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Senate passes Respect For Marriage Act

Nice. And remember who opposed it, kids.

Republican U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz tried to block a Senate vote to explicitly enshrine equal marriage rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans into federal law Wednesday, after 12 GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to clear the way for the bill’s passage.

The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law unconstitutional in 2013. The high court went further in 2015 and ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that states can’t ban same-sex marriages, declaring that gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans have a constitutional right to marry.

The core provisions of the Respect for Marriage Act would be relevant only if the Supreme Court reverses that decision in the way it revoked a constitutional right to abortion this summer.

The bill would not force states that currently have unenforceable bans on same-sex marriage, like Texas, to offer marriage certificates to gay, lesbian and bisexual couples if Obergefell is overturned. But it would mandate that the state recognize a same-sex marriage that occurred in a state where it is legal. The vote on Wednesday in the Senate clears the way for it to pass the chamber easily. It will then return to the House, where members will consider the amendments made in the Senate. The House passed the original version of the bill in July.

There was a push to get this to a vote before the election, but the decision was made to defer it to the lame duck session. Given that it has now passed the Senate, I can’t argue the logic – sometimes, the result is all that matters. The RFMA has some progressive critics, but the argument for its passage is strong. I have no doubt it will sail through the House. It’s a very good thing, but don’t rest on your laurels because there’s lots more to be done before the end of the year. Mother Jones, TPM, and The 19th have more.

There’s a wave of hoax school shooting reports around the country

Weird and scary.

When Emmi Conley first heard in September about a rash of hoax calls reporting active shooters in schools, she dismissed it. Conley, an extremism researcher who studies groups and people behind public displays of violence, said she found no indication that these calls were connected to fringe online spaces where these pranks often originate.

But as the number of these reports swelled over time, Conley said she began to discern some very strange patterns — including the possibility that the calls may have come from overseas, and perhaps specifically from Africa.

“The scale and the timeline of the events is highly, highly unusual,” she said. “The calls are consistent. They are coordinated. They are grouped state-by-state and district-by-district, and they’re also sustained. So somebody is putting significant effort to keep these going.”

As Conley began digging further, more questions emerged. Elements of these calls were notably different than what she has typically seen in school-based threats. Nobody has taken credit for these calls, even as they stretched over several weeks, and the technological planning and research behind the calls betrayed a level of sophistication not typically seen.

In a statement, the FBI has said it is aware of the incidents, but has “no information to indicate a specific and credible threat.”

The agency said it is working with law enforcement at every level to investigate the cases. But some news reports, including in Minnesota and Louisiana, have cited local authorities who said the calls may be originating in Africa or, specifically, Ethiopia. The FBI would not comment on this detail.

For Conley, particulars around these calls suggest that the people or person behind them are, indeed, overseas.

“Our big questions now are whose attention are they after?” she said. “Is it the public? Law enforcement? Media? Something else? And why they’re after it?”

The story notes that schools in multiple states have been receiving bomb threat calls since March, and in five states there was more than one such call on the same day in April. This is a form of “swatting”, which is a term that refers to calls that falsely report an act of violence in progress or about to occur. Such calls have themselves sometimes resulted in violence as part of the police response. I’ve written about some recent local examples of similar hoax reports, and while Texas is not mentioned in that NPR story, there’s no reason to think whoever is behind this couldn’t target our state as well. As I said before, this is a grim reminder to school districts and police forces that they need to be thinking about this kind of situation and make sure they have plans in place to respond. Unfortunately, it looks like they need to have a plan in place for dealing with false alarms as well.

So many abortion clinics have closed

Most of them are in Texas.

More than half of the 23 abortion clinics in Texas have closed since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, according to a new report.

Twelve clinics have shuttered their operations entirely in the state, and the rest have focused on other services, which could include cancer screenings, STI treatments and contraception, according to the review by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health access. The count did not include a list of clinics that have closed.

Nearly half of the 26 abortion clinics that have closed nationally since the court’s decision were in Texas, according to the report.

[…]

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, which lifted federal abortion protections, several independent abortion providers announced they were relocating their Texas operations to states where the procedure is still allowed. Whole Woman’s Health, which is moving its Texas operations to New Mexico, had worked in Texas for nearly 20 years, with clinics in Austin, McAllen, Fort Worth, and McKinney before this summer.

Whole Woman’s Health now offers a program in which Texas patients who are up to 11 weeks pregnant can go to New Mexico or four other states for a telemedicine appointment and pick up prescribed abortion medication in that state. It also plans to open a physical clinic in New Mexico and is in the process of searching for a building.

“We know the same amount of people in the community we serve still need abortion care,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the group’s founder and CEO. “The ban doesn’t do anything to prevent unplanned pregnancies; it just keeps people from getting professional medical care.”

Two things to keep in mind here. One is that the number of clinics in Texas at the time of the Dobbs decision was already way down from the early 2010s. This is because of the the anti-abortion law that was passed in 2013, the one that Wendy Davis famously filibustered against, which was aimed at regulating clinics out of business; this was a prime example of a so-called TRAP law, which stood for “targeted restrictions (or regulations) on abortion providers”. You know, the law that forced abortion clinics to transform themselves into ambulatory surgical units and did things like require minimum corridor widths, under the bullshit guise of “safety”. The Supreme Court in 2015, which still had Anthony Kennedy on it, threw out this law on the grounds that it was a lying pile of baloney that did nothing to actually promote safety and put an “undue burden” on the providers. (The case was Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt, you may have heard of it.) For a brief shining moment, clinics and abortion advocates in Texas began making plans to sue the state over other restrictive laws that this decision would have rendered unconstitutional.

And then 2016 happened, and we know the rest. But the point is that in between the passage of the 2013 TRAP law and the 2015 Hellerstedt decision, more than half of the clinics that had provided abortions in Texas had closed. None, as far as I know, had reopened following Hellerstedt, though going by the numbers in both stories it’s likely some new places began offering abortion services. However you slice it, the number of clinics that were around to close this year was down sharply from less than ten years ago. We were already a state where getting an abortion was exceedingly difficult to do for many women.

What this all means is that even if Democrats manage to fill the inside straight and put themselves in a position to re-establish abortion rights nationwide in 2023, we’re a long way off from abortion being readily available in Texas again. That process could take a decade or more, and that’s assuming that Republicans don’t gain a trifecta and do a national abortion ban or some other horrible thing. We have some hope of making the laws right again. Getting back to where we were, let alone where we need to be, that is a much longer-term project. Daily Kos has more.

