States move on issues as federal government remains gridlocked

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The nation has now watched as Democrats in Congress widened their impeachment probe against President Trump, while he found himself embroiled in the controversy many have called “sharpiegate,” related to a doctored Hurricane Dorian forecast map. In the midst of these unrelated national issues, we were also confronted by the news of another mass shooting in Texas that left seven dead, reports of a third person dying from an illness related to vaping, and warnings that accelerating climate change is fueling destructive storms such as Hurricane Dorian, which has destroyed homes, communities, and claimed dozens of lives.

It is clear that those in national elected office on both sides of the aisle are falling markedly short in addressing crises critical to our future. Thus, during these times of unprecedented gridlock and disorder, states are beginning to use their power to take on national issues of importance, including gun control, public health, and climate change.

On gun control, Congress has repeatedly failed to act and the Trump administration continues to drag its feet, while a number of key states have passed reforms to fill the legislative void on what is arguably the most consequential issue of our time. In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland last year, then Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act into law.

This bipartisan law raised the age to purchase guns from 18 to 21, banned people legally deemed “mentally defective” from buying a gun, and set up a system for law enforcement to take guns from people who posed a threat to themselves or others. A number of governors have also taken executive actions on gun control. Last month, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed an order strengthening background checks by increasing data sharing between the federal and state systems.

Likewise, Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a series of eight executive orders last week aimed at preventing mass shootings. His orders come just days after a mass shooting in Odessa left seven people dead, and just one month after 22 were killed in a shooting rampage at a Walmart in El Paso. Indeed, his orders have been rightly criticized as not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, and even Abbott himself has recognized that still more needs to be done by the Texas state legislature.

However, reforms such as these are a step in the right direction and have the potential for widespread national impact as other states, Congress, and the White House begin to take notice of these significant bipartisan efforts. Similar to gun control reform, states are beginning to take the lead on curbing the underage vaping epidemic, which is now widespread public health issue that has led to 450 known cases of severe lung illness linked to vaping, as well as three, possibly four, known deaths.

In the absence of strong federal regulation, Michigan recently became the first state to prohibit sales of most flavored e-cigarettes, which covers both online and store sales of all e-cigarette flavors. Behind the candy taste is a “product that hooks kids and adults alike” and “can deliver nicotine more than twice as quickly as tobacco cigarettes,” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer wrote in a letter to state senators. “I am committed to protecting public health. There is no doubt that keeping nicotine out of the hands of kids is one of the most powerful ways to fulfill that commitment.” Given the toll of this emerging epidemic on our youth, which is still largely being studied and investigated by the Food and Drug Administration, other states are likely to follow the lead of Michigan to curb the detrimental impact of this public health crisis.

Finally, climate change has proven to be so consequential an issue that key states such as California are willing to take action in the absence of federal reform, and even in the presence of resistance by the Trump administration. California announced that it would wield its considerable influence over the auto industry to lead the way on combating climate change, reaching an agreement with four automakers to keep regulations intact as the Trump administration continues to roll them back. As the largest market in the country, California is choosing to work with the auto industry to implement reforms that work, rather than threaten the industry as the Trump administration has proven itself more inclined to do.

It is disheartening that our leaders in both Congress and the White House, largely due to the heavily partisan state of our politics, continuously fail to address issues of such immense national importance. Thus, during this time of perilous uncertainty, states can and should lead the way on reforms that will keep Americans safe and push our country forward.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. He is a political consultant, Fox News contributor, and the author of “Collapse: A World in Crisis and the Urgency of American Leadership.”

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