While attention was naturally focused on the changes in Congress that came as a result of the 2010 elections, an overlooked, but vitally important, consequence of those elections was the strong rightward shift in legislatures across the state. As of the beginning of legislative sessions this year, 26 states were controlled by Republicans, with only 15 in the hands of Democrats.Not surprisingly, this has meant an epidemic of right-wing legislation being proposed and passed across the country. The worst things that have passed, in both quantity and quality, are coming from Republican-controlled legislatures. Based on what they’ve done so far this year, here are the 10 worst in the United States.
10. Michigan: Michigan became the first state to pass a Financial Martial Law bill, giving unelected emergency managers extensive powers to run local governments without oversight from local officials, effectively eliminating democracy in areas of the state that hit hard financial times.
The law granted sweeping new authority to appointed managers, including powers to cancel or renegotiate union contracts, sell off assets and privatize public services. In Detroit, the school district’s emergency manager, Robert Bobb, announced shortly after the passage of the bill that 8 schools would be closing and 45 others bid out to private charter operators; in April, he issued layoff notices to every teacher and staff member in the district. In Benton Harbor, manager Joseph Harris issued an executive order effectively stripping all city boards and commissions from taking any action whatsoever.
Word is if you are an orphan, Michigan isn’t the place to be, since the state is cutting money to help orphaned children get clothes. The Michigan legislature also doesn’t seem to like LGBT people much, as it tried to punish universities that give benefits to same-sex domestic partners.
9. North Carolina: Leading the way in this year’s legislative session in North Carolina were bills designed to kill community broadband, extend the anti-immigrant E-Verify program to all employers and require immigration status checks of public school students.
In this year’s budget, North Carolina saw its largest decline in spending in 30 years. The budget, enacted over a gubernatorial veto, will lead to the firing of teachers, the elimination of drug courts and a weakening of environmental regulations. The governor also vetoed a restrictive voter identification bill. Other key provisions passed by the legislature include relaxing regulation on interest rates, destroying the public campaign financing system, requiring women seeking abortions to first listen to right-wing propaganda and cutting funding for Planned Parenthood.
8. Ohio: It’s hard to top Ohio Republicans, who had a fetus testify against abortion on the floor of the legislature. Seriously. They also went further than Wisconsin in stripping collective bargaining rights from public workers, including police and firefighters. (After that bill stalled in committee, Republicans just changed the committee membership to make sure the bill passed.) They also tried to pass legislation to allow guns in bars and stadiums and to allow drug convicts to have the right to bear arms. The legislature also poured money into for-profit charter schools, regardless of whether or not they successfully educated students, including one with a less than 2 percent success rate. All of this is without any oversight.
7. Montana: Luckily for Montanans, Gov. Brian Schweitzer is around to stop the worst of what the legislature wants to do. This is one of the states where there is a strong, concentrated attack on the reproductive rights of women, a state where Republican House Member Keith Regier compared women to cattle in arguing for an anti-abortion bill. Women aren’t the only target, as the legislature went after local LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances and made sure that homosexuality is still classified as a crime in the state, despite federal courts saying the statute is unconstitutional.
Other assaults in the legislature this year include attacking the environment, federalism, state worker pay, university funding, election day registration, medical marijuana and voter-directed tobacco prevention programs.
Most famously, Republican Joe Reed got a tip of the hat from Stephen Colbert for proposing legislation saying that global warming is "beneficial to the business climate of Montana" and that "carbon dioxide has no verifiable effect on the environment."
6. Indiana: Among the greatest hits of this year’s session in Indiana were defunding Planned Parenthood, anti-immigration laws so overdone that a federal judge blocked them, "right to work" legislation designed to weaken unions, an expansion of voucher funding while cutting public school education, expanding charter schools, limiting the collective bargaining rights of teachers, merit-based pay for teachers, a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage, and banning political phonebanking within five days before an election. And don’t forget that Indiana was the birthplace of restrictive voter identification laws.
5. Texas: As blogger Matt Glazer says, "Everything’s bigger in Texas." The sheer volume of bad bills proposed in Texas is only rivaled by Florida. You have to start with a budget that could lead to the firing of 100,000 teachers and more than twice as many private sector employees. Other legislation requires women to get sonograms before abortions, creates the strongest voter identification law in the country, closes assisted-living facilities across the state, cuts funding to pre-kindergarten, adds new toll roads in the poorest areas of the state, erodes property rights, allows guns on campuses and allows elected officials to take guns anywhere. There’s a lot more, but this agenda alone is enough to put Texas in the running for worst state legislature.
