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     By Kate Queram


Yesterday morning, my dog started barking and growling. I didn’t pay attention at first — my dog often informs me, loudly, that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IS HAPPENING — but after a minute of the frenzy, I finally looked up. And then I did a double take, because there in the window was a tiny kitten face, peering inquisitively into the room. It stayed there for a moment, eyes wide, before scampering off. The whole thing was delightful, and just weird enough that I might not have believed it if I hadn’t looked twice.

 The Big Takeaway

The double take is a mainstay of modern American politics, where the absurdity is so ubiquitous that “Wait, what?” might as well be our national slogan. Congress is spending its time dissing socialism! State Republicans are weirdly obsessed with drag shows! Chinese spy balloons are just drifting around our airspace, waiting to be shot down! It is hard to keep track of the ridiculousness (these stories are all from the last five days)! I lost my train of thought like 14 times in this paragraph alone!

My point is that it is weird, and that the weirdness is never-ending, which I will now prove by citing multiple new stories from states across the country. Let’s start in Montana, where Republicans on Monday advanced a proposal that would allow doctors to refuse medical service “based on conscience.” This, according to the bill’s sponsor, is not discriminatory, because it applies only to procedures — not to patients, the Daily Montanan reported.

See, they’re different, because one is a dock, and one is a PICTURE of a dock. (They’re the same thing.)(Photo by fran_kie/Adobe Stock)

See, they’re different, because one is a dock, and one is a PICTURE of a dock. (They’re the same thing.)
(Photo by fran_kie/Adobe Stock)

“To be clear, this bill would not give the right to refuse to serve a person,” explained state Rep. Amy Regier, a Kalispell Republican. “It would only apply to the narrow circumstances where a nurse or physician cannot conscientiously perform a specific procedure.” Examples of permissible “objections” include what Regier referred to as “lifestyle and elective procedures,” like abortion, assisted suicide and gender-affirming care for transgender patients.

This is, of course, a nutty argument — doctors treat patients, so when a doctor refuses to perform a procedure, they are, by definition, refusing to treat a patient. That’s true when the patient is seeking an abortion or a prescription for marijuana, but it’s especially true if the patient is seeking medical care that affirms and conforms to their own gender identity. 

State Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the first transgender woman elected to the statehouse, attempted to explain this by highlighting the legislation’s broad definition of “medical service,” which would give doctors, insurers and medical facilities carte blanche to refuse any procedure based on vague (and ostensibly private) reasons of personal conscience. The likely outcome, she said, is denial based on diagnosis — otherwise known as discrimination.

“That is inherently discriminatory, because you cannot parse my diagnoses from who I am,” said Zephyr, a Missoula Democrat. “To deny me based on my diagnosis of gender dysphoria is to deny me based on my being a trans woman.”

Literally just trying to exist.​​​​​​​(Photo by Getty Images)

Literally just trying to exist.
(Photo by Getty Images)

But supporters of the bill said it was a necessary protection for health-care providers who hold “traditional values.” (None explained from what, exactly, those providers might need protection.) Regier said the proposal could bolster employee retention in the state’s health-care workforce, which is a curious argument given the industry’s opposition to the bill. (A matter of conscience, one supposes.) But the best (oddest) proclamation of support came from the Republican who admitted that her own doctor stopped treating her because of the way she voted on a wolf-related bill two years ago.

“She has the right to not to give me care if she believes that strongly,” said state Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe (who, maddeningly, did not elaborate on the wolves). “Her oath of ‘do no harm,’ she can no longer uphold that if that’s what she believed in.”

Idaho lawmakers made a similar move to safeguard the beliefs of anti-vaxxers on Monday, advancing a bill that would prohibit a child’s immunization status from triggering a child protection investigation or a termination of parental rights. This has never happened in Idaho, but it has possibly happened elsewhere in the country, and that was apparently enough of a reason for members of the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee to approve the bill unanimously, per the Idaho Capital Sun.

Shots shots shots!​​​​​​​(Photo by Getty Images)

Shots shots shots!
(Photo by Getty Images)

The legislation, introduced by Republican state Sen. Brian Lenney, appears to have been based on unconfirmed reports of vaccine-related child protection investigations in Maine. Those reports came from Tiffany Kreck, co-founder of a Maine anti-vaccine group, who testified virtually to warn lawmakers that it’s becoming a “more prevalent” problem. 

Not everyone was impressed by this.

“Just because something happened in Maine does not mean it’s happening in Idaho,” sniffed state Sen. Linda Wright Hartgen, a Republican.

In all likelihood, it can’t happen in Idaho, which is one of 15 states where parents are allowed to exempt their children from immunizations based on religious, medical or “other” grounds. It’s still possible that a child’s vaccine status could appear in a child protection report, but state officials said there’s no way it would trigger the investigation itself. But that’s no reason not to ban it, according to Lenney.

