Abby Rapoport

A Tale of Two Gay Marriage Bills

(Flickr/Fibonacci Blue)
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. O'Malley had political winds with him as he embarked on the effort to make Maryland the eighth state to recognize same sex marriages. (Actually, when he started pushing this year, Maryland would've been the seventh—Washington state since passed a similar measure.) O'Malley was a vocal proponent, mentioning the effort in his state of the state address and meeting with lawmakers to push them over the line. It was in some sense a political risk—gay marriage failed last...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T-ing Teachers?

(Flickr/hpeguk)
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. The plan emphasizes a need for higher salaries for teachers, but also pushes to reform job protections like teacher tenure and improving teaching colleges to make them more selective. If a state chooses not to compete, districts can apply for funds on their own or in concert. As Bloomberg News reports : The Obama administration...

Arizona's Dissolving Case Against Unions

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
In a state that's already prevented unions from having any clout in the private sector, this was supposed to be the month Arizona put public employee unions on the chopping block. In early February, conservative website The Daily Caller included an opinion piece called "The coming Arizona public employee union apocalypse." It was hardly the only ominous article about the future for labor in the state. "Republicans in Arizona hoped to make Wisconsin's battle against public unions last year look like a lightweight sparring match," wrote Talking Points Memo's Nick Martin. At the heart of the matter were four anti-union bills that together would end collective bargaining rights and cut off sources of money for unions. Unlike Wisconsin, the proposals would impact all public employee unions, including firefighters and police. So far, though, nothing is going as planned. Thursday evening, the Arizona state Senate gave first round approval to a bill that requires yearly authorization in order...

Pre-Abortion Sonograms Make Their Way Into Law

(Flickr/Travis Isaacs)
The Virginia Legislature has been busy passing legislation to limit abortion and promote pro-life agendas. I wrote Tuesday how the state House passed a bill changing the legal definition of "person" to include fetuses starting at conception . But the body also passed a measure requiring women seeking an abortion to first have a sonogram 24 hours ahead of time. The state Senate already passed an identical measure and the state governor has said that he supports the initiative—which means it will almost definitely become law. The measure requires a medical professional to administer the sonogram and then offer the woman the chance to hear the fetal heartbeat and listen to a description of the fetus. Because abortions occur early in pregnancies, these ultrasounds aren't the ones most people imagine with a bit of jelly smeared on a woman's stomach. No, these require a more invasive procedure: a transvaginal sonogram . A probe—with a lubricated condom covering it—is inserted into a woman's...

The NeverEnding Story of Texas Redistricting

(Flickr/Calsidyrose)
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. Many had hoped the state might keep its April 3 primary date , which had already been delayed once. Last week, the various plaintiffs groups had a minor blow-up when the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, made up of Texas LULAC, MALDEF and others,...

Private Prison Bill Dies in Florida

(Flickr/Tom Pearce, Los Gatos)
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. Proponents had argued the measure would save the state over $16 million in its first year, and the defeat may now lead to increased budget cuts in education and health care. Interestingly, much of the debate around the bill focused on the workers, like prison guards, who would lose jobs as a result of the privatization. With major pushes against public employee bargaining rights in Wisconsin and now in Arizona, state workers have largely been villified. This debate seems to have gone very differently. As the Tampa Bay Times reports: Senators debated privatization...

Virginia House Passes Personhood 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. Try telling that to the bill's opponents, who fear the bill's consequences for women's health. The House rejected an amendment by Democratic delegate Virginia Watts that would have specifically protected birth-control access. Marshall called the amendment "a vehicle to entrap me," arguing it would have hurt the bill in court. By specifically allowing birth control, Marshall says, the...

Olympic Deja Vu?

(Flickr/Dougtone)
Mitt Romney has me counting the days until the Olympics (164 as of Tuesday.) Since he's not always eager to talk about his largely-moderate record as Massachusetts governor, we've gotten to hear a lot about Mitt's role planning the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games. There was that lingering animosity between Romney and Rick Perry , supposedly because Romney didn't give the Boy Scouts enough of a role. Of course, most of it's been about the boring stuff, like how he turned around a potentially disastrous event and made it profitable. But, when he starts talking about it, I mainly just imagine people competing in sports I've usually forgotten exist. ( I'm looking at you, luge. ) Romney's got me not only hyped up for the summer games but nostalgic for winter—particularly 2002 Salt Lake City. So imagine my joy when I learned today that Salt Lake City has started an exploratory committee to consider hosting the games for a second time! Now, just to be clear, it's hardly a sure thing...

No Such Thing as an Arizona Free Lunch

(Flickr/USDAgov)
Subsidized school lunches always seemed like a government program most people could get behind. The federal program gives food to low-income children. Giving food to children who live in poverty—hard to argue with that idea. In 2010, I was covering a state legislative race out in East Texas. A Tea Party candidate explained to me that free school lunches are bad for society, because were it not for the government program, parents would provide food for their kids on their own. If the kids still couldn't get food, then he believed churches and charities should pick up the slack, rather than the government. But sadly for my Tea Party friend, in Texas, free lunches may be one of the few federal programs that hasn't stirred up too much controversy. Nationally, however, there's been no shortage of criticism of the program, particularly last year as Congress considered a proposal that would make meals more nutritious. The legislative fight soon became about which agriculture sectors had the...

