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Teach Black History

We’re just a week away from Black History Month, and of course, the relentless attacks on Black history continue. Thanks to Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida, it’s time to revisit the ongoing “woke critical race theory” discourse.

If you haven’t heard, Gov. DeSantis recently directed the Florida Department of Education to ban an Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course. Gov. DeSantis has claimed the course teaches critical race theory, and therefore, will indoctrinate students with “woke” ideology.

Every sane person knows that an AP African American Studies class is just that: a normal history class. Somehow, a faction of the political punditry started to falsely equate Blackness with “woke, political ideology.”

As we said in our most recent blog on the CRT debate, it’ the newest anti-Black and -Brown fear tool. There is no legitimate reason Florida high school students shouldn’t be able to take an AP African American Studies class.

The reality is that everyone, Black and non-Black students alike, would benefit from learning an accurate account of our history. Black students deserve the opportunity to take an AP class on their history, just as other students can take Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, or European history and culture classes.

It’s quite ironic Gov. DeSantis laments “indoctrination” while simultaneously denying students the opportunity to learn about topics he doesn’t like. If it’s bad for students to be indoctrinated, shouldn’t multiple ideological viewpoints be available to them? What good comes from banning a Black history class and denying students educational opportunities?

The state presented six reasons for denying the curriculum – two of the most prominent being queer and abolitionist educational themes among others like intersectionality and reparations. Additionally, the criticism wrongly discounted several incredible Black academics like bell hooks, Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, and others.

The piece of the equation that doesn’t add up is the fact that the curriculum is for an Advanced Placement course – one which older and advanced high school students would take. When Florida implemented the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, also dubbed as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, politicians were concerned about elementary students learning about complex topics like sexuality. That isn’t the case here; high school students are plenty old enough to learn about difficult topics.

Students learn by using higher-order thinking skills to understand complex issues, and it’s good for them to learn about difficult or controversial topics. There’s a plethora of information and data showing diversity in education is positively impactful.

Overall, it’s shameful to ban an entire class based on fear of complex topics and Black academics’ work teaching our history. We will not relent in our belief that America’s youth deserve to learn an accurate and whole account of history, no matter the difficulty of the conversation.

January 19 NF Legislative Roundup

Happy belated MLK Day! This week, we’re back again with legislative roundups and an overview of several states we didn’t cover last week. Stay tuned in 2023 for more blogs and legislative roundups.

Colorado General Assembly

  • Colorado legislators started the 2023 session on Jan. 9 in Denver. It’s the fifth session in a row Democrats have a trifecta. According to Axios Denver, the majority has a number of priorities, ranging from gun violence prevention to education and affordable housing reform.
  • A couple bills to highlight include…
    • SB 23-1: This bill aims to create affordable housing by allocating funding to the Public-Private Partnership Office.
    • HB 23-1001: Colorado lawmakers propose expanding eligibility for loan forgiveness for educators, hoping to address the teacher shortage.

Illinois General Assembly

  • In Illinois, Democrats continue to hold supermajorities in both chambers. Additionally, this legislature will be more diverse than years past with the first two Muslim American lawmakers elected in the state.
  • A couple notable moments so far…

Maryland General Assembly

  • Maryland Democrats have both chambers of the legislature and a newly elected leader in Gov. Wes Moore.
  • There are several issues the legislature is expected to act on.

Nevada Legislature

  • Nevadans elected Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo in the midterm election, and Democrats increased their majorities in both chambers.
  • Lombardo has billed himself as an “education governor” and is pushing more school funding according to Nevada Public Radio.
  • The budget and how to utilize a surplus from COVID funding will be hot topics in the state as well.

Pennsylvania General Assembly

  • Over 50 new lawmakers have been sworn in to the historically diverse 2023 Pennsylvania General Assembly.
  • Already, this legislature is an interesting one in Pennsylvania.
    • Interestingly, House lawmakers selected a bipartisan choice for speaker in independent Mark Rozzi.
    • Three upcoming special elections will determine the partisan control of the House.
    • Newly elected Shapiro, in his first order of business, signed an executive order to eliminate college degree requirements for state jobs.

