Skip Navigation
Breaking News
Breaking News
from Washington and beyond

16 Attorneys General Call Out Ron DeSantis for Plan to Collect Data on Trans Students

The plan contradicts “basic human rights,” the attorney generals said.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

A group of 16 attorneys general have called out Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for a plan to collect information on students who seek gender-affirming care on college campuses.

The governing body for Florida’s state university system, the Board of Governors, requested in January that higher education institutions submit reports on any students who go to campus health centers for gender dysphoria. The institutions would have to say whether people asked for, were referred for, or were provided with “sex-reassignment treatment” and how many people were diagnosed with a gender identity disorder. The reports are also supposed to include how many people underwent a gender-reaffirming surgery and a breakdown of patients by age.

“This information request may be intended to intimidate, and will actually intimidate, university administrators and health care providers and chill vulnerable students … from accessing necessary medical care,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter to DeSantis on Friday. “Public reports suggest that you may seek to use the information sought to eliminate funding for necessary gender-affirming health care for students.”

“Such actions jeopardize the health, safety and well-being of young people and their families, contravene well-accepted medical standards, unduly insert the state into the provider-patient relationship, violate students’ rights under federal law—including privacy—and offend basic human rights.”

DeSantis has cracked down on LGBTQ rights in his state, pushing through the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and banning transgender girls from playing girls’ sports. He cut off funding under Medicaid for gender-affirming treatment and asked the state board of medicine to ban any such treatment for people under 18.

The Board of Governors said that any information submitted would be kept anonymous, but asking for the students’ breakdown by age would help identify any organizations that provide gender-affirming treatment to younger patients.

In a similar vein, the Florida High School Athletics Association will require high school student athletes to tell their schools their sex assigned at birth. Critics worry the newly added question—and before it, a proposed requirement that students share details on their menstrual history—could be used to out transgender students.

The Board of Governors’ proposal is the latest in a wave of state-level policy moves targeting LGBTQ people, particularly trans people, across the country. Lawmakers usually argue they are trying to protect children’s well-being, but a study published in January found that trans and nonbinary teenagers who receive gender-affirming care have significantly less depression and anxiety and are more satisfied with their lives than before treatment. However, laws that single out trans people expose them to more violence.

DeSantis Disney Appointee Said Tap Water Could Be Making People Gay

Ron Peri is on the new oversight board for Disney World, and he has some interesting beliefs.

Ron DeSantis speaks at a podium and points with both index fingers
Octavio Jones/Getty Images

A member of the new Ron DeSantisappointed oversight board for Disney World thinks that tap water could be making people gay.

Disney World previously governed itself autonomously in the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which oversaw its own fire department, water systems, roadways, and building inspections around the theme park. But in 2022, after Disney’s then-chairman condemned Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, DeSantis retaliated by stripping the park of its governing powers.

On Monday, DeSantis signed a bill that allowed the autonomous district to continue, but installed a new oversight board consisting of five members, all appointed by the governor.

One of those members is Ron Peri, a former pastor and the head of The Gathering—a Christian ministry focused on outreach to men—with a long history of making homophobic and untrue comments, CNN reported.

During a Zoom discussion in January 2022, Peri shared his conspiracy theory about tap water.

“So why are there homosexuals today? There are any number of reasons, you know, that are given. Some would say the increase in estrogen in our societies. You know, there’s estrogen in the water from birth control pills. They can’t get it out,” he said. “The level of testosterone in men broadly in America has declined by 50 points in the past 10 years. You know, and so, maybe that’s a part of it.”

Peri did not specify what kind of points he meant, or what the pre-decline level had been. But chemicals in tap water making people gay is a popular conspiracy theory, pushed by people including Alex Jones. Testosterone levels in men have dropped in recent decades, but not by anything close to 50 percent. Researchers are unsure why the hormone has dipped, but there is no evidence that testosterone levels affect sexual orientation.

In the same call, Peri also called homosexuality “shameful” and “unhealthy.” In the past, he has called LGBTQ people “deviant” and blamed them for the fall of the Roman Empire.

In another Zoom discussion, Peri compared abortion to Holocaust-levels of genocide.

Another member of the new Disney World oversight board is Martin Garcia, a lawyer in Tampa Bay whose private investment firm donated $50,000 to DeSantis’s 2022 reelection campaign. DeSantis also appointed Bridget Ziegler, the co-founder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty, which has led the charge in banning books in schools, and the wife of the Florida Republican Party chairman.

