News Abortion

When it Comes to Legislation in Mississippi, the Lieutenant Governor Calls the Shots

Robin Marty

Filling the entire legislature with politicians who support reproductive rights may be a a huge task, but there is one position to focus on first. The lieutenant governor.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has become the face of the enemy to many in the reproductive rights movement. Between his close contacts with the local anti-choice activists both before, during and after his election in 2011 and his obvious zeal for trying to end access to abortion in the state, Bryant has become the focal point for national advocates concerned that the constitutional right to an abortion may become non-existent to the women of Mississippi.

Imagine my surprise when I was told that if the Democrats hadn’t let Tate Reeves run unopposed, this battle might not be happening at all.

Where I come from, in Minnesota, the governor and lieutenant governor run as a team on a joint ticket. For the Democrats, it is a gender-balanced set of candidates due to party bylaws, for Republicans gender balance sometimes occurs as well, although by choice. Either way the lieutenant governor‘s role, regardless of party, is largely ceremonial.

Not so in Mississippi, where the lieutenant governor has possibly the most influential role in the entire state legislature. For a bill to become a law, it needs a signature from the governor. For a bill to even get a vote, though, it needs the unspoken blessing of the lieutenant governor.

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Mississippi Public Radio reporter Jeffery Hess was kind enough to give me the rundown on how a bill becomes a law over lunch on Tuesday. Hess explained that the lieutenant governor, as the head of the senate, has far more power than the governor due to his ability to assign which bills will be heard by which committees in the senate. Really want to see a bill pass? That’s when you send it to a friendly committee, knowing that they will make sure it gets to the floor. Not as excited about another bill? The lieutenant governor will throw it to a hostile committee to be sure it never sees the light of day.

It’s a practice we saw in action last year, when the 2012 “heartbeat ban” bill was sent into Judiciary, where Democratic chair Hob Bryan killed it. And then he killed it again.

Obviously, it’s not a fool-proof system. If you look at the “heartbeat ban” for example, members managed to tack it onto other bills that had already passed out of committee in an attempt to push it out. But Bryan still managed thwart its path to the floor for a full vote.

If the power of the governor and the governor’s mighty veto pen is one worth playing for, the power to steer bills to committees that can push or block legislation is just as important, if not more so. After all, a bill that doesn’t get a vote will never need to be signed or vetoed. Yet in 2011, the Democratic party in Mississippi didn’t even run a candidate to challenge Reeves. Some of this is all armchair quarterbacking and hindsight. In 2011 Reeves was a mostly unknown quantity, a young Republican superstar who had won a convincing victory to be the state’s first Republican treasurer when he was still in his late 20’s. The party was already struggling to financially back candidates in other races, including the governor, and had Amendment 26 to fight as well.

Because his earlier position didn’t delve so much into social issues, it may not have been clear from the start what Reeve’s stance on abortion would be and how much it would influence state policy. Once he moved in April to oust Dr. Carl Reddix, a physician who had a loose affiliation with Jackson Women’s Health Organization, off the state medical board, citing the need for a “qualified doctor” to take over Reddix’s appointment, his views became much more clear.

Would having a reproductive rights supporter in the lieutenant governor role have made a difference on TRAP? It’s hard to tell. After all, the bill also went through Bryan’s judiciary committee, and that one he allowed out for a vote. It’s unclear if there would have been a different committee available that could have kept it from hitting the floor. If nothing else though, at least there would have been a chance to block it from a vote, something that was impossible with an abortion opponent in the seat.

Turning the full legislature is no doubt a pipe dream. But when it comes to finding the one most influential position to try to ensure a reproductive rights-friendly politician is placed, the lieutenant governor is an office to keep an eye on.

At the very least, it can’t be left unopposed.

News Abortion

Pennsylvania’s TRAP Law Could Be the Next to Go Down

Teddy Wilson

The Democrats' bill would repeal language from a measure that targets abortion clinics, forcing them to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker on Wednesday introduced a bill that would repeal a state law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical facilities (ASF). The bill comes in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling striking down a similar provision in Texas’ anti-choice omnibus law known as HB 2.

A similar so-called targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law was passed in Pennsylvania in 2011 with bipartisan majorities in both the house and state senate, and was signed into law by former Gov. Tom Corbett (R).

SB 1350, sponsored by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) would repeal language from Act 122 that requires abortion clinics to meet ASF regulations. The text of the bill has not yet been posted on the state’s legislative website.

The bill is co-sponsored by state Sens. Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), and Judy Schwank (D-Berks).

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Leach said in a statement that there has been a “nationwide attack on patients and their doctors,” but that the Supreme Court’s ruling upholds the constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a legal, Constitutionally-protected right that should be available to all women,” Leach said. “Every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly swore an oath to support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States, so we must act swiftly to repeal this unconstitutional requirement.”

TRAP laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to medical clinics, have been passed in several states in recent years.

However, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that struck down two of the provisions in HB 2 has already had ramifications on similar laws passed in other states with GOP-held legislatures.

The Supreme Court blocked similar anti-choice laws in Wisconsin and Mississippi, and Alabama’s attorney general announced he would drop an appeal to a legal challenge of a similar law.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Selects Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to Join His Ticket

Ally Boguhn

And in other news, Donald Trump suggested that he can relate to Black people who are discriminated against because the system has been rigged against him, too. But he stopped short of saying he understood the experiences of Black Americans.

Donald Trump announced this week that he had selected Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) to join him as his vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket, and earlier in the week, the presumptive presidential nominee suggested to Fox News that he could relate to Black Americans because the “system is rigged” against him too.

Pence Selected to Join the GOP Ticket 

After weeks of speculation over who the presumptive nominee would chose as his vice presidential candidate, Trump announced Friday that he had chosen Pence.

“I am pleased to announce that I have chosen Governor Mike Pence as my Vice Presidential running mate,” Trump tweeted Friday morning, adding that he will make the official announcement on Saturday during a news conference.

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The presumptive Republican nominee was originally slated to host the news conference Friday, but postponed in response to Thursday’s terrorist attack in Nice, France. As late as Thursday evening, Trump told Fox News that he had not made a final decision on who would join his ticket—even as news reports came in that he had already selected Pence for the position.

As Rewire Editor in Chief Jodi Jacobson explained in a Thursday commentary, Pence “has problems with the truth, isn’t inclined to rely on facts, has little to no concern for the health and welfare of the poorest, doesn’t understand health care, and bases his decisions on discriminatory beliefs.” Jacobson further explained: 

He has, for example, eagerly signed laws aimed at criminalizing abortion, forcing women to undergo unnecessary ultrasounds, banning coverage for abortion care in private insurance plans, and forcing doctors performing abortions to seek admitting privileges at hospitals (a requirement the Supreme Court recently struck down as medically unnecessary in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case). He signed a ‘religious freedom’ law that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ persons and only ‘amended’ it after a national outcry. Because Pence has guided public health policy based on his ‘conservative values,’ rather than on evidence and best practices in public health, he presided over one of the fastest growing outbreaks of HIV infection in rural areas in the United States.

Trump Suggests He Can Relate to Black Americans Because “Even Against Me the System Is Rigged”

Trump suggested to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that he could relate to the discrimination Black Americans face since “the system [was] rigged” against him when he began his run for president.

When asked during a Tuesday appearance on The O’Reilly Factor what he would say to those “who believe that the system is biased against them” because they are Black, Trump leaped to highlight what he deemed to be discrimination he had faced. “I have been saying even against me the system is rigged. When I ran … for president, I mean, I could see what was going on with the system, and the system is rigged,” Trump responded.

“What I’m saying [is] they are not necessarily wrong,” Trump went on. “I mean, there are certain people where unfortunately that comes into play,” he said, concluding that he could “relate it, really, very much to myself.”

When O’Reilly asked Trump to specify whether he truly understood the “experience” of Black Americans, Trump said that he couldn’t, necessarily. 

“I would like to say yes, but you really can’t unless you are African American,” said Trump. “I would like to say yes, however.”

Trump has consistently struggled to connect with Black voters during his 2016 presidential run. Despite claiming to have “a great relationship with the blacks,” the presumptive Republican nominee has come under intense scrutiny for using inflammatory rhetoric and initially failing to condemn white supremacists who offered him their support.

According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Tuesday, Trump is polling at 0 percent among Black voters in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

What Else We’re Reading

Newt Gingrich, who was one of Trump’s finalists for the vice presidential spot, reacted to the terrorist attack in Nice, France, by calling for all those in the United States with a “Muslim background” to face a test to determine if they “believe in sharia” and should be deported.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton threw her support behind a public option for health insurance.

Bloomberg Politics’ Greg Stohr reports that election-related cases—including those involving voter-identification requirements and Ohio’s early-voting period—are moving toward the Supreme Court, where they are “risking deadlocks.”

According to a Reuters review of GOP-backed changes to North Carolina’s voting rules, “as many as 29,000 votes might not be counted in this year’s Nov. 8 presidential election if a federal appeals court upholds” a 2013 law that bans voters from casting ballots outside of their assigned precincts.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the election goals and strategies of anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony List, explaining that the organization plans to work to ensure that policy goals such as a 20-week abortion ban and defunding Planned Parenthood “are the key issues that it will use to rally support for its congressional and White House candidates this fall, following recent setbacks in the courts.”

Multiple “dark money” nonprofits once connected to the Koch brothers’ network were fined by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) this week after hiding funding sources for 2010 political ads. They will now be required to “amend past FEC filings to disclose who provided their funding,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

Politico’s Matthew Nussbaum and Ben Weyl explain how Trump’s budget would end up “making the deficit great again.”

“The 2016 Democratic platform has the strongest language on voting rights in the party’s history,” according to the Nation’s Ari Berman.