Ohio General Assembly

  • In Ohio, Republicans hold a trifecta. The first hiccup of the session came when the Republican caucus struggled to decide on a House speaker.
  • According to Axios Columbus, lawmakers are expected to focus on a number of issues.
    • Lawmakers are anticipated to further restrict abortion, overhaul the education system, cut taxes, and reform the state’s medical cannabis program, and fund mental health programs.

January 11 NF Legislative Roundup

Happy new year! 2023 is here, and state legislatures will be back in session soon if they haven’t already started. We’re picking up legislative roundups again, and this week will be an overview of key issues to watch across several states.

Arizona State Legislature

  • It should be an interesting year in the Arizona Legislature after the state elected a Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature.
    • Will lawmakers waive the spending cap on public schools or the new school voucher system?
    • Will there be a bipartisan effort on affordable housing, election issues, or water legislation?

California State Legislature

  • California lawmakers, the most diverse legislature in state history, have a number of priorities, but must first resolve the potential $24 million budget deficit.
    • In 2023, Californians can expect implementation of several new programs. The state is ready to roll out programs to expand access to mental health care and overhaul the Medi-Cal system.
    • Lawmakers will continue to place priority on improving inventory of affordable housing and lowering the homelessness rate.

Connecticut General Assembly

  • According to CT Insider, Connecticut lawmakers are likely focused on several different legislative topics.
    • After voter approval of the ballot measure, watch for lawmakers to debate regulations on early voting.
    • Housing reform has been another major focus in Connecticut over the last year. Hot topics include zoning reform, housing voucher reform, and more protections for renters.

Georgia General Assembly

  • Axios Atlanta reported several key issues for Georgia lawmakers this session.
    • After runoffs in back-to-back elections, reform initiatives might be on the table such as ranked choice voting or lowering the runoff threshold to 45%.
    • On EVs, lawmakers may implement new policies to encourage usage but protect the state from lost gas tax revenue.

Minnesota Legislature

  • Democrats in Minnesota will try to take advantage of their first trifecta in eight years. Minnesota Public Radio expects a number of priorities from the DFL party.
    • A tax proposal could be on the governor’s desk by Friday.
    • A bill to legalize marijuana for adults 21+ and expunge records is another priority.
    • DFL party members also hope to deliver on other initiatives – ensure access to contraception and abortion, paid family leave, inflation plan, mental health, and more.

Missouri General Assembly

  • Missouri’s Republican trifecta is laser-focused on a few issues, some of which Democrats are expected to help with.
    • Lawmakers on both sides are ready to legalize sports betting.
    • Education will likely be a hot topic, as legislators weigh proposals to implement curriculum guidelines, raise teacher wages, and potentially expand funding for school choice.

New York State Legislature

  • It’s Gov. Hochul’s first elected term, and Democrats still have supermajorities in both chambers despite a rocky 2022 election for the party.
    • Like California, housing will be a top priority this session for New York Democrats. Lawmakers want rent caps, eviction reform, and more affordable housing.
    • The assembly may also focus on criminal justice issues, including but not limited to, sentencing, parole, and bail reform.

Strengthen source of income laws

After reading a story this week in Bloomberg called Section 8 Lawsuit Accuses Philadelphia Landlord of ‘Modern-Day Redlining,’ we feel compelled to further discuss discrimination in housing. While redlining was technically banned with the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the fallout continues to affect our lives, and we need new protections on the federal level to prevent discrimination.

Last week, Bloomberg reported the nonprofit Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania is bringing a lawsuit against a Philly property management company. The organization alleges the landlord denied Section 8 applicants in majority white neighborhoods, instead suggesting they apply for units in majority-Black areas.

The landlord’s actions were illegal on multiple levels, firstly due to protections called source of income laws. The city has outlawed source of income discrimination, meaning qualified Section 8 applicants cannot be turned away based on their usage of the voucher.

