SLC Human Services & Public Safety Committee

Among states’ most pressing concerns are ensuring the public’s general welfare and protection, with both areas constituting increasing shares of state budgets. States have been taking the lead in health policy, welfare reform and child care, and have maintained their predominant role in the areas of public safety, corrections and sentencing. The Human Services & Public Safety Committee has a broad agenda which most typically addresses the challenges states face in the areas of human services and corrections, and policies and programs utilized to meet them. The Committee has undertaken assessments of Medicaid and reform; nursing shortages; long-term healthcare; and such corrections issues as criminal justice DNA statutes; the aging inmate population; female offenders; mental health parity in prisons, and prison staffing patterns in Southern states.


Katrina Shealy

South Carolina

Vice Chair

Representative Fredrick Love, Arkansas

Fredrick Love


Past Chair

(Former) Senator
Doug Overbey



Roger Moore

Roger Moore
Policy Analyst

Recent Research

Policy Analysis | September 19, 2018

Poverty Statistics for Southern States

Roger Moore, Policy Analyst

Poverty is a complex and multifaceted issue, the result of socioeconomic factors often connected to history, geography and race. Studies consistently show that poverty limits access to education, nutritious foods, professional opportunities and safe, prosperous neighborhoods, all of which are critical for sustaining long and healthy livelihoods. For state and local governments, poverty can exacerbate crime, necessitate increased spending on healthcare and social safety nets, and adversely affect economic growth for decades.
According to statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau in September 2018,* 42.5 million people lived in poverty in 2017, equivalent to 13.4 percent of the entire population that year. Among all groups, those identifying as American Indian and Alaska Native experienced the highest poverty rates at 25.4 percent, followed by individuals who identified as black or African American at 23.0 percent and Hispanic or Latino at 19.4 percent. Meanwhile, individuals who identified as white or Asian had the lowest poverty rates in 2017, both at 11.1 percent.

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Policy Analysis | August 27, 2018

Medical Marijuana Laws in Southern States

Anne Roberts Brody, Policy Analyst

Of the 15 states comprising the Southern Legislative Conference, five (Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia) have laws establishing comprehensive medical marijuana programs.* Of those, only Florida’s medical marijuana program is fully operational. Programs in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia are still in the developmental phases.

Within the public policy community, a consensus has emerged on what constitutes a comprehensive medical marijuana program. Such programs are characterized by four key criteria:

  1. Access to medical marijuana (often through a dispensary or home grow operation)
  2. Patient registry and/or other identification systems
  3. Protection from criminal prosecution
  4. Allow for a variety of medical marijuana forms (oils, tinctures, sprays, chewables, etc.)

Access to medical marijuana that meets established quality standards is an essential component of state medical marijuana laws. All five Southern states with comprehensive medical marijuana laws have established a framework for licensing dispensaries. While some states outside the region allow qualified patients and/or designated caregivers to grow limited amounts of marijuana, within the Southern region, only Oklahoma allows licensed patients to grow marijuana. Oklahoma State Question 788, approved by voters on June 26, 2018, authorizes licensed patients to legally possess six mature or seedling marijuana plants.

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Policy Analysis | August 20, 2018

Suicides Rates in the South

Roger Moore, Policy Analyst

In June 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report documenting the high – and growing – number of suicides across the United States. In 2016, the last year for which the CDC has comprehensive data, 45,000 people died by suicide, an increase of 25.4 percent over 1999 levels. Nevada, where deaths by suicide were down 1 percent between 1999-2016, was the only state that did not experience an increase during this period.

Seven of the 15 states in the South, including Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia, experienced increases in suicide rates between 1999-2016 that were higher than the national average of 25.4 percent. The remaining seven states in the region were below the average, from a high of 24.2 percent in Tennessee, to a low of 10.6 percent in Florida.

Among Southern states, Oklahoma had the highest number of deaths by suicide per capita in 2016, with 21 per 100,000, followed by West Virginia, Missouri and Arkansas, all of which were among the top 15 nationally in this category. Meanwhile, North Carolina, Mississippi and Texas had the fewest number of suicides per 100,000 in the South, with rates of 13.0, 12.7 and 12.6, respectively. The national average was 13.5 deaths by suicide per 100,000, a number surpassed by 10 states in the SLC region.

There are many factors that can cause a person to consider suicide, including relationship problems, substance abuse disorders, financial difficulties, deterioration in physical health, personal crises, legal problems and loss of housing. Additionally, approximately 46 percent of suicide cases in 2016 included individuals with known mental health conditions.

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More SLC Research into Health & Human Services

Comparative Data Report | July 16, 2018


SLC Regional Resource | May 8, 2018

Opioids and Organ Donations: A Tale of Two Crises

SLC Special Series Report | December 1, 2017

Long-Term Care in the South (Part II)

Comparative Data Report | July 19, 2017


Policy Analysis | April 28, 2017

Cross-State Health Insurance Policies

SLC Special Series Report | January 17, 2017

Long-Term Care in the South (Part 1)

Comparative Data Report | June 27, 2016


Policy Analysis | June 14, 2016

Scope of Practice – Physician Assistants (PAs)

SLC Regional Resource | May 9, 2016

Spread of Zika: Impact on Southern States

Policy Analysis | April 20, 2016

Marijuana Use: Uncertainty on All Sides Continues

SLC Regional Resource | March 21, 2016

Heroin Epidemic in SLC Member States: Finding Solutions

Webinar | December 3, 2015

SLC State Pensions: Latest Developments

Policy Analysis | May 13, 2015

The Status of Medicaid Expansion in SLC States

SLC Regional Resource | April 24, 2015

Vapor Rising: E-Cigarettes in the SLC States

Webinar | October 3, 2014

Food Safety Modernization Act

Comparative Data Report | August 6, 2014


SLC Regional Resource | March 25, 2014

A Special Condition: Medical Marijuana in SLC States

Comparative Data Report | July 26, 2013


Comparative Data Report | July 25, 2012


Policy Analysis | September 19, 2011

Prospective Changes in Long-Term Care Policies

Policy Analysis | May 9, 2011

A Prescription Drug Epidemic

Comparative Data Report | March 15, 2011


SLC Regional Resource | July 1, 2010

Meth: Resurgence in the South

Policy Analysis | January 1, 2010

Which SLC states have drug recycling programs?

SLC Regional Resource | January 1, 2010

Autism and Schools

Issue Alert | January 1, 2009

An HIV Epidemic?

Comparative Data Report | December 1, 2008


Comparative Data Report | November 1, 2007


Comparative Data Report | November 1, 2006


Comparative Data Report | November 1, 2005


Comparative Data Report | November 1, 2004


Comparative Data Report | November 1, 2003


Comparative Data Report | November 1, 2002


Comparative Data Report | November 1, 2001


SLC Regional Resource | April 1, 2001

Methamphetamine Production and Abuse in Southern States

Comparative Data Report | November 1, 2000