Each day, the DLCC’s experts comb through statehouse political news across the country to stay on top of the latest developments. Here are five stories that may have flown under your radar this week.
Republican governor of Maine Paul LePage is known for bending laws to suit his needs, but now his antics have brought him into conflict with the state attorney general. This week, he insisted that a state commission studying educational funding should holds its meetings in private. No reporters, photographers, or educational organization representatives were allowed access to the proceedings. Democratic leaders, including Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland and Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon of Freeport, attempted to stop the meeting because it would conflict with Maine’s open government law. LePage denied their requests. Attorney General Janet Mills confirmed that the meeting violated Maine law. The LePage administration has refused to admit any fault in the matter despite the legal rebuke and attempted to justify the closed-door meeting as an “informal” gathering focused on establishing relationships between participating legislators. However, the LePage administration later released over 60 pages of reports that meeting attendees received, revealing that the meeting did concern important policy matters.
Doctors and physicians in Florida filed a brief with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week attacking a Republican- and National Rifle Association-backed law that prevents doctors from discussing gun ownership with their patients. These medical professionals have argued that such a discussion is necessary to properly advise patients about the potential risks involved in the ownership of firearms. The medical community has concerned itself with firearms possession for many years, so these kinds of patient discussions are not a new intrusion into political affairs. In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended the absence of guns in the home as the best means of preventing gun-related injury or suicide. Despite this important concern and clear First Amendment issues, the state has promised to defend the law.
Despite strong evidence of American acceptance of the LGTB community, Tennessee Republicans legislating discrimination against the gay and transgender community. This week, Republican Governor Bill Haslam signed legislation backed by his party that allowed therapists to refuse to serve the LGTB community based on their religious beliefs. The governor and the bill’s Republican sponsors in the legislature defended the bill based on concerns over religious discrimination against Christian therapists who believe homosexuality is a sin. The American Civil Liberties Union and Equality Tennessee, an organization that fights for gay rights, condemned the new law. Many critics point out that the measure could lead to problems accessing mental health care for members of the LGTB community, many of whom face persecution from their families and communities and are actually at a higher risk of suicide than the rest of the population.
This week saw Vermont expand democracy by establishing automatic voter registration. The Democratic-majority state legislature past the measure last month, and Governor Peter Shumlin signed it into law on Thursday. The law would potentially add 30,000 to 50,000 voters to the Vermont voter rolls. This development in Vermont continues a nationwide trend where Democratics have pushed legislation to increase voter participation through automatic voter registration. For example, Oregon has implemented automatic voter registration, and California has passed legislation that will begin an automatic registration system. West Virginia is the only Republican controlled legislature to expand the voting population this way. Often, Republicans have expressed fear of voter fraud when opposing automatic registration. However, their fears are often blown out of proportion, since cases of voter fraud are extremely rare.
Many corporations have joined in with Democratic criticism of state laws restricting the rights of the LGTB community, but further inquiry reveals that some of these companies contributed to organizations that helped elect the GOP lawmakers who draft and support this legislation. More than 100 corporations have denounced the state government of North Carolina for its new law that prevents the transgender community from using bathrooms in accordance with their gender identity. However, 45 of these companies had previously donated to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has worked to elect Republicans in the state. The passage of North Carolina’s HB2 has caused some companies, such as Microsoft, to indicate that they may reconsider future contributions.