Philly having source of income protections is the exception, however. Most U.S. cities and states do not have this legal protection, meaning applicants with housing vouchers can be denied solely on that basis.

Secondarily, the landlord’s actions were clearly racial discrimination which has been patently illegal in the U.S. for many years. When landlords operate in areas without source of income laws or landlords break those laws, they can get away with racial discrimination. The actions taken in Philadelphia exemplify this fact.

This case seems to be a combination of two types of discrimination: racial and source of income. The fact that it happened is evidence we need much stronger legal protections to prevent all types of discrimination in housing.

Moreover, source of income laws better facilitate government housing programs like Section 8. The goal of the program is to increase choices of safe and affordable homes for low-income families. If landlords are allowed to participate in discrimination based on usage of the voucher, the efficacy of the program is greatly diminished.

For these reasons, it’s clear that we need to strengthen source of income laws that already exist and implement those laws in areas without them. The simplest way to accomplish this is to pass federal legislation adding source of income as a protected class, similar to race, religion, sex, etc.

Renters should not be discriminated against due to their lawful source of income, nor should this type of discrimination be a loophole for landlords to participate in racial discrimination. Source of income laws also improve housing programs and help renters find suitable, affordable housing. Congress should strongly consider pursuing federal source of income protections.

How did 2022 ballot measures fare?

In October, our blog covered ballot measures across several states and topics. From voting rights to recreational marijuana and more, we’re revisiting the ballot measures to see how they fared.

Voting Rights

In our first blog about ballot measures, we covered seven states with voting-related ballot measures. Five of six were approved in November, and Louisiana votes on Amendment 1 in December.

  • Voters in Nevada approved Question 3, joining Maine and Alaska in using open primaries and ranked-choice voting. This system is widely considered to better represent voters’ preferences, and it requires candidates gain broad support.
  • In Connecticut, voters approved Question 1 to allow in-person early voting. In a win for voting rights, there are now only four states not utilizing early voting.
  • Michigan saw another major voting rights win after voters approved Proposal 2. The measure amended the state constitution to implement several voter protections.
  • Voters in Arizona narrowly defeated Prop 309, which would’ve restricted protocols around voter ID and mail-in ballot laws. Native groups celebrated the outcome of the ballot measure, contending that it would’ve created barriers for tribal voters.
  • Nebraskans approved Initiative 432, allowing the state legislature to pass a law requiring a photo ID to vote.
  • Issue 2 passed in Ohio, prohibiting local governments from allowing people lacking qualifications to vote in local elections.

Recreational Marijuana

Of the five ballot measures seeking to legalize cannabis, Missouri and Maryland prevailed. Residents of Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota voted against legalizing cannabis for recreational use.

Enslavement, Servitude, and Criminal Punishment

Voters in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, and Vermont approved ballot measures to remove racist language and involuntary servitude from their state constitutions. In Louisiana, however, Amendment 7 failed by over 20%.

There were two main issues that contributed to the result, the first being voter confusion over the amendment’s language. The second issue was the amendment not going far enough; it still allowed for forced labor in prison, making the measure the same as the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Reported by NBC News, Black voters in the state are rightly feeling confused, angry, and embarrassed. We hope the amendment will be reworked and brought back in another election soon.

Other ballot measures

In Colorado, voters approved Proposition 123, which will create an affordable housing fund. The state will now have several new programs aimed toward building affordable housing and keeping folks in their homes.

Voters in Nebraska and Nevada approved minimum wage increases for their respective states. Initiative 433will bring Nebraska minimum wage to $15 by 2026. Question 2 increased Nevada’s minimum wage to $12 by July 1, 2024, and now allows the state legislature to pass minimum wage laws higher than $12.

New York voters, through approval of Proposal 1, acted on climate change and environmental justice. Over $4 billion will now be used on initiatives related to the environment, natural resources, water infrastructure, and climate change mitigation. At least 35% of the money will go to disadvantaged communities; it’s great to see the strong pursuit of environmental justice.

