon Wooley, Co-Founder and Director of Operation Black Vote (United Kingdom); Assita Kanko, Town Councilor of Ixelles, Brussels (Belgium); David Mark, Officer on Roma and Sinti Issues for the Organization for Security and Cooperation (Poland); and Gabriele Gün Tank (Germany), Commissioner for Integration for Berlin. The delegation joined the Quad Caucus for the entire meeting, participating in all training activities and panels, and sharing insight at each session.

The international delegation shared their experiences as racial and ethnic minorities in European political systems with the legislators in a roundtable dialogue. They discussed the difficulties they face being properly and fully acknowledged, often having to balance their national identities with their ethnic backgrounds, despite serious social, political, and even legal barriers. Each member of the delegation expressed admiration for the courage, candor, and progress in the work Quad Caucus members perform both as a group, and in their states. The international delegation and Quad Caucus members pledged ongoing transnational cooperation and support in addition to building partnerships in the future.

As the Quad Caucus project ends its initial three-year project, members look forward to continuing the important progress that has come about from each successive meeting. The members have shown incredible levels of growth and commitment to racial healing and cross-cultural collaboration. While the initial phase of the progress has come to an end, there is no doubt the Quad Caucus will continue its important work for years to come. 

14 01-NCSLquad1 249(Left to Right) Rep. John Mizuno (HI), Rep Carolyn Pease-Lopez (MT), Sen. Brian Taniguchi (HI), Rep. Rhonda Fields (CO), NBCSL President-elect Sen. Catherine Pugh (MD), Rep. Mark Wheatley (UT), Rep. Catherine Miranda (AZ).On July 9-11, 2014, NBCSL reconvened in Seattle, WA with the National Asian Pacific Caucus of State Legislators (NAPACSL), the National Caucus of Native American State Legislators (NCNASAL), and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) as the Quad Caucus.  

The Quad Caucus was established in 2012 through the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s America Healing grant, with the goal to move toward dismantling structural racism, promoting racial healing, and reducing the barriers that keep children (particularly children of color) impoverished. The Seattle meeting was the seventh overall, and the first meeting of 2014.

Each Quad Caucus meeting hones in on a new set of policy areas related to structural racism, racial disparities, and the welfare of children. Previous meetings have focused on a range of topics, including housing discrimination, school discipline, and dental health, each with the goal of providing legislators with a diverse set of tools to improve outcomes for children of color.  

The most recent Quad Caucus meeting was geared toward furthering racial healing and the disparity work of the previous six meetings, and guiding the participants to develop their own set of policy priorities moving forward. The meeting began with a unique welcome reception at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Designed to deepen bonds between members, legislators split into teams and received a cooking lesson before competing with one another to produce the best dishes. Each group was tasked with developing its own recipe and cooking its dishes with locally-sourced ingredients.

On Thursday morning, members took part in a session on state-level racial equity legislation. Representatives from each caucus discussed bills that have been successfully enacted to address racial disparities and improve equity.

Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos of NAPACSL presented on legislation that she led to tackle education disparities within the state. In her presentation, Rep. Santos noted that while Washington’s overall population is majority white, the public school population is predominately minority, and that racial disparities in the state have been wide and persistent. Her bill built upon the recommendation of Washington’s Education Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee, which limited exclusionary discipline, improved cultural competence training for teachers and school personnel, and aligned the English Language-Learning curriculum with academic requirements in other subjects. The bill also required school districts to collect disaggregated data on students, include race, ethnicity, and sub-data, to better monitor issues facing students.

Next, members heard from Washington State Senator John McCoy from NCNASL. Senator McCoy spoke on the unique issues facing Native American communities in the State of Washington. He shared a set of legislative initiatives geared towards state-tribal relations, particularly related to criminal justice, domestic violence against women, and jurisdictional issues. Senator McCoy also discussed legislation that he passed to improve tribal history curricula in Washington public schools, specifically with respect to Washington state tribes.

Following Senator McCoy’s presentation, members heard from Maryland Senator Catherine Pugh, NBCSL’s President-Elect. Senator Pugh presented on a series of bills she led in her state on economic empowerment for minority-owned businesses. The bills require the state to conduct disparity studies in opportunities and outcomes for minority-owned businesses by extending the scope of the state’s minority business enterprise program. They also identify shortcomings in minority business development and procurement by state agency and disaggregate data to ensure all minority-owned businesses are receiving the same amount of supports as other businesses in Maryland.  Senator Pugh also discussed legislation that calls for the state to procure with minority-owned businesses when contracting out state-based financial services, which has increased the state’s minority business contracts from $300 million to $4.2 billion in just two years.

