Abby Rapoport

State of the Week

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This week's state of the week is ... Texas! The Lone Star State has been in the headlines a lot this week—and not just because South by Southwest is here. First there was the news that the Department of Justice blocked enforcement of the state's stringent and controversial voter ID measure . According to a letter from the DOJ, the state failed to show how it would deal with rural voters or the disparities between Hispanic and non-Hispanic voters in terms of who already has valid photo identification. While the case is already headed to the D.C. District Court, that's hardly the only battle between the feds and Texas lawmakers. Governor Rick Perry is also blaming the Obama administration for dismantling the state's Women's Health Program . The administration ruled it could not approve $35 million in federal funding for the program after the state opted to bar Planned Parenthood, despite that the organization served 40 percent of WHP recipients. Planned Parenthood toured the state in...

Abstinence-Only Education Making a Comeback?

Maybe we can start bringing these books into the classroom too. (Flickr/romana klee)
Here's a way to save time debating women's health. Rather than allow people to fight and debate the issues around birth control and access to healthcare, simply don't tell them key facts about contraception and sexual health. That way, rather than fighting, kids will be blissfully ignorant. Or, you know, rely on the wisdom of my sister's best friend's cousin who says you definitely can't get pregnant if it's a full moon. Legislatures in both Wisconsin and Utah have passed abstinence-only education bills. It's now up to governors in both states to determine whether or not to make the measures law. Utah's proposal is significantly more stringent. It would actually ban schools from teaching about contraceptives—and, for that matter, homosexuality. The Deseret News reports that hundreds of protesters have flooded the capitol, asking Governor Gary Herbert to veto the bill. The governor has said the public efforts against the measure won't sway him; according to the News , a survey at...

Internet Killed the Political Party Star?

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One of the most visible publicity campaigns at South by Southwest Interactive festival this year featured two guys dressed up as a fighting elephant and donkey. They ran around downtown complete with gloves, satin boxing shorts, and even a referee. Americans Elect —the political group they represented that wants to nominate an independent presidential challenge for the 2012 election—tweeted photos of the pair fighting. They also tweeted attendees to invite them to the group's lounge. The room featured t-shirts, hats, and "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots"—with a donkey and elephant head instead of robotic heads. Of course, the biggest draw was the free beer, which they advertised nonstop. South by Southwest is known more for hipsters and indy music than it is for campaign nerds and public policy. But this year's interactive portion of the festival featured an entire "Government and Global Issues" track—much of which dealt particularly with political changes caused by the evolving internet...

A GOP Governor Is Pushing Tax Hikes?

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Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval came into office with tough talk about taxes. Since then, it seems, he's grown disenchanted with Grover Norquist-style governance. For the second time in as many years, he's pushing to extend a group of temporary tax increases, rather than cut public-education funding. What is the world coming to? Nevada's budget crisis last year was among the worst in the country, with a shortfall that amounted to 45 percent of state expenses according to Stateline.org . When courts ruled the state could not draw on local government funds appropriated by a prior legislature to balance the budget, Sandoval opted to maintain tax rates rather than make more core cuts. This year, he's going with the same philosophy it seems. As the Las Vegas Sun reports: “Let me be clear, as I’ve said before, the economy is improving, but I believe we must begin this budgeting process with all the information available,” Sandoval said in a written statement. “In addition to avoiding further...

Texans Fight Back Against Cuts

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It's hard to overstate just how dire the situation is around women's health care in Texas. The state has the third highest rate of cervical cancer in the country and one in four women are uninsured. After cutting family-planning funding by around two-thirds last legislative session, conservative lawmakers are now standing by their decision to cut off Planned Parenthood from the state's Women's Health Program, a move that ended $35 million in federal funding. (Here's a timeline of the fight .) Governor Rick Perry, who bragged about the decision at the recent CPAC conference, has said he'll find the money to keep the program—while still barring Planned Parenthood. No one seems to know exactly where he'll find the money, given that the state has already underfunded Medicaid by $4 billion last session. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood, which serves 40 percent of the 130,000 who rely on the Women's Health Program, has already had to shut down more than a dozen clinics . Non-Planned...