State Democratic lawmakers have warned that the board could be used to further DeSantis’s political goals by blocking moves at Disney with which the governor disagrees. Representative Rita Harris used the example of Disney changing Splash Mountain to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.

“Are we going to see board members vetoing projects that are considered to go against any governor?” she asked during the debate over the bill Monday. “Would the board then be able to push a company into changing their business model just so that they don’t misalign [with] them?”

Texas GOP Wants to Ban Books With Gay Characters From School Libraries

No LGBTQ characters at all would be allowed.

Xin Jin/Xinhua/Getty Images

Texas Republicans want to ban public school libraries from having books that feature same-sex couples and transgender characters, part of the GOP’s increasing attacks on LGBTQ people across the United States.

The bill, introduced Thursday, prohibits books that include “any type of romantic or sexual attraction between individuals of the same sex; transvestism; gender dysphoria; [or] transgenderism.” It also bans library websites from referring to pages that discuss these topics, as well as any drag performances in the libraries.

The book ban was introduced the same day that another Texas Republican unveiled a bill that would roll back all property taxes for heterosexual, never-divorced married couples that have 10 children together (not out of wedlock).

These measures are the latest in a tsunami of attempts to crack down on LGBTQ visibility by Republicans across the country. The GOP has declared war on anything “woke”—that is, diversity of thought and marginalized communities—and it is making good on its promise.

In Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis pushed through the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, a school district banned 23 books in February, including many works dealing with gender, sexuality, and race. In at least two other counties in the Sunshine State, teachers were told to hide their classroom libraries until all the books in their collections had been vetted and approved for propriety.

DeSantis has also vowed to defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on college campuses, and his government helped gut the College Board’s A.P. African American Studies course.

On Thursday, Tennessee became the first state to ban drag performances in public, as more than 20 such bills move through other state legislatures across the U.S. There have been hundreds of bills targeting gender-affirming care, the ability to alter the gender on your birth certificate, and more since the start of 2023 alone.

The main argument in support of much of this legislation is that it is to protect children. But as critics note, it doesn’t seem to be about the kids at all. It’s about forcing certain values onto everyone else, often at the expense of younger people’s safety.

Amazon Pauses Construction on “HQ2” After Virginia Promised $750 Million for It

Amazon announced it is halting work on its second headquarters in Arlington County.

Pete Kiehart/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Amazon’s HQ2 development while under construction at Metropolitan Park in Arlington, Virginia, November 2021

On Friday, Amazon announced that it is pausing construction of its second headquarters (dubbed HQ2) in Arlington, Virginia, a project that the state committed up to $750 million in incentives for.

While the company said it’s pausing the second phase of the massive Virginia campus, it is still scheduled to open its first phase on time this June, hosting more than 8,000 employees. The entire project was slated to host some 25,000 employees.

The announcement comes after Amazon laid off 18,000 employees, but the company claims the massive job cuts are unrelated to the pause on the $2.5 billion project. Meanwhile, the company has incited some internal pushback as it’s rolled out a policy mandating employees return to the office at least three days a week.

In 2019, the state of Virginia approved a plan to give a total of up to $750 million in incentives to Amazon. A grant of $550 million would dole out $22,000 for each job the company planned to create, with another pot of money coming from state’s tax revenue. Arlington County, where HQ2 was set to be based, would offer another $22.7 million in cash incentives, based on projected incremental growth of an existing tax on hotel rooms. Both grants are to be distributed over years. Finally, the state is offering another $200 million if the company hires 37,850 full-time employees by 2035.

Arlington hadn’t doled out any of the incentives as of last year, since the funds are conditional upon Amazon occupying a certain amount of office space in surrounding areas and the increased hotel activity. “Largely because of the pandemic, that expected growth hasn’t happened, and so that means the incentives aren’t happening either,” County Board Chair Katie Cristol told The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, the state is slated to distribute its first round of incentive funds to Amazon on July 1. Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin proposed appropriating $78 million in the state’s Amazon workforce grant fund—an increase from the $42.5 million approved by the legislature.

After publication, an Amazon representative reached out to TNR to clarify the company has not yet received any incentives.

The HQ2 project is an appendage of Amazon’s earlier plans to have two headquarters, the other originally meant to be in Long Island City, New York. Due to strong local opposition, headed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the company pulled out of the New York plans. Much of the opposition was rooted in millions of dollars of public money being given to the massive private corporation instead of being used elsewhere.