Ballot measures, such as these, can make a huge difference on state policy. It’s important to be informed each election about the proposals on the ballot in your state, in addition to being knowledgeable about the candidates.

Affirmative action on the chopping block

The U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases in late October about affirmative action policies in university admissions. Folks are bracing for the decision from the 6-3 conservative Supreme Court and expect it to end affirmative action. In this week’s blog, we’ll discuss the real problem in university admissions and the misguided ire against affirmative action.

At the center of the cases are Harvard University and the University of North Carolina; while the former is a private school and the latter is a public school, both are highly prestigious institutions with very low acceptance rates compared to other schools within each respective category.

The main argument against affirmative action is that considering race in the admissions process is “unfair,” to people not considered racial minorities. Opponents of the policy argue that racial minorities are given preference, which contributes to discrimination against white people. The argument essentially claims “reverse racism,” which is a historically shortsighted myth.

Affirmative action helps ensure equality in educational opportunities and reduces continued perpetuation of the systemic racism our country was built upon. Affirmative action, which aims to redress historical wrongs, is under attack; it’s not the culprit of “unfairness” in college admissions, however.

The admissions policy that should actually be abolished is the practice of legacy admissions or giving an advantage to students if their family members attended that institution. If it’s unfair to consider race in a prospective student’s application, wouldn’t it also be unfair to consider admitting a student because the institution is their parent’s alma mater?

At Harvard, one of the institutions in question in the SCOTUS cases, the 2022 class was comprised of over one-third legacy students. According to data from 2010 – 2015, Harvard legacy applicants were five times more likely to be admitted than non-legacy applicants. How is this considered fair, yet affirmative action isn’t?

Moreover, diversity in higher education is beneficial for everyone involved. Students surrounded by peers with different backgrounds will gain a broader perspective. So not only is affirmative action good for reckoning with decades of racial inequality, but it also improves the education experience.

If SCOTUS strikes down affirmative action, we know what to expect. In 1996, California voters passed a ballot measure banning race-conscious admissions at the state’s public universities. Research shows the ban hindered Black, Native American, and Latino enrollment. Black student enrollment remains disproportionate compared to the number of Black high school graduates in the state.

Affirmative action exists to correct decades of discrimination, while legacy policies reinforce that history. We do have a bias problem within college admissions, but it’s not affirmative action.

2022 Midterm History-Makers

In our last blog before the midterm election, we discussed the historic number of Black women running for office. Now we’ve seen the results from the election, and several Black candidates made history. From state elected offices to the U.S. Congress, let’s take a look at some of the history-makers from the 2022 election.

Governor

Wes Moore was the only Black candidate to win a governorship this cycle, making him the third Black governor in history and the first Black governor in Maryland history. We still await the day a Black woman is elected governor; keep an eye out for 2024.

Lieutenant Governor

Alongside new Gov. Josh Shapiro, Austin Davis was elected Pennsylvania’s first Black lieutenant governor. He also holds the title of highest ranking Black official in the commonwealth.

Attorney General

Three Black attorneys general were elected this cycle, all of which were the first Black AG in their respective states. Anthony Brown was elected in Maryland as the first Black AG in the state. Andrea Campbell became the first Black female AG in Massachusetts.

Secretary of State

In 2021, Shirley Weber became the first Black secretary of state in California when Gov. Newsom appointed her. This election cycle, she became the first Black secretary of state elected in California. In Connecticut, Stephanie Thomas became the first Black woman elected secretary of state in Connecticut.

U.S. Senate

Of the Senate races that have been called, we didn’t see any new Black candidates win. However, Georgia is heading to a runoff, and we could have a new Black senator if Herschel Walker wins. Walker is on the ballot against Reverend Raphael Warnock who was elected in 2020. Warnock has already made history of his own, becoming the first Black senator from Georgia and the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate by a former Confederacy state. We won’t know the winner of the seat until Dec. 6 or after.