Illinois Senator William Delgado, a member of NHCSL, addressed the Quad Caucus next with a presentation about legislation he led in his state. This legislation aimed to assist community groups with identifying and helping individuals suffering from mental health disorders or crises. Senator Delgado also discussed his legislation to extend the period for physicians to disclose criminal convictions, disciplinary actions, and other relevant information to patients. Finally, he highlighted federal and national sources of funding for community health centers that are underutilized.

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NAPACSL Chair Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (WA).

Rounding out the session, members heard from Dr. Ngozi Oleru, Division Director of the Environmental Health Services Division in King County, Washington. Dr. Oleru discussed the King County Equity and Social Justice Initiative, which began in 2008 as an executive initiative to ensure that county services take into account racial, geographic, and income disparities so that they may best deliver services. Operating on a principle to be “fair and just,” the initiative’s goal is to proactively deliver equitable results for county residents. The success of the executive initiative led to the development of a county ordinance and strategic plan in 2010 to statutorily incorporate the fair and just principle into all levels of county work.

At lunch, members were treated to a discussion with Seattle’s famed Gang of Four. The Gang of Four, also known as the Four Amigos, was a multicultural collective of four civil rights leaders who were active in movements in Seattle beginning in the 1960s.  The panel featured the two surviving original members including Larry Gossett, who currently serves as a King County Councilman, and Bob Santos, who is the Executive Director of the Seattle International District Improvement Association. Also on the panel were Iris Friday, daughter of Native American civic leader Bernie White Bear, and Estela Ortega, widow of Roberto Maestas, who founded El Centro de La Raza Community Center in Seattle. The panel spoke about the Gang of Four’s collaborative efforts in the fight for racial equality in Seattle.

On Thursday afternoon, the members broke into groups to learn about another racial or ethnic group and deepen bonds across caucuses—again, furthering racial healing while exposing members to the rich and diverse cultural traditions of the Seattle area. The activities included a historical and cultural tour of Seattle’s Chinatown neighborhood and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, a narrated tour of the Puget Sound Waterfront Harbor, and a tour of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

On Friday morning, members broke into eight small groups to continue their focus on racial healing. Each group, consisting of at least one member of each caucus, was provided with a set of personal questions to ask each other with the goal of better understanding their individual racial experiences and how those experiences have shaped them as legislators.

Immediately following the Racial Healing Breakout sessions, small groups partnered to focus on establishing policy priorities in the following areas: education, health, juvenile justice, and economically secure families. The members were assigned to each group based on their expertise, leadership, or interest level in the topic.  The groups were tasked with developing a short set of policy priorities to improve outcomes for children of color. Although each group discussed an individual area, many of the priorities members developed overlapped. Groups shared the following recommendations once reunited in the large group.

Education Recommendations

  • Embed cultural competency in teacher preparation programs, professional development and training and education evaluation;
  • Create a funding formula that fairly and equitably supports all students regardless of geographic social or economic characteristics; and
  • Develop a seamless Pre-K to Ph.D. education system and break the school-to-prison pipeline, all of which includes parental and family engagement.

Health Recommendations

  • Address social determinants of health to eliminate chronic diseases and health disparities (racial/ethnic), and improve health outcomes in communities of color by targeting resources;
  • Elevate oral health to its own category to put it on the same level as mental and physical health;
  • Create comprehensive nutrition education and awareness program; and
  • Increase immunization rates by requesting the federal Department of Health and Human Services to update immunization records nationwide and broaden eligibility for providers to immunize, while providing the latest immunization.

Juvenile Justice Recommendations

  • Emphasize restorative over punitive justice with tools such as mental health services, counseling, and mentorship;
  • Eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline by reforming school discipline, implementing Positive Behavioral Intervention Interventions and Supports (PBIS), cultural competency training for teachers and school personnel, and access to diagnostic services; and
  • Implement educational tools to keep students on track to graduate, including feedback on status of students’ school work and attendance, virtual credit recapture, early interventions in reading, wrap around schools, and nontraditional schools.

