Focus on the States: Florida and Arkansas copy Georgia’s extreme voting restrictions

This week we start with positive news in the “Progress” section!


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The Washington Supreme Court, arguably the most diverse in American history, has issued three progressive, game-changing rulings in the first three months of 2021 – setting an example for Biden’s judicial picks to follow.

  • In January, the court reinstated a verdict against the Tacoma Police, awarding $250,000 to a woman whose home was mistakenly raided and making it easier for victims to sue law enforcement for violating their rights.
  • The court effectively decriminalized drug possession in February by striking down the state’s criminal law on the grounds that it did not require prosecutors to prove intent; in other words, justices found it unconstitutional as a violation of the tenet that people are innocent until proven guilty. Decades of felony possession cases were invalidated as a result.
  • Then, in March, the court overturned the automatic life-without-parole sentences given to two men when they were 19- and 20-years-old, effectively banning the practice for offenders under 21 years old.

On Wednesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill restoring the right to vote for Washingtonians convicted of felonies automatically upon their release from prison. Roughly 20,000 people will regain their right to vote when the law takes effect next year, according to the state Department of Corrections. Previously, those on parole or community supervision would not regain voting rights until completing all conditions.

New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham signed a marijuana legalization bill into law on Monday, making her state the 17th to allow residents to possess and grow marijuana. “We’re going to start righting past wrongs of this country’s failed war on drugs,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. Retail marijuana sales are set to begin by early next year.

Nevada has moved closer to abolishing the death penalty after years of failed attempts at the state Legislature. On Tuesday, the Assembly (equivalent to State House of Representatives) approved of Assembly Bill 395 to end capital punishment 26-16, sending it to the Senate. Democrats currently control both houses and the governorship, increasing the likelihood that the bill could become law.

Further reading:

KY: Kentucky limits no-knock warrants after Breonna Taylor death

MD: Maryland lawmakers override GOP governor’s vetoes to enact police reform measures

VA: Virginia becomes the first state in the South to ban gay and trans panic as a defense

WI: In 5-2 ruling, the Wisconsin Supreme Court keeps thousands of voters on the rolls

Voting rights and elections

The Republican-controlled Arkansas legislature passed three bills that implement voting restrictions similar to those recently signed into law in Georgia, including a ban on providing water to people in line and stricter absentee ballot procedures. If Gov. Asa Hutchinson signs the bills into law, it will be illegal for election officials to send voters unsolicited absentee ballots applications and impose new signature match regulations.

ACLU: “These bills don’t just make it harder to vote, they also make it easier for partisan politicians to interfere with local election administrators – something that could have disastrous consequences for democracy. These bills will make it harder for all voters – of all political stripes – to make their voices heard.”

  • Arkansas lawmakers are close to passing two other bills that restrict voting rights: Senate Bill 643, shortening the submission time for absentee ballot applications and banning drop boxes for applications, and Senate Bill 644, which gives state lawmakers the power to get involved in election issues – potentially allowing partisan lawmakers to throw out ballots or fire officials who they disagree with.

The Michigan State legislature is moving forward on dozens of bills that restrict voting rights, despite major businesses speaking out in opposition. The package includes measures that ban sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications, require identification to apply for absentee ballots, shorten the time frame to return absentee ballot applications, prohibit prepaid postage for absentee ballot return envelopes, require video surveillance of drop boxes for absentee ballots, and take power away from local election officials. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has promised to veto any restrictive bills. In response, Republicans are considering turning the legislation into a voter initiative that would allow them to circumvent a veto; 340,000 signatures would cement the measures into law without the governor’s approval.

  • AP: “The leaders of three-dozen major Michigan-based companies, including General Motors and Ford, on Tuesday objected to Republican-sponsored election bills that would make it harder to vote in Michigan and other states.”

The Florida House and Senate are currently debating two different versions of a bill to change the state’s vote-by-mail process. Senate Bill 90 would eliminate mail-in ballot drop boxes altogether, while the House Appropriations Committee amended the bill to allow drop boxes only if they are “continuously monitored in person” during regular office hours and “monitored by video surveillance” after hours. The House plan makes it illegal to provide food and water to voters waiting in line; both plans require voters to provide identification to register to vote online or make changes to their registration.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing for the legislature to include more stringent language on how voter’s signatures are matched to those on record, potentially leading to more ballot rejections. Undermining his proposal is his own signature: According to NBC Miami, DeSantis’ mail ballot in 2016 was rejected by election officials because his signature did not match his other signatures on file. A visual investigation by the Tampa Bay Times shows how the Governor’s signature has changed over the years.

Will Smith is moving the production of his new slave-era film out of Georgia in protest of the state’s new voting restrictions. “Emancipation” was set to begin filming on June 21; it is not known what state Smith and director Antoine Fuqua will choose as a replacement.

“We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access. The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting.”