State of the Week

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: arapoport@prospect.org or on Twitter @RaRapoport. And this week's State of the Week is ... California Gay Rights Galore This weekend, gay rights advocates have two big victories to celebrate. In California, the Ninth Circuit Court threw out the same-sex marraige ban that California voters passed in 2008, known as Prop 8. As Garrett Epps explained , the decision was very specific to California, explaining that once a state grants a right, it cannot take that right away arbitrarily. The case will now likely go to the Supreme Court, where Epps says all eyes will be on Justice Anthony Kennedy. In the meantime, same-sex couples in Washington state are a step closer to being able to marry. A bill recognizing same-sex marriage passed through the state...

The Coming Battle over NCLB Exemptions

(Flickr/woodleywonderworks)
In 2014, no students will be behind in math or reading. All of them will meet grade-level goals. That's the plan according to No Child Left Behind. Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that ten states were getting waivers from the controversial law’s requirements. The states would implement their own plans, approved by the Department of Education, for improving public schools. New Mexico, the only other state that applied, was not granted a waiver, but Duncan explained htat this was because its application was incomplete. A few days, he said, and the state would likely be approved. According to the Obama administration, 39 states have expressed interest in applying for waivers. The next round of applications will be due by the end of February. In the meantime, a fight about the future of educational improvement is unfolding both in Washington and in school districts around the country. As 2014—the deadline for total proficiency—gets closer, educators, parents,...

A Ride to School, Brought to You by Disney

(Flickr/redjar)
Ah, the old days when school buses were yellow, slow, and smelled funny. With state budget cuts to education around the country, more buses may soon stop being so yellow and instead become traveling billboards. (I'm guessing they're still going slow and smelly.) Legislatures in Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky are all considering bills to allow school buses to sport advertisements on the sides. In all three states, proponents argue that so many cuts to education budgets, the opportunity for more revenue can't be ignored. "My idea of a school bus is a little yellow school bus with happy children riding down a country road with a dog barking at the back," explained a Florida senator sponsoring the bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel . "Unfortunately, we're in times where we have to find every penny we can." Lest you think lawmakers are simply turning children over to the advertisers, the proposals don't allow alcohol and tobacco products to be advertised. But in Missouri, where the...

Football: Game of Life—and Texas Senate Races

Flickr/Parker Michael Knight
Meet Craig James. If you aren't a football fan, you've probably never heard of the guy. If you are inclined toward the pigskin, well, James's voice should be pretty familiar to you—he's been commentating at ESPN for 20 years after a short but successful career with the New England Patriots. He's also running for U.S. Senate in Texas. In a state where football is pretty much holy, James hews closely to the stereotype. He calls the Constitution "the playbook" and speaks in broad platitudes about hating Obama and loving America. Why isn't he afraid to stand up to power? Because, he explains, the last guy he was awed by was Patriots' quarterback Steve Grogan. While he argues that it's his experience as a rancher, father, and real-estate mogul that qualify him for office, he falls back on football as his primary qualification an awful lot. One Boston Globe profile gives a pretty clear portrait of the image that James wants to project: At home, James dons his blue jeans, cowboy hat, and...

Sam Brownback's Anti-Poor Agenda

Flickr/VictoryNH
The GOP presidential primary has offered some odd debates on who cares about the "very poor" and whether there should be a "safety net" or a "trampoline" to help people get out of poverty. Meanwhile, in Kansas, it seems Governor Sam Brownback is hoping to dig a bigger hole for the poor fall into. Between his tax plans and his approaches to school funding, Brownback's agenda overtly boosts the wealthy and makes things harder for the poor. While many liberals speculate this to be a secret goal, Brownback is hardly making a secret of his agenda. Currently, the Kansas Legislature is examining Brownback's plan to redesign education funding. The plan removes extra dollars for students who are more expensive to educate —those who must learn English or come from challenging backgrounds. Instead of providing funding based on the actual costs of education, Kansas would allow counties to raise property taxes and keep the revenue. That's great for wealthy districts with high property values and...

Ohio Governor John Kasich's Tightrope Walk

AP Photo/Al Behrman
John Kasich is in a bit of a bind. The Ohio governor is, on the one hand, the tough Republican who tried to bring right-to-work legislation to Ohio and reduce government spending. He's also the guy whose efforts to limit collective bargaining got knocked down by Ohio voters. Partisan divides seem to be growing in the Buckeye State. All of which was likely on his mind when Kasich gave his State of the State address today. The governor opted to give the speech at a school rather than at the state capitol, where it's traditionally given. It wasn't the only unusual choice of the day. He also tried to push for the same types of policies he's always advocated —but package them in moderate verbiage. For instance, he told the crowd that raising taxes was not an option, because it would hurt business. "It's not just a philosophy or some sort of an ideology," he explained. "It's what makes sense." Except that it is an ideology. Raising certain taxes—or not cutting them further—is hardly about...

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