John Kasich speaks to CNN (screen grab)
November, many Americans who didn’t vote in 2014 or 2015 will be casting a vote for president of the United States. Midterms and off-year elections are often ignored by registered voters, but anyone who doubts the importance of voting in every election need only look at the type of damage far-right Republicans can do at the state or local level when they are in control. Although Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, and President Barack Obama was reelected decisively in 2012, Republicans fared extremely well during the 2010 and 2014 midterms, not only in Congress, but in the state and local races. The result has been an obscene amount of destructive legislation, from anti-union laws to harsh anti-abortion and anti-contraception measures to laws that harm the environment.
Below are 10 terrible laws or bills brought to you by some of the more obscure GOP politicians wielding way too much power in statehouses and state legislatures around the country.
1. HB 174 Prevents Alabama Cities from Setting Their Own Minimum Wages
Among progressives, the battle to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour is being fought at the city, state and federal levels. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, running as a Democrat, favors raising the federal minimum wage to $15, and Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco are three cities where, according to local laws, minimum wages must gradually increase to $15 per hour. But in Alabama, which has the misfortune of being plagued by both a far-right Republican governor, Robert Bentley, and a GOP-dominated legislature, it is now illegal for municipalities to have a minimum wage higher than $7.25 per hour.
On February 25, Bentley signed into law Alabama House Bill 174, which forbids Alabama cities from passing their own minimum wages, and with his signature, Bentley struck down a Birmingham law that would have raised that city’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Neither Bentley nor Alabama’s legislature respected Birmingham’s autonomy when it came to setting its own minimum wage, which is appalling but not surprising: Alabama is a “right to work for less” state, and in Bentley’s mind, even $10.10 is too generous for the peasants.
2. West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act, aka West Virginia SB 01
Union dues are a small price to pay for the higher wages, protections and benefits that typically go with union membership. But one of the ways Republicans undermine unions is by pushing for laws that prohibit unions from requiring dues; for example, West Virginia SB 01, the so-called West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act, passed earlier this year. Since Republicans had enough seats in the West Virginia legislature to override a veto by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the law goes into effect July 1. And having just scored another anti-union victory in addition to passing anti-union laws in Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana in recent years, the GOP will no doubt seek to keep increasing the number of states with “right to work for less” laws (which are bad economic policy because workers who make less spend less and support fewer businesses).
3. Florida SB 1722/HB 1411: Anti-Abortion, Anti-Contraception, Anti-Women’s Health
In European countries where comprehensive sex education and easy access to contraception are the norm, the number of abortions goes way down. Fewer unplanned pregnancies means fewer abortions, and the low abortion rates in countries like Switzerland and the Netherlands bears that out. But in the Florida legislature, Republicans have passed a bill that will increase unplanned pregnancies while making abortion much more difficult. SB 1722/HB 1411, likely to be signed into law by Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott, defunds Planned Parenthood while stating that abortions can only be performed by doctors with local hospital admitting privileges, a thinly veiled ploy to make it impossible for clinics providing women with abortions to continue to operate.
4. Wisconsin AB 554: the Fast-Track to Water Privatization
In recent years, Republicans in northern states have been effectively making tap water either unsafe or unaffordable (or both) under the guise of privatization. In 2015, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law the so-called Water Infrastructure Protection Act, which will make it easier to privatize local water systems in that state. Thanks to Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, residents of Flint have basically been poisoned by their tap water. And now, in Wisconsin, Republicans in the state legislature are promoting Assembly Bill 554, which would fast-track water privatization in municipalities. The Wisconsin AFL-CIO, which opposes 554, has been posing the question, “Could Wisconsin be the next Flint, Michigan?” Given that Republicans are involved, that is certainly a reasonable question.
5. The Alabama Student Religious Liberties Act
Republicans often claim that the American Civil Liberties Union is anti-religious freedom for opposing laws that promote prayer in public schools. But no organization is more supportive of religious freedom than the ACLU, which realizes that when Christian fundamentalists can use public schools to promote their agenda, it is discriminatory against children of other faiths. In Alabama, the Christian Right adores the Student Religious Liberties Act of 2015, signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley last year. The law requires public schools to “allow religious expression in class assignments, course work, and artwork,” but considering the contempt far-right Christian fundamentalists typically have for other faiths, don’t expect to hear a lot of Hindu or Buddhist chants in Alabama classrooms anytime soon.