The Biden marijuana pardons

A pretty big deal.

Calling the criminalization of marijuana a “failed approach,” President Joe Biden announced a pardon of all federal marijuana possession charges Thursday — and urged governors to follow suit with state-level convictions for marijuana possession.

The federal pardon will affect about 6,500 people, The New York Times reported, but the vast majority of marijuana possession crimes are charged on the state level, not in a federal case.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday about Biden’s announcement.

Abbott’s gubernatorial opponent, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, was quick to announce his support for the president’s action.

“When I’m governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

According to the Texas law, the governor can issue pardons only if a majority of Board of Pardons and Paroles members make such a recommendation in writing.

[…]

This year through August, Texas prosecutors filed more than 14,000 misdemeanor pot possession charges, so far leading to more than 5,000 convictions, according to statewide court data. Pot possession is a misdemeanor for up to 4 ounces, and a felony for quantities beyond that.

Marijuana prosecutions dropped dramatically after 2019, when Texas lawmakers legalized hemp and as a result complicated how law enforcement can determine if something is illegal cannabis. In 2018, for example, nearly 50,000 misdemeanor marijuana charges were filed.

I assume that a relatively large portion of the 6,500 people who will receive the federal pardon are in Texas; we’re a big state with a significant non-white population, so just on the numbers we’ll be home to a lot of the beneficiaries of this. I haven’t seen what that number might be, nor do I know how many people could be pardoned for state offenses, if Greg Abbott were so moved. We know that loosening marijuana laws polls well in Texas, though it’s not clear to me if these pardons would be as popular; my guess is they’d have significant support but maybe not as much as expanding medical marijuana access or decriminalizing pot for recreational use. This announcement may help charge up the youth vote, but again it’s hard to say by how much or what the net effect might be. We’re unlikely to get any insight from polling at this point.

The President’s actions were right on the merits and I daresay good on the politics. They were sufficiently long-awaited that I’d say some people had expected them to never happen. As is usually the case with federal action, Texas will get the smallest possible benefit from it because our state leaders won’t allow for any more than that. I assume I don’t need to tell you what we could do to affect that.

The SPURS bills

I admit that I tipped my cap to this one.

What if it took an act of Congress to keep the Spurs in San Antonio?

With the team playing two games in Austin this season and Austin billionaire Michael Dell buying a 10 percent share of the team last year, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales worries it might, even as the Spurs’ owners have sought to reassure fans and local officials that they have no plans to move.

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and there’s absolutely smoke,” the San Antonio Republican said.

“Look what happened to the Seattle SuperSonics,” Gonzales said of the now-Oklahoma City Thunder; or the San Diego Chargers or St. Louis Rams, both of which now call Los Angeles home.

“No one would ever imagine the Spurs would leave San Antonio, but what if they do?” Gonzales said. “Sometimes when we say it takes an act of Congress, sometimes we have to take that seriously.”

So Gonzales is filing legislation to stop any possible move up Interstate 35 for the Spurs, and to prevent other small market teams from ditching communities that have invested time, tears — and a whole lot of cash — in them.

His bill, The Strengthening Public Undertakings for Retaining Sports Act — or SPURS Act for short — would set up strict requirements for teams to relocate. A franchise would have to lose money for five years in a row, plus prove that its stadium is inadequate or that local governments are flouting its agreements with the team.

The legislation would require teams to give a year’s notice if they want to relocate, and it would allow local governments to veto the move. It would also force teams that do move to reimburse whatever financial assistance or incentives were provided to them, such as special tax incentives or arena financing. Local governments could sue teams for damages, as well.

[…]

The legislation comes after Spurs managing partner Peter J. Holt in May wrote an open letter to fans seeking to ease months of suspicion that the team might be eyeing a move. The Spurs are under a non-relocation agreement with Bexar County that runs through 2032, but county commissioners have agreed to a one-year pilot program allowing the team to play “home” games in Austin and Mexico City.

The team has said it’s all part of an effort to broaden the fan base as attendance has plummeted amid a franchise record three-year playoff drought.

“We will keep making memories, together, inside of Bexar County,” Holt wrote.

Gonzales said he believes Holt, but worries about future owners. Dell buying a share of the team could be the first step toward building an ownership more open to a move, he said.

Some background reading on this if it’s all new to you. I don’t know if this bill makes any sense legally or economically, but if you want to find a non-partisan issue to support that might draw you some crossover voters, it would be hard to top a pro-Spurs-in-San-Antonio bill for a guy who represents a lot of their fanbase. Whatever happens to this – I will bet you $1 right now that it doesn’t get a committee hearing in this Congress – it’s a brilliant piece of politics.

The Biden student loan forgiveness plan will help a lot of Texans

Hope they’re all voters, because it’s very clear who is on their side and who is against them.

More Texans would benefit from President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive student loan debt than residents of nearly any other state — and 1.6 million would have their balances completely cleared — according to new White House estimates released as Republicans call it an unconstitutional giveaway to the elite and seek to derail it.

More than 3.3 million Texans would be eligible to have at least $10,000 forgiven and most people in that group, 2.3 million, would have $20,000 forgiven. Texas is second only to California in the number of residents that would benefit from the debt forgiveness plan, according to the estimates, which were compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.

[…]

Officials have said they plan to have applications available early next month, but the plan is likely to face a long legal battle.

Texas is among the red states looking for ways to stop it from becoming a reality. Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a recent interview on Fox News that Texas is “definitely looking at a strategy.”

It is the first time a president has sought to unilaterally cancel swaths of student debt and whether the administration has the authority to do so has been the point of heated debate. The administration says it can, citing a 2003 law that grants the secretary of education authority to offer loan relief during times of war or national emergencies.

But Republicans say Biden is going too far.

“The reality is, I don’t actually think Joe Biden thinks he can do this,” Paxton said. “We are absolutely looking at something we can do to protect the American people from a president that is just making up his own rules as he goes along.”

Republicans argue the plan is unfair to those who have already paid off their debt, as well as the vast majority of American adults who do not have student loans. They say the plan will cost too much — with some estimates as high as $600 billion — and will help those who need it the least.