U.S. House of Representatives

Several Black candidates won House races, including two of the three we discussed in the last blog. Jahana Hayes was reelected to represent CT-05, and Emilia Sykes won in OH-13. Additionally, Summer Lee was elected in PA-12, making her the first Black woman from Pennsylvania to serve in Congress. John James also made history in Michigan as the first Black Republican to represent the state.

Congratulations to all the winners and history-makers. We look forward to Black folks continuing to run for elected office in record numbers, making our government more representative of the population.

Black Women Belong in Office

Over the last few weeks, our blog has analyzed ballot measures that’ll be decided by voters in the upcoming midterm election. Not only is it important to know what’s on your ballot, but it’s important to know who is on your ballot. This week’s blog focuses on an encouraging and exciting trend of the 2022 election cycle – Black women running for office in record numbers. Up until now, only two Black women have ever served in the U.S. Senate and only 21 Black women in the U.S. House of Representatives. No state has ever elected a Black woman to the governorship.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers’ Eagleton Institute of Politics, the 2022 primary and general elections featured 134 Black women running for the U.S. House of Representatives, a figure which includes 105 Democrats and 29 Republicans. It’s a new record, jumping from 117 in the 2020 election and 80 in 2018. We can’t cover all the Black women running for U.S. House, so we’ll look at some of the most competitive races.

  • Jahana Hayes was first elected to represent CT-05 in 2018, when she became the first Black woman and first Black Democrat to represent the state in Congress. A former public school educator, she’s facing a tight reelection race against George Logan.
  • In IN-01, Jennifer-Ruth Green is a Republican challenging incumbent Democrat Frank Mrvan. Green has a background in the U.S. Air Force and as an educator in northwest Indiana.
  • Emilia Sykes is a Democrat running in Ohio’s District 13, after serving as a state representative since 2015 and the minority leader from 2019 to 2021.

The number of Black women running for the U.S. Senate reached a new high in 2022 with 22 candidates, including 16 Democrats and six Republicans. 13 Black women ran for the U.S. Senate in 2020 and only six in 2018.

  • In Florida, Val Demings is a Democrat vying to unseat Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. She has served in the U.S. House since 2016, and before that served as the Orlando Police Department chief.
  • In another competitive Senate race, Democrat Cheri Beasley is running against Republican Rep. Ted Budd. Beasley was an associate justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 2012 until 2019 when she became the first Black woman to serve as chief justice in the state.

The 2022 cycle boasted 12 Black women running for gubernatorial office, which is up from zero in 2020 and six in 2018. 11 of the women running this year are Democrats and one is a Republican.

  • The Georgia gubernatorial race features Stacey Abrams running against Gov. Brian Kemp, to whom she narrowly lost in 2018. That year, she became the first Black woman to be a major party gubernatorial nominee and afterward founded an organization to combat voter suppression.
  • Iowa is another state in which a Black woman is on the general election ballot, as Democrat Deidre DeJear is running to unseat Gov. Kim Reynolds. She’s a small business owner and ran for secretary of state in 2018.

2022 has been a historic election cycle for Black women, and we can only hope the records will be broken again in 2024. Congratulations to all the candidates – Black women belong in office!

Midterm Ballot Measure Summary #3

Over the last two weeks, our blog has covered ballot measures for the upcoming midterm elections. Check out the last two blogs to read about the most popular ballot measure themes: voting rights, abortion, involuntary servitude, and cannabis. Several states have ballot measures on other important topics.

California

Californians will vote on seven total ballot measures in November. We’ve previously written about Proposition 1 regarding abortion; the state has several other important ballot choices.

  • Proposition 27 would legalize mobile sports betting. The revenue created would go toward homelessness and mental health support, in addition to tribal economic development.
  • Proposition 28 is an initiative seeking to require funding for public schools’ arts and music education. If passed, the initiative would be equity-focused, requiring additional funding directed to districts with more economically disadvantaged students.

Colorado

Coloradans will decide on 11 ballot initiatives this fall. Two of the most important are affordable housing and education.