Secure Families Recommendations

  • Enact comprehensive policies to support children from the womb through their career, including strong education systems, financial literacy for children and families, and integrated workforce readiness programs;
  • Ensure that all communities have the proper infrastructure in place to foster economic growth and community development. Vital components include Quality affordable housing for different types of families/households; strong public transportation options; and broadband/technology access;
  • Encourage economic development and job creation in communities of color by incentivizing business development through as tax credits, economic programs, and empowerment zones. Support minority owned businesses through tax incentives and access to capital to create successful outcomes for business creation and ownership; and
  • Develop incentives to encourage majority owners to sell to people of color.

The Quad Caucus members concluded the meeting by discussing each group’s priorities. They also committed to continue building on these policy solutions to improve quality of life for communities of color across the nation.

18-On Common Ground 0NBCSL members and U.S. Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) convene for 2nd Annual Standing On Common Ground Symposium in Philadelphia, PA.In September 2013, NBCSL held its second annual Standing on Common Ground Policy Symposium through financial support from the Gill Foundation. The symposium built on the first Ft. Lauderdale, FL meeting in 2012, which was dedicated to examining the impact of bullying and hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. NBCSL members left the meeting energized, so much so that following the meeting, symposium participants introduced more than a dozen bills addressing hate crimes, bullying, and harassment. Some legislators also held rallies and town halls with and for youth, invited youth to testify in their legislatures, and reported a greater comfort level broaching conversations about LGBT concerns.

This year’s meeting in Philadelphia, PA built on policy ideas from the previous one by addressing school discipline and school environment, which disproportionately harm students of color and LGBT students, leading them to negative encounters with law enforcement, including arrest, incarceration, and dropping out of school. 

Legislators first heard from Dr. Shaun Harper, Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. Dr. Harper is a nationally recognized expert on youth and education, particularly surrounding academic achievement. Dr. Harper opened the symposium with a challenge for lawmakers to develop policies not only to end the school-to-prison pipeline, but rather, replace it with the preschool-through-PhD pipeline. Dr. Harper urged policymakers to operate from an asset-based model versus a deficit-based model when determining how to nurture youth. Rather than talking about barriers to achievement, he discussed how adults can create a culture of academic success. In identifying which factors contribute to a culture of achievement, he urged lawmakers to call for appropriate investments, noting that on the state level, lawmakers routinely spend more to incarcerate young people than to educate them. These funding disparities and misplaced priorities, Dr. Harper noted, lead droves of students of color, particularly Black male students, to drop out of school or otherwise fail to graduate.

Following Dr. Harper’s presentation, NBCSL Education Policy Committee Chair and licensed social worker, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter moderated a “fishbowl” discussion with three youths of color who identified as straight, gay, and transgender. The young people spoke about the negative impact of zero-tolerance policies and harsh school discipline on their lives and about their experiences with bullying and harassment from both students and adults. During the question and answer session with the legislators, the youths offered several solutions and words of advice. They implored the legislators to create policies that support training for adults to address bullying and discipline issues effectively. They also stressed the importance of appropriate safeguards for teachers and school officials who supervise children and hiring/selection protocols that filter out candidates not well-suited to children or stresses associated with the profession.

In the afternoon, legislators heard from a panel of officials who are leading federal efforts to address school discipline and juvenile justice issues. The panel began with U.S. Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA). The Congressman discussed his work authoring the Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education) Act—proposed federal legislation incentivizing law enforcement and justice systems to develop and implement reforms to their juvenile justice system that prioritize prevention and intervention over incarceration. Congressman Scott pointed to examples of similar programs that not only saw a reduction of juvenile crime and delinquency, but also administrative savings.

The second panelist was Robert Listenbee, Administrator of the U.S. Department of Justice for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Mr. Listenbee discussed some of his office’s efforts to reduce youth encounters with law enforcement, including programs to reduce disproportionate minority contact with the justice system. Similar to previous speakers, Mr. Listenbee highlighted that many efforts and resources expended to lock up youth have been found ineffective and inefficient, and children are more likely to stay in the system rather than rehabilitate or reform.

The final session panelist was John DiPaolo, Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Mr. DiPaolo’s presentation highlighted work that OCR has undertaken to address school discipline disparities. According to Mr. DiPaolo, racial disparities in discipline by states or school districts may actually contradict federal law. Mr. DiPaolo provided legislators with ideas on best practices, as well as information on OCR’s Civil Rights Data Collection, a publicly available database of school-by-school figures on information such as enrollment, demographics, achievement, and discipline.

