It should be no surprise 'the most pro-life' Trump is waffling on abortion

It’s not that former President Donald Trump says one thing and does another. It’s that he says and does whatever he wants, but very purposefully. Both must provide him with some sort of personal, business or political advantage.

As anti-abortion stalwarts are now learning, Trump won’t say anything if that benefits him the most.

One of the groups that pushed the hardest for the demise of Roe v. Wade isn’t pleased that the 45th president hasn’t made his views clear on the possibility of a federal law to ban abortion across the nation. They’re even less happy after seeing what a Trump 2024 campaign spokesperson told the Washington Post when asked about the issue.

“President Donald J. Trump believes that the Supreme Court, led by the three Justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the State level,” Steven Cheung told the Post.

Trump, who has referred to himself as “the most pro-life president in American history,” avoided saying whether he’d back a federal abortion ban during his campaign stops. In the first post-Roe presidential election, anti-abortion proponents say they’ll only back a candidate who’s in favor of nationwide restrictions.

The Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America organization called Trump’s current stance a “morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate,” according to the news release it issued Thursday.

Marjorie Dannenfelse, the group’s leader, said the Trump campaign’s statement is a “completely inaccurate reading” of the Dobbs ruling that reversed Roe v. Wade.

“The Supreme Court made clear in its decision that it was returning the issue to the people to decide through their elected representatives in the states and in Congress,” Dannenfelse said in the statement. “Holding to the position that it is exclusively up to the states is an abdication of responsibility by anyone elected to federal office. This holds especially true for the president, more than any other federal official, because he or she has a responsibility to forge national consensus and progress on the most egregious human rights violation of our time.”

Other contenders for the 2024 Republican presidential bid have also been non-committal on a potential national abortion ban.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hasn’t stated his position, but he’s adamantly behind a new law in his state to deny abortions after six weeks of pregnancy – typically before someone knows they’re pregnant. Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s former governor, has said abortion laws should be left up to states but won’t rule out a national ban.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina would be OK with a federal law enforced after 20 weeks, and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he needs to see any proposal first before taking a stance.

Like Trump, they probably recognize that the Dobbs case has turned abortion rights into a forefront issue in the 2024 election. For decades, a candidate’s take on Roe v. Wade was an afterthought because it was inconceivable the ruling would not be the law of the land.

Post-Roe, however, there’s a growing realization within the political realm — even among conservatives — that abortion rights should be sacrosanct. And now that the unthinkable has happened, unhappy voters are more engaged than ever.

So what does that mean for Trump? Not much, likely. His core supporters have proven they don’t care what he says or does — nothing is more sacrosanct than the false idol himself.

As for the anti-abortion crowd, they might struggle to find someone willing to worship at their altar now that Roe v. Wade is an increasingly distant memory.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Bill to remove work permit requirement for children under 16 goes to Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ desk

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – A proposed Arkansas law that would remove the requirement for children under 16 to prove their age to get a job will head to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ desk for approval.

House Bill 1410, or the Youth Hiring Act, would delete the portion of existing law that requires an employment certificate “accessible to the Division of Labor and the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, or local school officials” before a company can hire a child under 16 years of age.

State law currently prohibits children under 16 from working more than eight hours a day, more than six days a week and more than 48 hours per week. Opponents of House Bill 1410 have expressed concerns it will open the door to violations of these child labor requirements and put children at risk of human trafficking.

Sanders has said some of her administration’s goals are to fight crime and protect children from harm. She signed an executive order Feb. 14 “to develop an integrated approach” to preventing human trafficking.

“Arkansas lacks a consistent, uniform screening and identification process of human trafficking, which has resulted in underreporting of this horrendous criminal action,” the order states.

Sanders plans to sign House Bill 1410, her spokeswoman Alexa Henning said in a Thursday email.

“The governor believes protecting kids is most important, but doing so with arbitrary burdens on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job is burdensome and obsolete,” Henning said. “All child labor laws will still apply and we expect businesses to comply just as they are required to do now.”

