Throughout President Obama’s State of the Union address last night, he touched on several policy areas where NCSL has played an active role in advancing the interests of the states. The president also spoke about a number of areas where states have led the way. Below are excerpts from the president’s speech followed by information on how NCSL has been active on the issue and information summarizing state action on the issue.
NCSL is pleased to note that both President Obama and Senator Marco Rubio, who gave the Republican response, are former state legislators. President Obama served in the Illinois State Senate from 1997 until 2004, and Senator Rubio served in the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 to 2009. During his last two years in the Florida House, Senator Rubio served as Speaker.
Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants. And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my Administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history, and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.
Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.
And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods, reduce bureaucracy, and attract the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.
In other words, we know what needs to be done. As we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. Now let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away.
As a result of the federal government’s inaction on this issue, states have been forced to pick up the tab and responsibility. In the last five years, states have considered thousands of bills related to immigration – over 2,500 in the last two years alone. States have a stake in the outcome of the immigration debate and through NCSL are asking Congress to join with them in supporting comprehensive immigration reform that includes assistance to states for the multitude of services they provide for immigrants.
On Jan. 28, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, referred to as the “gang of eight,” unveiled a four-page “framework” for comprehensive immigration reform legislation, to be introduced in late-March. Since then, NCSL’s Washington office has met with the offices of several of the eight senators and is working to ensure that states are seen as important stakeholders in the process.
Tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America. Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime. In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children, like Georgia or Oklahoma, studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, and form more stable families of their own. So let’s do what works, and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind.
State legislators have been in the forefront of efforts to create and improve opportunities for children. Many states have maximized use of the state and federally funded Child Care Development Fund (CCDF) and used even more of their own funds to increase the supply, quality and safety of child care. States have voluntarily supplemented the federal Head Start program, and states have created their own pre-kindergarten programs.
NCSL supports federal efforts to improve early learning opportunities for young children. Efforts to support early learning must provide states with the flexibility to meet local needs. Constitutionally and historically, states are responsible for public education. States are accountable to their citizens for the results of public education and are committed to improving learning for all students and closing the achievement gap. In the 2010-11 school year, 28% of America’s four-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded pre-K programs.
We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy. That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now, Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks.
As states execute many of the programs overseen by federal agencies, it is critical that states are consulted in the creation of this legislation. Given the already tight budgets many states face, it is also important that the federal government avoid unfunded mandates and preemptions. Over the past several months, NCSL has been working with other state and local organizations to urge Congress to create and pass comprehensive cybersecurity legislation.
National Minimum Wage
Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour. This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead. For businesses across the country, it would mean customers with more money in their pockets. In fact, working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.
If enacted, the new federal minimum wage would be higher than every state currently except Washington state, which has a minimum wage of $9.19/hour. While several states do not have a minimum wage, Georgia and Wyoming have the lowest at $5.15/hour. As of today, 23 states have introduced legislation in 2013 to increase the state minimum wage or provide for automatic adjustments to the state minimum wage to reflect the increased cost of living.