On Friday evening, the legislators were joined at dinner by Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA), a former state legislator, who discussed his career work to improve the quality of education for all students, particularly low-income and at-risk youth. 

The legislators kicked off the final day of the symposium with the Legislative Study and Analysis session. The purpose of this exercise was to provide legislators with an opportunity to discuss specific legislative solutions – both enacted and proposed – to address the school-to-prison pipeline.  Legislators were given two pieces of legislation introduced by fellow NBCSL members, and provided an opportunity to hear directly from the authors about their experiences crafting their bills and navigating the legislative and political process.

First, the panel heard from North Carolina Representative Marvin Lucas. Representative Lucas sponsored legislation to reform his state’s harsh school zero-tolerance policies. Representative Lucas’s bill limits the use of exclusionary discipline to only serious offenses, and requires school districts to hold hearings for students facing serious discipline, with ample notice to parents or guardians. The bill was enacted in 2011.

Representative Patricia Haynes-Smith of Louisiana discussed her legislation to combat the school-to-prison pipeline by reducing the use of exclusionary discipline (suspensions and expulsions). Similar to Representative Lucas’s bill, Representative Smith’s legislation would limit exclusionary discipline to the most significant offenses like serious violence or drugs. The bill would also allow principals and school administrators more flexibility to offer alternative punishments that keep students in classrooms and on track to graduate.

Also during the session, legislators heard from Shawn Gaylord, Director of Public Policy at the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). Mr. Gaylord provided members with an overview of policy trends that state legislators and policymakers have been using to address school discipline concerns. He said zero-tolerance policies that were instituted in response to bullying and school violence issues, have been a major factor in disproportionately punishing African-American, Latino, and LGBT students and pushing them out of schools. Mr. Gaylord recommended that legislators consider comprehensive strategies to improve school environments.

For the final portion of the symposium, the Advancement Project facilitated a session on community engagement and communications strategies. Thena Robinson Mock, Director of the Advancement Project’s “Ending the Schoolhouse-to-Jailhouse Track” Project and Policy Advocate, Dwanna Nicole used specific state and local examples about the impact of the school-to-prison pipeline to help legislators improve their message framing. The trainers recommended that legislators build support for these initiatives by forming strong coalitions with non-traditional partners. This could be achieved by focusing on some of the broader impacts of the school-to-prison pipeline, particularly the fiscal impact and the cost savings that can be realized through reform. The Advancement Project also recommended that legislators engage directly with community-based advocates who are also leading local efforts in each of their communities to address the issues surrounding the school-to-prison pipeline.

By the end the of Standing On Common Ground Symposium, legislators responded positively, noting that the sessions provided new ways they can enact change in their legislatures. They also indicated that interacting with so many varying perspectives gave them greater insight into the true stakes and potential solutions of the school-to-prison pipeline.

17-Quad Caucus 0Members of the Joint Caucus toured the Rankin County Juvenile Detention Center in Mississippi.The Joint Caucus, established in 2012 through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, met in August and October to complete its 2013 agenda. Topics largely revolved around healthy communities, and featured discussions with experts on various aspects of health policy, including sexual health, dental care, and obesity. Additionally, the Joint Caucus discussed juvenile justice. Convened by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Joint Caucus consists of four state legislative caucuses, the NBCSL, the National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators (NAPACSL), the National Caucus of Native American Legislators (NCNASL), and the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL). 

In its fifth meeting in Atlanta, the Joint Caucus focused on dental care and sexual health in communities of color. The meeting kicked off with a session featuring experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This session provided legislators with a better understanding of the research that CDC conducts to track and address risky behavior and preventable diseases among youth. Experts outlined some systemic reasons behind high-risk behaviors, which disproportionately involve youth of color. However, the data revealed dramatically different results within groups, indicating that some states did a much better job of educating and empowering youth to make healthier choices.

The panel opened with Dr. Laura Kann, Chief of the CDC School-Based Surveillance Branch. Dr. Kann presented legislators with an overview of the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) program. The YRBS conducts a national survey of youth behavior in several areas that contribute to death and disability among young people. The YRBS provides a wide range of data and analysis that can be utilized by health officials and policymakers to tailor policy solutions to specific needs of each community, as well as determine the impact of existing programs. 

