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This Week in Statehouse Action: License to Bill edition
In the beginning months of any given year – when pretty much every state is holding its legislative session – the days are short, but the committee dockets are loooooooooooong.
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Consequently, each week is positively lousy with statehouse action.
So! Let’s Thunderball our way into it.
Missouri Republicans are up to their old (...like, actually old, from way back in 2015) women-policing antics.
As part of the state House rules package (which pretty much every lawmaking body has to adopt before doing any actual lawmaking) that passed at the beginning of session, the GOP majority decided that women wearing dresses or tops that expose their [[GASP]] arms is just too distracting, or something.
So, after years of not doing anything stupid regarding women’s “appropriate attire,” they decreed that all female House members and staffers must conceal their offending limbs beneath jackets or cardigans.
But this isn’t even the first time Missouri Republicans have sought to defend their sensitive eyeballs from the scourge of women’s clothing choices.
In 2015, two lawmakers (including the House Speaker) resigned over allegations of unwanted sexual advances and other inappropriate conduct with interns, and dozens more women came forward with similar stories of harassment.
Something needed to be done!
So those beleaguered menfolk decided that the interns’ clothing was the real problem, because obviously fault couldn’t lie with the actual men who did the bad things.
Legislative interns in Missouri were already subject to a dress code, but a couple of Republican dudes decided interns needed to dress in a way that was more “modest, conservative” so as to remove a “distraction” that was apparently interfering with “their focus on legislative matters.”
Because it’s obviously the interns’ fault that they were sexually harassed.
A national outcry (I still have the t-shirt) over this obvious and breathtakingly stupid victim-blaming put a halt to that scheme, but GOP lawmakers in Missouri merely redirected their efforts and instead found lots of other ways to police women’s bodies over the next few years, arguably leading the way in restricting reproductive rights in the back half of the last decade.
After the Dobbs decision overturning the abortion rights previously enshrined in Roe v. Wade, the state’s attorney general raced to make Missouri the first jurisdiction to activate its “trigger law,” automatically outlawing abortion statewide.
Speaking of “triggers,” the Missouri legislature isn’t nearly as into regulating the right to bear arms as they are to restricting women’s ability to bare arms.
In fact, the Show Me State’s gun laws are some of the weakest in the country.
There’s no background check requirement for unlicensed gun sales.
People can carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without a permit or safety training.
Domestic abusers face no prohibitions from possessing guns.
Number of people in Missouri killed by guns in an average year: 1,288.
Number of people in Missouri harmed by a woman with uncovered arm flesh: 0.
“Sun’s out, guns out” hits a little different here
Meanwhile, Missouri’s GOP-controlled state Senate also sucks.
This week, a committee without a single Black member heard two bills that purport to “ban CRT,” restrict discussion of “divisive concepts,” and “empower parents”
… but they’re actually designed to whitewash history education and give the Republican-dominated legislature the power to oversee and effectively dictate what teachers teach.
Meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers are pushing bills that would expand the state’s history curriculum to include facts about Native and Black history typically omitted from Missouri classrooms.
Seems like teaching kids more is better than teaching kids less, but what do I know, I’m just a wildly successful product of public schools
Okay, let’s gtfo of Missouri.
But let’s stick with Republicans and assholes with guns.
There’s no second place in politics.
If you don’t win, you lose.
That’s just how it works.
It happens literally IN EVERY SINGLE ELECTION.
But the era of Trump has given us a bevy of GOP election losers who refuse to accept that they legitimately lost–from gubernatorial candidates all the way down to, say, legislative contenders.
These election deniers are no strangers to violent rhetoric; in fact, it’s something of a horrifying hallmark.
But one losing legislative candidate in New Mexico decided to turn that rhetoric into reality.
Republican Solomon Peña lost his race to incumbent Rep. Miguel Garcia last November rather spectacularly–26% to Garcia’s 74%, in fact.
I know it can’t feel great to get walloped like that, but Peña repeatedly and adamantly claimed his loss was the result of election fraud (it wasn’t).
So, to borrow a sentiment delivered quite seriously by a GOP legislative candidate in 2009 (yes, I’ve been doing this too long), Peña lost his fight at the ballot box, so he resorted to the bullet box.
This week, Peña was arrested and accused of conspiring with and paying four people to shoot at the homes of two state lawmakers and two county commissioners he aggressively appealed to for “help” (by coming to their homes!!) in remedying an election he decided was unfair (it wasn’t) and results he considered false (they weren’t).
Remarkably, no one was hurt in these shootings, although the daughter of one of Peña’s targets woke up when a bullet passing through her room blew sheetrock dust onto her face when it hit her wall.
But as messed up as this is, Peña may not be the only person in New Mexico who wants to do violence to Democrats.
In December and in early January, gunfire was reported near the former campaign office of Attorney General Raúl Torrez and outside the law offices of new state Sen. Moe Maestas, respectively.
These incidents haven’t been linked to Peña.
If you’re a person who values reproductive freedom and the right to make your own decisions about your body and medical care, Idaho may not be the state for you.
To absolutely no one’s shock, Idaho was swift to impose a total abortion ban when the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade.
The Idaho ban does have exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, but GOP Sen. Scott Herndon is trying to get rid of those.
During a recent hearing on bill, a Democratic colleague questioned Herndon about situations in which a teenager raped by a family member would be forced to carry her rapist’s fetus to term.
Herndon described such a situation as an “opportunity.”
… and then added, “… if the rape actually occurred.”
