Friday, November 20, 2015

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fear edition

Thanksgiving is still almost a week away, but it's never too soon to express gratitude for all the state legislative shenanigans that warm our hearts and/or chill our bones. 

Personally, I'm thankful that there's never a dull week in state legislative politics. And I'm grateful that you let me snark about it at you. 

(Action plan!) 
    • While I'm certainly biased, it's difficult to dispute that the most important parts of the report to the future of the party are the sections on Redistricting and Building the Bench. 
      • Thing is, they both rely heavily in more Democratic investment in state legislative races. Will Democratic donors put their money where their mouths are? 
We'll see!
    • The DCCC got in on the reflection action this week, too, as it announced "The Majority Project," which aims to pick up congressional seats by relying less on top-of-ticket turnout and more on analytics and targeting in suburban, exurban, and other seats with less-dense Democratic populations. 
    • Fun fact! The DCCC and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee operate similarly that way. 
      • While statewide and presidential candidates can run up vote totals by targeting Democratically-dense areas like urban centers to win a majority of votes in a state, Democrats can only construct legislative majorities by winning seats outside of those statewide targets. 
      • Practically speaking, a presidential campaign and statewide caucus/legislative campaign operation are not going to have much target overlap. 
    • The DLCC's navel-gazing is long over. The committee's already working with states all over the country, especially in the hundreds of targeted state legislative districts it's already identified that will flip legislative chambers this cycle, next cycle, and in 2020. 

  • Don't panic: ...unless you're a GOP lawmaker freaking out about Syrian refugees, because it seems like they almost can't help it.
    • GOP state Representative Tony Dale thinks Texas should refuse to accept Syrian refugees because it's just too easy to purchase guns there. 
      • The lax gun laws in his state exist because of NRA-backed lawmakers like... Tony Dale
Pro tip: If you've never actually read the Quran or otherwise have investigated what the Islamic faith actually entails, maybe shut up about what you imagine its "religion and philosophy" are. 
    • Republicans in Ohio bypassed the committee process to shoehorn an anti-Syrian refugee resolution onto the House calendar (it passed in the GOP-controlled chamber, but it's "toothless"). 
    • Republican Assembly leaders were among of a cadre of Nevada GOP lawmakers calling for Obama to prevent Syrian refugees from settling in the Silver State. 

  • The clinic at the end of the universe: Women's health clinics are on their way to virtually unreachable as more and more states unleash attacks on Planned Parenthood. The latest is in Utah, where GOP lawmakers unveiled their "blueprint" for the 2016 session this week. Priorities include permanently defunding Planned Parenthood and banning abortions after 20 weeks.  
    • In Wisconsin, Democratic lawmakers are introducing legislation that would create a new kind of conscience clause. Currently, hospitals and doctors don't have to perform abortions if they oppose the procedure; this bill would give doctors a right of conscience to perform abortions and other controversial procedures at certain hospitals, even if those institutions seek to prohibit them.
      • The proposal is, admittedly, a long shot under the current partisan and ideological climate in the legislature.

  • Life, the universe, and bathrooms: Also in Wisconsin, GOP lawmakers are pushing legislation that would prevent transgender students from using restrooms, locker rooms, and other related facilities that correspond with their gender identity. 
    • The measure would require schools to provide "reasonable accommodations" for transgender students to use a single-occupancy facility. 
      • Students seeking single-use accommodations would have to involve their parents in the request, placing transgender teens whose parents respond negatively to their gender identity at potential risk.
    • In an emotional hearing on Thursday, a number of high school students and parents of transgender teens testified against the bill. 
    • The Wisconsin Association of School Boards opposes the bill, too, as it would undermine the local control Republicans generally favor and impose a "one size fits all" approach. 

  • Time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so: Whether we've actually gone back in time or if history's just repeating itself, we've definitely seen this show in Indiana before. 
    • After last spring's epic backlash over the state's so-called "religious freedom" law that essentially legalized discrimination against LGBT Hoosiers (until panicked Republicans rolled it back just a little bit), GOP lawmakers decided to take another, more creative, stab at codified discrimination.
    • Senate Bill 100 might be the most anti-LGBT LGBT rights bill ever. 
      • While it would protect LGBT Indianans from housing, employment, public accommodation, and marriage discrimination, all religious and religiously-affiliated organizations would be exempt and free to discriminate. (Example: A religious school could refuse to enroll a child of same-sex couple.) 
      • Religious leaders, religious facilities, and small businesses would be able to refuse wedding services or marriage counseling to same-sex couples.
      • Schools, employers, and businesses would be able to set policies on which bathrooms and locker rooms transgender people could use.-- which could result in transgender people being forced against their wishes to use the facilities of their birth sex.
      • Transgender Hoosiers filing a complaint against schools, employers, and businesses with discriminatory restroom policies would be forced to produce "evidence" to "prove" their gender identity.
      • Local governments would be prohibited from enacting better non-discrimination ordinances. 
      • Victims of discrimination could be discouraged from filing complaints by the $1,000 penalty that would apply to those deemed "frivolous."
    • The bill is drawing fire from both pro- and anti-discrimination groups. At least everyone agrees that it's terrible! 