The second panelist was Dr. Donna Hubbard McCree, Associate Director for Health Equity at the CDC Division on HIV/AIDS Prevention. Dr. McCree’s presentation highlighted modern trends in HIV and AIDS transmission. CDC has recently indicated a significant uptick in new HIV cases across several demographic groups, most particularly people of color. Dr. McCree also noted that race and ethnicity serves as one of many factors used when analyzing trends in HIV transmission and that several other factors must be considered when policymakers discuss solutions in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Other factors include income level, history of abuse, and/or substance abuse.

The final panelist was David Johnson, Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) Disparities Coordinator for the CDC Division of STD Prevention. Mr. Johnson’s research indicated that communities of color face higher prevalence of STDs, and noted some of the individual, societal, and structural inequalities behind these disparities. A wide range of factors, such as socioeconomic status, educational attainment, and treatment access all play a major role in the transmission and prevalence of STDs among at-risk groups. Mr. Johnson recommended that policymakers consider these comprehensive factors when seeking to reverse these trends. He also stressed the importance of youth education that goes in-depth, allows youth to practice their responses in realistic scenarios, and is scientifically accurate.

The afternoon session switched gears to focus on improving dental health for children of color. Children in low-income and communities of color face significant barriers to quality and affordable dental care. Poor dental health can directly lead to a wide range of dangerous medical issues that can last a lifetime. Fortunately, routine dental screening and care can effectively treat the majority of dental health issues. But without access to such services, these at-risk populations endure serious, but preventable health issues and lower quality of life.

The legislators heard from various experts and practitioners. The panel was moderated by Dr. Albert Yee, Senior Project Advisor at Community Catalyst in Boston, who provided an overview of the broad impact of improper dental health on the nation. Other panelists included Dr. Hazel Harper, Past President of the National Dental Association, Dr. Lisandra Soto, Lead Dentist of the Kansas Healthcare Communicators Society; Valerie Davidson, Senior Director of Intergovernmental and Legal Affairs for the Alaska Native Tribe Health Consortium; Aurora Johnson, Dental Health Aide Therapist for the Alaska Native Tribe Health Consortium; and Dr. Terry Batliner, Associate Clinical Professor at the University of Colorado. 

Dr. Harper called for increased attention to cultural competency for dental professionals at all levels and highlighted evidence that cultural competency improves quality of care. Dr. Soto elaborated on the economic impact of oral disease and noted that young people who suffer from oral diseases and tooth decay have harder times finding jobs, which can impact future job prospects and earnings. Ms. Davidson presented on the use of mid-level dental providers to expand affordable dental care and treatment to underserved communities. In her presentation, Ms. Davidson noted that mid-level dental providers are highly trained, skilled, and regulated dental professionals that can work in tandem with dentists to provide many critical dental procedures. Ms. Johnson outlined her outlined her work in underserved communities, such as providing cleanings, screenings, and oral hygiene instructions to children and adults. Dr. Batliner closed out the panel, discussing the ways that underserved communities deal with dental emergencies in the face of limited access to dental providers.

At the Joint Caucus’s sixth meeting, held October in Jackson, Mississippi, lawmakers continued to explore health issues by diving into childhood obesity and wellness. Natalie S. Burke, President and CEO of CommonHealth ACTION, facilitated the panel discussion on PLACE MATTERS, a national initiative to eliminate health disparities, working at the local level and across states to identify and address social, economic, and environmental attributes of neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and other places that shape health.

The panel offered communications and outreach strategies and outlined the following policy recommendations for youth: (1) keeping students in school and out of prison; (2) providing opportunities for those who have been incarcerated; (3) addressing mental health needs of youth and families; and (4) developing student-centric policies and ensuring spending follows children to various educational settings. Dr. Autumn Saxton-Ross, Program Director of the Health Policy Institute at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, gave an overview of PLACE MATTERS including its status, locations, and accomplishments. Lela Keys, Project Director for Mid-Mississippi Delta Place Matters, and DeBorah Williams, Executive Director of Legacy Village, both of whom work as team leads at grassroots organizations, shared their work in community, challenges, and lessons learned.

The legislators also heard from Sandra Shelson, Executive Director of Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi, and National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) experts, Amy Winterfeld, Health Program Director, and Doug Shinkle, Environment, Energy, and Transportation Program Director, who provided information on legislative trends and examples of policies being used to improve health and wellness for children and communities. These solutions ranged from the ways states can improve nutrition in schools to developing safe routes to encourage walkable communities. Legislators broke into small groups that focused on solutions that addressed both structural/environmental changes as well as behavioral changes for healthier outcomes.

