This Week in Statehouse Action: I Wanna Know What Law Is edition
It’s almost Valentine’s Day, folks.
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Don’t get me wrong – I’m all about love in its many forms.
It’s just that I think the holiday is wretched.
Besides, my true love is … statehouse action.*
And statehouse action doesn’t send roses.
You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
The GOP quest to erase transgender and other LGBTQ folks continues.
Honestly, when was the last time I didn’t need to include this hateful crap in this missive?
Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but I sure wish Republican state lawmakers would stop copying Florida’s heinous “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The North Carolina version, like its Florida counterpart, prohibits instruction about gender identity and sexuality in elementary school classrooms, with an exception for “student-initiated questions.”
But this measure goes an awful step further in that it actually puts kids in harm’s way by forcing school teachers to alert parents before they call a student by a different name or pronoun, which could forcibly out transitioning or gender-nonconforming students against their will to unsupportive or bigoted parents.
In Missouri, the GOP-controlled legislature is considering a measure that can fairly be described as even worse than either Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law or the North Carolina bill.
Both the Florida law and the North Carolina bill bar (among other things) the mere mention of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third and fourth grade, respectively.
But Missouri's bill would allow only licensed mental healthcare providers –no teachers, ever – to talk to students about gender identity and LGBTQ issues in K-12 public schools – every grade! — and even then only if guardians first give permission.
So not only does the Missouri measure effectively erase anyone who’s not a cisgender heterosexual student from the state’s educational institutions, but it also requires kids to out themselves to their parents if they want to address their gender identity or sexual orientation in any way at school.
But don’t let this extreme measure distract you from the other reprehensible anti-transgender bills moving through the Missouri legislature–specifically, bills that prevent transgender kids from playing on sports teams and ban anyone under 18 from receiving gender-affirming medical care (which, by the by, literally saves lives).
Oh, and because GOP lawmakers in Missouri apparently hate fun as much as they hate LGBTQ folks, they’re trying to basically outlaw drag.
The Look Of Love
Real talk: I’m a bumpkin country mouse who didn’t even see her first drag show until college, but you don’t have to be a small-town nerd on a scholarship to understand that these shows are about – among many other good things – inclusiveness, personal expression, freedom, joy, subverting and expanding standards of beauty … and yeah, they’re fun as heck, too.
But Republicans all across the country who are apparently pants-wettingly frightened of folks who don’t look and act like them are trying to put an end to that fun, and the joy, freedom, inclusiveness, etc. that go with it.
And before you dismiss this legislation as a bunch of extremist bills with no chance of becoming law, you should bear in mind that all these bills have been introduced in states with GOP-controlled legislatures and GOP governors – many of whom have already shown open hostility to the LGBTQ community.
In Arkansas, Republican state Rep. Mary Bentley is one of 30 lawmakers cosponsoring a bill to prohibit children from watching drag shows – a bill that’s so poorly written that might outlaw things like student plays. The measure was approved by a House committee this week.
The state Senate passed it last week.
A proposed bill in Montana would prohibit public schools and libraries from hosting drag performances during school hours or at school-sanctioned extracurricular activities.
Librarians or educators convicted of violating the ban would face $5,000 fines and the potential revocation of their teaching license.
Last week, the North Dakota House approved a drag show ban that would categorize repeated performances in front of children as a felony.
The measure awaits consideration in the state Senate.
In South Carolina, lawmakers may soon begin hearing a so-called “Defense of Children’s Innocence Act,” which explicitly bars schools and publicly funded entities from using taxpayer dollars to provide a drag show.
Further, anyone who allows a minor to view a drag show could be charged with a felony.
South Dakota lawmakers are considering a change to state education law that would prohibit university systems and public schools from using public money and facilities to “develop, implement, facilitate, host, promote, or fund any lewd or lascivious content” — specifically including drag performances.
And while the state now has a Democratic governor guaranteed to veto such hateful legislation, Republican lawmakers in Arizona have filed multiple bills targeting drag shows, including a measure that would classify drag performers, their shows, and establishments that host them as “adult-oriented businesses” — which would lump them in under existing law that regulates strip clubs, erotic massage parlors, and “adult” movie theaters.
Show Me Love
But let’s get back to both Missouri and the schools thing.
The GOP effort to bully and erase LGBTQ kids is just one aspect of Republicans’ broadside against public education.
Republicans are often pairing this hateful undertaking with efforts to prevent kids from learning something as unquestionable and basic as the fact that racism exists and is bad.
Missouri lawmakers are currently considering a measure that would seriously curtail teachers’ ability to educate students about racial inequality.
