State Lawmakers Respond to BLM Protests: Legislative Watch

A bill celebrating the late actor Chadwick Boseman is one of many efforts states have undertaken to turn calls for racial change into legislative action. The BLM protests have turned into the country’s largest movement.

The late Chadwick Boseman at the 91st Academy Awards on February 24, 2019. (Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
As measured by citizen participation, the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that erupted following the death of George Floyd are the largest movement in U.S. history. As many as 26 million Americans may have turned out for them, a number large enough to account for almost 8 percent of all citizens and more than 10 percent of those 18 or older.

“Really, it’s hard to overstate the scale of this movement,” Deva Woodly, an associate professor of politics at the New School, told The New York Times

For months, citizen calls for an end to systemic racism dominated the headlines. Messaging from the president (and echoed by his attorney general) characterized protestors as “criminals” and “thugs,” if not Antifa activists determined to destroy the country. These accusations muddied the national discourse, and their potential to distract was amplified on social media by both supporters and foreign adversaries

In September, the president took things a step further, blaming educators
for using a “twisted web of lies” to teach students about slavery and other racist aspects of American history and vowing to give grants to promote “patriotic education.” 

Although the presidential campaigning that has taken center stage in recent weeks has been short on substantive debate about how either party intends to respond to the tens of millions who have protested, state legislators continue to introduce bills that show they are listening. 

Here are brief summaries of some of the bills introduced since September, with links to their text.

, an Illinois bill, creates an Inclusive American History Commission responsible for developing guidelines for “multiperspective, inclusive and comprehensive” instruction in history. This is to include curriculum regarding slavery in America and its lingering effects, as well as the role Black Americans have played in the cultural, economic and political development of the country. While this work is done, it calls for the suspension of history instruction, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, with some exceptions.

Rhode Island H8133 calls for a Commission on the Status of African Americans and Latinxs to provide research-based policy and practice recommendations to the general assembly and state executive offices. The commission is asked to help ensure these citizens equal access to government services and to propose changes to laws and practices that benefit other citizens at their expense.

Minnesota bill SF33 establishes the PROMISE Act and creates a community repair panel to review claims related to civil unrest in May and June of 2020. The protests following the death of George Floyd were largely peaceful, it notes, genuine expressions of grief, frustration and anger. Nonetheless, it recognizes that the acts of “a small minority of participants” led to destruction or damage to property and small businesses. The panel will review and make decisions regarding claims from those affected. The bill appropriates $125 million in fiscal year 2021 for awards.

in Ohio urges Congress and the president to declare June 19 a national holiday, to be known as Juneteenth Independence Day. It acknowledges the “countless thousands” who have marched to protest the social inequity and racism present in the country and proposes the holiday to help restore the country’s waning status as a “beacon and symbol of democracy and freedom.”

New Jersey AR197 addresses the practice of forced hysterectomies that has been discovered in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities. It recalls eugenics laws passed in 32 U.S. states in the early 20th century, “driven by racism,” that led to the involuntary sterilization of an estimated 60,000 people. It condemns the practices discovered in ICE detention facilities, saying they evoke abandoned and disgraced policies of the past. 

Virginia HR602 celebrates the life of Chadwick Boseman. A graduate of Howard University, Boseman personally encountered racism and prejudice early in his career. He rose above them through acclaimed portrayals of profoundly influential figures in Black history, and reshaped the film world with his success bringing the first mainstream superhero of African descent to audiences throughout the world. The bill recognizes him as an actor, an activist, an inspiration to others suffering from cancer and a hero to African American youth.


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Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.