Back in 2007, Iowa lawmakers learned that their state had the nation's highest disparity for sending blacks to prison. So they took a novel step.

They passed a law requiring analysts to draft "racial impact statements" on any proposals to create new crimes or tougher penalties. The statements were intended to help project how the measures might affect minority communities before any votes were cast.

A review by The Associated Press shows that the first-in-the-nation law appears to be having a modest effect. The statements have helped defeat some legislation that could have exacerbated disparities and provided a smoother path to passage for measures deemed neutral or beneficial to minorities.

Similar proposals have been adopted in Connecticut and Oregon. And more are likely to surface this year in other states.