“College may not be the right decision for every American, but for the students who took out loans, it was their decision: able adults and willing borrowers who knowingly agreed to the terms of the loan and consented to taking on debt in exchange for taking classes,” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to Biden with other Republican governors last week. “For many borrowers, they worked hard, made sacrifices, and paid off their debt. For many others, they chose hard work and a paycheck rather than more school and a loan. Americans who did not choose to take out student loans themselves should certainly not be forced to pay for the student loans of others.”

Paxton and Abbott are gonna do what they’re gonna do, and we’ll have to deal with it as we always do. There are absolutely root-cause issues here that are not addressed, but one of the big ones is the underfunding of state universities, which is why they’re so much more expensive now than they were even 20 years ago. Remember tuition deregulation, which the Lege did under Tom Craddick back in 2003 as an exercise in budget-cutting? Not much the President can do about that, and I don’t see Greg Abbott lining up to offer solutions. Anyway, policies that offer a lot of people a tangible benefit are usually good, and certainly attractive from a vote-getting perspective. I hope everyone involved in this remembers that.

Republicans propose nationwide abortion ban

It was ever thus.

Republicans are struggling with the backlash against the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and a series of Republican-controlled states instituting harsh abortion bans. Voters are angry, and that anger has contributed to a reduction in Republican hopes for November’s midterm elections. So what are they doing about it? Well, Sen. Lindsey Graham is going to introduce a national 15-week abortion ban.

That’s one way to do things. Voters are angry that your party is banning abortion in the states? Go ahead and ban it nationally! Many in your party defended the Supreme Court’s move as backing states’ rights on this issue? Take it federal!

Graham’s move is a political calculation. He’s calling his 15-week abortion ban—which falls far short of Roe’s standard of viability, usually around 23 or 24 weeks—the “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act.” He thinks he can convince swing voters to hear “late-term abortions” and “pain-capable” and think, “This is a reasonable limit I can support in the name of compromise.”

But that’s presuming that voters will hear those words and not just “national abortion ban.” Or that they won’t see through the fact that what Graham proposes is a sharp cut from what had been the national standard for nearly five decades.

[…]

It’s not hard to see what Graham thinks he is doing with this messaging bill that has no chance of passing in a Congress controlled by Democrats or being signed by a Democratic president. He’s trying to use the deceptive name of the bill to convince voters that Republicans just have reasonable goals when it comes to a national abortion ban. The thing is, Republicans haven’t given voters a lot of reason to trust them on this issue, given the harsh abortion bans in so many Republican-controlled states, and the horror stories coming out of those states of women denied care for miscarriages or pregnancies that threaten their health, or child rape victims forced to travel out of state for medical care. And Graham’s ban wouldn’t reinstitute abortion rights up to 15 weeks in the states with near-total bans—it would only limit abortion rights where they currently exist.

It is also, of course, a huge betrayal of everything Republicans have said about states’ rights. Here’s Graham himself, just last month: “I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion.” It isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a surprise that Graham is a giant liar on this front, but it’s another reminder that the implication that Republicans just want to pass this oh-so-reasonable “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act” isn’t just a lie when it comes to the name of the bill, it’s a lie about their larger ambitions. They’re just getting started with this, and yes, Republicans want a national abortion ban.

The first thing you need to understand is this:

Yes. Marshall expands on that here:

Republicans want to portray this as a reasonable national compromise, setting a national standard as I’ve seen even some journalists put it. But that’s not what it is. It doesn’t set a national 15 or 20 week standard. All the total restrictions which are now common in red and some purple states stay in place. It simply takes the Mississippi law which brought us the Dobbs decision and imposes it on every blue state. So what Mississippi passed and which was treated as extreme a year ago will become the law in California, New York, Illinois, Washington state and everywhere else. In practice it’s a blue state abortion ban. Abortion’s already banned in the great majority of red states or soon will be.

Republicans leave the decision to the states. Unless a state protects abortion rights. In which case Republicans ban it for them.

It is critical at every stage — though I suspect most won’t need it pointed out — that this is a national ban. Even if it’s 15 weeks versus from the moment of conception, it is a national ban. So if you’re relying on your blue state politics making this someone else’s problem you’re out of luck. It’s coming for you. And it certainly won’t stop with a 15 week ban.

If this were both a limit and a guarantee – that is, abortion is legal up to 15 weeks but no more, except in broadly-defined cases where the pregnant person’s life or health is in danger, then maybe this could have some traction. It would still be a big setback for abortion rights in mostly blue states, but it would make abortion at least theoretically available again in roughly half the country, including Texas. This is close to the preferred outcome of John Roberts, who simply wanted to uphold the Mississippi 15-week ban and make Roe smaller, not throw it on the trash heap and then light it on fire. Such bans have failed nationally and in some states when put to the voters, and post-Dobbs it’s harder to see anyone who isn’t a committed forced-birther feeling like “compromise” is the right answer, but it would at least make the Republicans look like they were willing to give some ground. This is nothing like that.

Republicans in the Senate mostly greeted this bill by reacting as they would to a dead cat on their front porch. And if they’re really lucky…

I approve of this message. Slate has more.

National support for abortion rights on the rise

It’s pretty high in this poll.

Voters have grown more supportive of legalizing abortion following the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, with a clear majority opposing restrictions, like bans at a certain point of pregnancy or barring women from traveling to get a legal abortion, according to a new Wall Street Journal poll that underscores the importance of the issue in the midterm elections.

According to the survey, 60% of voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, up from 55% in March. Another 29% said it should be illegal, except in cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is endangered, compared with 30% in March. And 6% said it should be illegal in all cases, down from 11% in March.

The court’s decision to end federal constitutional protections for the procedure has injected new Democratic energy into a midterm election that Republicans expected to be dominated by economic issues. About a dozen states have banned many or most abortions since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

“Abortion is not an issue that most people, prior to Dobbs, spent a lot of time thinking about,” said Democratic pollster Molly Murphy, whose firm conducted the poll with Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio. “What Dobbs has done is one, we’ve had a national conversation about it. Two, it has gone from hypothetical to real.”

More than half of voters said the ruling made them more motivated to vote in the midterm elections.

Asked broadly about their top issue for the midterms, voters cited the economy and inflation first, followed by abortion. But when offered a choice of five issues and asked which made them most likely to vote, they put the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade ahead of inflation.

Among those who named the court ruling as the most important issue tested against others, 77% were Democrats, 8% were Republicans and 9% were independents.

