In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama promised to implement change with or without Congress, and called on the various states to take the initiative themselves on issues such as the minimum wage. But the president was a little behind the curve; states are already stepping in to take action where federal lawmakers have failed to act.
Across the country, many public policy issues that have traditionally been handled by federal-level regulations – minimum wage requirements, environmental regulations, even immigration – are increasingly the subject of state-level regulation. Often, this is because state officials simply got tired of waiting for Washington to address a problem, and took matters into their own hands.
"The states are picking up more, because they have to," said Dan Crippen, executive director of the National Governors Association. "The pace of change in states, and the recognition of having to pick up some of the slack from Washington is increasing."
On the highly controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing, for example, the federal government has been slow to develop comprehensive environmental regulations, and in Congress, legislators have even taken steps to try to block enforcement of the rules that do exist.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping large amounts of water and caustic chemicals into the ground to release valuable natural gas and other resources. There is controversy over how damaging fracking is to the environment, but there is no question that the chemicals used in the process, if allowed into the water supply, are dangerous.