“I know I’ll never get an apology for that time, but it was worth it. We protected NYers from a scam deal to drain public dollars from schools & infrastructure in exchange for empty promises of ‘Amazon jobs’ w/ 0 guarantees or guardrails. Sadly, cities who took it are suffering,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Friday.

This post has been updated.

Florida GOP Bill Would Require Bloggers Who Write About Ron DeSantis to Register With the State

First Amendment or nah?

Ron DeSantis smiles
Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Ron DeSantis

A Florida Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require paid bloggers who write about elected officials to register with the state.

The bill, which was introduced Tuesday, applies to bloggers covering Governor Ron DeSantis, his Cabinet, and the state legislature. The bloggers would have to register with the state government and then self-report every time they write a story about lawmakers, as well as how much they were paid for the posts and who paid them.

If the bloggers fail to report their stories within five days of publication, they will face fines of $25 a day, up to $2,500.

“Paid bloggers are lobbyists who write instead of talk,” state Senator Jason Brodeur, the bill’s sponsor, said. “They are both professional electioneers. If lobbyists have to register and report, why shouldn’t paid bloggers?”

Creating a registry of political writers and independent journalists would only allow for increased surveillance, and smacks of authoritarianism. DeSantis has remained a constant in headlines as of late for cracking down on human rights in his state, particularly for people of color and women and gender minorities. The Republican, seen as a front-runner for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination, has declared war on all things “woke” and is clearly making good on his promise.

Brodeur too is no stranger to controversy. He was elected in 2020 with just 50.3 percent of the vote, and there have been accusations that a “ghost candidate”—someone recruited to help sway the election results—siphoned thousands of votes away from Brodeur’s Democratic opponent.

His new bill is highly unconstitutional and unlikely to survive if challenged in court, according to New York–based First Amendment lawyer Ron Kuby.

“It’s hard to imagine a proposal that would be more violative of the First Amendment,” Kuby told NBC. “We don’t register journalists. People who write cannot be forced to register.”

Democrats Blast Joe Biden for Siding With Republicans to Overturn D.C. Laws

Does Washington, D.C. deserve rights or not?

Biden and Bowser sit at a table.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Joe Biden hosts a meeting with Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, in July 2022.

On April 20, 2021, the Biden administration called the “denial of self-governance” in Washington, D.C., “an affront to the democratic values on which our Nation was founded,” wholeheartedly endorsing efforts to give D.C. statehood. But now President Biden is supporting a congressional effort to actively deny D.C.’s “self-governance.”

After the D.C. City Council voted unanimously in support of a criminal code reform bill—and voted 12–1 to override Mayor Muriel Bowser’s veto of it—Republicans pounced on the bill last month, vying to subvert local democratic processes and obstruct the reforms (Republicans interfering in democracy; who would’ve imagined?). But more astonishing was that many moderate Democrats joined the charade and voted to overturn the D.C. law too. And on Thursday, Biden announced he’d join them.

Democrats in and outside of D.C. are furious, noting that the administration either supports D.C. statehood, or it doesn’t. “The White House f***** this up royally,” one House Democrat texted The Hill. “F****** AMATEUR HOUR. HEADS SHOULD ROLL OVER AT THE WHITE HOUSE OVER THIS.” They added that numerous other members were “EXTREMELY PISSED.”

The House voted last month to block both D.C.’s proposed criminal code reform, which would eliminate most mandatory sentencing and reduce penalties for certain crimes, and another bill that would extend voting rights to noncitizens. An estimated 7 percent of D.C. residents are noncitizens of some form. It is likely to clear the Senate as well, and now with Biden’s announcement, a local government overseeing 700,000 residents will find its rule wholly subverted by the federal government.

An array of D.C. officials denounced the move. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Norton called the moment “a sad day for D.C. home rule and D.C. residents’ right to self-governance.”

Mayor Bowser—who, again, vetoed the criminal code reform—has not publicly commented since Biden’s decision, but last week, she wrote a letter to Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell beseeching Congress not to block the measures. “The insult of limited Home Rule is that the 700,000 DC residents and taxpaying Americans, and their duly elected officials, must endure the review and oversight of our laws by officials not elected to represent our interests or values,” Bowser wrote. “I call on all senators who share a commitment to the basic democratic principles of self-determination and local control to vote ‘NO’ on any disapproval resolutions involving duly elected laws of the District of Columbia.”

Democratic members of Congress echoed the concerns. “Plenty of places pass laws the President may disagree with. He should respect the people’s gov of DC just as he does elsewhere,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.

