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.
Idaho Representatives provided the latest example of Republican ingnorance regarding women’s health this week. Idaho House Republicans of Representatives succeeded in passing out of committee HB 516, a bill requiring that doctors provide women seeking an abortion with options for a free ultrasound. The bill is so expansive in its ultrasound information requirement that it does not even allow an exception for women who are pregnant as the result of rape or incest. The extremist language of the bill did not seem to bother Republicans, who evoked the memory of Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment in their debate on the bill. Most notable was Representative Pete Nielsen, who argued that the “trauma” involved in rape prevents it from causing pregnancies in most cases, meaning that there would be few women seeking abortion for that reason. This flies in the face of scientific studies, many of which have concluded that rape is more likely than consensual sex to cause pregnancy. Representative Nielsen later stood by his remarks under press questioning, but admitted that he was not sure that his information was entirely accurate. The committee hearing also included “expert testimony” from Angela Dwyer, a representative from a crisis pregnancy center. These kinds of facilities have faced serious criticism for providing inaccurate information to prevent women from having access to abortions. Overall, the passage of the bill in the GOP-dominated legislature does not bode well for women’s health -- or general reason.
Oregon Democrats scored a strong win on behalf of working families on Wednesday by passing a new “tiered” minimum wage increase. The law gives Oregon one of the highest minimum wage rates in the country, topping out in Portland, which is set to receive a minimum wage of $14.75 per hour by 2022. However, the law is also a compromise that reflects the diversity of the state’s economy by allowing for wage variations across the state. For instance, the state’s midsize counties will only see their minimum wage increase to $12.50 per hour by 2022. President Barack Obama praised the bill as a model for the rest of the country and encouraged local communities and state governments around the nation to make similar wage increases. The compromise bill provides an important boost for the state, especially since the GOP-controlled Congress is unlikely to act on a federal minimum wage increase any time soon.
As the Michigan state legislature’s investigation continues to accumulate evidence that Governor Snyder had prior knowledge of the contamination of Flint’s water supply, Democrats have stepped up calls for his resignation. The crisis resulted from the Snyder administration’s decision to reduce state spending by switching Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which contained higher levels of pollution. Two years after the contamination began, the crisis revealed itself in October of 2015, when Snyder administration officials finally admitted to the existence of dangerous substances in Flint’s water, despite several earlier claims to the contrary. A Freedom of Information Act request from state Democrats brought to light an email from all the way back in February 2015 warning the Governor’s administration against continued use of the Flint River. Even General Motors had previously stopped using that body of water, as it contained such high levels of lead and pollutants that it caused the company’s machinery parts to rust. The news led House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel to demand Governor Snyder’s resignation. Governor Snyder has refused to step down and lashed out at Democrats for “politicizing” the water problems, which have resulted in a tripling of lead poisoning cases in the city.
The controversial campaign of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump may result in disaster for Republican candidates in the Wisconsin state legislature. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has warned that many Republican voters in the state do not trust Trump as a true conservative and will not vote if he is the Republican presidential nominee. This year, the Wisconsin state Assembly, half the state Senate, one U.S. Senator, and all U.S. House members face reelection. Disillusionment with Trump and the GOP as a whole could allow Democrats the opportunity to reverse the extreme right-wing direction in which Republican control has steered the state.
While the news was largely overshadowed in the excitement of Super Tuesday, Massachusetts Democrats racked up three victories in special state House elections. Democrats Thomas Walsh, Gerard Cassidy, and Stephan Hay won their elections on Tuesday despite significant resources expended by Republican Governor Charlie Baker to create Republican momentum. Governor Baker personally campaigned against Walsh and Cassidy. Thomas Walsh's victory flipped a district formerly held by a Republican, further adding to Democrats' commanding majority in the chamber.