[…]

Support for abortion in most or all cases rose among Catholics to 59%, up from 45% in March. Support from Black voters was at 69%, up from 59%. College-educated women moved to 76% in support, up from 65%.

“It’s definitely a motivator,” said Elizabeth Schoenknecht, 46, of Hudson, Wis., who is a registered Democrat and works in philanthropy. “It’s heartbreaking to see the reality come to fruition.”

Among Democrats, 92% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, 6% said it should be illegal except in some cases, such as rape, incest, and when the woman’s life is endangered, and 1% said it should be illegal in all cases. A total of 59% of independents said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, 26% said illegal except in limited cases and 7% illegal in all cases.

With Republicans, 27% said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, 56% said it should illegal except in limited cases and 11% said it should be illegal in all cases.

“The truth of the matter is even among Republicans there isn’t a clear consensus. They want restrictions, the question is what restrictions and how far should they go,” said Mr. Fabrizio, the GOP pollster.

The poll also showed clear opposition to the types of abortion restrictions being enacted or discussed in some states. A total of 62% opposed an abortion ban at 6 weeks of pregnancy that only included an exception for the health of the mother, and 57% opposed a ban at 15 weeks with an exception only for the health of the mother. The survey said 77% opposed banning women who live in states where abortion is illegal from traveling to other states to get an abortion. And 81% were against banning all abortions.

Consider this a companion to that poll about abortion attitudes in Texas. It makes sense that state polls would be directionally in line with national polls, but the state poll was from June and as I said appeared to me to be if nothing else ahead of its time. We also don’t know what the question wording was in this poll. I also note that while the story listed attitudinal shifts among several subgroups, it didn’t include Latinos among them, which could mean any number of things. I find all of this more suggestive than conclusive, but moving the want I want it to. I just don’t know yet what I think about how much of an effect it may have in November.

VA says it will provide abortions

Very interesting.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Friday it will provide abortions for veterans and their beneficiaries as medically necessary or in cases of rape or incest.

The VA said it plans to provide abortions across the entire nation — including states, such as Texas, that prohibit the procedure. The VA’s decision reopens access to abortion to a class of women in Texas and several other states.

Texas is home to more than 1.5 million veterans. About 193,000 of those are women — more than any other state.

Texas lawmakers approved a ban on abortion that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the case that established a nationwide right to abortion.

“This is a patient safety decision,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “Pregnant Veterans and VA beneficiaries deserve to have access to world-class reproductive care when they need it most. That’s what our nation owes them, and that’s what we at VA will deliver.”

In announcing the decision to provide abortions, the VA said “access to medically necessary abortions is essential for preserving the life and health of Veterans and VA beneficiaries.”

That’s great, and I’m very glad to see it, but I think we all know that Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton aren’t going to just accept this as a given and keep quiet about it. There’s no comment from any Texas official in this story, so for right now we don’t know exactly how they will respond. But come on, we really do know that they will challenge it in court, and they will surely make threats about arresting VA doctors who perform abortions anyway. This was the right thing to do but the matter is far from settled. We will have to see how it plays out. Mother Jones has more.

More on the targeting of medical abortion

The end goal has always been a complete national ban on abortion. The “return it to the states” nonsense is a dodge to make you think it won’t be that bad and the people claiming it’s about a national ban are just fearmongering. The actions and words of the forced-birth fanatics make it clear what is really happening.

Two top antiabortion groups have crafted and successfully lobbied for state legislation to ban or further restrict the predominant way pregnancies are ended in the United States — via drugs taken at home, often facilitated by a network of abortion rights groups.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, 14 states now ban or partially ban the use of those drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, which are used in more than half of all abortions.

But the drugs remain widely available, with multiple groups working to help provide them even to women in states with abortion bans. Students for Life of America and National Right to Life Committee, which have played leading roles in crafting antiabortion laws, hope to change that with new legislation.

The groups are pursuing a variety of tactics, from bills that would ban the abortion-inducing drugs altogether to others that would allow family members to sue medication providers or attempt to shut down the nonprofit groups that help women obtain and safely use the drugs.

Their strategy reflects the reality that abortion access today looks vastly different from that of the pre-Roe world, one without easy access to abortion medications from out-of-state or overseas pharmacies.

[…]

Students for Life is taking a different tack in efforts to limit or outlaw medication abortion — crafting and backing bills that restrict access to the drugs themselves.

Among the seven bills the group has successfully lobbied to pass, each requires women to see a physician in person to receive the medications rather than receiving them through the mail. The mandates vary from state-to-state, but most require a physical examination, a test to determine the blood type of the baby, an ultrasound to determine the stage of the pregnancy, a disclosure of safety risks and a follow-up examination after the procedure. In many of the states, the medications could only be used in a limited set of circumstances, like in Oklahoma where its use is restricted to ending early pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest — or if the woman’s life is in danger.

Telehealth appointments for the procedure are also prohibited under the bills.

In some cases, doctors are required to tell their patients that they can potentially reverse the effects of mifepristone and stop the abortion process — something that the American Medication Association has said is “a claim wholly unsupported by the best, most reliable scientific evidence.”

“So many states in the abortion arena have been playing with misinformation like this, relying on the antiabortion movement instead of medical professionals and what the science shows,” said Wendy E. Parmet, co-director of Northeastern University’s Center for Health Policy & Law. “Some states have required physicians say it causes breast cancer — which is also false.”

The ultimate goal of Students for Life is to block access to drugs entirely. The group is seeking criminal sanctions for the physicians and organizations that “manufacture, distribute, prescribe, dispense, sell or transfer” the drugs in the state.

If passed, the laws would be most effective in blocking prescriptions made by doctors in states where abortion is still legal — typically through telehealth appointments — to patients who reside in states where medication abortions are banned in all circumstances.

Experts say it is unlikely that law enforcement would be allowed to enter a state to arrest a doctor where they have no jurisdiction. However, state medical boards could penalize doctors — including revocation of their medical licenses — if they determined they are not licensed to practice medicine with someone who resides outside their state.

“It’s not as bad as going to prison, but it’s certainly something that no doctors want to have to do — be in a position where they are having to defend their license,” said Hearn, McCormack’s attorney, who is also a physician.

