Our last blog listed some really great progressive victories in the states and localities so far this year. Now it’s time to face some grim music.
The fact is, state legislatures were more conservative in 2015 than they were in 2014, and far more conservative than they were in 2010. The 2010 and 2014 elections strengthened the right wing, and their leaders decided to take advantage of their new-found power.
Here are some particularly painful examples:
Guns—Progressives were pretty thoroughly out-gunned in state legislatures this year. Texas passed a law to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry guns on college campuses and then legalized “open carry.” Kansas allowed residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit or any training. Wisconsin eliminated its long-standing 48 hour waiting period for purchasing guns and allowed off-duty and retired police to carry concealed weapons in public schools. Louisiana enacted legislation to allow the National Rifle Association’s “gun safety” program to be taught in elementary schools. Georgia allowed carrying of concealed weapons in government buildings. Mississippi directed that anyone can transport a loaded pistol without any permit if it’s in a purse, handbag, briefcase or satchel. Maine permitted residents aged 21 or older to carry a concealed weapons without any license. There’s more, but let’s turn to the good side of the issue: Oregon enacted a law requiring universal background checks covering nearly all gun transfers, the sixth state to do so over the past two years.
Discrimination against LGBT people—Despite the historic victory for marriage in the Supreme Court and fine victories in some legislatures, most state LGBT legislation enacted this year promotes discrimination. Yes, Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was watered down following nationwide protests, but the final version—like another law passed in Arkansas—still encourages individuals and businesses to discriminate. New legislation in Michigan allows taxpayer-funded “faith based” adoption agencies to refuse same-sex couples. The North Carolina legislature overrode the Governor’s veto to assure court officials that they can refuse to participate in same-sex marriages. Oklahoma, Texas and Utah enacted measures asserting that religious and nonprofit organizations can refuse services for same-sex marriages. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback rescinded rules that had protected state employees from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order asserting that companies, individuals and nonprofits can discriminate against same-sex married couples.
Privatization of public education—The worst education law this year is Nevada’s creation of the broadest school voucher scheme in the country, giving any student’s family about $5,000 toward private school tuition or even home schooling. Nevada also enacted a tuition tax credit bill that allows corporations to offset state taxes with donations to private school scholarship funds. Arizona passed a measure that will give all children living on Indian reservations access to private school vouchers. Montana’s legislature a bill, without the Governor’s signature, to provide tuition tax credits for donations to private education. And the Ohio budget increases the amounts of taxpayer dollars that voucher programs will pay to private schools.
Social services—Kansas enacted cruel limits on TANF recipients, reducing cash withdrawals and banning TANF funds for a long list of uses, including some absurd items like cruises, swimming pools and tattoos. The Missouri legislature overrode a governor’s veto to ratchet down the length of time that a family can have social services benefits and ramp up the requirements for low-income parents to get job training, do volunteer work or complete high school and vocational education. Similarly, Arizona, as part of their budget, reduced the lifetime limit for TANF recipients to the shortest window in the nation—twelve months.
“Right to Work” and Prevailing Wage—Wisconsin a so called “right-to-work” bill, making Wisconsin the 25th state with such a regressive law in place. (A “right-to-work bill passed by the Missouri legislature was killed with veto.) Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner launched an effort to create “right-to-work” zones that would let employees opt out of paying “fair share” fees, although the state Attorney General has said this plan is illegal. The Indiana Legislature repealed the state’s 80-year-old prevailing wage law, becoming the first legislature to do so in 27 years. Nevada enacted a law suspending the state’s prevailing wage rules on school construction projects. And West Virginia eliminated prevailing wage requirements for construction of public improvements.
Reproductive Rights—From January to June, states enacted no fewer than 51 abortion restrictions—some are being challenged in court. Kansas and Oklahoma became the first and second in the nation to ban the dilation and evacuation procedure that is used for most second-trimester abortions (legislation that is almost certainly unconstitutional). Arkansas and Arizona passed legislation that requires doctors to lie to their patients, telling them that they could potentially reverse the effects of a medication abortion, even though there is no scientific merit to that assertion. Oklahoma and North Carolina required a 72 hour waiting period before a woman could obtain an abortion, while Arkansas and Tennessee imposed 48 hour waiting periods. Arizona passed legislation that bars women on the federal health care exchange from receiving coverage for abortions and adds new reporting requirements for clinics that perform abortions. The West Virginia legislature overrode the governor’s veto to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.