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Race teaching laws go local

The conservative campaign to ban “critical race theory” in education made its way to statehouses this month, with some lawmakers now seeking to ban entire concepts from state offices, schools and public universities.

A bill by state Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon, drew attention earlier this month, with dozens of lawmakers signing on as cosponsors.

Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a memo to colleagues, Diamond said the bill would ban racist or sexist education — but its text could effectively ban many broader discussions from classrooms.

One provision, for example, would ban teaching that “an individual, by virtue of race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

That cuts to the core of the critical race theory debate, which has launched a conservative crusade after years of Black Lives Matter activism and protests against police killings. For decades, academics identified with the theory have discussed the ways that historical or institutional racism can affect culture and individual attitudes, even when the individuals themselves don’t realize it.

As lawmakers like Diamond define it, that’s little different from an explicitly racist view.

“Our schools should be teaching that every individual is equal under the law and that no individual should ever be labeled superior or inferior simply due to their race or genetic makeup, nor be held responsible for actions taken by others with similar traits,” he said.

Some colleagues agree: Cosponsors include state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, state Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Lycoming, and state Rep. Tommy Sankey, R-Clearfield.

In recent weeks, parents across the country have packed school board meetings to complain about the theory. Conservative media figures have lambasted academics, while educators have been publicly and privately questioned about their curricula.

Other states have already passed bans, some with near-identical wording to Diamond’s proposal.

The governor of Texas signed a bill into law this week that would ban many racial discussions from classrooms, despite protests from teachers and concerns that it would be hard to interpret. The legislator who proposed the bill said, “We don’t need to burden our kids with guilt for racial crimes they had nothing to do with,” according to the Dallas Morning News.

Opponents have warned of a chilling effect on educators as restrictions pass in more states. Under Diamond’s bill, the state attorney general would investigate those accused of teaching unacceptable concepts, and those found to have done so could lose state funding and open themselves to lawsuits.

Free speech advocates have warned governors to veto the bills. Last month, attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union described them as an attempt to ban all discussion of racism.

“These anti-critical race theory bills rob young people of an inclusive education and suppress speech about race,” attorneys Sarah Hiner and Emerson Sykes wrote, “and now, it’s up to state governors across the country to veto these harmful bills.”

Joyce backs gig companies

U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, waded into the discussion this month on what’s commonly called gig work, proposing a federal study on the industry and opposing “burdensome regulations.”

Joyce’s bill, proposed last week in the Energy and Commerce Committee where he sits, would require the Secretary of Commerce to carry out a study on the gig industry. The term often refers to jobs where workers carry out individual tasks through apps or websites, but the details and legal definitions remain hotly debated.

In a discussion with Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo this month, Joyce said the term “includes new age companies … such as Uber, Etsy and AirBnB. These companies utilize technology and individual workers to provide a variety of services.”

The term “individual workers” could be key. Some states have already passed or debated regulations on the companies, which often classify their workers as independent contractors rather than employees. That distinction frees the companies from some legal requirements and makes it harder for the workers to organize unions or bargain for better conditions.

California, for example, passed a law turning many independent contractors into employees, only for a later ballot initiative to reverse the rule for companies like Uber. And in New York, gig companies have proposed deals that would organize their workers into unions while preserving their legal status as independent contractors.

At the federal level, some political figures have proposed new laws or broad regulations that could make it harder for gig companies to call their workers independent contractors. President Joe Biden recently nominated Uber critic David Weil to head an important Labor Department division.

While Joyce didn’t detail potential reforms or refer to specific rules, he made his position clear in a news release.

“As the gig economy continues to expand, we cannot allow burdensome regulations to stand in the way of advancements,” he said.

Trump keeps up Pennsylvania push

Former President Donald Trump weighed in again on Pennsylvania GOP politics this week, attacking prominent Republican lawmakers for their unwillingness to pursue an election fraud investigation.

Trump lashed out at state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, and state Sen. David Argall, R-Berks, on Monday, comparing them to “radical left Democrat(s)” and suggesting Corman could lose a future primary race. The attack came more than a week after Trump called on state Republicans to audit the state’s 2020 election results.

An ongoing ballot audit in Arizona has become a sort of pilgrimage site for pro-Trump lawmakers from across the country, with some supporters calling it a model for other states.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.

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