Number three House Democrat Pete Aguilar called the move “disappointing,” saying “I’m a former mayor of a city of 70,000 and I wouldn’t want the federal government coming in and telling me what city ordinances to pass.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham called Biden’s move “smart politics,” adding that, “you don’t want to get left of the D.C. mayor.” As if any consequential number of the more than 250 million potential voters in this country will make their decision based on Biden’s stance on D.C. criminal justice policies.

And even aside from the political miscalculation, the rhetorical misstep is almost just as confounding. Opponents of D.C. statehood are now using this as yet another feather in their tattered caps against stopping taxation without representation.

For an administration that purports to care about D.C. statehood, it’s silly for it now to support overruling D.C.’s own local processes. But it’s also a move that has no substantial political benefits—which may make one question whether the administration actually ever wanted D.C. statehood at all.

A Texas GOP Bill Wants to Stop Credit Card Companies From Processing Your Abortion Pill Payment

Texas Republicans are introducing bill after bill to make it harder to get an abortion.

An abortion rights demonstrator holds a sign outside the Harris County Courthouse during the Women’s Wave march in Houston, on October 8.

A Texas Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill that would ban credit card companies from processing transactions for abortion pills, the state’s latest attempt to dramatically curb safe access to the medical procedure.

The bill, which Representative Drew Springer proposed Thursday night, would classify processing credit card transactions for “the provision of an abortion-inducing drug by courier, delivery, or mail service” as a felony. The legislation would also allow individuals to sue credit card companies that allow such transactions to go through.

Springer’s bill did not say how the state would monitor credit card purchases for abortion pills, nor how civilians would know which card companies continue to process the transactions.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, Texas has banned abortion after six weeks, before many people even know they are pregnant. There are no exceptions for rape or incest, and only a few to save the life of the pregnant person. Individuals are also allowed to sue anyone who provides abortion care or helps someone get an abortion, in what’s known as the state’s chilling vigilante law.

Apparently not satisfied with those restrictions, Texas has continued to try to limit access to other forms of reproductive health. Last week, another Republican lawmaker introduced a bill that would compel internet providers in the state to block websites that sell or provide information on how to obtain abortion pills.

Under the Women and Child Safety Act, abortion funds and their staffers could face criminal penalties for helping someone get an abortion even if they travel out of state, as could individuals who manufacture and distribute abortion pills in Texas or who provide information on how to get the drugs. The bill would also allow individuals to bring civil lawsuits against the people who maintain such sites, another extension of the state’s vigilante law. All of these restrictions, however, run counter to what Texans actually want: A study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 57 percent of state residents think abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Medication abortions, which consist of taking the two drugs mifepristone and misoprostol, make up more than half of all abortions in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The pills are considered a crucial resource in maintaining widespread access to safe abortions. Restricting the means to medication abortions will hit people of color and lower-income people the hardest.

Mississippi Republicans Want to Ban Ballot Initiatives on Abortion

Fun new attack on democracy

Posters outside the pink abortion clinic read things like "This clinic is a refuge" and "Pink House, thank you for being here. These people, this place, has saved my life."
The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, on July 7, 2022. The clinic is now closed.

Mississippi lawmakers have introduced a bill that would give citizens back the right to vote on ballot initiatives—except on laws about abortion access.

State residents were stripped of their right to introduce citizen-led ballot initiatives in 2021. This new bill, introduced Tuesday, would allow them to propose changes to laws but not constitutional amendments. They would also not be allowed to “propose any new law or amend or repeal any existing law relating to abortion.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last summer to roll back the nationwide right to an abortion. The case concerned the constitutionality of Mississippi’s law banning abortion after 15 weeks. After the ruling, Mississippi’s trigger law went into effect, and abortion is now illegal in the state except in cases of rape or incest or to save the pregnant person’s life.

Opinion regarding abortion in Mississippi is almost evenly split. A recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 49 percent of state residents believe the procedure should be legal in all or most cases. In July 2022, a month after the Dobbs ruling, a poll conducted by Blueprint Polling for the ACLU of Mississippi found that 51 percent of state residents disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision.

Mississippi residents also rejected a previous ballot initiative aimed at curbing abortion access. In 2011, anti-abortion groups put the Personhood Amendment on the ballot. The amendment would have defined the word “person” in the state constitution to include fertilized human eggs. An overwhelming majority of voters, 58 percent, rejected the initiative.

