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Day 51: Dunleavy's Don't Say 'Don't Say Gay bill' bill
Turns out the reports of Dunleavy’s moderation are greatly exaggerated.
Good morning, Alaska. It’s day 51
In this edition: Just as education funding was looking like it could be coming together, Gov. Mike Dunleavy went ahead and dragged the state into the right-wing culture wars with an education bill that looks a lot like Florida’s notorious Don’t Say Gay bill. Framed as a parental rights bill, the legislation would prohibit—at risk of lawsuits—teachers from talking about topics that Dunleavy said may be an “affront” to parents’ beliefs like sex ed or sex and gender identity. It would also block teachers from using a students’ preferred name or pronoun without explicit written approval of the parents. Dunleavy got pretty cranky when people pointed out that it’s basically a laundry list of policies to make the lives of abused kids and LGBTQ kids harder. Also, he threw a fraction of a bone to the school funding issue with what is basically a teacher-only dividend program. Also, a quick rundown of other things like pregnancy-related deaths, a longer path for retirement benefits in the House and a legislative letter to Walgreens.
Current mood: 😡
Dunleavy's Don't Say ‘Don't Say Gay bill’ bill
“Don’t view these folks or myself as people who don’t like other people,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy, wrapping up a news conference where he unveiled a bill filled with policies restricting sex education and the rights of LGBTQ students in public schools.
Education funding has been at the heart of this year’s legislative session as districts grapple with closing schools, ballooning class sizes and a slew of other hard decisions driven by a bad combination of inflation, flat funding and expiring one-time money. Legislators have held many, many hearings on the looming shortfalls this session, and it’s been looking like there just may be the political will for a permanent increase to the baseline state funding.
The big question, though, is where Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy stands on it.
Dunleavy answered that on Tuesday by introducing an education bill that would make Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis proud. Pitched as a parental rights bill, the legislation would empower parents to stop children from learning anything that may be an “affront” to a parent’s beliefs. Specifically, it would bar teachers from teaching sex education, talking about sex or gender identity, addressing students by a different pronoun or different name—which appears to include nicknames—without written approval of parents. Parents would have to approve of kids joining a group or club related to sexual orientation or gender. Teachers would also be required to report to parents any and all information about a student’s physical, medical or mental health, which would include outing a student who confides in their teacher. Bathrooms and locker rooms would be segregated by biological sex, a direct stab at trans students.
It would also position parents to sue schools over any violations of the proposed law.
To be clear, the state already allows parents to review any coursework and pull their kids from courses they find objectionable. This would, instead, require parents to opt their children into sex ed classes, teen dating violence classes, sexual abuse awareness classes or into anything where sex or gender identity may be discussed… which means it likely just will never be discussed because of the looming risk of lawsuits.
When asked about the clear comparisons between his legislation and Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, Dunleavy said that he was “working on these issues” well before Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis made national headlines—helping kick off his path to the Republican presidential nomination—before reiterating that he has never brought up issues around transgender youth.
“I never brought transgender individuals up,” he said. “I brought up parents and issues of gender.”
The legislation also specifically would limit access to bathrooms and locker rooms based on a student’s biological sex, rather than their gender identity. When asked how that was a public safety matter, Dunleavy couldn’t really offer a clear explanation other than to say everyone deserves to feel comfortable.
He also didn’t ever address how the bill would improve students’ educational outcomes, but one thing he was clear about: That the media definitely shouldn’t report that this laundry list of anti-sex ed and anti-LGBTQ policies shouldn’t be viewed as a laundry list of anti-sex ed and anti-LGBTQ policies.
“This is not against anyone, this isn’t anti-anything,” he claimed. “We’ll see if that message gets through. I have a feeling that we’ll be hearing more that this is an anti-group or anti-person bill and that will be unfortunate, if that’s how it’s characterized.”
Turns out the reports of Dunleavy’s moderation are greatly exaggerated.