“If we add a layer of protection that explicitly prohibits this, I don’t see how that could be a bad thing,” he said.

It just seems like a lot of time to spend on a non-problem when there are so many actual problems clamoring for attention. For example! Did you know that you can lose your home if you don’t pay your property tax debt, even if that debt is far less than the worth of the home? This is known as “home equity theft,” and it’s legal in 12 states, per the Nebraska Examiner.

Of course, it’s easier to repay that debt if your house has dollar bills shooting out of the roof.​​​​​​​(Photo by Getty Images)

Of course, it’s easier to repay that debt if your house has dollar bills shooting out of the roof.
(Photo by Getty Images)

Here’s how it works in Nebraska: Counties are allowed to sell property tax liens to third-party investors, who pay the homeowner’s overdue taxes. After three years of payments, that investor can seek the legal deed to the property. The owner theoretically then has a chance to repay the debt, but if that doesn’t happen, the investor can snatch the house — without having to reimburse the existing owner’s equity.

I cannot believe this is a real thing that happens, but it does — often, it turns out. Roughly 300 residences were seized this way in Nebraska’s most populous counties from 2014 to 2021, according to an analysis by the Pacific Legal Foundation. On average, those homeowners owed taxes worth 14% of the value of their houses, which generated $11 million for investors upon resale.

The procedure is the subject of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case, filed by a Minnesota woman in her 90s whose condo was seized by county officials to satisfy a $15,000 tax lien. The property fetched $40,000, leaving the municipality with a $25,000 surplus. The court’s decision could affect the process in Nebraska — but it could also be moot by then, depending on the fate of a legislative proposal that would require local governments to alert homeowners when they’re behind on their taxes and prohibit the loss of equity for those who can’t repay the debt.

The bill, awaiting a hearing before the Revenue Committee, has bipartisan support among lawmakers and interest groups, including the ACLU, Legal Aid of Nebraska and the Platte Institute, a conservative think tank in Omaha. Admittedly, it’s an easy cause to rally behind.

“This process does more than just recover property taxes,” said Jennifer Gaughan of Legal Aid Nebraska. “It strips low-income homeowners … of what little wealth they have acquired, and pushes them farther into poverty.”

Say what?: (Iowa) Mothers call for more parental say in restricting ‘obscene’ books in schoolsKansas lawmakers unveil bill to incentivize private education with public fundsHere’s what Brian Kelly’s $1 million overpayment could’ve paid for at LSU(Mississippi) Corporal punishment was used in schools 4,300 times last year. Here’s what districts are doing to change that.Missouri Senators debate bill barring discussion of sexual orientation, gender identity in schoolMontana students, teachers blast bill that would limit science education to ‘scientific fact’After controversial start of charity poker, Virginia might change the rules yet again

  State of Our Democracy

Happy State of the Union Day to all who celebrate! (No one celebrates.) President Joe Biden will deliver the annual address at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday night, where he’s expected to ask Congress to embrace bipartisanship to fight the fentanyl crisis, according to reporting from our bureau in D.C. But I am confident that request will go nowhere, given Republicans’ dedication to blaming said crisis on Biden, so we are going to talk instead about who will be there in person to watch the plea fall on deaf ears in real time!

Last year’s pleas.​​​​​​​(Photo by Getty Images)

Last year’s pleas.
(Photo by Getty Images)


Congressional members always invite guests to the State of the Union, which seems like a weird punishment — it’s a long and often exceedingly dull speech — until you realize that the guests are just a nonverbal way for lawmakers to signal their political priorities. (Historically, not all lawmakers have understood the “nonverbal” part.) Here’s a look at this year’s invitees, courtesy of our national outlet:

Invited by Democrats: Tyre Nichols’ parents, labor organizers, abortion rights activists, prominent Black lawmakers (Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Michigan Speaker of the House Joe Tate), teachers, and residents who benefited from key pieces of legislation, including the Inflation Reduction Act.

Attending with Republicans: Law enforcement officers, business owners (a popcorn CEO, a trucking executive) anti-LGBTQ humans, veterans, and a guy who saw a Republican congressman fall off a ladder.

Guests of the White House: A former Ohio State football player who quit the sport to focus his on mental health, a Holocaust survivor, a woman who nearly died after being denied a medical intervention because of Texas’ abortion laws, Bono.

Not attending: U.S. Rep. Mike Amodei (R-Nev.), who will “watch from home.”

Unknown as of press time: The designated survivor, forever and always the best thing about the State of the Union. (Also a TV show, which was just OK.)


   From The Newsrooms

One Last Thing

A 6-year-old in Michigan accidentally ordered $1,000 worth of takeout on his dad’s Grubhub account, prompting Grubhub to gift the family a $1,000 gift card.

I’m hungry.​​​​​​​(via Giphy)

I’m hungry.
(via Giphy)


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