Oklahoma Republican Wants to Deputize Private Citizens to Sue School Districts

The country by now is well acquainted with S.B. 8, the draconian new Texas anti-choice law that could massively undo abortion rights upon the ultimate whim of the Supreme Court. Beyond severely limiting the window of time available to have an abortion, S.B. 8 essentially deputizes average citizens to play the role of spy against their neighbors.

“The new law in Texas effectively banning most abortions has ignited widespread controversy and debate,” reports The New York Times, “in part because of the mechanism it uses to enforce the restrictions: deputizing ordinary people to sue those involved in performing abortions and giving them a financial incentive to do so. The law establishes a kind of bounty system. If these vigilante plaintiffs are successful, the law allows them to collect cash judgments of $10,000 — and their legal fees — from those they sue.” (Emphasis added.)

That $10,000 prize jumped up and poked me in the eye again recently, when I came across a report out of Oklahoma regarding the widespread, ongoing effort to ban or stifle certain books deemed “offensive” or “dangerous” to students. In Oklahoma, this effort has been aimed specifically at books that offer support or give advice to LGBTQ+ students.

State Senate Bill 1142, authored by Republican State Sen. Rob Standridge, would place the power to ban books into the hands of parents in a profoundly unprecedented manner. “Under Senate Bill 1142, if just one parent objects to a book it must be removed within 30 days,” reports the McAlester News-Capital. “If it is not, the librarian must be fired and cannot work for any public school for two years.”

There was also this tidbit buried in the same report: “Parents can also collect at least $10,000 per day from school districts if the book is not removed as requested.” (Emphasis added.)

Call me paranoid, but some things are just too cute to be coincidence.

It is no secret that conservative think tanks across the country have become highly adept at turning out drafts of right-wing legislation covering a variety of issues. Conservative legislators at both the state and federal levels use these drafts to craft heavy-handed legislation exactly like S.B. 8 in Texas and Senate Bill 1142 in Oklahoma. The Center for Public Integrity explains:

A two-year investigation by USA TODAY, The Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity reveals for the first time the extent to which special interests have infiltrated state legislatures using model legislation. USA TODAY and the Republic found at least 10,000 bills almost entirely copied from model legislation were introduced nationwide in the past eight years, and more than 2,100 of those bills were signed into law.

The investigation examined nearly 1 million bills in all 50 states and Congress using a computer algorithm developed to detect similarities in language. That search — powered by the equivalent of 150 computers that ran nonstop for months — compared known model legislation with bills introduced by lawmakers. The phenomenon of copycat legislation is far larger. In a separate analysis, the Center for Public Integrity identified tens of thousands of bills with identical phrases, then traced the origins of that language in dozens of those bills across the country.

Model bills passed into law have made it harder for injured consumers to sue corporations. They’ve called for taxes on sugar-laden drinks. They’ve limited access to abortion and restricted the rights of protesters. In all, these copycat bills amount to the nation’s largest, unreported special-interest campaign, driving agendas in every statehouse and touching nearly every area of public policy.

It is likewise no secret that the Republican Party has undergone a fundamental change in strategy and tactics because of, and in the aftermath of Donald Trump. Gone are the days when they believed they could win elections on policy arguments. Many of the battlefields of the “culture wars” are lost to them as the country grows younger, and as generations devoted to equal rights and climate action move into positions of greater and greater influence.

The new tactics, therefore, rely solely on muscle and money. Jam the legislatures with far right bills while packing the courts with far right judges and justices, gerrymander the voting districts and restrict voting rights wherever possible. When all else fails, swarm the Capitol building in a spasm of violence and try to overthrow fair and legal elections.

“Conservatives see no reason to back off of this plan, no matter how much generational replacement occurs,” writes David Atkins for Washington Monthly. “They have no intention of moderating themselves or their ideas to meet new challenges — in part because it’s impossible to imagine a ‘conservative’ response to the climate crisis, housing costs, or radical inequality that does not decenter conservative white evangelicals who have no intention of giving up ill-gotten power. They only intend to rule — no matter what it takes, and no matter how many lines they cross.”

Now, though, come these $10,000 prize payments meant to inspire citizens to put real muscle behind these terrible pieces of legislation. I’ve never seen it before, much less in two separate states on two separate issues; one could almost make a living off that kind of money if you went pro and did it full time. Abortion bounty hunters and school library plunderers making bank, because in Republican World, there is nothing that cannot be monetized.

The fact that this money award idea has appeared simultaneously in two different states makes me believe there is a guiding think tank hand behind it. The bills themselves are silent on the subject, no press reports indicate outside help, and calls to the sponsors of S.B. 8 and Senate Bill 1142 were not returned. Unless the Supreme Court specifically chops the practice down, I believe we will be seeing more and more of this particular trick in legislation to come. There is always a new lane on the low road.