We’ve built a generation that says, ‘Roman, you should depend on your government to take care of you. Just stay at home and work on video games.

– State Sen. Tyler Dees

Employment certificates for these children currently require proof of the child’s age, a description of the work and work schedule and a parent or legal guardian’s written consent.

Eliminating this requirement would “restore decision-making to parents concerning their children,” the bill states. Rep. Rebecca Burkes, R-Lowell, the bill’s primary sponsor, repeated this on the House floor Feb. 22.

Rep. Andrew Collins, D-Little Rock, took issue with this clause.

“Parents have to sign off [on the permit] under the current law,” he said. “If this passes, the parents won’t have to sign off, and I think that’s a pretty important distinction.”

The bill passed the House that day and the Senate on Thursday. No Democrats in either chamber voted for the bill, while some Republicans in both chambers voted against it.

House Bill 1410 goes to Sanders’ desk less than two weeks after the U.S. Department of Labor announced it had fined Packers Sanitation Services Inc. for violating child labor laws at 13 plants in eight states, including Arkansas. The company paid $1.5 million in civil penalties for making children as young as 13 work in dangerous conditions.

In Arkansas, Packers paid a fine of $60,552 for using four minors at a George’s Inc. plant in Batesville and $90,828 for using six minors at a Tyson Foods facility in Green Forest.

Laura Kellams, the Northwest Arkansas director with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, brought up the Packers plants while speaking against House Bill 1410 before the Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee on Wednesday. She said she does not oppose minors having jobs, and she worked at the Green Forest chicken plant as a teenager.

She mentioned that Republican Sen. Bryan King, a member of the committee, lives in Green Forest. King and four other members voted to advance the bill to the Senate.

Legislators should not portray work permits for minors under 16 as overly bureaucratic or “too much to ask of any employer” when they cost nothing and take only a few days to be approved by the Department of Labor, Kellams said.

“This is not red tape, so who is it a burden to?” she said. “It’s a burden to companies who are illegally hiring minors beyond the allowable hours and in conditions that aren’t allowed.”

Ongoing child safety debate

Sanders and several Republican legislators have said repeatedly this legislative session that protecting children should be a high priority for the government.

Some of the bills introduced and advanced with this stated goal have attempted to require a person’s gender assigned at birth to determine where they use the restroom at school or in public, classify gender-affirming health care for transgender youth as potential medical malpractice, restrict where drag shows can be performed and open the door for librarians to be charged with a felony for distributing content that parents and elected officials consider obscene.

Activists have repeatedly said these bills target the LGBTQ community and transgender Arkansans in particular. On Wednesday, Senate Democrats spoke against Senate Bill 270, which would make it a felony for adults to remain in bathrooms that do not align with their biological sex if children are present. Republicans claimed the bill would protect children’s privacy. The bill was pulled down for amendments and did not receive a vote.

Sen. Tyler Dees, R-Siloam Springs, said Thursday that he saw “irony” in his Democratic colleagues’ opposition to House Bill 1410 with the goal of protecting children when they also opposed Senate Bill 270.

“We talked about the ‘inconvenience’ of making sure people go to the right bathroom with the protection of children in mind,” Dees said. “I don’t believe those [ideas] balance very well. I don’t believe it fits well with that narrative.”

However, Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, alluded to these bills on the House floor Feb. 22 to explain her opposition to House Bill 1410.

“In this body, we respect families and their decisions, but we also protect children,” she said.

Kellams told the Senate committee on Wednesday that the bill would make immigrant children who work to support their families more vulnerable to bad outcomes. Fite agreed, saying she used to teach students who were learning English as a second language, and she knew that some of them had jobs.

“That will eventually hurt not only the student but [eventually] their family, as their overall earnings are lowered for a lifetime by not being there to do their homework and by missing additional school time,” she said.

Fite was one of 15 House Republicans to vote against the bill, while 12 did not vote and one voted present. The remaining 54 House Republicans voted to send the bill to the Senate.