During this meeting, legislators also discussed juvenile justice. The Juvenile Justice session opened with Douglas Blackmon, famed journalist and author. Mr. Blackmon, a White male, discussed his upbringing in rural Mississippi among its first class of schoolchildren to integrate public schools. While at the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Blackmon stumbled upon massive evidence that throughout the South following Reconstruction, several states developed criminal justice systems to legally re-enslave hundreds of thousands of African-American men and lease them as convict-workers up until World War II. As such, he argued that the American criminal justice system was designed to fail African Americans and other minorities, so understanding its fundamental flaws is essential in any reform efforts.

Legislators also heard from Jody Owens, II, Managing Attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, who provided legislators with an overview of issues surrounding juvenile detention, including unsanitary conditions, poor education, lack of appropriate medical care, and even abuse.  The juvenile justice portion of the meeting ended with a site visit to Rankin County Juvenile Detention Center (cited in the state as a model juvenile detention facility). There, the legislators had an opportunity to tour the facility, meet facility administrators and youth, and more about how the facility operates.

The Joint Caucus provides a unique opportunity for a diverse array of legislators from across the country to learn both with and from one another. By tackling these important, often difficult issues, the Joint Caucus fosters a sense of community and togetherness that helps to break down barriers that often tether sound policy decisions. The Joint Caucus looks forward to continuing its critical work in 2014.

Over the past decade, improvements in development and refinement have contributed to the energy sector attaining the nation’s fastest growth in job creation.1 According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, jobs in the oil and gas industries have outpaced all others in the private sector.2 However, the success in the energy sector is not limited just to fossil fuels. The expansion of renewable energy – such as solar, wind, and biomass – has also played a major part in increasing energy jobs. The employment growth rate for solar jobs is 10 times the national average,3 and most are well-paying jobs with salaries above a living wage.

Leaders across the energy spectrum have touted the potential positive impact that energy development could have on minorities. In December 2012, the American Petroleum Institute released a report projecting that more than one-third of all new jobs in oil and natural gas could be filled by Black and Hispanic Americans through 2030.4

Despite this potential for communities of color to take full advantage of the energy sector’s economic benefits, African Americans currently hold about 8% of all energy jobs.5 In all STEM fields, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians hold only 9% of STEM jobs, though they comprise 24% of the U.S. workforce. To that end, in September 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Minorities in Energy Initiative, which provides support and recommendations for improvement.

Fortunately, there are several areas that Black state legislators can act on to take advantage of the positive economic and community benefits of energy development. These steps involve 1) supporting local development, 2) improving energy-related education, and 3) assisting minority-owned businesses.

Supporting Local Development: Maximizing the Best Energy Sources Available

When it comes to energy, it is important for state legislators to balance the immediate needs of the community with national and global trends. Differences in available natural resources, weather and climate patterns, workforce demographics, and financing options across the country make any one-size-fits-all solution virtually impossible, but shared concerns do arise. These include the need for job creation, affordability, and environmental protections. To address these concerns, lawmakers have taken different steps to increase employment and subsequent economic growth.

State legislators in sun-soaked California have been strong adopters of solar energy technology. Assemblyman and Energy Committee Chairman, Steven Bradford introduced the Equitable Access to Solar Energy Act in 2013 (signed into law in October 2013) to provide solar energy assistance for low-income households in the state. “My bill makes it easier for all Californians, regardless of income level, to reap not just the financial benefits of solar, but also to take part in job training in this growing industry,” remarked Assemblyman Bradford about the bill. “That will have a lasting impact on people’s lives and our economy.”

The law extends the California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH) and the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) programs until 2021. SASH and MASH provide subsidies for low-and moderate-income households to assist them with installing solar panels on residences. The California residents with the lowest incomes are eligible for full subsidies under the program. The bill also supports job training and hands-on volunteer opportunities in the field through a local non-profit solar installation organization. The bill requires that all manufacturing and installation projects funded through the bill incorporate a job training component.  Programs like SASH and MASH have contributed to California’s national leadership in solar energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, California ranks first nationally with 1.045 megawatts of solar energy capacity installed and $2.6 billion in investment in the field in 2012. The state currently has more than 1600 solar companies that employ over 43,700 workers.

