February 2023 Legislative Update

Welcome to Our Inaugural Legislative Update!

EPU’s Policy Team is actively monitoring the progress of equity-related legislation throughout the South during the 2023 legislative sessions and will be providing bi-monthly updates that will seek to inform our partners and stakeholders about the policy issues emerging and trending in the region. This month’s update will provide an overview of what we learned in 2022, highlight a few bills from some of our Unum Fellows that are on our radar, and includes access to more detailed reports of the bills that we’re monitoring in each of the 13 Southern States.

What We Learned in 2022  

In 2022, EPU shifted how we address policy as an organization by moving away from the identification of issues to fortifying our organization’s position as a valuable resource for actionable tools to advance equity in the South. To that end, we undertook a review of the legislative landscape of the South, reviewing bills filed in the 2022 legislative sessions throughout our geographic focus area. 

2022 was a busy year for state legislatures. While the production of new congressional and local electoral maps was at the forefront of most state legislative agendas, issues surrounding recovery from natural disasters, the continued effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as responses to landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions added even more to already heavy plates. Nearly 25,000 bills were filed in 12 of the 13 states in EPU’s geographic focus area (Texas was not in session as its legislature meets biennially in odd numbered years). Out of that number, 10,905 bills were enacted into laws. 

EPU reviewed just a fraction of those bills, focusing on those that had the potential to affect the advancement of equity positively or negatively in the areas of climate and environment, the criminal legal system, democracy and voting, economic equity, education, health, housing, immigration, and infrastructure. 

Tennessee was the most active state with 4,607 bills introduced and 2,995 bills (65.01%) enacted. The biggest policy issue in Tennessee was education with 2,471 filed (53.6% of the total bills), and 1,982 (80.2%) enacted. Out of the enacted measures that EPU reviewed, the top issue was also education, with 54 equity-positive bills enacted in the 2022 legislative sessions. Tennessee was also successful in enacting legislation that fights directly against the race-conscious curriculum challenges we’ve seen emerging throughout the country and especially in the South with the passage of Senate Bill 2501, sponsored by Senator Raumesh Akbari (D), that requires middle school curricula include Black history, Black culture, and multicultural diversity. 

We saw innovative solutions emerge from Mississippi to support both incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. Senator Juan Barnett (D) sponsored two key pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 2437 created a pilot program at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility that will allow 25 inmates to work, earn at least minimum wage, and save half their earnings. In addition, these inmates will be connected with a pre-arranged job upon completion of their sentences. Another bill sponsored by Senator Barnett (SB 2273) will allow employees on parole and probation to replace previously required monthly meetings with their parole or probation officer with proof of documentation from their employer, such as timecards or other proof of employment. Additionally, Senate Bill 2600, sponsored by Senator Daniel Sparks (R) created a study committee to research recidivism in the state and new approaches to support formerly incarcerated individuals upon the completion of their sentence. 

Our engagement with policy makers and review of the 2022 legislative landscape provided us with essential information on the leaders championing change throughout the South, the polarized atmospheres in which they work, the challenges associated with that polarization, and how we can provide the support and tools that they need to enhance and increase their effectiveness in this work.

What We’re Watching:

We look forward to taking what we learned in 2022 and applying it to our work in 2023 as we track Southern legislation in real time. As of the date of this update, 10 out of the 13 Southern States are in session with the final three states (Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana) set to convene in March and April. 

In this edition of our Legislative Update, we are highlighting bills filed by some of the members of Cohort 2 of our Unum Fellows Program:


Georgia House Bill 321 (Rep. Kim Schofield): This bill would establish the “Healthy Food Development Program”, expanding access to nutritious food in historically underutilized business zones. The bill would provide the Department of Health with the ability to issue grant, loans, and tax credits to grocery stores, corner stores, and farmers’ markets in the eligible areas.

Economic Equity

Georgia House Bill 286 (Rep. Teri Anulewicz): The “Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act” would protect consumers against surprise billing for ambulance services and require healthcare plans to reimburse for ambulance serviced provided to a covered person by a nonparticipating ambulance provider.

Mississippi House Bill 919 (Rep. Chris Bell): This bill would create a sales tax holiday at the opening of hurricane season on the retail sale of certain qualified severe weather preparedness items such as batteries, battery-operated radios, flashlights, tarps, ropes, plywood, first-aid kits, and portable generators that do not exceed $1,000 in cost.

Criminal Legal System

Georgia House Bill 179 (Rep. Park Cannon): The “Solitary Confinement Limitation Act” would provide for limitations on the use of solitary confinement and seclusion in correctional facilities.


Tennessee House Bill 369 (Rep. Harold Love, Jr.): This bill would public colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher learning from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history on their application for admission.


North Carolina Senate Bill 916 (Sen. Jay Chaudhuri): This bill would provide increased protections for voters and elections officials against various forms of interference with an election, including making it a crime to make threats or attempt to threaten any person for voting for or against a particular candidate, challenging a person’s right to vote on knowingly fraudulent grounds, or groundlessly challenging voters to prevent or delay the voting process.


Mississippi House Bill 368 (Rep. Zakiya Summers): This bill would authorize the creation and issuance of an alternative state identification card for people who are homeless, defined as “lacking a fixed, regular, or adequate residence, or lives periodically in a public or private shelter or location that provides temporary living arrangements.”

A more extensive list of bills in each state that are being tracked by EPU can be found by clicking on the according state on the map below. The reports will be updated as new measures may be added and identified by EPU.

*Please note that reports for Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida will be available once they have convened their legislative sessions.

We look forward to providing our next update to you in April 2023!