The coronavirus epidemic has increasingly halted business as usual from being conducted across nearly all of the United States in the last few days.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of a pandemic will stop right-wing Republican extremists from the swift completion of their appointed culture wars, however, as the Idaho legislature proved early this week.
As of yesterday, Idaho was under a state of emergency declared by GOP Governor Brad Little in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and school districts were beginning to close, but the Republican-controlled legislature was too busy passing bills harmful to its transgender citizens to get around to considering any emergency measures to address the effects of the epidemic in the state.
On Monday evening, the Idaho state Senate passed a bill that had already been approved by the state House of Representatives that prohibited the alteration of gender designations on birth certificates issued by the local government.
The bill will now go to Governor Little for his signature and — unless he decides to take the advice of the state’s attorney general and veto it to avoid the inevitable expensive federal court battles that will ensue and likely overturn it — will become the first of three anti-transgender proposals currently under consideration in Idaho.
The other two consist of a bill that would prohibit transgendered girls from participating in sports with those born as biological females and legislation that would make it a felony to treat gender-displaced youth for gender dysphoria.
While it’s condemnable enough that the Idaho legislature is fiddling with right-wing dog-whistle cultural issues rather than focusing on public health and safety during this crisis, the action on birth certificates is even more egregious considering the fact that a substantially similar previous measure has already been declared unconstitutional by a federal court that also ordered the state to create a process free of “onerous burdens” to make changes to gender designations.
Idaho Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane believes that the new bill will face the same legal barriers as the previous legislation did, despite the attempt to bypass the court ruling by using a “biological basis” for sex designation on birth certificates, using the need for accurate record-keeping by the government as an excuse.
According to Kane, The legislation “appears to try to thread the rapidly shrinking constitutional eye of a needle.”
“This office cannot determine at this point whether that eye can be threaded with [the bill], but notes that based on the existent case law it will likely require the State to litigate this matter to the United States Supreme Court.”
Legal experts estimate it could cost the state $1 million to litigate the court challenges if it is signed into law, but at least one Idaho state Senator sees that as a useful way to spend taxpayer dollars.
“I think we all understand what the costs and what the risks are in making the decision to go forward,” Republican state Senator Jim Rice told NBC News.
While voters in Idaho are among the most conservative in the country, it is unlikely that at a time when the US economy is rushing into recession faster than a log flume ride at a water park that its fiscally conservative residents would approve of such a wasteful expenditure of money that could be used for so many more worthwhile purposes during the health and economic crisis that has arrived so suddenly.
The GOP credo of limited government is facing its biggest challenge ever as the public realizes the value of government institutions and, yes, socialism in this emergency situation. Yet, Idaho Republicans seem to think that the concept of limited government doesn’t apply when their cultural sensibilities are offended, despite all the “Don’t tread on me” and “Live free or die” bumper stickers they proudly display.
Hopefully, voters in Idaho will remember that their Republican elected representatives in the state fiddled with trivial political games while their state burned with virus-induced fevers when they go to the polls in November and elect more responsible leadership.
Original reporting by Katelyn Burns at Vox.