The language in SB4 regarding curriculum restrictions is nebulous, because, well, a bill that just outright says that you can’t teach that racism exists and is bad could generate a lot of blowback.
A pair of Black lawmakers recently pointed this out to their white Republican colleagues, predicting that the bill’s wording would prevent teachers from teaching about past and present racial inequality by opening them up to complaints and lawsuits by parents.
Republicans behind the bill deflect that the measure specifically states that the measure can’t be used to prevent education on African American history, Native American history, women’s history, Asian American History, and Hispanic history.
But Sen. Karla May pointed out the obvious conflict: “You’re saying, ‘OK, you can teach this.’ But I have to be very careful how I teach it, and how I say it.”
A less controversial but equally troubling part of the bill reveals what SB4 and measures like it are really about: indoctrinating a new generation of kids in ways Republicans find acceptable.
Because not only does failing to learn that racism exists and is bad further entrench white supremacy in society, but this bill includes a sneaky little provision tucked away at the very end:
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education shall develop a patriotic and civics training program to prepare teachers to teach the principles of American civics and patriotism.
For background, DESE is the administrative arm of the state Board of Education, whose eight members are appointed to staggered eight-year terms by the (Republican) governor and are confirmed by the (Republican-majority) Senate.
Yes, Missouri did have a Democratic governor as recently as 2017 (easy to forget, yeah?), but all the current members but one have been appointed by Republican governors since then, and the only one who was appointed under a Democratic governor previously served as a Republican in the legislature.
So a bunch of GOP appointees get to decide what counts as “patriotic and civics training” — never mind that teachers already learn how to teach civics in the course of earning their required degrees and certifications.
Sus, to say the least.
But Democratic Sen. Lauren Arthur astutely pointed out the other goal of this and other measures like it:
I think the people who benefit from setting up sort of an adversarial relationship between parent and teacher, or parent and school district, I think the only people who benefit are those who have an interest in dismantling public schools.
Or, I guess, you could just blow it away.
Love Is A Battlefield
Because Mississippi is generally ignored by national media (and by me, I admit – that place is often full of badness and sadness), you may have understandably missed the news that the state Senate there quietly passed a bill this week that would allow armed teachers in classrooms.
Totally fine and normal
Oh, and speaking of Mississippi, here’s some more bad/sad news:
Filing for 2023 state House and Senate races in the Magnolia State has closed, and even though Election Day is many months off, we already know for sure that Republicans will hold majorities in both legislative chambers next year.
Okay okay, I know, it’s Mississippi–that was probably gonna happen anyway.
But when it comes to just, like, democracy, it’s a huge bummer.
This year, the number of Republicans running without Democratic opponents is large enough to guarantee GOP majorities in the state House and the state Senate before a single ballot is cast.
Fun fact! This is the first time this has happened since Reconstruction.
Okay, let’s end with some not-sucky news.
Whole Lotta Love
As an erudite consumer of this missive, you may recall that three important special elections went down in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
And Democrats won all three of them!
This isn’t a huge shock by any means – after all, these were solidly blue districts that Democrats had, like, just won back in November (but became vacant because one candidate died before the election and two others won resigned to serve in higher office).
And these wins by any margin are objectively good news.
These three new lawmakers cement Democrats’ tiny House majority, giving them the power to do cool stuff like block further restrictions on abortion and reject a proposed constitutional amendment that could have gone on the ballot in 2023 declaring that there is “no constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortion or other right relating to abortion.”
But these special election victories weren’t just wins; they were BIG wins.
Abigail Salisbury trounced Republican Robert Pagane 87-12 in House District 34 – a district Biden would have won 80-19 (if it had existed in 2020–redistricting is a thing that happened since).
Joe McAndrew scored a 75-25 victory over Republican Clay Walker in HD-32, where Democratic Rep. Tony DeLuca had been posthumously re-elected last fall in a 62-36 Biden district.
Matt Gergely obliterated Republican Don Nevills 74-25 in HD-35, which Biden would have won 58-41.
But wait, there’s more!
… good news, that is (for once!).
Special elections are often low-turnout affairs, but these three very much were not – at least relative to a similarly situated special election last April, where fewer than 5,500 voters showed up.
Two of Tuesday’s specials turned out more than twice that number, while turnout in the third was 66% higher.
That’s a wrap for this week’s edition.
Thank you for reading!
You’re a pretty rad human, and I know you have, like, tons of pretty rad things to do.
So I love that you gave me a little bit of your time and attention.
But don’t forget to spend some time and attention on yourself, too.
You deserve it.
Because you’re important.
And we need you.
*and peanut butter. And, like, one human.
Thanks for reading This Week in Statehouse Action! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.