Two thousand miles east in Mississippi, local leaders have embarked on a more traditional energy path. The Mississippi Power Company began construction on a power plant in Kemper County in 2010. It is expected to be fully operational this year. The Kemper County facility is one of a handful in the world to utilize Transport Reactor Integrated Gasifier (TRIG) technology, which converts coal to cleaner burning natural gas. The facility is estimated to create more than 12,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent facility jobs generating $75 million in state and local tax revenue.  The facility has contracted with 22 minority-owned businesses for $96.7 million in business opportunities.

NBCSL member, State Senator Sampson Jackson has lauded the facility as an engine for job creation and as lowering energy costs in Kemper County. According to Senator Sampson, “The benefits to the African-American community in Kemper County and the Mississippi Power service area have been extensive—from providing services to the majority-minority county, to additional revenue, to job training, to contracts at the plant, to planning for our children’s future.”

Improving Energy-related Education: Training the Next Generation

To ensure that the next wave of energy jobs stays in the United States, it is important for lawmakers to support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in all levels of schooling. In Washington State, NBCSL member Representative Roger Freeman cosponsored HB 1872 to improve STEM outcomes in K-12 Education. Enacted in 2013, the law invests public funding in innovative, evidence-based strategies and aligns relevant state agencies so they can collaborate on best practices.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) also play a critical role in STEM education as they award a significant number of degrees to Black students in STEM areas. According to the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 33 percent of recent African-American STEM PhDs received their undergraduate degrees from HBCUs, and eight of the top ten colleges whose African-American graduates went on to get PhDs in science were HBCUs.6

Notwithstanding the successes of HBCUs, Black students have been historically underrepresented in STEM and energy jobs. Furthermore, HBCUs still face significant issues such as state underfunding and limited resources that threaten their ability to train a full generation of energy leaders of color. To bridge the gap, the White House Initiative on HBCUs and the United Negro College Fund partnered last year to establish the HBCU Startup and Innovation Initiative, linking HBCU students and faculty with STEM innovators, business leaders, and venture capitalists.

Educational investments have been central to energy development in Kemper County, MS. Local lawmakers have worked with Mississippi Power and the American Association of Blacks in Energy to improve education opportunities through the facility, by connecting local two-year and four-year higher educational institutions with business leaders to establish apprenticeships, skills development, and job training. Mississippi Power has committed to providing several full academic scholarships to minority students in energy-related fields such as computer science, chemistry, and mechanical engineering.

Assisting Minority-Owned Businesses: Entrepreneurship for All

States can take steps to support business climates that encourage economic opportunities for small businesses, particularly those owned by minorities. Minority small business owners are the most likely to hire people of color, to place their businesses in communities of color, and to export to another country. On the federal level, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Bank Deposit Financial Assistance Program (BDFAP). BADFAP is geared toward bolstering access to capital for minority-and-women owned small businesses (MWBEs) in the energy field. The program invests in minority-owned banks to assist them in making loans to MWBEs.


No one solution will eliminate issues surrounding energy production or job creation, but community-tailored solutions across a range of areas have proven to increase public interest and spur sustainable economic and community development. When done correctly, history shows investing in educational achievement, strong business climates, and low-income communities lead to more jobs, greater economic security, and critical development in communities of color.

  1. Hess, A. E.M. (2013, September 2). 10 fastest growing jobs in the USA. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/09/02/10-fastest-growing-jobs-in-usa/2750169/
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration Independent Statistics & Analysis Oil and gas industry employment growing much faster than total private sector employment, http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=12451 (2013)
  3. The Solar Foundations “2013 National Solar Jobs Census.” http://thesolarfoundation.org/research/national-solar-jobs-census-2013 (2014)
  4. The American Petroleum Institute, Employment Outlook for African Americans and Latinos in the Upstream Oil and Natural Gas Industry. http://www.api.org/policy-and-issues/policy-items/jobs/employment-outlook-for-african-americans-and-latinos-in-oil-natural-gas-industry (2012)
  5. American Association on Blacks in Energy, Energy, Economics, and the Environment: Effects on African Americans. http://www.aabe.org/docs/whitepapers/docs/1-State-of-Energy-in-Black-America-Report.pdf (2011)
  6. National Science Foundation, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineeringhttp://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/start.cfm?CFID=14616915&CFTOKEN=86058937&jsessionid=f0302dc87fd144f272293467345be3d704f7 (2013)