I’ve blogged about this in various forms before, and it’s important to keep in mind that this is where the forced birth fanatics want to go, and will go if they’re not stopped. Enforcing these kinds of laws will be extremely intrusive, wherever the exist. I have meant that in the past to mean that law enforcement will need to get all kinds of access to your mail, your phone logs, your browsing history, and so on, but there’s another way in which having such laws on the books will curtail everyone’s privacy. You will have to be extremely careful about what you say to whom, and you won’t be able to trust anyone you don’t know. That includes medical professionals and anyone who works for or with them.

If you are looking to end your own pregnancy, your own doctor may be your downfall.

Between 2000 and 2020, law enforcement in 26 states investigated or arrested at least 61 people for allegedly aborting their own pregnancy or helping someone else do so, according to a report released earlier this week by the legal advocacy group group If/When/How. And in 45 percent of those cases, it was healthcare providers or social workers who tipped off police.

In another 26 percent of the cases, people “entrusted with information”—like partners, parents, and friends—reported their ostensible loved one to police.

“The research really clearly confirms that the biggest threat to the privacy of abortion seekers is other people,” said Laura Huss, senior researcher for If/When/How. “That breakdown of trust and ethics and the patient-doctor relationship is really alarming.”

The report, which examined the criminalization of self-managed abortions while Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land, offers a stunning glimpse at how people who get abortions in this post-Roe era may be targeted and threatened by law enforcement. Although abortion opponents often insist that they do not want to punish pregnant people for abortions, abortion rights supporters have long pointed out that pregnant people have already faced criminal consequences—and there’s no way to ensure they’ll be kept out of an anti-abortion dragnet.

Gotta say, as a child of the 70s and 80s, all this gives me serious Soviet Union vibes. I’m old enough to remember when Republicans and conservatives thought that was a bad thing.

Cheney versus Cruz

Pop your popcorn, this should be fun.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, one of the GOP’s highest-profile critics of former President Donald Trump, plans to set her sights on U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans who she says “made themselves unfit for future office” by going along with Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election.

The Wyoming Republican, who lost a primary this month to Trump-backed attorney Harriet Hageman, launched a political action committee with her campaign funds and now says she plans to use the PAC to go after “election deniers.”

Cheney, a leading member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, told the Wall Street Journal that her first targets include Cruz, who she said “took steps that fundamentally threatened the constitutional order and structure in the aftermath of the last election.”

Cruz led an effort in the Senate to delay certifying President Joe Biden’s election win and objected to Arizona’s electoral votes less than an hour before demonstrators breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pointing to “unprecedented” — and unproven — allegations of voter fraud. Cruz at the time was pushing for an “emergency audit,” which he has argued could have provided the final say Trump supporters needed to accept the results.

Cruz’s Senate term runs through 2024. The Texas Republican has said he would run again for president “in a heartbeat” after coming in second to Trump in the 2016 GOP primary.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t expect this effort to make much difference politically. I respect Liz Cheney for her principled stand for democracy and truth in the face of all kinds of resistance, but I’m under no illusions that she’s suddenly a force for progressive politics. I’m just hoping she’ll land some punches on a guy who needs to be regularly punched. I have no expectations beyond that.

Election officials and workers need our help

We’ve identified the problem. That’s good. Now let’s do something to fix it.

Misinformation about elections has led to violent threats against election workers in Texas and other states — including one who was told “we should end your bloodline” — according to a new report released by a House panel Thursday.

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard from one county election official in Texas that he received death threats after being singled out by out-of-state candidates who claimed the 2020 election was stolen. Those threats quickly escalated and eventually included his family and staff.

Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia received social media messages including, “hunt him down,” “needs to leave Texas and U.S. as soon as possible,” and “hang him when convicted for fraud and let his lifeless body hang in public until maggots drip out of his mouth.”

The report said Garcia had to call law enforcement when his home address was leaked and calls for physical violence against himself and his family increased — eventually leading to threats against his children that included “I think we should end your bloodline.” Law enforcement determined that none of the threats broke the law, but they did provide coordination and additional patrol around his neighborhood.

The findings are the latest evidence of how former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him have taken root as they have been echoed by his supporters, including Texas Republicans who passed new voting restrictions last year.

The report comes as polling released this week indicates two-thirds of Texans who identify as Republicans still do not believe the 2020 election was legitimate. The June survey by the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin found 66 percent of Texas Republicans said they don’t believe President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. That was unchanged from February when they were asked the same question.

The report is part of a longrunning effort by congressional Democrats to push back on Trump’s claims and new voting restrictions in states, including Texas.

“Election officials are under siege,” said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel. “They face growing campaigns of harassment and threats, all driven by false accusations of fraud.”

[…]

Garcia wrote that Sidney Powell, Trump’s former lawyer who sought to overturn the 2020 election, appeared on Fox News pushing bunk claims about voting machines turning Tarrant County blue. Garcia was also targeted by Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator on Newsmax, and far-right website The Gateway Pundit.

Their attacks on Garcia came when Biden won the typically red county by 0.2 percentage points after Trump had led the initial count on election night, before late absentees and provisional ballots were included.

“What followed in the next 4 to 6 weeks was a terrible time of threats and concerns for the safety of my family, my staff and myself,” Garcia wrote.

The House panel in April sent letters to elections administrators in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Ohio asking how misinformation had impacted their work. The report’s findings are based, in part, on responses by Remy Garza, a Cameron County election official who is president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators.

Garza told the committee that during debates in the legislature over proposed changes to voting laws, public testimony frequently included “broad generalizations of alleged fraud” and “repeated misleading information about actions taken by the Harris County clerk responsible for the November 2020 election.”

Garza said the bills Texas Republicans passed were inspired by “false information” and were also sometimes impossible for elections administrators to implement. For instance, the state Legislature enacted a requirement for voting machines to produce a paper record without providing the necessary funds to cover the costs of converting existing equipment to comply, as well as other requirements that are not possible in counties that don’t have certain elections systems.

I have a hard time understanding how those threats against Heider Garcia’s family would not be considered violations of the law. If that’s the case, then the law needs to be updated, because we just can’t have that in a world where we also want free and fair elections run by competent people. Various provisions to offer protection to election officials were included in the voting rights bills that passed the House but were doomed by the filibuster in the Senate. I’m hopeful we’ll get an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1877 to shore up the weaknesses that Trump tried to exploit in 2020, but I seriously doubt that an amendment to include those election official protections could be added, for the same filibuster-related reasons. We’re going to need the same “hold the House and expand the Dem majority in the Senate” parlay to have some hope for this next year. I hope we can wait that long. The Trib has more.

