The good (?) news is that today’s digest of nightmares from our political hellscape is not entirely focused on anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Alas, the political hellscape does not give without also taking away, and so the bad news is that the nightmares extend far beyond one topic. (Are we great again yet?)
The Big Takeaway
Since we’re extremely familiar with the anti-LGBTQ+ bills here at the Evening Wrap, we’ll start there — or more specifically, in Montana, where Senate Republicans on Wednesday approved a bill that would define “sex” based on reproductive organs, effectively eliminating legal recognition of nonbinary and transgender people. Six Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure, which one lawmaker characterized as among the most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ proposals in the country, per the Daily Montanan.
“It erases human beings from our legal code,” said state Sen. Mary Ann Dunwell, a Helena Democrat. “It erases trans people, and tens of thousands of Montanans with differences in sexual development. It erases them from law.”
Sex, according to the bill, is the “organization of the body and gametes for reproduction in human beings,” who can be classified as “exactly two sexes, male and female.” The proposed definition of each sex relies entirely on a person’s reproductive system — for females, the production of “a relatively large, relatively immobile gamete, or egg;” for males, “small mobile gametes, or sperm.” An amendment approved Wednesday would broaden those categories to include intersex traits.
Democrats lambasted the legislation as discriminatory, but state Sen. Carl Glimm, the Republican who sponsored it, said the bill is actually meant to ward off discrimination by codifying a distinction between sex and gender. In a misguided attempt to justify the change, Glimm invoked a lawsuit over his equally discriminatory proposal to restrict transgender Montanans’ ability to change the gender marker on their birth certificates. The judge in that case incorrectly conflated sex and gender, according to Glimm, who did not appear to duck as the point soared directly over his head.
“Years ago, these used to mean the same thing,” Glimm said. “But they don’t anymore.”
It’s a nice story, if you’re into fiction. Alas, the state of Montana exists in the world of nonfiction, where agencies depend on federal funding streams that can be revoked for violations of nondiscrimination laws. At least two state departments told lawmakers that the bill would likely undercut those policies, jeopardizing federal dollars and inviting costly legal challenges. But Republicans dismissed those claims as speculation. The bill can’t possibly invite discrimination lawsuits, they said, because they did not intend for it to discriminate.
“It’s not because I hate somebody, it’s not because I want to discriminate against somebody. And it’s not because I don’t approve of your gender, or how you want to live your lifestyle,” said Sen. Greg Hertz, a Republican. “This bill is about a definition.”
Definitions were decidedly less of a focus in Arizona, where Republicans on Wednesday advanced a proposal to prohibit the State Bar and the Arizona Supreme Court from disciplining attorneys or revoking their licenses for “bringing a good faith, non-frivolous claim that is based in law and fact to court.” This, per the bill, amounts to “infringing” or “impeding” the attorney’s “political speech,” punishable by a fine equal to 10% of each organization’s revenue, per the Arizona Mirror.
The bill is the brainchild of state Sen. Anthony Kern, one of three Republicans who filed a defamation lawsuit against former state lawmaker Charlene Fernandez after she and other Democrats sent a letter asking the FBI to investigate the trio’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Kern and his cohorts had to pay Fernandez $75,000 in attorney fees after a judge deemed their lawsuit “groundless.”
But that lawsuit is totally irrelevant to the bill, Kern said Wednesday at a legislative hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. (I mean, so is Tucker Carlson’s idiotic rewriting of Jan. 6, but he still talked about that...) More cogent examples of persecuted attorneys, he said, include Rudy Giuliani, who lost his license to practice law in New York after filing multiple bogus election fraud cases; and state Rep. Alexander Kolodin, a Scottsdale Republican and attorney who had a Bar complaint filed against him for his participation in a failed election lawsuit on behalf of the Trump campaign in 2020.
Kolodin, who sits on the committee, said that was a little “awkward.” (Not awkward enough to recuse himself from the deliberation, so: Mildly awkward!) Still, he acknowledged, Bar complaints are a real problem for law firms whose attorneys choose to represent Republicans in baseless election lawsuits.
“We always have random people filing Bar complaints against us,” Kolodin said of his firm. “It does, indeed, make it a very aggravating situation.”
Kolodin did not seem aggravated by the bill itself, so I guess it’s up to me to point out its many aggravating features. To begin with, nobody — not even Kern! — can explain who would enforce the no-sanctions policy. (The courts? Seems unlikely. The legislature? Seems problematic. “I will find that out,” Kern promised, which seems both unlikely and problematic.) It’s also unclear why it’s needed — which is to say that it isn’t, because neither the Arizona Bar nor the state Supreme Court are in the business of sanctioning lawyers who bring good-faith, evidence-based claims to court.
When the case is political in nature and rooted in conspiracy, though? That’s fair game.
“The court is a forum with a purpose to fairly resolve disputes within the bounds of professional ethics rules,” the Arizona Supreme Court said in a statement. “The courts are not a forum for political speech when that speech does not have a basis in fact or law.”
