U.S. PIRG releases 2020 state legislative agenda priorities

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Ross Sherman

Priorities include reducing plastic pollution, transforming transportation


DENVER — State affiliates of U.S. PIRG, a national nonpartisan consumer and health advocacy group, delivered meaningful progress on consumer and public health issues in 2019. But given the obstacles that still exist at the federal level on those issues and more, states will have to continue to lead in 2020.

“As was the case in 2019, much of the progress we’ll see in 2020 on the most important consumer protection and public health issues will happen in the states,” said Faye Park, president of U.S. PIRG. “Whether it’s transforming our transportation system, moving our society beyond wasteful plastics, or protecting consumers from the harms of everyday life, we need state and local governments to continue forging ahead.”

Here is a roundup of the top issues and bills that U.S. PIRG’s state affiliates will be working on in states across the country this coming year:


Moving beyond plastic.

CALPIRG will again support the Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act to dramatically reduce single-use packaging and foodware products in California over the next ten years.

MASSPIRG will back legislation that would make Massachusetts the third state in the nation to pass a statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. The group will also push for legislation that would put the state on the path to zero waste by establishing annual waste reduction targets, improving waste ban enforcement, expanding and improving analyses and oversight of waste programs, and establishing a Zero Waste Fund.


Transforming transportation

Arizona PIRG is working to ensure Arizona advances a strong transportation electrification plan. This includes gaining a commitment to transition the state’s fleet to electric vehicles, working with transit agencies and school districts to electrify their fleets, and ensuring utilities set fair rates that provide benefits to consumers.

MASSPIRG will push for the implementation of a strong Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), featuring strong caps on transportation emissions as well as revenue earmarked for investment in clean transportation. The organization will also back a bill requiring that all transit and school buses in Massachusetts be electric by 2035.

TexPIRG is trying to win support in Austin for a public transit program. This would end the city’s long delay in investing in infrastructure, public transit and transit-ready development codes. WISPIRG will also advocate for increased public transit, walking and biking infrastructure, and clean electric transportation in Wisconsin. Some of those items could be included in the state’s climate plan.


Keeping an eye out for American consumers

Illinois PIRG will prioritize reining in unnecessary gas infrastructure. The group is calling on the legislature and Gov. Jay Pritzker to tell utilities they can only raise fees on customers for legitimate, urgent safety repairs. Illinois PIRG also wants to restore regulatory oversight to the state’s electric utilities, opposing a bill in the Illinois legislature that would give utilities ComEd and Ameren a 10-year blank check to raise electricity rates and exert more control over our future energy use.

MASSPIRG endorses a bill to create a “Bill of Rights” to protect students from predatory lending practices. It would require all loan servicers to be licensed by the state and would establish an ombudsman to assist student borrowers.

TexPIRG and WISPIRG are supporting efforts at the federal level for stricter laws to protect families and consumers from predatory lenders who charge upwards of 600 and 486 percent interest rates across the states, respectively. 

WISPIRG is also prioritizing protecting data security. As a member of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP)’s Data Privacy and Security Advisory Committee, it will work to strengthen data security and better protect consumers’ information from data breaches. The committee will provide a list of recommendations to state leaders in the summer of 2020.


Getting the lead out

CALPIRG supports requiring schools to prevent lead contamination at every water tap used for cooking or drinking. The state affiliate also recommends that the state defines lead contamination using the health-based standard set by the American Academy of Pediatrics of no more than 1 part per billion (ppb).

MASSPIRG is supporting a bill that requires a complete overhaul of the state’s lead drinking water pipe policies. This means the removal of lead service lines, the installation of certified lead filters or water filling stations, testing of water at schools regularly, establishing a health-based lead level standard for schools and day care centers of 1 ppb, and requiring the immediate shut-off of outlets with elevated levels of lead.


Zeroing out toxic products in our everyday life. 

CALPIRG is lobbying for a bill that would ban the use in cosmetics of many toxic chemicals, including lead, mercury and asbestos. Maryland PIRG is also championing the Family and Fire Fighter Protection Act, which restricts the use of toxic flame retardant chemicals in furniture and children’s products. This is a key policy for protecting families and fire fighters.


Protecting our democratic process

Illinois PIRG is backing the passage of voting pre-registration, which allows voters to submit their registration applications before they turn 18, ensuring they are eligible to vote the moment they turn 18.

In Maryland, our state affiliate is supporting two bills. The first, the Student Voter Empowerment Act, gives universities and colleges the necessary tools to increase young voter civic engagement and participation in the democratic process. The second, the Maryland Fair Elections Act, creates a campaign finance program for statewide offices that enables candidates to run for office without large and corporate campaign contributions. The act would provide limited matching funds for small donations.


Ending the nicotine trap

Maryland PIRG is pushing to pass a bill barring the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Maryland’s bill would go further than the recently-announced federal policy, which leaves menthol and tobacco-flavored products on the market.


Improving energy efficiency. 

Arizona PIRG supports extending and expanding Arizona’s Energy Efficiency Standard to 35 percent by 2030. Additionally, the affiliate wants to ensure that the state’s second largest utility, the Salt River Project, is on track to meet its 2035 energy efficiency goals.


Providing affordable and high-quality healthcare.

TexPIRG will continue to support the implementation of a law that functionally ended surprise medical bills for all Texans on a state-based plan.