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State and Local Policymakers Honored for Effective Solutions

Five innovative policymakers were recently honored for their proposals that would best improve Americans’ economic well-being and overall quality of life, and make government work more effectively to meet communities’ needs.

Connecticut has the highest student debt per capita in the country, averaging over $30,000 per person. The state is also suffering from a brain drain, with highly skilled graduates leaving to start their careers elsewhere. Businesses that have left this state regularly cite the challenge recruiting a talented workforce when explaining their decision to relocate operations.

To stem the brain drain and to help financially stressed students, state Sen. Will Haskell drafted and passed SB 72, a corporate tax credit for any business that helped to pay off their employees’ student loans. In short, companies that hire recent graduates can reduce their tax liability by helping to pay back the loans of their employees. The bill received bipartisan support for its innovative approach to assisting both students and businesses.

It's also why Haskell’s legislation has been chosen by NewDEAL as one of five 2021 Ideas Challenge winners. The awards were announced Nov. 18 at the organization’s 11th annual Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C. The competition challenges rising and innovative state and local policymakers to propose the most-effective solutions on an array of issues. With more than 50 solutions submitted, judges selected five winners.

“Their solutions embrace the keys to prosperity in the 21st century – adapting to the new economy, strengthening our safety net, improving access to a great education, promoting cleaner and more sustainable energy, and healing divisions,” said NewDEAL CEO Debbie Cox Bultan. “At a moment of extraordinary challenges facing our nation, but also enormous opportunities to solve persistent problems, the Ideas Challenge has highlighted the critical role of state and local leaders in building back better from the pandemic.

Connecticut’s student repayment tax credit won top honors in the category of Expanding Access to Education. Another winner, Lincoln, Neb.’s biogas-to-vehicle fuel solution, was the first choice in the category, Securing our Communities and our Planet. The state capital needed an approach to optimizing its wastewater system by harvesting renewable methane, converting it to usable fuel, and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, the city developed a new process that treats, cleans and transforms the biogas generated by its wastewater system into quality, renewable vehicle fuel. She said the solution also protects air quality by stripping the biogas of dangerous pollutants, including sulfur and carbon dioxide.

For the category, Healing our Democracy and Rebuilding Community, the winning submission from Montgomery County, Md., Councilmember Will Jawando, tackled the tough issue of setting police standards for use of force. While Black residents make up about 20 percent of the county, they are involved in 55 percent of use-of-force incidents, according to Jawando. With Latino residents included, that accounts for over 75 percent of use-of-force incidents by police.

In response, the county drafted a law that prohibits a police officer from using deadly force except when absolutely necessary, when no other alternatives are available. The bill bans no-knock warrants and shooting from or at moving vehicles, unless the vehicle is being used as a weapon and the circumstances would authorize the use of deadly force.

The law requires officers to stop or attempt to stop the use of excessive force or the commission of a crime by another officer. Officers who intervene must not be retaliated against or disciplined for taking action.

Other Challenge categories and winners include:

A full list of the finalists and their ideas can be found here.

Seven judges evaluated the submissions, including e.Republic CEO Cathilea Robinett (Governing is a division of parent company e.Republic). Other judges were U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, chair, New Democrat Coalition; Elizabeth Fairchild, executive director, Business Forward; Josh Freed, senior vice president for the Climate and Energy Program, Third Way; Zachary Markovits, managing director of What Works Cities, Results for America; Nelson Reyneri Jr., chair-elect, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Desiree Tims, president and CEO, Innovation Ohio.

In its fifth edition, the challenge was open to 178 members of the NewDEAL (Developing Exceptional American Leaders), an organization that supports state and local pro-growth progressive elected officials through the exchange of ideas and engagement with other top public-, private- and nonprofit-sector officials. U.S. Senator Chris Coons, Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland and Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin serve as honorary co-chairs of the group.
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