Follow the thread: Dunleavy announces new “education” legislation
Here’s some of the morning’s headlines:
The Alaska Current (me): As schools struggle, Gov. Dunleavy fires latest shot in right-wing war on sex ed, LGBTQ kids
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Governor announces bills to incentivize teachers, give parents more rights in the classroom
A fraction of a fraction of a lifeline
As for the funding, the governor has also proposed what are essentially dividends to teachers that amounts to a fraction of a fraction of even the most conservative legislative proposals to boost school funding.
The proposal would entirely bypass the school districts, paying teachers directly between $5,000 for those in the big urban districts and $15,000 for those in the most rural districts for completing a school year to be paid out on July 1 in 2024, 2025 and 2026. Beyond completing the school year, it doesn’t have any other incentives for teachers to actually stay on as it doesn’t address long-standing concerns about understaffed schools, overworked teachers and the state’s subpar retirement plan.
In total, the governor said it’s projected to pay out a grand total of $58 million over the next three years. By comparison, Rep. Dan Ortiz’s proposal to increase the base student allocation by $1,250 would result in more than $300 million in additional school funding every year.
Dunleavy dodged questions about an increase to the base student allocation, arguing basically that the $58 million over three years in bonuses to teachers (which will be paid in a lump sum rather than an increase to their wages) will be enough to address teacher retention issues for the next three years, which is the remainder of his term, and that the issue should be left up to lawmakers, who won’t be him because of the expiring term, to figure out.
The legislative response
If Dunleavy’s ultimate goal with his parental rights bill is to get it passed, then the initial response from Senate Education Committee Chair Sen. Löki Gale Tobin is a big, totally expected splash of cold water. She was quick to say the bill won’t get a hearing in the committee and called it a distraction from the greater funding issues.
“I don’t need to hear people justify discrimination,” Tobin told the Anchorage Daily News, calling the governor’s proposal “the most divisive piece of legislation you’ll possibly hear in the Alaska State Legislature this year. …“It really does increase harm to young people. However you want to slice it—that’s what this bill does.”
But if he wanted to rile up the Legislature’s right-wingers, giving them a transphobic dog whistle to hyper focus on for the remainder of the legislative session while putting any discussions about school funding, and how to pay for it, on the backburner for the foreeseable future? Then he nailed it.
At the news of the legislation, House Education Committee co-Chair Rep. Jamie Allard was effusive about the legislation, saying that, surprise, the Legislature should hyper focus on it for the remainder of the legislative session while putting any discussions about school funding, and how to pay for it, on the backburner for the foreeseable future.
A fellow Republican on the House Education Committee was similarly glowing about the legislation during the House Majority’s news conference following the introduction, saying that parents are entitled to complete control and knowledge of their kids at school.
“I’m a big advocate of parents’ rights. As a parent of five, my children belong to me. They do not belong to the school,” said Anchorage Republican Rep. Tom McKay. “When it comes to sex education and changing sexes, naughty books in the library and so on and so forth, I believe the parents have every right to know everything that’s going on in the schools we pay for.”
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Also, some other things
It’s been a busy day, each one of these would warrant a write-up of their own, but here’s a quick rundown.
The Senate and House both held hearings on legislation to extend the Medicaid coverage for postpartum mothers. The hearings included some pretty ghastly statistics about how pregnancy-related deaths have dramatically risen in recent years, with a particularly massive increase for rural Alaska (nearly 14 times higher than the national rate). State investigation of those deaths found as many as 88% were preventable and 44% were associated with barriers to health care access.
Apparently bristling over the criticism that he was standing in the way of retirement legislation, House State Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Laddie Shaw put another hurdle in the way of retirement legislation on Tuesday when he sent the firefighter/public safety officer retirement to a subcommittee.
A group of legislators pulled from every official legislative caucus in the building is calling on Walgreens to ignore Attorney General Treg Taylor’s threats and distributee abortion pills in Alaska anyway.