Maybe don’t vote against a popular bill that you’d previously supported out of spite next time?

Sowing, meet reaping.

Not Ted Cruz

Veterans groups are irate with Texas Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn after they joined Senate Republicans in blocking a bill expanding health care to veterans exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits while they were deployed overseas.

The Senate is expected to pass the bill as soon as this week, but veterans advocates say the move to block the bill — which Cornyn and Cruz had previously supported — caused unnecessary delays for people with potentially life-threatening cancer who need help now. They accuse Republicans of pushing a false narrative about funding in the bill that Cruz and others have described as a blank check for Democrats.

“What it’s in danger of is more delays,” said Patrick Murray, director of legislative services at the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He said Cornyn and Cruz “are too cavalier about this eventually passing.

“That doesn’t fly to people with some of these horrible illnesses that this is meant to remedy,” he said. “Don’t tell people with cancer, ‘We’ll get to it a month or two.’”

The Senate vote is the final hurdle for the once bipartisan legislation that would open up roughly $280 billion for health care for veterans suffering from exposure to toxic fumes. The bill would make it so that those veterans no longer need to prove they were exposed to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs if they are suffering from certain symptoms.

The bill has passed the House and was approved by the Senate on a 84-14 vote in June. But administrative issues require the bill to be tweaked and voted on once more before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law. Last Wednesday, 25 Republicans, including Cornyn and Cruz, changed their vote and opposed the bill.

The reason for the switch was because a bunch of Republican Senators got their undies in a twist after they voted for the CHIPS Act and then the Manchin/Schumer reconciliation bill was announced. Mitch McConnell had threatened to tank the CHIPS Act if the Dems went forward with reconciliation, and once that hostage had been freed, they had to find another. (The fledgling Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act is also in their crosshairs.) Turns out, though, that double-crossing injured veterans like this, complete with celebratory fist bumps, especially when they have a loud-mouthed celebrity out there relentlessly attacking them for their perfidy, may not have been the best political move. Too bad, so sad. What can I tell you, fellas, sometimes nihilism isn’t the best look. Be glad you’re not on the ballot in November. TPM and Daily Kos have more.

UPDATE: And in the end, the Senate Republicans caved, with both Cruz and Cornyn going back to Yes.

House passes assault weapon ban

Another bill that won’t pass the Senate, but nonetheless shows the gap in values and priorities between the two parties.

As the House passed legislation to ban assault weapons for the first time in nearly two decades Friday, Democrats pointed to a string of mass shootings in Texas where such weapons were used to kill dozens of people: Nineteen children and two teachers in Uvalde in May; 23 shoppers in an El Paso Walmart almost exactly three years ago; 26 congregants in a church in Sutherland Springs in 2017.

“We’ve turned our churches, our schools, our shopping centers, our entertainment venues — almost any place — into a battleground, with one massacre after another,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, an El Paso Democrat, said some of her constituents who survived the mass shooting there in 2019 are still recovering from their injuries.

“The domestic terrorist who attacked my community was able to do so with a legally purchased assault weapon,” Escobar said. “What was once an unthinkable tragedy — the mass carnage we saw in El Paso — is now commonplace across America.”

[…]

The bill narrowly passed the House on a 217-213 vote as five Democrats joined all but two Republicans in opposing the legislation.

U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo and Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen — two Democrats whom Republicans have targeted in competitive South Texas midterm races — voted against the ban.

Gonzalez said in a statement that he “strongly supports” expanded background checks, waiting periods, red flag laws and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

“But there are tens of millions of assault rifles already in circulation across America, many of them are used by responsible gun owners for hunting in South Texas,” he said. “And a ban on some of those models will do nothing to reduce overall risks.”

The vote comes at the urging of gun safety advocates and survivors and family members of victims of recent mass shootings. Kimberly Rubio, whose 10-year-old daughter Lexi was killed at Robb Elementary School, asked lawmakers to ban the weapons during testimony before the House Oversight Committee last month.

“Somewhere out there, there’s a mom listening to our testimony, thinking, ‘I can’t even imagine their pain.’ Not knowing that our reality one day will be hers,” Rubio said. “Unless we act now.”

The bill would ban new sales of assault-style rifles and create a voluntary buyback program. It would add new safe storage requirements for existing assault weapons.

Three points of interest here. One, while I would have preferred for Reps. Cuellar and Gonzalez to have voted with the majority, I’m less concerned by such votes when the bill passes anyway. As long as you’re not preventing it from passing, like some Senators I could name, it doesn’t bother me that much. Your mileage may vary on that.

Two, I’m not interested in litigating what the definition of an “assault weapon” is. We’ve had such a ban on the books before, and if this bill is modeled after that law, it’s good enough for me. Including buyback and safe storage provisions are bonuses. I don’t need this law to be perfect, I just need it to have a positive effect.

Which leads to the final point, that Rep. Gonzalez’s complaint that this bill won’t reduce the overall risk is wrong on its face and is wrong in the way that the more sweeping critique of any gun control law that it won’t stop every gun death ever is wrong. I’m not going to make the cyberdefense analogy here again, but that’s the basic idea. It’s fine for each law to focus on one or two specific aspects of the issue. Do that enough and the sum total will be a robust attack on the overall risk level. You can never get the risk to zero, in cybersecurity or public health or climate change or gun safety or national defense or any number of other large multi-faceted threats. But you can significantly lower your risk and improve your ability to respond effectively when something unwanted happens. We do this all the time in many other fields, and making the “we shouldn’t do this thing because it won’t solve all of our problems” argument in those contexts would mark you as ignoramus. It’s way past time we stopped giving those arguments against basic gun safety laws any credibility. The Trib has more.

Senate passes Ike Dike bill

This thing is actually gonna pass.

The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would authorize federal agencies to plan for an estimated $31 billion project intended to protect the Texas coast from hurricanes.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have already gone into studying the idea to build a system of concrete gate barriers at the mouth of Galveston Bay. Nicknamed for the destructive hurricane that hit Galveston Island in 2008, the so-called Ike Dike could be the largest civil engineering project in U.S. history.

The project is included the Water Resources Development Act, which contains various federal water, coast and flooding projects that require congressional approval to move forward, but does not allocate funds. The bill passed with 93 yes votes in the Senate on Thursday; only Sen. Mike Braun, R-Indiana, voted no.