SXSWedu: How to Stop Worrying (about Education) and Love Technology

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I was expecting some fireworks at South by Southwest Edu. The nerdy cousin of the hip SXSW festival, Edu held its second annual conference last week, as a place where those in tech and education could come together. Many showed up with apps to sell, and others showed up looking to buy. Teachers came, many with an eye toward incorporating technology into their lessons. But the many panels and three keynote speeches all came against a backdrop of budget cuts, low teacher morale, and changes in the the basic expectations of schooling, particularly around assessment. The panels would often allude to the trouble—one I attended, on "Redefining 'Data-Driven'" proved to be cathartic for some of the teachers laboring under strict expectations of performance. But the conference also showed just how easy it is to talk around the fundamental points of contention in education policy. The three keynote speakers were all big names: Levar Burton, the actor who brought children of my generation the...

Voter-ID Laws Face Major Roadblocks

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Texas Republicans have been trying for years to pass a law that would require state voters to show identification before hitting the polls—and state Democrats have been equally determined to stop such a measure. The Rs came close in 2009, but the House Democrats, only two seats away from a majority, blew up the legislative session rather than see the measure pass. By 2011, however, fresh from Tea Party victories, the GOP had overwhelming majorities in both Houses. The bill was almost undoubtedly going to pass, and rather than go for a more moderate version of voter ID with non-photo options, the conservatives went for the gold, introducing one of the most stringent versions of a voter-ID requirement. The only option left for the Democrats was to set up the grounds for the legal battles sure to come . Monday, it looked like those efforts paid off. The Department of Justice has blocked the law, meaning that while the measure goes to the United States District Court for the District of...

The Dennis Kucinich Debacle

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At 4 a.m. Saturday morning, Salon ’s Glenn Greenwald put up a 2,500-word blog post that excoriated my post from earlier in the week, “ So Long But Not Farewell to Dennis Kucinich. ” I'd written four paragraphs that amounted to a light-hearted farewell for the congressman, quickly noting both his most famous political efforts and two of his more well-known personal stories. Greenwald portrayed the article—along with pieces at The Washington Post and The New Republic —as a contemptuous and mean-spirited celebration of Kucinich's defeat in last week’s Ohio Democratic primary. While he focused largely on my description of Kucinich as “among the wackiest members of Congress,” Greenwald framed his critique as an institutional one, neither mentioning me by name nor noting prior coverage of Kucinich's electoral plight . He wrote as though my blog represented The American Prospect’ s editorial consensus rather than my own report. Still, he speculated errantly about my opinions of the Ohio...

State of the Week

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This week's State of the Week is ... Florida! After weeks of controversy, the Florida Senate killed a "parent trigger" bill on Friday, the last day of the legislative session. The measure would have allowed parents with children in a failing school to convert it into a charter school or firing the staff and administration if a majority of parents signed a petition. While supporters argued the measure would empower parents and ensure so-called school turnarounds, critics charged the measure would help line the pockets of for-profit charter school operators and open neighborhoods up to manipulation. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush led the charge for the measure, along with many "education reform" organizations while unions, along with parents groups like the state PTA fought hard to kill the measure. ( Valerie Straus of The Washington Post argues parents were never sold on the "empowerment virtues" of the bill.) While it passed the House earlier, a bipartisan group of opponents in the...

Rush Limbaugh's Bust Is a Go

Imagine you were the speaker of the Missouri state House. In addition to legislating and naming committee chairmen, you'd also have a pretty awesome perk: choosing who gets bronze busts in the state Capitol rotunda. Who to pick might be a challenge. As The New York Times notes , there are a lot of famous Missourians without the giant casts, from modern folks like Maya Angelou to old West heroes. House Speaker Steven Tilley, tasked with this momentous decision, picked Rush Limbaugh. And no amount of calling people "sluts" is going to persuade Tilley to change his mind, telling the Times, "in my part of the state, we're proud of him." The Times story notes that Mark Twain will be among the others getting enshrined with Limbaugh. You can only wonder what he would have to say. I'm guessing it would be wittier than a joke about watching women have sex in exchange for birth control access.