  • Scott Walker's Ethics Defective Agency: The Wisconsin GOP's scheme to turn the state into the Wild Midwest of dark money politics has almost reached fruition. On Monday, Assembly Republicans gave final approval to two measures that dramatically undermine Wisconsin's campaign finance and ethics laws. 
    • Assembly Bill 387 will
      • End the requirement that campaign donors ($100 or more) disclose their employers, which will obscure which industries are trying to influence campaigns – a provision Gov. Walker must particularly favor, since he initially failed to disclose the employers of almost 5,900 of his $100+ donors in his 2014 campaign filings (one in four!).
      • Allow donors to make unlimited contributions to political parties and legislative leaders’ campaign committees. 
        • Those political parties and campaign committees will be permitted, in turn, to make unlimited contributions to candidates – a simple way around the newly doubled caps on donations to candidates ($1,000 for Assembly, $2,000 for Senate, $20,000 for governor and other statewide offices).
      • Explicitly permit coordination between candidates and interest groups – the kind that don’t have to disclose their donors – as long as that coordination doesn’t entail a specific request for an expenditure and an explicit agreement from an interest group to make that expenditure. Other communications between campaigns and disclosure-free special interest groups are totally permissible, even if they lead to spending by one side or the other.
    • This new campaign finance law could make Wisconsin a nearly consequence-free wonderland of dark money, because not only are Republicans loosening the rules on and obstacles to the flow of campaign dollars in the state, but they’re also killing the agency that oversees and enforces finance and ethics laws. 
      • The Government Accountability Board (GAB) was a bipartisan creation of the legislature in 2007. 
      • After the GAB had the temerity to investigate Scott Walker and other Republicans, the GOP suddenly decided that the agency, which is headed by six nonpartisan retired judges, would be better off it were split in two and filled with partisan appointees.  
      • Assembly Bill 388, which does just that, passed without a single Democratic vote in either chamber.
    • Gov. Walker has already signed into law another Republican bill that will prevent district attorneys from using the state's "John Doe" law to investigate political corruption and misconduct. 
Fun fact! In recent years, a “John Doe” investigation has resulted in six convictions of Walker's campaign aides and associates.
    • Gov. Walker will sign these bills into law any day now (my bet is next week when people are traveling for Thanksgiving and less likely to raise a fuss) over the ardent objections of Democratic lawmakers (who proposed alternative legislation that would actually strengthen campaign finance laws). 
    • Expect Wisconsin campaigns in 2016 to be awash in money from inscrutable sources with no GAB to enforce even these new, overly-permissive laws. 
Yeah, I know I've banged this drum already, but until Walker signs them, those bills are still just sort of hanging out there in much the same way that bricks don't.

As always, holler with any thoughts, questions, concerns, complaints, comments, hopes, dreams, Vogon poetry (on second thought, skip that last bit).... 

The following 5 state legislatures are meeting actively this week: ILLINOIS, NEW HAMPSHIRE, OHIO, PENNSYLVANIA and WISCONSIN.


The National Association of Insurance Commissioners will hold its Fall National Meeting November 19-22 in National Harbor, Maryland. 


The Council on Medical Assistance Program Oversight's Care Management Committee met November 18 to continue their discussion on the Medicaid Quality Improvement and Shared Savings Program. 


The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee met November 17 to address changes in public records access. 

The Agency for Health Care Administration held a public meeting November 18 to discuss rules concerning coverage of surgery services. 

The Senate Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee met November 18 to discuss S.B. 234, which establishes a joint local and state dental care access account initiative to promote services by qualified dentists to medically necessary underserved populations. 


Louisiana will hold a runoff election November 21 for the offices of the Governor and Attorney General as well as 19 legislative seats. 


The Elections Emergency Planning Task Force Committee met November 17 to discuss potential scenarios that could impact elections. 


The General Court convened for a special session November 18 to address the heroin and opioid crisis. 


The House Health and Aging Committee met November 18 to discuss H.B. 248, which mandates that health plans provide coverage for abuse-deterrent opioid analgesic drugs as preferred drugs on drug formularies. 


The Legislature met for Legislative Days November 16-18 to hold informational hearings and receive updates on past legislation and reports from state agencies and task forces. 


The Department of Health and Environmental Control held a public engagement session November 19 to discuss the state energy plan and the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. 


The Department of Health will hold a public hearing November 20 to discuss amendments to the School Immunizations Rule. 


The Legislative Commission on Health and Human Resources Accountability met November 16 to draft legislation regarding drug testing of public assistance recipients.


The Speaker's Task Force on Urban Education met November 17 to discuss education alternatives, including online learning and charter schools.

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