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The 13 most shocking bills GOP legislatures are trying to pass right now

Policy that impacts Americans’ lives is being introduced out of the spotlight of the national media.

By Emily Singer - February 24, 2021
Kevin McDugle

With the disappearance of local reporting and the national media focusing on the White House and Capitol Hill, state legislatures often remain in the background of news coverage.

Meanwhile, policy that impacts Americans’ lives on a daily basis is being introduced by state lawmakers.

In recent weeks, right-wing state lawmakers have introduced numerous bills that would strip people of the right to freedom of expression and the right to vote and would implement right-wing priorities such as banning abortion and ensuring unfettered access to guns. 

Here is a look at some of the legislation that’s been introduced and is moving through state legislatures across the country.

Giving immunity to people who run over protesters with cars

A Republican state lawmaker in Oklahoma introduced a bill that would grant immunity to people who drive their cars into people protesting on highways.

The bill is a response to Black Lives Matter protests in which demonstrators have blocked roads as they march to raise awareness for their fight for equality.

Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin McDugle, who introduced the bill, told the Associated Press, “It’s not going to be a peaceful protest if you’re impeding the freedom of others.”

Critics of the bill say it sounds like a threat and appears to be aimed at scaring people from exercising their right to protest.

Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah have introduced similar bills. 

Forcing schools to whitewash American history

A GOP-sponsored bill in Mississippi would strip state funding from schools that teach about “The 1619 Project,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning project from the New York Times that examines the history of slavery in the United States.

State Sen. Angela Burks Hill, who introduced the legislation, said she crafted the bill because she feels “The 1619 Project” is “racially divisive.”

Her comments echo those from congressional Republicans, who have introduced similar legislation to strip federal funding from schools that teach the project.

Donald Trump also floated the idea of taking away federal funding from schools that use the project in their curriculum. And he took that a step further by creating his own commission to promote “patriotic education” — which culminated in a report that historians panned as right-wing propaganda. President Joe Biden nixed the commission upon taking office.

Banning schools from teaching about ‘divisive concepts’

Republican lawmakers in West Virginia are seeking to ban schools from teaching about what they call “divisive concepts,” the Hill reported.

The bill includes a list of the so-called divisive concepts, including that the United States “is fundamentally racist or sexist” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

They are similar to the “divisive concepts” listed in an executive order issued by Trump that banned diversity training for federal employees.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill to ban schools from teaching students about systemic racism and sexism in the state or the country.

Honoring hatemonger Rush Limbaugh

Republican-run states are clamoring to honor Rush Limbaugh, the conservative radio show host known for his racisthomophobic, and sexist rhetoric and his attacks against everyone from children and the disabled to celebrities.

In Missouri, a GOP state lawmaker filed a bill to designate each Jan. 12 as “Rush Limbaugh Day” to “recognize the outstanding impact Rush Limbaugh has had on our state and country.”

Democrats are opposed to the proposal, with state Rep. Peter Merideth telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Rush is all about divisiveness and hatefulness and if we’re going to have a state holiday it should be about bringing people together for positive unifying goals.”

Privatizing state parks

A Republican lawmaker in Mississippi introduced a bill to privatize at least 10 state park sites, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported.

Even some Republican lawmakers in the state said they are against the idea of privatizing state parks, saying it could lead companies to “cherry-pick” parks that do well and let others fall further into disrepair.

Pew reported that states that have privatized parks have run into problems, including Oklahoma, which sold off a large part of a state park to a developer. That developer tore down some cabins and a hotel on the land and then left, turning the park into what Pew described as a “ghost town.”

Ending handgun licensing

Few Americans believe less regulation of firearms is the solution to the tens of thousands of gun deaths in the United States every year. A fall 2020 Gallup poll found just 9% believe laws covering the sale of firearms should be less strict.

But that has not stopped the Indiana state House from approving a bill to eliminate the state’s requirement that people obtain licenses for handguns.

The state’s police opposed the move as harmful to law enforcement. The license fees provide more than $5 million each year for law enforcement training. 

“This will cause less peace,” Democratic state Rep. Mitch Gore, who serves a captain with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, said. “Our people will be less safe.”

