This week in wins: Political activism skyrocketing among high schoolers

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Young people are organizing in high schools across the country, Connecticut residents will see lower health care costs, and several states made strides for LGBTQ equality.

High School Democrats of America is seeing a huge increase in membership just months before the 2020 election. On the state level, progressives saw victories in red states like Utah, where "conversion therapy" is no longer allowed, as well as blue states like Connecticut, where the governor is working to rein in health care costs. Plus, Wisconsin's governor is helping the state's struggling dairy farmers.

Read on to catch up on this week's wins.

Democrats see explosion of high school political activism

Since the 2016 election, high schools around the country have seen "an explosion of activism by young people," the Boston Globe reported on Sunday. Most of the excitement is on the progressive side, with the membership in the High School Democrats of America doubling over the past year.

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The Republican Party's alternative, National Teen Age Republicans, has been less active, according to the Globe.

"To see students self-organizing now is really exciting," John Della Volpe, a researcher studying youth engagement in politics at Harvard's Kennedy School, told the outlet.

In the 2018 midterm election, voter participation by voters aged 18 to 29 increased in all 42 states where data is available, according to researchers at Tufts' Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). CIRCLE's research shows young voters preferred Democratic House candidates by a 35-point margin, a gap the group says helped Democrats win back the House majority.

Wisconsin governor helps dairy farmers hurt by trade war

On Thursday, Wisconsin's Democratic Gov. Tony Evers unveiled an action plan to help the state's struggling dairy farmers. The order calls on the state Legislature to meet in a special session to consider a package of bills to support farmers and rural communities across the state, according to a statement from Evers' office.

"We're known as America's Dairyland, but unfortunately, as too many families across our state know firsthand, our state continues to face challenges that we must work quickly to address," Evers said in the statement. "We need to be better partners for our farmers, agricultural industries, and rural communities."

In 2018, a record number of Wisconsin dairy farms — 818 — shut down, in large part because of Donald Trump's trade war with China.

Evers' legislative package includes increasing access to mental health services to rural communities and connecting farmers more closely to universities, hospitals, and local businesses. Evers also created through executive order a Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity.

Utah bans harmful 'conversion therapy' for LGBTQ children

Utah this week became the 19th state in the country to outlaw harmful, anti-LGBTQ "conversion therapy" for children in the state, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

"This measure will truly save lives," state Rep. Craig Hall, the lead sponsor of the bill, told the AP.

"Conversion therapy" attempts to convince people to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. The American Psychological Association has stated that "conversion therapy" is not based in science and can have harmful impacts on the mental health of subjects.

A ban on "conversion therapy" passed the Virginia Senate this week as well.

The Utah measure became law after lawmakers worked with the influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormon Church, to support the idea, the AP reported.

Connecticut governor makes health care more affordable

Ned Lamont, Connecticut's Democratic governor, signed two executive orders to make health care in the state more affordable, the Connecticut Mirror reported Wednesday. One of the orders increases transparency of medical costs from hospitals and insurance companies, which Lamont hopes will pressure companies to keep costs down.

Such transparency "has slowed down the rate of increase dramatically in Massachusetts," Lamont said. "We hope to do the same right here."

A similar measure in Massachusetts helped that state save $5 billion, WFSB reported.

A state official told the Mirror that health care costs in the state have increased by 77% over the past 15 years, which is "unsustainable for everyone in Connecticut."

Virginia begins process to ease abortion restrictions

The Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday passed an omnibus bill that will loosen abortion restrictions in the state, the Washington Post reported.

The bill eliminates waiting periods for abortions, gets rid of rules that made some clinics ineligible to provide abortions, and expands the categories of health care professions that can perform the procedure, the Post reported.

The bill is "just one step in unraveling decades of anti-woman legislation," state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond) said at a Wednesday morning news conference.

The legislation passed the House about a week after the Virginia Legislature became the 38th state to approve the Equal Rights Amendment. Democrats, who passed the bill out of a committee on a party-line vote, regained control of both the state House and Senate in the November 2019 election.

'Gay panic' is no longer a legal defense for murder in New Jersey

Homicide defendants are not allowed to claim panic over a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity in courts, thanks to a new measure signed into law on Tuesday. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said the law provides "full equality for all our residents," NBC 4 New York reported.

The "gay panic" defense goes back to at least 1954, when a Florida man claimed a gay man's advances caused him to panic and shoot him, NBC 4 reported.

"Gay and trans panic defenses are rooted in homophobia and abhorrent excuses that should never be used to justify violence against vulnerable populations," Murphy said in a statement provided to NBC 4.

New Jersey is the ninth state in the nation to outlaw the "gay panic" defense.

Check back next week for more good news.