It's hard to relax these days (though I still haven't tried yoga.) Take the current fight around reproductive rights. Pro-choice advocates of women's health have heard plenty of good news in the past few days. The trouble is, it's almost always been tempered by bad news. See what I mean:
Time flies—just ask the legislators in the 11 states who have to get their business wrapped up in the next few weeks. (New Mexico has already adjourned.) Most of the states began the year with fairly extreme education reform agendas, in terms of both funding and policy. Since then, with pushback from teachers groups, most of those efforts have been watered down considerably. With only weeks to go, key education bills remain up in the air in most of the places, leaving the roles of charter schools, teacher protections, and school funding in the balance.
Each Friday—well at least most Fridays—I'm going to sum up the big news happening in states around the country. To make it more interesting, I'm naming a State of the Week where the biggest news came from. See something that's missing? Tell me: email@example.com or on Twitter @RaRapoport.
Update: Virginia's personhood bill is now dead for the year. The bill, already approved by the state House, passed out of a Senate committee this morning and headed to the floor. But the Republican-dominated Senate voted to send the bill back to committee and carry it over to next year. It's the second big win for pro-choice advocates in Virginia this week, after Governor Bob McDonnell retracted his support for a bill requiring pre-abortion transvaginal sonograms yesterday.
Pro-choice advocates around the country cheered Wednesday, as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell withdrew support for a pre-abortion sonogram bill. The bill had risen to national attention, even earning a spot on The Daily Show. Critics focused on a particularly disturbing detail of the measure—most women having abortions have them early in the pregnancy, too early for the usual "jelly on the belly" ultrasound.
Between the Susan G. Komen controversy, the birth control panel, and Virginia's efforts at pre-abortion sonograms and personhood bills, you may have had enough of the culture wars and the fight against women. Well, tough—this week brings yet a new and bizarre episode. Indiana state Representative Bob Morris sent a letter to his colleagues urging them to oppose the resolution celebrating the Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary.
On its face, the latest poll from Wisconsin doesn't seem to offer much in the way of conclusions. But dig a bit and the poll offers a guide to the potential pitfalls of the Scott Walker campaign in the upcoming months, as the governor prepares for a likely recall election.
It was the finger jab heard round the world. Normally finger jabs do not make noise, but I'm confident that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer got even the air's attention as she stuck her digit at the president when the two met on an airport tarmac in January. Brewer has developed a strong reputation as a conservative—she championed Arizona's controversial immigration bill, among the most extreme in the country. She's pushing for a measure now to give public workers a 5 percent pay increase—so long as they give up their job protections. So far, fairly typical Republican stuff, right?
Last week, state legislatures in New Jersey and Maryland both passed measures to legalize gay marriage. In Maryland, Governor Martin O'Malley pushed hard for the measure and was largely credited with its success. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie killed the effort with a stroke of his veto pen. Democrat O'Malley and Republican Christie are both seen as future leaders of their respective parties—which means depending on political winds, gay marriage can either be a feather in their cap or a millstone around their neck.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took to The Daily Show Thursday night to discuss and defend his agency's latest initiative: Project RESPECT. The project looks a lot like 2009's Race to the Top, a chance for states (and in this case school districts) to compete for big grants if they offer ideas that conform to the department's priorities. But unlike Race to the Top, RESPECT is almost entirely focused on teachers and teacher evaluation. It's not likely the Republican-controlled Congress will fund the $5 billion program, which is part of the the president's budget proposal, but the initiative does offer a clearer sense of the department's priorities.
After The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia, I really didn't think the franchise would find any imitators. But then came the Texas redistricting saga, a neverending story in its own right. Still playing in theaters near you, if you happen to live in the Lone Star State.
Wednesday brought a new chapter in the drama. Legal battles have been raging for months, as different courts examine the legality of the state's original maps and over how state's interim maps should look. For the first time, all sides agreed on interim maps for the state Senate—likely the maps that will be used in 2012—but there's still disagreement on the maps for Congress and the state House. That means Texas' primary will be later than anyone was hoping.
In Florida, a coalition of Democrats and a few moderate Republicans killed what could have been a major expansion of private prisons. The measure would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 corrections officers. In the Florida Senate, nine Republicans voted against the measure, along with all 12 Democratic state senators. It was a rare victory for both Democrats and the labor unions that fought the bill.
Republican delegate Bob Marshall says critics are overstating things when it comes to the personhood bill he is sponsoring in Virginia. Opponents of his bill have argued that not only does the measure grant legal protections to all fetuses beginning at conception, but it could also be construed to outlaw birth control.
The bill is ostensibly less stringent than similar measures that came up in Colorado and Mississippi. As Marshall points out, it does not directly outlaw abortion, but would force the courts to include embryos in definitions of person. "I think I struck a middle ground," says Marshall.