Further reading:

IA: Gov. Kim Reynolds signs law shortening Iowa’s early and Election Day voting

MO: Missouri House Republicans push through legislation requiring voters to present a photo ID

TX: The Texas Senate has approved a new statewide appeals court. Critics contend it’s another attempt to limit Democrats’ power.

TX: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will review Crystal Mason’s controversial illegal-voting conviction: The Tarrant County woman faces a five-year prison sentence for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while on supervised release for a federal conviction. Her vote was never counted.

Transgender rights

Last week, Arizona became the first state to ban gender-affirming treatments and surgery for transgender youth. The Republican-controlled legislature voted last Tuesday to override a veto of the bill by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who said it went too far in interfering with decisions made by parents and doctors. Opponents of the bill – like Dr. Robert Garofalo, the division head of adolescent and young adult medicine at Lurie Children’s hospital in Chicago – argue that the ban ignores science and “perpetuates the very things we know are harmful to trans youth.” The ACLU reportedly plans on challenging the law in court before it can take effect.

  • Despite Hutchinson’s veto, he is far from being an LGBTQ-ally. Just a few weeks ago, the Governor signed into law legislation that allows doctors to refuse to treat a person due to religious or moral objections – allowing providers to deny treatment of LGTBQ patients.

The Arkansas State House passed another anti-transgender bill last week, meant to prevent schools from requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred pronouns. Rep. Mary Bentley, a Republican and sponsor of HB 1749, claims teachers are scared of being taken to court if they choose against calling a transgender student by their preferred name. She has also argued that more bills like this are needed because “we have students in school now that don’t identify as a boy or a girl but as a cat, as a furry”.

Representative Fred Love (D) took the podium to speak out against the legislation: “Refer to someone as they choose to be referred to,” he said. “That’s not hard. That’s not difficult. That’s just a bit of decency and a bit of respect, and I think that’s what we need to do.”

Meanwhile, the Texas State Senate is considering a bill that would criminalize parents who consent to gender-affirming care for their trans kids. SB 1646, sponsored by 13 Republicans, aims to rewrite that state child abuse law to include these parents alongside child porn producers and facilitators of forced child marriages. The bill was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday; no public hearing is yet scheduled.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association Board of Governors announced on Monday that it will only hold championship events in locations where transgender student-athletes can participate without discrimination. Such a policy could result in profit-generating events being pulled from dozens of states, as almost 30 are currently considering legislation that would ban transgender athletes. So far in 2021, ArkansasMississippiSouth Dakota, and Tennessee have signed such bills into law.

“Our approach — which requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women’s sports — embraces the evolving science on this issue and is anchored in participation policies of both the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee,” the statement said.

Further reading:

FL: Florida House passes bill banning transgender athletes from women’s sports

NC: North Carolina bill would ban treatment for trans people under 21

TN: ‘We are appalled’ 180+ businesses call on Tennessee lawmakers to oppose anti-LGBTQ bills

TN: Anti-gay legislation could censor teachers, critics say

The Republican Party Finds a New Group to Demonize: The recent wave of anti-trans legislation follows a decades-long pattern of the GOP targeting those they think lack the numbers or votes to properly fight back.


Arizona State Rep. Mark Finchem (R), who attended the January 6 insurrection, has launched a campaign to be Arizona’s next secretary of state. Not only did Finchem participate in the attack on the Capitol, “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander said in a January interview that the movement to overturn Biden’s win in Arizona “started with” the state representative. Finchem spent the weeks prior to the insurrection spreading conspiracies on social media, leading to Trump praising him by name at a Jan. 4 rally.

“Since my very first election, I knew something was very wrong with our elections process,” Finchem claims on his website. “Then on November 3rd, 2020, the unthinkable happened: Americans witnessed real-time reallocation of votes from one candidate to another, broadcast on national television.”

A candidate for New Jersey’s state Assembly is an Oath Keeper who worked “a security detail” at the Capitol during the insurrection. Edward Durfee is backed by the Bergen County Republican Organization, the official GOP chapter in the state’s most populous county.

The Florida state Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill that classifies certain demonstrations and protests as felonies, moving it one vote away from the Governor’s desk. The House approved of the measure, HB1, in a 76-39 vote last month. Critics of the bill, like the ACLU, warn that the anti-protest bill “aims to silence, criminalize, and penalize Floridians for exercising their First Amendment right to protest”:

If signed into law, peaceful protesters could be arrested and imprisoned for up to five years and lose their voting rights, even if they didn’t engage in any violent and disorderly conduct. It will also increase violence at protests and embolden vigilantes by shielding them from civil liability if they kill or injure protesters, protect confederate monuments, and allow the Governor to overrule local budgetary decisions.

The Texas State Senate is again trying to pass a bill that bans local government from requiring businesses to offer paid sick leave. Senate Bill 14 is being pushed after several cities – Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio – attempted to mandate benefits for employees, though none are currently being enforced due to court rulings. Just last month, District Judge Sean Jordan (a Trump appointee) blocked Dallas’ ordinance from taking effect.