But another Idaho Republican may have actually succeeded in being even more contemptuous of women and their right to make their own decisions about pregnancy and healthcare.
Rep. Jack Nelsen kicked off the first meeting of the state’s Agricultural Affairs Committee by touting his bona fides as a dairy farmer.
“I’ve milked a few cows,” he added, “spent most of my time walking behind lines of cows, so if you want some ideas on repro and the women’s health thing, I have some definite opinions.”
And then he laughed.
Obviously those “definite opinions” are worth less than the cow shit he’s stepped in walking behind those lines of heifers.
If you were hoping that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ reelection would make Wisconsin GOP lawmakers less diabolical, I’ve got some bad news for you.
Last month, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos indicated a teeny tiny iota of flexibility on the issue of abortion, saying that he would back a proposal adding rape and incest exceptions to Wisconsin’s current ban.
No such proposals have materialized, and Gov. Evers wants to take the issue to voters via a statewide referendum, which is far more likely to accurately reflect the actual will of voters — more than 60% of whom opposed overturning Roe, via a September Marquette poll – than a Republican majority that enjoys its power because of partisan gerrymandering.
Such a referendum wouldn’t have the force of law, but it would make Wisconsinites’ opinion on the issue much more difficult for lawmakers to ignore.
GOP lawmakers have already rejected Evers proposal–and they’ve responded with a diabolical move of their own.
Republicans are placing a referendum before voters, all right, but it doesn’t have anything to do with reproductive rights.
They’re putting an advisory referendum on the April election ballot on whether welfare recipients should work to receive benefits.
Is this an issue anyone ran on or cared about in November’s elections? Nope.
Is this any kind of issue in Wisconsin at all? Nope.
In fact, under existing state law, unemployed people are already limited in their ability to receive food stamps and must search for employment to receive unemployment benefits.
So what gives?
The Wisconsin state Supreme Court election, that’s what.
The most consequential election of the spring is happening in Wisconsin on April 4, and the balance of power on the state’s highest court is at stake.
Currently, conservative justices (candidates are nominated by the parties but are ostensibly nonpartisan and appear without party labels on the ballot) have a 4-3 majority on that court, and Republicans have used it to protect their gerrymandered legislative maps and buttress unpopular GOP policies.
Soon, the court will hear and rule on a case that will either uphold or strike down Wisconsin’s abortion ban, and they have and will continue to hear cases on voting rights, workers’ rights, public school funding, gun safety, and more.
These justices serve 10-year terms, so whoever wins in April is gonna be around and ruling on stuff for quite a while.
And if Democrats don’t flip the court this year, they may not have another chance to do so until 2026 (notwithstanding retirements and other intervening factors).
Anyway, a conservative justice is stepping down, opening up a seat Democrats can flip in a statewide election, where the GOP is denied its undemocratic gerrymandering advantage.
Republicans can’t seem to abide a fair playing field, however, so they’re moving to shift circumstances in their favor.
The issue of work requirements for welfare recipients is popular among conservatives, and the Wisconsin GOP is betting that having such a measure sharing ballot space with state Supreme Court candidates will juice right-wing turnout.
… never mind that it’s a complete waste of taxpayer money and legislative resources, since such requirements are already law.
But if you’ve been an erudite consumer of this missive for any length of time (or have just been paying attention, it’s not like they’re shy about it), Wisconsin Republicans have a storied history of dirty pool, so this latest ploy is really no shock.
We’ll just have to see if it pays off.
Pennsylvania Senate Republicans are trying to engage in a different brand of ballot measure sleight-of-hand.
With the Democratic takeover of the state House last November, it sure looked like the Keystone State GOP’s effort to place a voter ID constitutional amendment on the ballot would die the death such an effort deserves.
But with House control a little, ah, murky in advance of the February special elections to fill three vacant Democratic seats, Republicans have one last tiny chance to meet the pass-the-legislature-twice requirement that constitutional amendments must satisfy before going to voters.
Republicans, stymied by their Democratic governor’s opposition to restrictions on voting rights, decided to resort to the onerous process of circumventing him by placing the issue on the ballot via a constitutional amendment.
A voter ID measure passed both (GOP-controlled) chambers last year, so this year and its new session gave Republican lawmakers the opportunity to wrap up their part in this attack on this fundamental right and send it to the ballot in time for spring (read: low-turnout) elections.
Democrats’ success in flipping the Pennsylvania House seemed to have stymied this plan last fall, but the messiness in the House gave the GOP another potential opening.
Republicans know that voter ID is essential to their party winning back power in the state, and they know that Democrats are super not into voter suppression.
The GOP’s solution?
No, I’m not kidding.
In an underhanded attempt to appear favorable to a measure supporting childhood sexual abuse victims, Republicans in the state Senate passed a bill last week containing totally unrelated proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania constitution, including voter ID.
Democrats, who are super supportive of the proposal supporting abuse victims, had no choice but to vote against the Frankenstein bill Republicans created.
Republicans also attempted to use the same measure as a vehicle for an amendment that would remove the governor’s veto power from the legislative process of overturning regulations.
It’s unlikely that this proposal will pass the House before the special elections on Feb. 7, which will likely restore the Democratic majority to its full size.
But still, a lousy thing to do.
But you know what’s not lousy?
You making it to the end of this missive!
It’s pretty awesome, actually.
You’re pretty awesome, actually.
So take good care of yourself.
We need you.
Thanks for reading This Week in Statehouse Action! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.