2023 Southern Legislative Wrap Up
Since its founding in 2018, E Pluribus Unum has operated under the premise that we must confront issues of race and inequity head-on if we are to move forward. Under this premise, we have placed profound emphasis on the advancement of equity as it emerges in our Southern region’s policy landscape. The Southern United States, with its complex history marked by the vestiges of an inequitable system of laws stemming from slavery, the Jim Crow era, and beyond, finds itself at a critical juncture. Many Southerners expressed a deep desire to legislatively address the deep-rooted disparities that have persisted for generations and lay the groundwork for a more just and equitable future.
People have faith in elected officials, especially leaders who make it clear that they are committed to advancing equity and creating more inclusive systems. However, we also face the reality that many of these leaders exist in political environments where those commitments and values are not held by other elected leaders. The long-standing distrust and disappointment in leadership, fueled by ongoing racial inequalities and what often feels like a lack of transparency, can take a toll on optimism about the future and the ability for the South to set the standard for the rest of the country to follow.
The legacy of slavery, a dark chapter in American history, has left an indelible mark on the South, shaping social and economic disparities that persist to this day. In response, legislators across the Southern states have undertaken a multifaceted approach to tackle systemic racism and promote equity. These efforts have encompassed a broad spectrum of policy areas, ranging from criminal justice reform, and voting rights protection, to education equity and economic opportunity.
In this 2023 Southern Legislative Wrap Up report, we will explore significant policies, laws, and legislation that have emerged from the statehouses in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia during their 2023 Southern legislative sessions. We focused our review of these legislative measures across 10 issue areas:
- Climate & Environment
- Criminal Legal System
- Democracy & Voting
- Economic Equity
Over these 10 issue areas, we tracked nearly 2,400 bills filed in the 13 Southern legislatures for the 2023 legislative sessions. Although our focus is on advancing equity in the South, we believed it was important to not only track those measures that positively impact the advancement of equity but also those that have a potential to create a negative impact on that advancement. The graphic included below represents the total number of bills tracked by EPU and provides a representation of the bills in each of these issue areas that either passed and were signed into law or failed to be enacted; whether they were voted on or otherwise was never considered by the legislative body due to the lack of a hearing or other legislative measures for consideration. More specific information on the number of bills that passed and failed and their impact on equity will be provided in the reports for each issue area.
You will also note that for the purposes of this report, we have combined our analysis of the climate & environment, infrastructure, and economic equity measures brought forth in the 2023 legislative sessions in an effort to show the connectivity of the issues and their impact on not only the environmental health of the region, but also its prosperity and sustainability.
By examining the measures aimed at dismantling the remnants of historical inequities as well as those that have the potential to hinder or even revert the progress of equity in the South, we hope to provide an overview of the region’s efforts related to justice and progress in the face of its complex and challenging history.
A special thank you to Sujit CanagaRetna, Will Greer, Mills Jordan, Joshua Miller, Lauren Outlaw, and Marissa Pittman for their significant contributions to this 2023 Southern Legislative Wrap Up report through their review, analysis, and composition of summaries, highlights, and points to consider in the information contained in the pages of this report, and for their ongoing commitment to advancing equity toward the realization of a just, equitable, and inclusive South.