Only in D.C. does the Republican Party drop like an anvil on any improvements to the country that could conceivably pass through our bicameral legislature. In our various state houses, the GOP is busy passing laws rather than squashing them.
And what laws they pass: divining menaces to the Republic in everything from high-speed buses to homeless people’s knapsacks to solar panels, state-level Republicans have gone on the offense. More often than not they've succeeded in getting laws passed that range from counterproductive to downright cruel. Below are the five craziest and most destrcutive, just in the past couple of months.
1. Missouri Legalizes Shooting People for Being in Your Section
Feeling the Castle Doctrine defined “castle” too narrowly, Missouri State Representative Joe Don McGaugh proposed a bill allowing any citizen to use deadly force to protect against unlawful entry of private property. “This is a common sense extension of the law that would empower a nanny or babysitter, or anyone with the owner’s permission to occupy a property, to defend himself or herself against an intruder,” he said.
Unfortunately, McGaugh didn’t write his bill very carefully, and the Missouri House ended up passing a law that endorses use of deadly force by anyone pretty much anywhere. The bill allows for force by “occupants” of “private property"— conditions written so loosely that occupants could refer to a diner or a baseball game attendee or someone watching a movie, while invasion could mean anybody they feel intruding on whatever property they happen to be on.
As Think Progress explained, the bill is basically Stand Your Ground, except it replaces the threat of immediate physical harm with the feeling of invasion. Feel threatened in a business by someone you don’t think belongs there? Take out your gun and start shooting. Or, to quote Charles Pierce, “If you're at a Royals game, don't even think about moving down to the really good seats unless you feel lucky, punk.”
2. Florida City Tries to Make it Illegal for Homeless People to Own Stuff
The city of Ft. Lauderdale recently took up a resolution that would make it illegal for homeless people keep their possessions anywhere on public property. The resolution would allow police to confiscate any property stored on a public ground, provided twenty-four hours notice is given; confiscated property may be retrieved, if the person pays a “reasonable” fee for storage and transportation.
The city claims the ordinance is due in part to an “interest in aesthetics,” but as homeless people have no alternative method for hanging on to their belongings, the resolution effectively criminalizes their only possessions.
“Maintaining city streets is a legitimate concern, but simply punishing homeless people for leaving their possessions in public places is not an effective or humane way to address it,” Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty said to Think Progress. “Instead, city and business leaders should work with advocates and homeless people to develop alternative short and long term solutions, such as public storage options for homeless people and affordable housing.”
The resolution is, of course, backed by the city’s business community, which merely finds homeless people an eyesore.
3. Oklahoma Bans Increases in the Minimum Wage
While the Obama administration raises the minimum wage threshold for private contractors working with the government, Democrats in Congress push for a $10.10 minimum wage, and Seattle votes in the country’s highest minimum at $15.00 an hour, Oklahoma is going in the exact opposite direction: not only is Oklahoma not considering a statewide increase, but it banned individual cities from even considering such a raise on their own.
The move was widely viewed as a preemptive attack on a movement by the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation to raise the Oklahoma City’s wage to $10.10, in line with that being called for by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and her fellow Republicans in the legislature argued the bill created a “level playing field for all municipalities in Oklahoma” and protected against “artificial” raises in the minimum wage, whatever those are.
"Mandating an increase in the minimum wage would…would create a hardship for small business owners, stifle job creation and increase costs for consumers," Fallin said. "And it would do all of these things without even addressing the goal of reducing poverty."
Not quite. The statistics on the relation of minimum wage to job creation or loss are murky, but most studies find raising the wage’s overall affect on employment to be negligible. Two things raising the minimum wage definitely does: increases earnings for lower-income workers (by $33 billion in the case of a nationwide raise to $10.10) and lifts almost one million people out of poverty. Neither is something metropolises in Oklahoma are going to find out about any time soon.
4. Oklahoma Punishes Solar and Wind Power Producers
Oklahoma wasn’t done. Unhappy with people who install their own solar panels or wind turbines, an action that helps the utilities by easing the pressure on the companies during peak hours, the state is now penalizing private energy producers through a surcharge.
The extra charge applies to those who sell excess energy generated by the panels or turbines back to the grid, known as net metering. It was snuck in as a rider on another bill at the last minute, catching lawmakers and alternative energy groups off guard. It passed without a single dissenting vote.
It didn’t take long for Oklahoman owners of small businesses to point out the absurdity of a law that punishes in-state producers of energy.
“Oklahoma offers tax credits for large wind turbines which are built elsewhere, but wants to penalize small wind which we manufacture here in the state?” Mike Bergey, president & CEO of Bergey Windpower said. “That makes no sense to me.”
Who would support such a bill? The ultra-conservative advocacy group ALEC, which has framed people with solar panels as “freeriders on the system,” though they actually contribute to the city’s power resources. ALEC is in good with Fallin. Thanks to this cozy relationship, Oklahoma is set to become the first state to pass a law of this kind. Where states have deals worked out between utility companies and individual power generators, ALEC is set on repealing them. They now have a template in a last-minute sabotoage in Oklahoma.
5. Tennessee Outlaws High-Speed Mass Transit
A proposed high-speed bus system in Nashville got on the bad side of the Tennessee legislature last month. But rather than fix or alter the suggested plans, Tennessee senators solved the matter by passing a bill against high-speed mass transit altogether.
The Amp was designed as a 7-mile high-speed bus line connecting various parts of Nashville, which would make it Tennessee’s first mass transit system, and had the support of the business community. With Nashville’s congestion getting worse and a million residents expected to move to the city over the next twenty years, the plan seemed like a no-brainer.
But to work, the high-speed bus systems needed a dedicated line and traffic signal priority. This angered drivers. Wealthier residents began complaining of the undesirable elements the transit system could bring through their neighborhood, with one expressing the fear that it could bring “burger flippers” through her neighborhood. Then a major auto-dealer began sponsoring lawn signs opposing the plan, fearing a functional mass transit system could hurt sales.
That’s when the Koch Brothers got involved. Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee sprung into existence, staffed entirely with lobbyists and blessed with an undisclosed budget. Shortly thereafter, a bill appeared in the Tennessee legislature making it illegal “for buses to pick up or drop off passengers in the center lane of a state road”—effectively outlawing the Amp and any transit system like it. The bill’s sponsor said he worried parking spaces might be sacrificed to make room for the line—the ultimate expression of a car-centered culture bewildered by the need, to say nothing of the desire, for public transportation.
The bill passed the state Senate without much opposition. But in the end, this was too much, even for Tennessee. The single-lane legislation was ultimately rendered irrelevant when the Tennessee legislature negotiated a deal to allow the project to go forward with greater oversight from the legislature.
But the Kochs had shown how easy it could be to derail a city’s much-needed mass transit project with a friendly congressman and an indomitable fear of taking away a single parking space.