6. Oklahoma HB 3044 Seeks to Isolate Gay Teens from Pro-Gay Organizations and Counselors
For gay teens suffering from anxiety or depression, seeing a therapist can be a very positive thing. But if Republican Sally Kern, one of the most anti-gay legislators in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, had her way, that lifeline would likely be cut off. Introduced by Kern, HB 3044 would discourage public schools from referring gay teens to any therapist or organization that is pro-gay: if the therapist or organization is considered pro-gay, parents would have to be notified immediately. However, no parental notification would be necessary for therapists or groups that aren’t considered pro-gay.
7. SB 733: Republican Bigotry Oklahoma Style
With the U.S. Supreme Court having legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states last year, Oklahoma Republicans cannot prevent gays from getting married in that state. However, they can make bigoted proposals like Oklahoma Senate Bill 733, which would forbid anyone who is HIV-positive from getting married in the state. The law doesn’t mention gays specifically, but one need only read between the lines to know who the bill is targeting (not that HIV affects gays exclusively). Problem: SB 733 would be a blatant violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
8. Oklahoma SB 1848, aka the Oklahoma Human Life Act, and Oklahoma HB 2797, aka the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act
Although Republican Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed Oklahoma SB 1848, the Oklahoma Human Life Act of 2014, into law two years ago, it has been challenged in court by the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Oklahoma State Supreme Court has delayed its enforcement, but in February, Oklahoma Judge Don Andrews upheld the law as constitutional. Like similar anti-abortion laws in Texas and elsewhere, SB 1848 greatly restricts abortion access statewide by saying abortions can only be legally performed in the presence of a physician with local hospital admitting privileges. Oklahoma is also a state where the Christian right has a long history of promoting failed abstinence-only sex education programs. And on March 1, the state’s House of Representatives passed Oklahoma HB 2797, aka the Humanity of the Unborn Child Act, which would force public schools to teach students that life begins at conception and calls for an “abortion-free society.”
9. Florida HB 191: Fast Track to Fracking
For pro-fracking zealots in the Florida GOP, it isn’t enough to have fracking in some parts of the state, they want to impose it all over Florida. On January 27, Florida’s House of Representatives passed GOP-sponsored HB 191, which would prevent any municipalities in the Sunshine State from having a local moratorium on fracking. Presently, fracking is legal in Florida, although municipalities can opt out if they choose (Palm Beach County has a local fracking ban). But HB 191 seeks to force fracking on all Florida communities whether they want it or not.
10. Ohio House Bill 294: Defunding Planned Parenthood in the Buckeye State
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is often described as the least extreme of 2016’s Republican presidential candidates (which isn’t saying much), but in late February, he signed into law Ohio House Bill 294, which forbids any group that performs abortions from receiving federal funds, including Planned Parenthood. Of course, the federal funds Planned Parenthood was receiving in Ohio were not being set aside for abortions; under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds can’t be used to finance abortions except in extreme cases. But Kasich did succeed in cutting Ohio women off from federal funding for all the other services Planned Parenthood provides, such as breast exams, HIV testing and prenatal care for expectant mothers (abortions comprise a mere 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services).
11. Senate Bill 4: Kentucky’s New Anti-Abortion Law
Signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin last month, Senate Bill 4 requires that women in Kentucky receive in-person counseling 24 hours before an abortion. The Kentucky ACLU describes SB 4 as “an unnecessary barrier to safe and legal abortion practices,” and Derek Selznick (director of the Kentucky ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project), said, “Legislators were not elected to provide medical advice or care to Kentucky women.” This is the same Bevin who began dismantling Kentucky’s successful, state-run Obamacare exchange, Kynect, right after taking office in January. So the health of Kentucky women is not high on his list of priorities.