Seriously, WTFlorida?! How the GOP Pushed Through Its Zombie Attack on Trans Kids

Attack of the zombie bills

Welcome to a Thursday evening edition of Progressives Everywhere!

Normally, weeknight editions of this newsletter are sent just to premium subscribers. But tonight, with a number of major breaking developments in stories that I have been covering for months, I’m sending the newsletter to the entire general subscriber list.

Florida’s Night of the Living Dead

Bad news: Florida Republicans’ cruel proposal to ban trans girls from playing high school sports was unexpectedly revived yesterday and crammed through both houses of the state legislature in a late-night party-line vote. The bigoted bill now sits on the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is almost certain to sign it.

The anti-trans bill, which this newsletter covered in detail earlier this month, was thought to be dead for the year after its Senate side sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargell, temporarily postponed it a little over a week ago. Its return and subsequent passage were acts of legislative sabotage.

According to Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani, one of the chamber’s most vocal opponents of the ban, the minority caucus began hearing rumors about the resurrection of two zombie bills on Wednesday morning. The whispers were about two GOP priorities: the trans discrimination proposal and an anti-democratic reversal of citizen-approved environmental protection laws in Key West

Democrats began ringing alarm bells and signaling to allies that a major fight was brewing, and soon enough, the trans ban was added as an amendment to an unrelated charter school bill, which Eskamani had already voted against in its original form.

“The title of the bill changed, so when it came back to [the House], they put this amendment on it, bringing the trans bill back to life,” Eskamani explains. “We actually did a point of order saying that adding this amendment was not privy to the subject of the bill and thus it should not be considered, but when you're up against the majority party, they decide the rules. The rules chair went against us and said it was related to the subject matter.” 

Wary of slowing the momentum of their resurrected hate legislation, the GOP chair provided just an hour and 15 minutes of time to discuss the amendment.

Democrats filed further amendments in hopes of making the bill “less harsh,” but the Republicans were unwilling to relent, with leadership insisting that the absence of the last version of the bill’s most unfathomable and appalling provision was enough to fast-track the legislation.

“They said ‘This is a compromise because we removed the genital inspection aspect,’ but I'm sorry, that's not a compromise,” Eskamani says. “The fact that genital inspections were even considered is disgusting and shameful, so it’s not a compromise to remove them — they never should have been included in the first place. We're not going to start from your heinous position.”

Instead of genital inspections, Republicans substituted in a clause that requires a female athlete to produce an original birth certificate if anyone doubts their gender. Beyond the abject immorality, this provision presents plenty of its own practical issues. Low-income families or families that frequently move are less likely to keep hold of original birth certificates, while immigrants from developing countries often do not have theirs at all. Not that Republicans were even aware of these problems.

“I saw Republicans in front of me on the floor googling ‘birth certificates’ right as we questioned them; it was so pathetic,” Eskamani reveals, laughing to keep from raging. “I actually interrupted them — I was like, ‘Are you googling birth certificates? Is that because you don't know the impact of your bill?’”

The impact was beside the point; Republicans wanted to score a blow in the culture wars they continue to stoke. DeSantis has been baiting outrage by pushing bills like this anti-trans legislation and severe voting rights restrictions; amplifying the resultant anger and blowback from progressive groups and corporations; and then firing back with thuggish threats and dog whistles, sneering and shouting and ginning up the guttural anger of the right-wing base that he hopes will lift him to the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. 

Never mind that DeSantis is going back on his word on policies such as cracking down on the big sugar producers that have polluted Florida’s waterways and skies for generations; their heavy campaign spending last year was enough to win them DeSantis’s signature on a new law giving them immunity from lawsuits. Principles aren’t the point.

In Florida, the dysfunction of the Democratic Party has allowed Republicans to dominate despite their increasingly extremist policies and frequent reversals of popular voter-approved laws. This week, trans kids were just another casualty of their lust for power and congenital cruelty.

Important News You Need to Know

Missouri: What once seemed like just a temporary performative messaging gambit became a legislative reality on Wednesday, as the Republican supermajority in the Missouri State Senate passed an annual budget that does not include funding for the Medicaid expansion approved by voters last August.

Four Republicans sided with all 10 Democrats in support of providing the money necessary to transform Missouri’s obscenely skimpy low-income health care program to cover families making up to 138% of the poverty line, but given the GOP’s huge majority, the party’s right flank still proved victorious on the issue.

“I think some folks will paint this vote as a litmus test of how conservative you are, how steadfast you are in your opposition to Medicaid expansion,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a long-time opponent of the program who switched his vote to side with Democrats, said on the floor. “I think we will have to fund this population sooner than later ... I think it’s the right thing to do, right now with the variables in front of us.”

Over 53% of Missourians voted to approve a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid last August, but Republicans have vowed to ignore the will of voters. What happens now? I spoke about it with Missouri State House Minority Leader Crystal Quade in Tuesday’s edition of the newsletter, which you can read right here.

The Gig Economy: OK, now for some good news. In an interview with Reuters published earlier today, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said that both he and President Biden believe that in many cases, workers who connect with work through apps like Uber and Lyft should be considered employees of those companies.

Tens of millions of Americans have turned to app-based work over the past decade, and because the apps that connect them with gigs consider them contract workers, they have been denied the compensation and protection that the law grants full-time employees.

“We are looking at it, but in a lot of cases gig workers should be classified as employees," Walsh said in the interview. “These companies are making profits and revenue and I’m not (going to) begrudge anyone for that, because that’s what we are about in America. But we also want to make sure that success trickles down to the worker.”

In 2019, California legislators passed a law, known as AB 5, that would have required apps like Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers and other workers as full-time employees. The companies refused to comply and poured $200 million into a successful campaign for Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that cynically tricked voters into thinking they were helping ride-share drivers and Instacart shoppers. Instead, the initiative actually exempts app-based companies from having to provide fair pay and benefits.

The Department of Labor has the power to override the initiative and labor advocates are pushing Walsh to do just that.

South Dakota: Speaking of undoing ballot initiatives, the State Supreme Court in South Dakota just heard a government-backed challenge to the constitutional amendment to legalized marijuana approved by 54% of the state’s voters in November. Both the legislature and sociopathic Gov. Kristi Noem do not want to recognize the peoples’ desire to get blazed in the Badlands, so they’re hoping to invalidate the law.

The stakes are big here, and not just for weed legalization. If successful, the challenge would set a precedent that could seriously complicate a brand new ballot initiative for Medicaid expansion launched by our friends at the Fairness Project.

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