A basis of fact: (Arizona) Advocacy groups call on Toma to stop ‘bullying’ of GOP critics at the Capitol … Arkansas House approves bill to hold libraries accountable for ‘obscene’ material … Colorado Democrats say gun bills will reduce violence. Here’s what experts say. … Connecticut could loosen qualifications to run for Attorney General … Kentucky House approves book challenge bill after multiple attempts to alter it fail … VP Harris highlights reproductive rights progress in Michigan amid state, federal attacks … Nebraska lawmaker threatened with censure for comparing transgender legislation with genocide … Déjà vu: North Carolina Supreme Court rehears arguments in voter ID case … Ohio bill limits, and mandates, what is taught in college in name of free speech … ‘DATA Act’ would create consistency in Ohio voting records, supporters say … In Virginia, school boards will be the primary deciders on AP African American studies … Virginia delegate says he’ll resign current seat to run for new one
The U.S. Department of Defense will stop purchasing PFAS-laden firefighting foam this year and will phase it out entirely in 2024, per reporting from our national bureau in D.C. The announcement caps years of advocacy from environmental groups and criticism from lawmakers over the prolonged use of a product containing so-called “forever chemicals,” which do not break down naturally and pose health risks to humans and ecosystems.
The Department of Defense began using the foam decades ago, after 134 sailors died aboard the USS Forrestal in a 1967 fire that was exacerbated by water. The Pentagon hasn’t found a replacement for the foam, a choice that will likely wield tremendous influence over other agencies that use it as a fire suppressant, including commercial airports and the U.S. Forest Service.
“The problem with PFAS is it’s a highly effective fire remedy. The other problem, of course, is it’s indestructible,” said House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Ken Calvert (R-Calif.). “So we need to find a solution. We need to find a replacement. It’s been a lot harder than expected, but they’re working on it.”
Environmental advocates in Nevada are working on a different project: Protecting the white-margined penstemon, a small pink bell-shaped wildflower that grows in a four-county stretch across the Mojave Desert. It’s a highly adaptable plant, but it’s still no match for a pair of development proposals that would plow directly through its habitat, the Nevada Current reported.
Unfortunately for the flower, those projects have high-profile backers. Nevada’s congressional delegation and the Clark County Commission are behind a bid to expand city boundaries for development, and a proposed transmission line and solar project would be carried out by NV Energy, an arm of billionaire Warren Buffett’s conglomerate. Given the stakes, “this is a very political little wildflower,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
The center last week petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the plant as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, citing “habitat loss and catastrophic drought” as key contributors to population declines in all four of the flower’s key regions. The danger exists even without large-scale development, according to a 2021 study commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that gave the wildflower a 50% chance of extinction in the next 50 years due to climate change and habitat destruction.
Federal regulators on Wednesday proposed a threatened listing for the non-plant sunflower sea star, an enormous 24-legged creature that’s been decimated by disease, per the Alaska Beacon. NOAA Fisheries estimates that roughly 90% of sunflower sea stars have succumbed to Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, which causes the animals’ legs to fall off and ultimately disintegrates their bodies. (There’s a reason they call it “zombie disease.”) Biologists believe that climate change may contribute to outbreaks of the disease, which tend to correspond with Pacific marine heat waves.
If the listing is confirmed, it would be the first for a sea star under the Endangered Species Act, and most of the details are still in flux, including any potential impacts to commercial fisheries. But officials confirmed that they would not designate a critical habitat for the sea star. That would be impossible, they said, because it lives in too many places.
“We know that it occurs around kelp forests. We know that it’s a part of that ecosystem and an integral part of it. But the animal is also found over rock piles, sand, mudflats, eelgrass meadows. It’s found all over the place,” said Dayv Lowry, the NOAA Fisheries biologist who led the status review. “At this point, we’re saying the animal is protected anywhere and everywhere you encounter it.”
EVERYWHERE: (Iowa) Pipeline permit hearing will be held during harvest … Ahead of GOP hearing, New Jersey stresses no link between offshore wind and whale deaths … (New Hampshire) Easterseals school gets major energy efficiency upgrades, thanks to NHSaves program … (New Mexico) Bill at governor’s desk to require more expertise and diversity for state stream commissioners … (New Mexico) Few disaster relief measures are scattered throughout historic budget funding bills
Caught Our Eye
A Black family from Georgia is fighting to be reunited with their five young children (ages: four months old, 2, 3, 5 and 7), who were placed in state custody in Tennessee after the Department of Children Services determined there was “probable cause” the kids were neglected. Their evidence? A traffic stop, per the Tennessee Lookout.
Every detail in this story is nauseating. The family was traveling to a funeral. They were stopped by a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer for “dark tint” and “traveling in the left lane while not actively passing.” Deonte Williams, the kids’ father, was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Bianca Clayborne, their mom, was cited but not arrested. Police told her she could leave with the kids and follow the patrol car to post bond for Williams. DCS sought the emergency court order as she waited for him. Officers restrained her as she tried to reach for her crying infant. In its petition, DCS claimed there was no “less drastic” alternative than separating the children from their parents.
No one asked Clayborne for her personal information. Social workers did not request health or dietary information about her children, she said. They did not immediately tell her how to find out where her children were or how to access the court order explaining why they were taken.
“I just sat there crying, crying, crying,” she told the Lookout. “They didn’t give me anything. They just ran off with my kids.”
From The Newsrooms
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