All but one of the 18 House Democrats voted against the bill while the other did not vote.

On the Senate side, Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, said he supported House Bill 1410 because he believes children have been protected “to a deficit.”

“They cannot function, they cannot communicate, they cannot do a lot of things that we did at 11 years old,” Rice said. “I don’t want them being abused, but at 14 and 15, if they want to work, that’s the best training they will get.”

Need to get in touch?

Have a news tip?

Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Ferndale, was one of the few Senate Republicans to oppose the bill, mentioning the Packers Sanitation Services Inc. violations as a reason.

“This permit is just one more little safeguard that maybe we should leave in place,” Johnson said. “I encourage 14- and 15-year-olds to have initiative and seek employment. I certainly think the parents need to know about it … I’m just extra careful when I’m dealing with children, so I’m going to be voting against [the bill].”

Johnson reminded his colleagues that they approved a bill less than an hour earlier regarding who victims of human trafficking can challenge in court.

Senate Bill 282, sponsored by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, would allow victims to take civil action against anyone who was aware of, assisted or benefited from the trafficking. The bill passed with no opposition and will be considered by the House.

Irvin chairs the Senate Public Health committee and voted against House Bill 1410 both Wednesday and Thursday. She said preventing human trafficking is important to her because a friend of hers experienced and survived it.

Sen. Breanne Davis, R-Russellville, joined Irvin, Johnson and all six Senate Democrats in voting against the bill. King was absent and Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) voted present. All 24 other Senate Republicans voted for the bill.

The value of work

Some senators who supported House Bill 1410 said they had jobs as teenagers. Sen. Clint Penzo, R-Springdale, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said he worked for his father’s construction company.

“I worked all through school, and I think we need to see more of that in our society,” Penzo said.

Dees’ 13-year-old son was present in the Senate gallery Thursday, and Dees said he hopes his son learns sooner than later how to work to support a family someday.

Need to get in touch?

Have a news tip?

“We’ve built a generation that says, ‘Roman, you should depend on your government to take care of you. Just stay at home and work on video games,’” Dees said, pointing at the gallery. “No, you should get out, get off your tail, learn to reject passivity, accept responsibility, get a job [and] be honorable.”

Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, who has sponsored some of this year’s bills pertaining to transgender individuals, said he and members of his generation grew up working on farms as young as 10 years old.

“All these people that I grew up with that learned to work how I learned to work — they all grew up to be outstanding community leaders, bankers, lawyers, successful people, pillars of the community,” Stubblefield said.

Senate Minority Whip Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, had a different perspective about working at a young age.

“I know, having started work at the age of seven, that it’s not fun,” she said. “I believe children should be able to enjoy their youth and I don’t envy them that time. I do believe in hard work. We worked hard in my family. Everybody had to work hard and contribute to the family so that we could eat and pay the bills.”

Chesterfield said she did not want to see Arkansas “turning back the clock” on child labor laws that have been in place for about a century.

Sen. Fredrick Love, D-Mabelvale, a member of the Senate Public Health committee, joined Irvin in voting against House Bill 1410 on Wednesday.

“There are kids that have no parents,” he said Thursday. “We have to protect our kids at all costs, so I would implore you to protect our kids today, to make sure that these safeguards stay in place.”

Arkansas Advocate is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arkansas Advocate maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sonny Albarado for questions: Follow Arkansas Advocate on Facebook and Twitter.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Former chairman of Louisiana Democrats pushed party to work with firms in fraud scheme

NEW ORLEANS – Karen Carter Peterson pushed for the Louisiana Democratic Party to award a contract worth tens of thousands of dollars to a New Orleans political consulting firm just a few weeks before the 2019 primary election for governor. That’s according to the state party’s executive director at the time, who says he questioned Peterson, then the party chair, before learning Gov. John Bel Edwards’ campaign was OK with the deal.

The firm, Exceptional Temporaries Inc. (ETI), was one of two companies FBI investigators focused on in their interview with Stephen Handwerk, the state party’s top staffer from 2012 to 2020. ETI had not previously worked with the state Democratic Party, Handwerk said in an interview with the Illuminator.

