This Week in Statehouse Action: These People Make Laws edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: These People Make Laws edition

Why, hello there! I almost didn’t recognize you with your mask on, but that’s okay, because I recognize your SOUL.

DISCLAIMER: This is a terrible line and should only be used in jest and not to woo an actual human.

Uncertainty continues to reign across the country as we prepare to enter the second autumn of the COVID-19 pandemic, except this time we have vaccines that some people won’t take for … reasons!

And the way a lot of GOP state lawmakers are legislating around it, you’d think that the coronavirus maxed out on campaign donations to every last one of them.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, at least 26 legislatures passed new laws to strip state and local officials of powers they use to protect the public from … pandemics.

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And still more bills are pending in a handful of states with legislatures still in session.

A sampling of some of these new statutes:

  • In Arkansas, legislators banned mask mandates except in private businesses or state-run health care settings.
  • In Idaho, county commissioners (who usually have zero public health expertise) can veto countywide public health orders.
  • In Kansas and Tennessee, school boards (which usually also have zero public health expertise) have the power to close schools instead of actual health officials.
  • In Ohio, lawmakers gave themselves the power to overturn health orders, and they weakened school vaccine mandates.
  • In Utah and Iowa, schools are prohibited from requiring masks.
  • In Alabama, schools cannot require COVID-19 vaccinations, and state and local governments cannot issue vaccine passports.
  • In North Dakota, the legislature banned businesses from asking whether patrons are vaccinated against or infected with the coronavirus and curbed the governor’s emergency powers.
  • Lawmakers in Montana passed some of the most restrictive laws of all:
    • They severely curbed public health’s quarantine and isolation powers, prevented limits on religious gatherings, and banned employers—including in hospitals and other health care settings—from requiring vaccinations not only for COVID-19, but also the flu or the mumps or, like, anything else.

A recent Kaiser Health News review of related legislation also revealed that

  • Legislators in at least 16 states have limited the power of public health officials to order mask mandates, quarantines, or isolation.
  • In some cases, lawmakers gave themselves or local elected (non-health) officials the authority to try to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
  • Legislators in least 17 states passed laws banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates or passports or made it easier to evade vaccine requirements.
  • Legislators in at least nine states have new laws banning or limiting mask mandates.
  • Executive orders or court rulings curb mask requirements in five more.

What do all these states have in common?

GOP-controlled legislatures, of course.

But why? Why make it easier for deadly viruses to spread? Why place power over decisions that could literally mean life or death for some folks in the hands of people with no actual education, training, or experience in public health or medicine?

One Republican lawmaker in Arkansas had an answer, of a sort.

  • According the Rep. Trent Garner, ”what the people of Arkansas want is the decision to be left in their hands, to them and their family … It’s time to take the power away from the so-called experts, whose ideas have been woefully inadequate.”

Yeah that’s an stupid answer because people are stupid, that’s why we have “so-called experts” who know things we, as stupid people, don’t

But there’s a better answer to why, actually:

Because ALEC told them to.

  • Yup, the American Legislative Exchange Council (a conservative group backed by various corporations that’s been behind scads of shitty anti-voting, anti-union, anti-environment, anti-public education, anti-[honestly, insert anything right and good here, ALEC probably has a model bill that would kill it] laws passed in Republican-controlled legislatures over the past couple of decades) promoted model legislation to restrict the emergency powers of governors and other state and local officials.

According to Kaiser, this draft legislation appears to have inspired dozens of the bills that are now law in these various states.

Not a shock—lawmakers are at best under-resourced in terms of research and bill writing and at worst … well, lazy.

So cut-and-paste measures like these are super popular.

Okay, so we’ve got a little “what” and a touch of “why” … but who are the people passing these shortsighted, dangerous bills?

  • Well, it’s people like Alaska Sen. Laura Reinbold, whose strident anti-mask sentiments led to Alaska Airlines banning her indefinitely the past spring after she refused to follow both airline rules and a federal mandate requiring passengers wear masks.
    • The thing about Alaska is that … well, it’s big.
      • It’s really, REALLY big.
    • And Alaska Airlines is the only carrier that runs regular flights between her (Anchorage-area) district and Juneau.
      • So, technically Reinbold can still travel from her district to the capitol to do the people’s business.
        • It’s just … super hard now.
    • Reinbold’s solution?
      • She’s asked the legislature to excuse her from “legislative business” until mid-January of next year, just days before the next legislative session is set to begin.
  • Essentially, Reinbold is still going to draw a paycheck (over $50k/year) as a legislator but won’t be doing any actual legislating because she refuses to take a basic (and federally mandated) precaution against COVID-19.

Why won’t anyone pay me $50k/year to be a useless asshole

  • Michigan GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, who believes the government should absolutely believes that government should dictate the private health decisions of its citizens when it comes to abortion, thinks that the government has an “obsession” with vaccines.

It is about control when the government dictates the private health decisions of its citizens. It is about control when the government restricts acceptable health treatments to one specific option. It is about control when the government forces private business to make a specific status a condition of employment.

oh

  • This genius, who, by the by, has zero medical training or actual public health expertise, also thinks that the natural COVID-19 immunity someone gets after surviving the disease lasts “forever” (it definitely doesn’t) so maybe this guy shouldn’t be running half of the GOP-controlled legislature that’s supposed to help protect Michiganders from a deadly pandemic.

 And one final item … because to most Republicans, the 2020 presidential election still somehow isn’t over.

  • We’ve seen this anti-democratic farce play out over the past several months in Arizona, where a pathetic and prolonged attempt by GOP Trump sympathizers to “prove” that Joe Biden didn’t win Maricopa County (he did) shambles on.
    • Not only has “Cyber Ninjas” (more than four months on and I still can’t type that with a straight face) still not produced the already LONG overdue report on the so-called “audit” the firm purported to perform last spring, but they also just got their asses handed to them in court.
      • Earlier this week, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a lower court order for the state Senate to make public all of Cyber Ninjas’ documents and communications related to the “audit.”
    • For her part, Trump cheerleader and “audit” ringmaster Karen Fann did her part to comply with the ruling.
    • Cyber Ninjas responded by whining that the three-day deadline laid out in the original ruling is unreasonable, but the courts have indicated they’re willing to extend it to Sept. 29.

Stay tuned!

And now this sad obsession with the Big Lie has taken full hold in Pennsylvania.

… where, by the by, Biden won by more than 80,000 votes

  • On Wednesday, a GOP-controlled state Senate subcommittee voting along party lines to approve a subpoena of millions of voters’ personal information, including driver’s license numbers, addresses, and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.
    • Pennsylvania’s Democratic statewide officeholders (including Secretary of State Josh Shapiro) have vowed to fight the subpoena, but if it succeeds, this info could totally end up in the hands of the private vendors affiliated with Trump’s broader work to validate the Big Lie.
      • … to say nothing of potential (okay, likely) security breaches that could expose that sensitive data to malevolent parties.
    • Remember, the committee tasked with overseeing this new bullshit “audit” is led by Republican Sen. Cris Dush, who was part of the Pennsylvania pilgrimage to the Arizona audit site over the summer.
    • And while the Arizona debacle was at least partly funded by Trump-affiliated dark money groups, the impending Pennsylvania fiasco will be funded by taxpayers.

I’m so old I remember when Republicans at least pretended to care about wasting public funds

So definitely expect this Pennsylvania “audit” to be just as sinister as its Arizona counterpart.

Welp! That’s a wrap for this edition. Stay safe out there! The world is a wild and wonderful place, but it’s also replete with strife and turpitude.

Take care of yourself.

You’re important.

We need you.

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