In July, we presented “Five really stupid laws enacted in 2021” describing some of the right-wing legislation that has become so extreme it often sidetracks into self-satire. Here are five more examples:
1) Outlawing teaching about race: Texas HB 3979 was part of a red state vendetta supposedly against “critical race theory.” It’s “supposedly” because the bill neither mentions nor addresses that theory. Instead, it’s is a collection of absurd lies, including the fantasy that teachers are saying: that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;” that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously;” that “an individual’s moral character, standing, or worth is necessarily determined by the individual’s race or sex;” and the like.
Similar laws were enacted in Oklahoma HB 1775, Iowa HF 902, Idaho HB 375, Tennessee SB 623, and other states, and this tactic is consistent with right-wing attacks on the New York Times’ 1619 Project and nationwide efforts to de-fund diversity training. We know that the right wing has used veiled racism for decades, but this is pure bigotry. And their base loves it.
2) Suppressing the vote: Using thoroughly-disproven conspiracy theories as an excuse, conservatives nationwide fought to make it harder for qualified citizens to vote. Georgia SB 202, Florida SB 90, Iowa SB 413 and Texas SB 1 are among the worst examples. Georgia required ID to request and return absentee ballots, restricted ballot drop boxes, gave the GOP legislative majority power over county election administration, and banned giving water to citizens standing in line to vote. Florida imposed huge fines on election officials who might make mistakes. Iowa restricted early and absentee voting, and banned mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters.
While conservatives have, for many years, sought to restrict voter registration and access to the ballot box, this wave of new voter suppression laws – including Alabama HB 538, Arizona SB 1485, Arkansas HB 1715, Kansas HB 2183, Montana SB 169 and Wyoming HB 75 – is extraordinary by any measure. It is a cold-blooded attack on democracy.
3) Eliminating Election Day Registration: Montana was one of the first handful of states to allow same-day registration, with a voter’s proof of residency, beginning in 2006. As a fantasy-based reaction to the 2020 presidential election, Montana HB 176 eliminated voter registration on Election Day and the three days prior. Between 2006 and 2020, more than 60,000 Montanans registered to vote on Election Day without any hint of a problem.
Here’s the crazy thing about the Montana law that’s also true of many other right-wing election laws – they’re hurting their own voters. The people who benefit most from Election Day registration are those in rural areas who are most inconvenienced by procedures from the past. On the bright side, even without Montana, 18 states and the District of Columbia now offer same-day registration.
4) Refusing to expand Medicaid: On August 4, 2020, Missouri voters approved Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment requiring the state government to expand Medicaid coverage to about 275,000 low-income residents. And yet, the governor and state legislature refused to comply with the amended constitution. As GOP Senator Andrew Koenig put it, “I’m sorry, if you’re a healthy adult, you need to get a job.”
Health care advocates sued Missouri and won in the state Supreme Court. Finally, on August 10, 2021, a circuit court judge ordered the state to accept applications for Medicaid coverage as envisioned by the constitutional amendment. The state Department of Social Services slow-walked, saying it would be unable to process applications until October. As of mid-November, only about 16,000 eligible residents were enrolled. Apparently the oath of office, where elected officials swear to uphold the constitution, is meaningless to these people.
5) Destroying public education with tuition tax credits and vouchers: The school privatization movement says that 2021 was their best year ever. One strong example was Missouri HB 349 which established a tax scheme with the same effect as vouchers. It’s done in the tax code because, like most states, the Missouri constitution forbids state funding for religious schools. Instead, this law permits private school scholarships funded by nonprofits, with donations to these nonprofits given a tax credit, that is, a 100 percent reduction in taxes for money donated.
Another incarnation was West Virginia HB 2013, establishing a new “Hope Scholarship” program that withdraws state education funds to pay private school or homeschool vouchers of up to $4,600 per student. This makes West Virginia the seventh state to create this kind of system for defunding public schools. Not coincidentally, West Virginia is the second-worst-educated state in the nation (only Mississippi scores lower).