Peterson, who was state party chair from 2012 to 2020, resigned from the Louisiana Senate in April and last week signed a plea deal with federal prosecutors. A bill of information federal prosecutors filed last week says Peterson schemed with four individuals and four companies “operated by associates” to receive cash kickbacks from checks issued to the businesses from the Louisiana Democratic Party and her campaign fund.

The court filing says Peterson used the money for personal expenses, including to pay her gambling debts. Peterson acknowledged a gambling addiction when WWL-TV aired a story in March 2019 that revealed she had violated a self-imposed ban at a Baton Rouge casino.

‘Very odd’ late vendor deal

Handwerk said he asked Peterson bluntly about ETI in a text message when he saw the company had been submitted as a vendor in September 2019. FBI agents produced the text exchange when they interviewed Handwerk earlier this year, he said, adding that he has not been subpoenaed in the investigation.

Federal investigators told Handwerk they considered him a witness or victim in the fraud scheme, not an accomplice, he said. The party vetted and chose its vendors for the 2019 governor’s race in the spring, and Handwerk said it was “very odd” for a new firm to be added so close to the election.

“I didn’t understand why we were bringing in a new vendor into the mix when we already, in my mind, had vendors that could handle something like this,” Handwerk said.

Peterson told Handwerk that ETI was needed to provide temporary workers to distribute campaign slate cards door-to-door in New Orleans, he said. Using temp firms for this work was pretty common because it shifted liability and the burden of finding labor to the staffing agency, according to Handwerk.

State business records show ETI’s president is Randall Moore. In 2005, Moore pleaded guilty to skimming money from a city energy efficiency contract during Mayor Marc Morial’s tenure, according to The Times-Picayune.

Handwerk said he was not aware of Moore’s past when Peterson backed his company as a vendor. Because the contract was issued so close to the election, Handwerk said ETI was not given the full vetting other vendors were put through when the majority of campaign contracts were signed in the spring.

The Edwards campaign agreed the additional workers were needed and approved using ETI, according to Handwerk.

Richard Carbo, Edwards’ campaign manager in 2019, said he also was unfamiliar with Moore’s background when ETI was hired. With the election just days away, he concurred that more people were needed to hand out campaign literature in New Orleans, a voter base critical for the governor’s re-election chances.

“This was one of those instances where it was recommended by Karen or the party that we use ETI for some staffing needs … and we went with that recommendation,” Carbo said.

The money for ETI came from a coordinated campaign account, which allows the candidate to steer the expenditures of a separate organization. In this instance, only the Democratic Party could write checks to vendors.

Campaign finance records show ETI was paid $87,500 in four installments between late September and mid-October 2019, including three payments for “slate card distribution.”

“We were moving very fast at that time, but there was clearly no knowledge something was happening outside of that, otherwise it wouldn’t have been allowed for from our perspective,” Carbo said.

The FBI also considers the Edwards campaign a victim of the fraud scheme, according to Carbo.

‘The chair’s radio buy’

The other company Handwerk said FBI agents discussed with him was The Jaelyn Group, a political consulting firm run by Gralen Banks, brother of former New Orleans City Council member Jay Banks.

Campaign finance records show the Louisiana Democratic Party paid The Jaelyn Group $327,700 between 2015 and 2019, including a $100,000 check in October 2019 for a “radio buy” to support Gov. John Bel Edwards’ reelection campaign.

Carbo said Peterson approached him and Handwerk directly about purchasing broadcast advertising through The Jaelyn Group. Within the campaign, it was identified as “the chair’s radio buy,” referring to Peterson’s role with the state party, Carbo said.

Handwerk said he knows at least some of the radio commercials aired. He speculated that money from the ad buy could have been skimmed and converted to cash for Peterson. The Jaelyn Group had worked with the party before to place campaign ads, Handwerk said.

