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GOP uses majorities for social legislation

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Abortion, union laws flood states

By Lois Romano
Washington Post / April 24, 2011

WASHINGTON — As state legislatures adjourn over the coming weeks, new Republican majorities backed by GOP governors are leaving their mark in a wave of legislation that reaches far beyond the economic issues that dominated the midterm elections last fall.

South Dakota passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the country, Wisconsin and Ohio moved to limit collective bargaining rights of public workers, and Kansas, Texas, South Carolina, and Montana are close to passing measures imposing strict photo ID requirements at the polls.

The measures are among the thousands of bills proposed as newly empowered GOP state ouses take advantage of their first opportunity in decades to have such a broad impact on policy. Twenty legislative bodies across the country flipped from Democratic to Republican control, and the party picked up governorships in 10 states.

“There’s been a real seismic change in the states, and the effect will be felt for many years,’’ said state Representative Bob Mecklenborg, a key player in Ohio’s voter ID measure. “However, we must be very smart in our approach on many measures and not overplay our hand.’’

Although only a fraction of these GOP-sponsored bills will pass by the time legislatures wrap it up, the measures will have a shelf life into next year, before the 2012 elections.

Republicans say the policy issues are a natural result of their victories in November and add to the fiscal themes of the election.

“I think front and center are the budgets and what states have to do to stay viable,’’ said Chris Jankowski, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee. But, he added, “as far as issues such as abortion are concerned, the Republican Party is against abortion, and some states are choosing to deal with this.’’

Liberals have criticized the focus on conservative social plans.

“Most Republicans campaigned on the economy — promising more jobs,’’ said Marge Baker, executive vice president for policy and programs at People for the American Way. “But what we are seeing is that, instead of creating jobs, they are racing to push through a comprehensive social agenda.’’

An overriding goal for both parties in the elections was to gain control of the executive and legislative branches to guarantee control over the once-a-decade congressional redistricting process this year. But state Republicans have quickly put down markers on other fronts.

Legislators have proposed 374 antiabortion bills this year, up from 174 last year. They have introduced more than 750 bills on collective bargaining this year, with more than 500 aimed at public sector unions, a significant increase over past years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At least 32 states are considering new or tougher requirements for voter identification at the polls. And 3,000 bills targeting pension reform for public-sector employees are in hoppers nationwide, many of them modeled after legislation proposed by the American Legislative Change Council, a high-profile conservative think tank that helps legislatures shape fiscal policy.

Among the more dramatic legislative actions was Wisconsin’s vote last month to strip most state workers of their right to bargain collectively. Similar measures have been introduced in several other states.

New state abortion and voter ID restrictions have proven to be contentious across the country. Seven states have banned private insurance companies from covering abortions if they participate in state insurance exchanges created under the new federal health-care law.

Republicans cite the ID measures as protection against voter fraud, while Democrats say the bills would keep away young people and minorities.

© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.