The U.S. House passed its version of the act in June. The legislation will go back to the House for the two chambers to iron out differences before sending it to President Joe Biden for approval. But the Texas coastal spine project is authorized in both versions.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn said the project brings Texas “one step closer” to ensuring the state’s coast will be as “prepared as possible” for future hurricanes.

“Protecting the Texas coast from devastating hurricanes is a top priority when it comes to preserving the livelihoods of Texans and ensuring the massive amount of international trade that relies on our state can resume after a storm,” Cornyn said in a statement.

The Ike Dike is part of the larger Texas Coastal Project, which was proposed to protect the state’s shoreline against hurricane storm surge and rising sea levels. It includes a series of other coastal infrastructure and environmental projects, from artificial barriers to beach and dune restoration.

The Ike Dike gate project alone would account for at least $16 billion and require 18 years to build, according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates. The gates would span a nearly 2-mile gap from the island to Bolivar Peninsula.

The act doesn’t include funding for the Ike Dike and the rest of the Texas coast projects, which will require a separate request to Congress from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Congress is expected to fund the project in smaller appropriations rather than all at once.

If — or when — Congress does appropriate money, the state and local governments will be on the hook for a local match, which could total at least $10 billion, but inflation and changes in building costs mean estimates vary widely. Typically, such projects require a 65%-35% split in federal and nonfederal funding.

See here, here, and here for the background. Honestly, I’m a little surprised when anything passes the Senate. I guess there’s still the reconciliation to go through, but at this point that seems like small potatoes. (If I just jinxed the entire thing, I apologize.) It will take years as noted for this to be built, but better to start now than to still be waiting on it. The Chron has more.

Another story about the chaos that has been unleashed by banning abortion

There will be more to come for as long as this situation remains.

A sexual assault survivor chooses sterilization so that if she is ever attacked again, she won’t be forced to give birth to a rapist’s baby. An obstetrician delays inducing a miscarriage until a woman with severe pregnancy complications seems “sick enough.” A lupus patient must stop taking medication that controls her illness because it can also cause miscarriages.

Abortion restrictions in a number of states and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade are having profound repercussions in reproductive medicine as well as in other areas of medical care.

“For physicians and patients alike, this is a frightening and fraught time, with new, unprecedented concerns about data privacy, access to contraception, and even when to begin lifesaving care,” said Dr. Jack Resneck, president of the American Medical Association.

In the past week, an Ohio abortion clinic received calls from two women with ectopic pregnancies — when an embryo grows outside the uterus and can’t be saved — who said their doctors wouldn’t treat them. Ectopic pregnancies often become life-threatening emergencies and abortion clinics aren’t set up to treat them.

It’s just one example of “the horrible downstream effects of criminalizing abortion care,’’ said Dr. Catherine Romanos, who works at the Dayton clinic.

Dr. Jessian Munoz, an OB-GYN in San Antonio, Texas, who treats high-risk pregnancies, said medical decisions used to be clear cut.

“It was like, the mom’s life is in danger, we must evacuate the uterus by whatever means that may be,” he said. “Whether it’s surgical or medical — that’s the treatment.”

Now, he said, doctors whose patients develop pregnancy complications are struggling to determine whether a woman is “sick enough” to justify an abortion.

With the fall of Roe vs. Wade, “the art of medicine is lost and actually has been replaced by fear,” Munoz said.

Munoz said he faced an awful predicament with a recent patient who had started to miscarry and developed a dangerous womb infection. The fetus still had signs of a heartbeat, so an immediate abortion — the usual standard of care — would have been illegal under Texas law.

“We physically watched her get sicker and sicker and sicker” until the fetal heartbeat stopped the next day, “and then we could intervene,” he said. The patient developed complications, required surgery, lost multiple liters of blood and had to be put on a breathing machine “all because we were essentially 24 hours behind.”

In a study published this month in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, doctors at two Texas hospitals cited the cases of 28 women less than 23 weeks pregnant who were treated for dangerous pregnancies.

The doctors noted that all of the women had recommended abortions delayed by nine days because fetal heart activity was detected. Of those, nearly 60% developed severe complications — nearly double the number of complications experienced by patients in other states who had immediate therapeutic abortions. Of eight live births among the Texas cases, seven died within hours. The eighth, born at 24 weeks, had severe complications including brain bleeding, a heart defect, lung disease and intestinal and liver problems.

[…]

Becky Schwarz, of Tysons Corner, Virginia, found herself unexpectedly thrust into the abortion controversy even though she has no plans to become pregnant.

The 27-year-old has lupus, an autoimmune disease that can cause the body to attack tissue surrounding joints and organs, leading to inflammation and often debilitating symptoms. For Schwarz, these include bone and joint pain, and difficulty standing for long periods of time.

She recently received a notice from her doctor saying she’d have to stop taking a medication that relieves her symptoms — at least while the office reviewed its policies for methotrexate in light of the Supreme Court ruling. That’s because the drug can cause miscarriages and theoretically could be used in an attempt to induce an abortion.

“For me to have to be essentially babysat by some policy, rather than being trusted about how I handle my own body … has made me angry,” she said.

The Arthritis Foundation and American College of Rheumatology have both issued statements of concern about patients’ access to the drug. Steven Schultz of the Arthritis Foundation said the group is working to determine how widespread the problem is. Patients having trouble getting the medication can contact the group’s helpline, he said.

I mean, what is there to say? This is all a feature and not a bug. The collateral damage to literally everyone else is of no concern to the forced birth fanatics. It’s time for doctors and other medical professionals who don’t want the state meddling in their ability to treat patients to vote and organize like it. Passing some federal laws if the next election allows for a continued Democratic majority in the House and enough anti-filibuster Senators to actually do something will help, but the chaos will continue until there’s also some action taken to mitigate the damage of 20 years’ worth of Federalist Society judges legislating from the bench. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and it’s going to be bad until we can get it done.

More dimensions for privacy in the post-Roe world

The fall of Roe is a big boon for cyberstalkers.

All too frequently, people monitor our intimate lives in betrayal of our trust—and it’s often those we know and love. They don’t even need to be near us to capture our data and to record our activities. Surveillance accomplished by individual privacy invaders will be a gold mine for prosecutors targeting both medical workers and pregnant people seeking abortions.

