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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow, one of the nastier primary races in recent memory will come to an end.
Nope, not the Republican presidential race. (That may drag on for eternity.) Ohio will be the first state to hold a congressional primary, which means an end to the vicious fight between Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich, two Democrats who both currently hold office. (A third Democrat, Graham Veysey, is also running in what's likely to be a distant third.)
Street view on Google maps still sort of wows me. I'm still not sure I'm prepared for the power of being able to see almost every house in America, block by block. So it's really no surprise that VoterMapping blew my mind.
In the end, even Jon Stewart couldn't kill the Virginia ultrasound bill. After more than a week of protests and national attention, the state Senate passed an amended version of the measure Tuesday afternoon which will require women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound 24 hours ahead of the procedure. The Senate did unanimously pass an exemption for victims of rape and incest, but other amendments fell flat, including one to mandate insurance coverage of the sonograms. The House has already passed a version of the bill and it appears now to be headed for law.
It was an impressive victory at the time, but now we're discovering just how hard-fought it was. A senator who's suffered five heart attacks became the focal point of the debate, where advocates hoped to pressure her into changing positions on the bill. Things got so bad, she actually had to have protection.
Publicly funded online schools run by private companies have been controversial with teachers groups and some education advocates since they started to take off a few years ago. But the concept of educating kids by computer has a strong appeal—not just among lawmakers but also among portfolio managers and investors. The two biggest companies offering online education—K12, Inc. and Connections Academy—are both for-profit, and until recently K12 had been a stock-market favorite. But an article this week on Seeking Alpha, a major investment website, casts doubt on the long-term profitability of K12 in light of poor student results.
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.