Nixing mask mandates during the pandemic

With COVID-19 still spreading across the country, the federal government and most states have instituted mask mandates to slow transmission of the virus. Public health experts say masks are a good way to stop the spread while vaccines are still not widely available. 

But the GOP-controlled North Dakota House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday to prohibit localities from requiring mask usage in public.

State Rep. Jeff Hoverson, who sponsored the bill, described mask mandates as “diabolical silliness” created by “unelected, wealthy bureaucrats who are robbing our freedoms and perpetuating lies,” the Grand Forks Herald reported.

Meanwhile, a GOP bill advanced by an Arizona House committee on Tuesday would let businesses opt to simply ignore local mask mandates.

State Rep. Joseph Chaplik said that he co-sponsored the legislation because “it restores the freedom and the liberties back to the individual, and the individuals that own a business, to make their own decisions.”

Suppressing the vote

Since Democrats won the White House and narrow majorities in the House and Senate, Republican legislators around the country have introduced a wide array of bills to make it harder for people — especially Democratic-leaning populations — to vote.

A bill introduced last week in the Georgia legislature would eliminate all of the Sunday early-voting hours used by Black voters as part of “Souls to the Polls” get-out-the-vote events.

Critics of the bill called the legislation, “Jim Crow with a suit and tie.”

A similar North Carolina law was rejected by a federal appeals court in 2016 for appearing to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Banning transgender youth from sports

Last year, Idaho became the first state to ban transgender girls from competing in girls sports.

Critics of the bill said Republicans in Idaho are “focused on pleasing their bigoted base instead of doing what is right.”

This year, Republican lawmakers in Arkansas, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee are pushing similar legislation to exclude trans students from athletics.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-LGBTQ hate group, is reportedly coordinating the state efforts.

Screening student athletes’ genitals

While many anti-LGBTQ legislators across the country have targeted transgender athletes, a Georgia state representative is taking the idea to a new extreme.

Under a bill filed earlier this month in the Georgia House, students could “petition” to participate in school sports, but would be subject to a review by a three-physician panel of their “gender based on the student’s reproductive organs, genetic makeup, and other medically relevant factors.”

Georgia state Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Democrat, condemned the legislation, telling LGBTQ Nation, “This isn’t about protecting girls’ sports. It’s about scapegoating trans Georgians, and it won’t stand.”

Prohibiting conversion therapy bans

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have enacted bans on so-called conversion therapy for minors, deeming the scientifically discredited practices aimed at turning gay youths straight harmful and ineffective. But Arizona state Sen. Vince Leach and other Republicans are pushing a bill to prohibit local governments from instituting similar bans and overturn an existing ban in Pima County. A Senate committee deadlocked on the legislation last week.

Democratic state Sen. Sean Bowie, who supports a ban on conversation therapy for minors, said that while these treatments are “called a therapy,” in reality “there’s no major medical group that supports” them.

“It’s extremely harmful and we’ve lost a lot of young people,” Bowie said.

Requiring students to view fetal ultrasounds in schools

An anti-abortion member of the Virginia House of Delegates filed a bill in January that would require schools to show videos of fetuses to students. Under the legislation, the commonwealth’s Family Life Education curriculum on human reproduction would require “the viewing of a video recording of an ultrasound of a live unborn human in the uterus.”

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Del. Dave LaRock, told colleagues, “My hope is that this committee will see the benefit to young people of informing young people of the reality associated with pregnancy by presenting a visual depiction of a live fetus in the Family Life Education curriculum.”

The House of Delegates Committee on Rules tabled the legislation by a party-line vote of 13 to 5.

Allowing men — even rapists — to veto abortions

Two Tennessee lawmakers filed a bill this month that would let men stop women from having abortions if they can prove paternity. If the bill passes, men would be able to go to court and get an “injunction to prohibit a woman who is pregnant with the person’s unborn child from obtaining an abortion.”

“In this case, we’re saying that we want that father who is just as much of a parent as that mother is, it took two of them to create this human being, and we believe that they should have that opportunity to raise that child,” explained on of the bill’s sponsors, state Sen. Mark Pody.

Reproductive rights activists have noted that this would allow partners and even rapists to control health care decisions for someone else. The legislation is pending in the state’s House and Senate.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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