4. North Dakota: The legislature has completely sold out the state’s environment to oil and gas interestes, most notably in a bill saying that that fracking is "an acceptable recovery process in this state." Another highlight (or lowlight) of the session was when State Senator Oley Larson opposed an anti-bullying law by saying that kids need bullying so they don’t become "emotional marshmallows."
Republicans also pursued legislation giving fertile eggs personhood, declaring all Environmental Protection Agency rules null and void, and making it a felony to enforce the Affordable Care Act. In a proposed Peace Resolution, Republicans changed every instance of the word "peace" to "victory," effectively changing the entire intent of the bill. Much of the session this year was wasted on a bill to prevent the University of North Dakota from changing the name of its sports teams from the "Fighting Sioux." Also, Al Carlson, the state chair for ALEC, happens to be the person in charge of deciding on important issues between sessions.
3. Wisconsin: By now, everyone is familiar with Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature’s stripping state workers of their collective bargaining rights, but that’s far from the only bad law to pass this year. The legislature also took away local governments’ right to provide workers with stronger sick leave benefits, effectively privatized the state’s Commerce Department, loosened child labor laws, cut public transportation and health care, shifted federal welfare reform dollars toward paying for tax cuts and cut access to broadband. All of this was done in a climate where the governor and Republicans went out of their way to deny Democrats the right to participate in the legislative process.
2. Florida: In 2010, Florida Republicans, fresh off one of the most scandal-plagued years of any state party in recent memory, took supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. With America’s least popular governor, Rick Scott, in charge, that meant a flood of extreme legislation was soon to follow. Florida Republicans did not disappoint.
The Florida Progressive Coalition ran a recent "Session Madness" contest to determine the worst bill to come out of the legislature this year; it was hard to narrow it down to fit a bracket of 64, since there were so many bad bills. The winner of the contest was a draconian "elections" bill that passed a slew of measures that will make it harder not only to register to vote, but to actually vote. Other bills that passed gutted growth management, deregulated telecoms, cut corporate income taxes, reduced environmental regulations, eliminated teacher tenure, limited Medicaid, required women who are interested in an abortion to pay to see an ultrasound first, brought back legislative leadership slush funds, cut state worker pensions, required drug testing for welfare recipients and state workers, prevented doctors from even asking patients about firearms in the home, cut unemployment and put a Colorado-style Taxpayer Bill of Rights amendment on the 2012 ballot for voters to approve. And the legislature may have accidentally outlawed sex.
And that’s just what passed. Many other extreme bills were proposed and didn’t make it to the governor’s desk, including an anti-Sharia law, a court packing scheme, nearly unlimited campaign contributions, an assault on labor unions and many others. It’s also apparently against the rules to say uterus on the floor of the Florida House because, you know, kids shouldn’t hear such dirty words.
1. Arizona: It should come as no shocker that Arizona tops this list. The number of times the legislature alone makes it on the national radar, not even touching on Gov. Jan Brewer, makes it a leader in state-level extremism. And it seems that Arizona also sets the agenda for extremists in other states. Numerous states attempted to copy Arizona’s SB1070 immigration racial profiling bill, but most of them didn’t pass it. Arizona not only passed it first, the state is trying to up the ante by attempting to launch state "compacts" with its neighbors to override federal immigration law. And it doesn’t end with immigration: Arizona has proposed or passed a long line of bills that other states are copying.
Want anti-union legislation? Check. Want to undermine a woman’s right to choose? Got it. What about a full-scale assault on federalism and the powers of the national government? Arizona leads the way. A government official gets shot in your state and what do you do? Vote to allow concealed weapons on college campuses. Don’t like ethnic studies classes and believe crazy theories about a Mexican takeover of the U.S.? Arizona is for you.
Want a legislator ranting on the floor about bisexual high school principals? Done. Want another legislator saying the earth is only 6,000 years old? Arizona wins again. Want a birther bill passed through the legislature? All you had to do was ask.
Oh yeah, and the Arizona legislature (and governor) cut back on a transplant program that actually led to two people dying. When your state starts killing people who aren’t on death row, then you can challenge Arizona, which has the worst legislature in the United States.
These 10 states don’t even remotely have a lock on the extreme legislative proposals this year. In particular, Virginia, Alabama, New York, Georgia, Maine, Kansas, and Missouri also got serious consideration for the top 10. And with groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) pushing its agenda in every state, progressives should keep an eye on all of the state legislatures to see where the national conservative attacks of tomorrow are being perfected today.
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