Lawmakers in Mississippi have a history of using the right to ballot initiatives as a punitive tool. It has been taken away twice, once in 1922 and again in 2021, because officials disagreed with the results of citizen-led ballot initiatives.

If the measure passes the state legislature, it would be just another instance of lawmakers creating loopholes to continue restricting abortion, instead of letting the people decide what they want for themselves. This has also happened in Kentucky, where a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill to prosecute people who get illegal abortions for criminal homicide, despite state residents voting in the 2022 midterms against an amendment that would have said abortion is not a protected right in the state.

The most egregious example is Kansas, where residents voted overwhelmingly in August to keep abortion protections in the state constitution. Lawmakers responded by introducing a bill that would let individual cities and counties restrict abortion, directly circumventing the will of the people.

Texas GOP Bill Would Give Major Tax Cut to Straight, Never-Divorced Parents

If you make it to kid number 10, there’s an extra reward for you.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Conservatives are always seeking ways to (a) defund the government and its services and (b) push their own cultural values onto others. One Texas state representative found a way to try doing both.

Representative Bryan Slaton has filed a bill to roll back 100 percent of property taxes for heterosexual married couples with 10 children.

The legislation calls for property tax relief by increments of 10 percent for each child, starting with married couples with four “qualifying children” receiving a 40 percent credit, those with five receiving a 50 percent credit, and so on. (Couples with three children or fewer do not qualify for the credit.)

If a “qualifying married couple” has 10 or more “qualifying children,” they would receive a 100 percent credit off their property taxes.

Language in the bill defines a “qualifying child” to be a “natural child of both spouses of a qualifying married couple born after the date on which the qualifying married couple married,” or an adopted child of one or both spouses, adopted after the couple was married.

And what constitutes a “qualifying married couple,” you may ask? Well, it “means a man and a woman who are legally married to each other, neither of whom have ever been divorced.”

“With this bill, Texas will start saying to couples: ‘Get married, stay married, and be fruitful and multiply,’” Slaton said in a statement.

The bill may not be surprising coming from Slaton. The Houston Press reports that the Texas representative, a former minister, has proposed banning minors from all drag events and has also dedicated much of his time in government to trying to attach various anti-LGBTQ amendments to completely unrelated legislative packages.

Slaton’s former intern Jake Neidert is a self-described Christian nationalist who has menacingly called for trans people to be “publicly executed.” The vicious figure went on to work as legislative director for Representative Tony Tinderholt, Slaton’s ally in many of his anti-LGBTQ crusades.

So, whether or not this specific bill gets awfully far, rest assured its author is heavily active in working to advance a radical fundamentalist agenda on Texans.

Donald Trump Can Be Sued for Inciting January 6 Riot, Justice Department Says

Trump cannot claim presidential immunity from lawsuits filed against him by Capitol Police officers and House Democrats.

Donald Trump waves to the crowd at a "Stop the Steal" rally shortly before rioters stormed the United States Capitol
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Donald Trump is not entitled to immunity from civil lawsuits over his role in the January 6 insurrection, the Department of Justice said Thursday.

Two Capitol Police officers, backed by 11 Democratic House members, have sued Trump for physical and psychological injuries they suffered during the riot. The suit was brought under a statute that allows for damages to be paid when force, threats, or intimidation are used to prevent government officials from doing their job. Trump has argued that he is protected against the suit by presidential immunity.

But the Justice Department disagreed. “Speaking to the public on matters of public concern is a traditional function of the Presidency, and the outer perimeter of the President’s Office includes a vast realm of such speech,” attorneys for the department’s Civil Division said. “But that traditional function is one of public communication. It does not include incitement of imminent private violence.”

A U.S. district judge had found in February 2022 that Trump could be sued, and the former president’s lawyers appealed the decision. The appeals court debated the case in December and ultimately asked the Justice Department to weigh in.

A dozen former White House and Justice Department officials from Democratic and Republican administrations had already called for the court to reject Trump’s immunity argument, saying it was “the rare but clear circumstance in which a President broke the law while acting well beyond any official capacity.”

Another group of Capitol Police officers have sued Trump in a separate case for inciting the insurrection, as have D.C. police officers. The partner of Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer who died after being brutally attacked by rioters, has also sued Trump, as well as two members of the mob.

Capitol Police officers have made it clear they hold Trump and other Republican leaders accountable for the deadly riot, as well as for law enforcement’s lack of preparedness on the day.