  • Proposition 123 would designate 0.01% from current income tax revenues toward affordable housing programs. Just a few of the initiatives included are an affordable housing equity program, a grant program for affordable housing developments, a rental assistance program, and more.
  • Proposition FF would reduce income tax deduction eligibility for people earning over $300,000, and the state would use the revenue to create the Healthy School Meals for All Program. All schools participating in the program would be reimbursed for giving students free meals in addition to other food-related funding.

Nebraska and Nevada

Among other initiatives, Nebraska and Nevada both have minimum wage ballot measures.

  • Nebraska’s Initiative 433 would increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2026.
  • Nevada’s Question 2 would increase the minimum wage to $12 by July 1, 2024.

New Mexico

New Mexico has six ballot measures this November, and three of them are related to bond issues.

  • Bond Question 1 asks voters to decide on $24 million for senior citizen facility improvements.
  • Public libraries could receive over $19 million if approved by voters on Bond Question 2.
  • Finally, Bond Question 3 asks voters whether the state should give just under $216 million to public higher education, special public schools, and tribal schools.

New York

New York only has one ballot measure this fall which is related to climate change.

  • Proposal 1, if approved, would give $4.2 billion in bonds for initiatives related to the environment, natural resources, water infrastructure, and climate change mitigation. At least 35% of the bond issue will benefit disadvantaged communities based on socioeconomic and environmental criteria.

Oregon

Four ballot measures, including Measure 112 on involuntary servitude, will be on the Oregon ballot in November.

  • Measure 111 is another significant one in Oregon. If passed, the state constitution would be amended to include a right to “cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable healthcare as a fundamental right.”

Midterm Ballot Measure Summary #2

Last week’s blog focused on the ballot measures in different states regarding voting rights and cannabis legalization. Many states have ballot measures on other topics; this week we’ll discuss more of the initiatives on which voters will decide this November.

Enslavement, Servitude, and Criminal Punishment

Still today, 20 state constitutions include language that permits “enslavement or servitude as punishments for crimes.” Five states will vote this fall to keep or remove involuntary servitude from the state’s laws.

  1. Alabama voters will decide on the “Alabama Recompiled Constitution Ratification Question” which, among other provisions, would permanently remove all racist language. If approved, the state constitution will no longer have racist language regarding involuntary servitude, interracial marriage, school segregation, and poll taxes.
  2. On the Louisiana ballot, voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to remove or keep language that allows involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime. However, if the ballot measure passes, it would add a section saying it “does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.”
  3. Oregon voters will decide on a similar ballot measure. If approved, it would remove language allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments, while adding language authorizing Oregon authorities to sentence convicted individuals with alternatives to incarceration.
  4. Tennessee’s ballot measure is rather simple. If approved, the constitution would read “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited.”
  5. The constitutional amendment ballot measure in Vermont is also straightforward. It would replace repealed language with “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.”

Abortion

The overturning of Roe v. Wade this summer popularized abortion ballot measures. Five states have abortion on the midterm ballot.

  1. With Proposition 1 on the ballot, California voters have the opportunity to enshrine abortion and contraceptive rights into the state constitution.
  2. Michigan voters will decide this fall on Proposal 3, called the Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative. If passed, the state would implement broad reproductive freedom healthcare protections.
  3. In Vermont, voters will decide on Proposal 5, named the Right to Personal Reproductive Autonomy Amendment. If approved, the Vermont Constitution will protect reproductive autonomy and prohibit government infringement.
  4. Voters in Kentucky will decide on a constitutional amendment similar to the one Kansans voted down in August. If approved, the Kentucky Constitution would not protect the right to an abortion or government funding for abortion.
  5. Montana is the final state with an abortion-related initiative on the midterm ballot. LR-131, if passed, would institute a state statute saying that infants born alive at any stage are people and they must be given medical care. The law specifically mentions babies born after induced labor, cesarean section, attempted abortion, or other methods.
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