There’s a lot going on, so every Wednesday, the DLCC is sending a roundup of the state legislative stories you might have missed. It’s February 16th, and here is the state of the states.
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- As Black History Month continues, the DLCC elevated the achievements of Black state legislative leaders. On the front lines of the fight for voting rights, reproductive justice, and economic mobility, Black leaders play a critical role in enacting legislation across the country that improves the lives of all Americans. As this work continues, it is crucial we center the work of Black lawmakers and credit their influence in the ongoing struggle for a better tomorrow.
- If you attempt to interfere with a free and fair election, you will be held accountable – that is what the congressional January 6th committee reminded Republican state lawmakers yesterday when they subpoenaed Arizona Representative Mark Finchem and Pennsylvania Senator Doug Mastriano for their involvement in the lead up to the Jan. 6th insurrection. Both were present at the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6th. Finchem and Mastriano will have to answer questions about their involvement, including a call Mastriano made to former President Trump and the communication Finchem had with leaders of the “Stop the Steal” movement.
- This week, in-person early voting began for Texas’ March 1st primary. Voters are experiencing for the first time the effects of Republicans’ restrictive voting law passed last fall. Already, thousands of mail-in ballots have been rejected due to the new restrictions. Texas’ Harris County reports nearly 40% of ballots are being rejected and sent back to voters. Laws like the one enacted in Texas will also have serious consequences on the razor-thin margins that often decide statehouse races, determine legislative majorities in states, and dictate what bills can pass. A timely example: a special legislative election in Arkansas was recently decided by 34 votes. As thousands of ballots are being rejected in Texas, it is painfully clear that Republicans’ restrictive voting laws will infringe on the freedom to vote and can dramatically influence the results of elections.
- Last week, Oklahoma Republicans proposed creating a database of pregnant Oklahomans seeking an abortion and enacting authoritarian levels of government overreach to deter reproductive freedom. Across the country, Republicans are hellbent on restricting abortion and creating repressive barriers to reproductive health care. Yesterday, chambers in Arizona and West Virginia passed 15-week abortion bans as Republicans relentlessly mimic the Mississippi anti-abortion bill that the Supreme Court is poised to uphold, signaling the end of Roe.
- 2021 was the deadliest year on record for gun violence, 2020 was the second deadliest, 2019 was the third – well you get the picture, America has a gun violence problem and it’s getting worse. State Republicans continue to fail to address this crisis, as Arizona conservatives this week championed a bill that would force kids in middle and high schools to take gun training classes created by the NRA. While state Democrats across the country are responding to this epidemic of gun violence by proposing common-sense reforms such as requiring parents to safely store their guns and passing red-flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of those who pose an extreme risk of turning them against their communities, Republicans think gun safety should be left up to school children and the NRA.
- Last week, we noted how Florida Republicans want to deny the power of the people by blocking many citizen-led initiatives from reaching the ballot. Arizona Republicans must be avid readers of our newsletter because this week they jumped on the bandwagon by moving bills through committee that would make it much harder for citizen initiatives like increasing the minimum wage and funding public education to reach the ballot or become law. Republicans yet again showed that they are openly hostile to the will of the people and do not represent ideas that are supported by a diverse, democratically-active public.
- This week in GOP book banning: Iowa Republicans proposed legislation that would empower parents to sue school districts for possessing “obscene” books. By claiming a need to ban “hardcore pornography” and other materials that are never found on school shelves to begin with, Iowa Republicans fail to justify an attempt to over-politicize classrooms and obliterate the autonomy of teachers. With this latest move, Iowa Republicans are officially anti-school, as they also passed a school funding bill that fails to provide public schools with the full scope of resources they desperately need.
- With over a dozen states having enacted new rules governing how race can be taught in schools and over two dozen more considering legislation on the teaching of race or gender, teachers are speaking out about how new restrictions have “led us to be exceptionally cautious because we don’t want to risk our livelihoods.” Oklahoma and New Hampshire Republicans have passed laws under which educators found to be out of compliance could be stripped of their teaching licenses. In Indiana, already seeking to fill nearly a thousand education openings, a “huge exodus” is anticipated as teachers across the state have said they will leave state classrooms in response to proposed legislation regulating teaching of “divisive concepts.”
- Republican lawmakers in New Hampshire are attempting to repeal its ban on conversion therapy for minors, a practice that punishes LGBTQ people for their sexuality and one that the U.N. has said, “may amount to torture.” Republican Representative Dave Testerman denied this, claiming it “wouldn’t be taking a cattle prod to them, it wouldn’t be locking them in a closet.” While the conversion therapy he champions may not literally lock children in a closet…it metaphorically would! It also unfairly targets a group of vulnerable children already at a much higher risk of suicide.
- Free public transportation for those under 18, billions in funding to repair roads and highways, and an unprecedented commitment to make existing transit more sustainable and climate-resilient are just a few of the initiatives outlined in Washington Democrats’ proposed transportation package. Democrats continue to set the standard for how states can address immediate state infrastructure upgrades while taking critical steps to act on the climate crisis.
- Speaking of Democrats stepping up to protect the health of the climate, Democratic representatives in Minnesota are proposing a ban on a class of “forever chemicals” found in everyday products such as cosmetics and cookware. Extremely durable, these chemicals can accumulate within ecosystems and even our own bloodstream without decaying. Democrats remain laser-focused on enacting environmental protection measures like this one. In Minnesota, this will begin to heal the untold damage man-made chemicals have had on natural environments and our health.
- Democratic legislatures across the country are committed to closing the racial wealth gap that has unduly hindered Black individuals and families for generations. This week the DLCC highlighted the numerous efforts Democrats have taken to improve equity and bolster economic mobility for Black Americans, by raising wages, expanding worker protections, and defending the right to organize.
- One of Maryland’s leading Democrats announced plans to send a constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion rights to the ballot this fall. House Speaker Adrienne Jones took the first step to ensure that all Marylanders are able to obtain safe and accessible reproductive health care, regardless of Republican attacks on abortion rights and bodily autonomy and if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade.
- Democratic leaders in both chambers of Maine’s legislature are championing a pair of bills that enhance the control Native tribes have over their lands, natural resources, and taxation methods. The Democrat-led effort to restore legal Native sovereignty works to make amends for a legacy of government mistreatment and enshrine the powers of self-governance Native tribes deserve.
- What do elections offices and bakeries have in common? They are both places where Oregon Democrats are strengthening workers’ rights. For election workers, Democrats made the push this week to ensure that any threats made against them for doing such essential work would be met with fines and criminal repercussions. On the sweeter side, Oregon Democrats also guaranteed that bakery workers would not be punished for refusing mandatory overtime hours. Unlike Republicans, Democrats are fighting for all workers, regardless of if you are staffing an election office or baking bread.