The FBI declined to answer questions about the Peterson investigation, citing its policy not to confirm or deny such probes.

The Illuminator could not reach Gralen Banks.

The prosecutors’ bill of information does not name The Jaelyn Group, ETI, Moore or Banks. The businesses in the court record are referred to as Company 1, 2, 3 and 4.

The only incident detailed in the court record occurred March 15, 2018, a year before Peterson’s gambling addiction became public knowledge. On that day Peterson wrote a check to “Person 1” for $4,500 from her campaign account for “legislative assistance.”

Peterson’s campaign finance records show $4,500 was paid to Markeith Coleman of Moss Point, Mississippi, on March 15, 2018, for “legislative assistance.”

Coleman did not respond to an attempt to reach him via social media.

Handwerk said federal investigators also asked him about the financial inner workings of the Louisiana Democratic Party and cash control procedures. Peterson was a signer on most of the party’s bank accounts, but Handwerk told the Illuminator she did not have access to checks and didn’t know the account numbers.

“She never engaged with the bank whatsoever,” he said.

The Louisiana Democratic Party has since reviewed its financial procedures. Current state chair Katie Bernhardt issued a statement to reporters last week after Peterson announced her plea deal.

“When I ran for chair two years ago, I heard the call for a complete overhaul of the Louisiana Democratic Party loud and clear from the people, and that’s what we’ve done,” Bernhardt’s statement said in part.

‘I was kept in the dark’

Handwerk said he is disappointed that Peterson has not made an effort to clear the party and its staff in her public statements. After word of her plea deal got out last week, Peterson posted an apology on Twitter.

“I have made full repayment of funds used as a result of my addiction and I will continue to make amends,” Peterson’s post also said.

It wasn’t until an hour before the WWL story aired in March 2019 that Handwerk said he learned that Peterson had a gambling addiction. The report disclosed that State Police issued a misdemeanor summons to Peterson a month earlier when she tried to enter L’Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge.

Peterson issued a statement shortly after the broadcast report, admitting her addiction. Handwerk said he had no involvement in crafting that message.

“Clearly, because she already had her statement written, she already had all of this stuff prepared, right?” he said. “That really had me livid because I was kept in the dark for so long about this.”

Once Peterson’s addiction was revealed, Handwerk said some past interactions with Peterson gained new context. He shared one such instance that he said took place about a year before the WWL story aired when he was in charge of planning a training session for regional Democratic Party staff.

Harrah’s Casino and Hotel in New Orleans had the best response to a bid solicitation to host the event, Handwerk said. When he shared that information with Peterson, he said she became angry and argued that he couldn’t execute a contract with Harrah’s.

“‘You just can’t. That puts me in a really bad position,’” Handwerk said Peterson told him. “I had no idea what position it was putting her in.”

Handwerk went ahead and reached a contract with Harrah’s and said Peterson skipped a scheduled speaking engagement at the event at the last minute.

Peterson’s attorney, Brian Capitelli, did not respond to questions for this report.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Louisiana House revives ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill with rare procedural move

Conservatives in the Louisiana House of Representatives turned to a seldom used procedure Tuesday to bring a controversial education proposal back from the dead. With just two votes to spare, members revived a bill that would prohibit public school teachers and employees from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with students.

The so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation from Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, failed to advance from the House Education Committee a week ago. Three Republicans joined Democrats in opposition in a 4-7 vote.

On the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, asked his colleagues to discharge the rejected bill from committee and move it before the Committee of the Whole, on which all representatives have a vote. Needing 53 members to support discharge the bill, the House voted 55-39 to back Crews’ motion.

Bills brought before the Committee of the Whole are handled much like any other proposal brought before a legislative panel. Representatives can bring supporters and opponents to testify during the bill’s hearing, a process that has never happened on the House floor to the recollection of longtime legislative watchers.

There was no immediate indication from House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, on when Horton’s bill would be scheduled for a hearing.

Louisiana’s “Don’t Say Gay” proposal is modeled after legislation that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed into law.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.