Minority Parties Get Feisty in Budget Battles

Bumpy roads ahead! (Flickr/401K)
Legislatures in Washington state and Virginia have both garnered plenty of national attention for their fights over culture wars—the push to recognize gay marriage and the controversial debate over requiring pre-abortion sonograms. But with their lawmaking sessions winding down, both states are in the midst of epic budget battles, that will almost definitely force them into special sessions. In both cases, parties out of power are using the budget debates to leverage their positions, gambles with big potential risks and payoffs should they succeed. In Virginia, the state Senate is split evenly, 20-20. However the chamber is run with a tough conservative bent, thanks to a tie-breaking vote from the Republican lieutenant governor. Republicans rule the chamber and have their pick of committee chairs. Senate Democrats argue they're shut out of committee chairmanships and don't have nearly the power they should, given their even numbers. The lieutenant governor cannot vote on the budget,...

So Long But Not Farewell to Dennis Kucinich

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( Ready Abby's response to Salon 's Glenn Greenwald .) The Daily Show , April 11, 2011: John Oliver: Help me understand how you have been re-elected in the state of Ohio? Representative Dennis Kucinich: Harmony and understanding, sympathy, and trust abounding. John Oliver: Are you quoting the musical "Hair"? In the end, there just wasn't much harmony and understanding in the race for Ohio's ninth district. Dennis Kucinich, among the wackiest members of Congress, got beat decisively last night by his colleague Marcy Kaptur in very nasty Democratic primary. The two incumbents got lumped together after Ohio lost two seats in redistricting. Kucinich was one of the least likely, most memorable members of Congress. He started his political career in the late '70s as the "Boy Mayor" of Cleveland. He entered Congress in 1996, and thanks to two no-shot-in-hell presidential bids, Kucinich came to be a favorite among lefty college kids and Birkenstock-wearers around the country. He was probably...

Will Florida Bar Jewish Divorce?

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Starting Wednesday, the Florida Senate can vote on a measure to ban Sharia law in the state. But in an unintended consequence, the measure would also ban traditional Orthodox Jewish divorces from being recognized. The bill, which has already been passed in the state House, bans "foreign law" in Florida family courts. According to The Florida Independent, the state representative pushing the measure has argued it's necessary to "stop the spread of Sharia law." There's no evidence of a spread. But among those who shmear, the bill also has some serious implications. Orthodox Jews rely on rabbinic "Beit Dins" to grant divorces, and under this measure, such divorce decrees would not be recognized. Ironically, while insulting Muslim Floridians, the bill would have a policy impact on the state's Jewish community. Both the regional Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have condemned the measure. The Senate panel considering the bill dealt the concerns of both...

Crazy Idea: Laws To Encourage Voting

(Flickr/Katri Niemi)
Voter ID laws have been all the rage around the country, with conservative lawmakers pushing to make it harder to vote, often by requiring some form of government-issued photo identification. The goal, at least according to rhetoric, is to keep the process safe from fraud—despite there being no real evidence of in-person voter fraud , the only kind such laws would actually prevent. In the meantime, states struggle with low-turnout rates and sometimes low registration rates. In Texas, which recently passed one of the more stringent ID requirements, residents vote at among the lowest rates in the country. All of which makes Connecticut's current voting debate somewhat shocking by comparison. The secretary of state has taken the lead in proposing measures to increase voter turnout by—get this— making it easier to vote. Two proposals make it easier to register by offering same-day registration for those who show up on Election Day and creating an online voter registration system so people...

Parental Trigger Hits the Florida Senate

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Throughout Florida's legislative session, education reform groups and teachers' unions have done battle over proposals to pass a very controversial "parent trigger" law. The state House has already passed its version of the measure and the state Senate is schedule to vote on it tomorrow, while opponents make a last ditch effort to kill the bill. With the session ending on Friday, the stakes for both sides are high. As I wrote last week , Florida has long been at the forefront of the "reform movement" championing charter schools and doing away with teacher protections, in favor of merit pay and more comprehensive evaluations. The parent trigger idea takes things a step farther. If a school has received a failing rating for consecutive years (two in the Senate version, three in the House), a majority of parents could organize in support of an improvement option: replacing the principal, replacing the entire staff, closing the school, or turning it into a charter school. Florida State...

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