Intimate partners and exes download cyberstalking apps to personal devices that give them real-time access to everything that we do and say with our phones. To do this, they only need our phones (and passwords) for a few minutes. Once installed, cyberstalking apps silently record and upload phones’ activities to their servers. They enable privacy invaders to see our photos, videos, texts, calls, voice mails, searches, social media activities, locations—nothing is out of reach. From anywhere, individuals can activate a phone’s mic to listen to conversations within 15 feet of the phone.

Now and in the future, that may include conversations that pregnant people have with their health care providers—nurses, doctors, and insurance company employees helping them determine their life’s course and the future of their pregnancies. Victims of such privacy violations are never free from unwanted monitoring. Abusers count on them to bring their cellphones everywhere, and they do, as anyone would.

For abusers, finding cyberstalking apps is as easy as searching “cellphone spy.” Results return hundreds of pages. In my Google search results, a related popular search is “spy on spouse cell phone.” More than 200 apps and services charge subscribers a monthly fee in exchange for providing secret access to people’s phones. When I first began studying stalkerware in 2013, businesses marketed themselves as the spy in a cheating spouse’s pocket. Their ads are more subtle now, though affiliated blogs and videos are less so, with titles like “Don’t Be a Sucker Track Your Girlfriend’s iPhone Now: Catch Her Today.”

Though we don’t have precise numbers of stalkerware victims, domestic violence hotlines in the United States help more than 70,000 people every day, and according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence as many as 70 percent of those callers raise concerns about stalkerware. A 2014 study found that 54 percent of domestic abusers tracked victims’ cellphones with stalkerware. Security firm Kaspersky detected more than 518,223 stalkerware infections during the first eight months of 2019, a 373 percent increase from that period in 2018. Millions of people, right now, are being watched, controlled, and manipulated by partners or exes. The United States has the dubious distinction of being one of the leading nations in the number of stalkerware users around the world. That destructive accomplishment has a disproportionate impact on women, LGBTQ individuals, and people from marginalized communities.

Abusers will use intimate data obtained from stalkerware to terrorize, manipulate, control, and—yes—incriminate victims. Now that a woman’s exercise of her reproductive liberty is soon to be, or already is, a crime in many states, abusers have even more power to extort and terrorize victims. They may threaten to disclose information about abortions unless women and girls give into their demands, including having unwanted sex or providing intimate images, both forms of sextortion. (Sextortion routinely involves threats to disclose intimate information like nude images unless victims send more images or perform sex acts in front of webcams.) If victims refuse to give into their demands (and even if they do), privacy invaders may post information about abortions online and report it to law enforcement. Two birds, one stone: the ability to humiliate, terrorize, and financially damage victims and to provide evidence to law enforcement. Exes can extinguish victims’ intimate privacy by enabling their imprisonment.

The law’s response to intimate privacy violations is inadequate, lacking a clear conception of what intimate privacy is, why its violation is wrongful, and how it inflicts serious harm upon individuals, groups, and society. Legal tools—criminal law, tort law, and consumer protection law—tackle some privacy problems, but few (if any) capture the full stakes for intimate privacy. In criminal law, privacy violations are mostly misdemeanors, which law enforcers routinely fail to pursue when reported. Criminal law is woefully underenforced when the illegality involves gendered harms, like privacy violations and sexual assault where victims are more often female and LGBTQ individuals. (Yet when the very same people are the alleged perpetrators, law enforcement eagerly investigates.) Because policymakers fail to recognize the autonomy, dignity, intimacy, and equality implications of intimate privacy violations, we have too few protections.

Call me crazy, but I don’t see any chance that legislation to deal with these issues will pass in the next Texas legislative session. Maybe in the next Congress, if Dems can hold the House and pick up a couple of Senate seats to overcome the Manchin/Synema blockage – in other words, possible but a longshot. We know the House can do it, at least. Otherwise, good luck to you.

Another place where existing law falls short: HIPAA doesn’t cover medical apps.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal patient privacy law known as HIPAA, does not apply to most apps that track menstrual cycles, just as it doesn’t apply to many health care apps and at-home test kits.

In 2015, ProPublica reported how HIPAA, passed in 1996, has not kept up with changes in technology and does not cover at-home paternity tests, fitness trackers or health apps.

The story featured a woman who purchased an at-home paternity test at a local pharmacy and went online to get the results. A part of the lab’s website address caught her attention as a cybersecurity consultant. When she tweaked the URL slightly, a long list of test results of some 6,000 other people appeared.

She complained on Twitter and the site was taken down. But when she alerted the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees HIPAA compliance, officials told her they couldn’t do anything about it. That’s because HIPAA only covers patient information kept by health providers, insurers and data clearinghouses, as well as their business partners.

Deven McGraw is the former deputy director for health information privacy at the HHS Office for Civil Rights. She said the decision overturning Roe, called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, should spark a broader conversation about the limits of HIPAA.

“All of a sudden, people are waking up to the idea that there’s a lot of sensitive data being collected outside of HIPAA and asking, ‘What are we going to do?’” said McGraw, who is now the lead for data stewardship and data sharing at Invitae, a medical genetics company. “It’s been that way for a while, but now it’s in sharper relief.”

McGraw noted how that’s not just the case for period-tracking apps but also some apps that store COVID-19 vaccine records. Because Congress wrote HIPAA, lawmakers would have to update it to cover those cases. “Our health data protections are badly out of date,” she said. “But the agencies can’t fix this. This is on Congress.”

Consumer Reports’ digital lab evaluated eight period-tracking apps this spring and found that four allowed third-party tracking by companies other than the maker of the app. Four apps stored data remotely, not just on the user’s device. That makes the information potentially subject to a data breach or a subpoena from law enforcement agencies, though one of the companies surveyed by Consumer Reports has said it would shut down rather than turn over users’ data.

In a press release last week, HHS sought to allay worries with some advice that sounds reassuring.

“According to recent reports, many patients are concerned that period trackers and other health information apps on smartphones may threaten their right to privacy by disclosing geolocation data which may be misused by those seeking to deny care,” HHS said in the release.

The document quoted HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra about the protections provided by HIPAA: “HHS stands with patients and providers in protecting HIPAA privacy rights and reproductive health care information,” Becerra said. He urged anyone who thinks their privacy rights have been violated to file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.

See above in re: the chances of federal legislation passing. Also note that until the law is updated, if a Republican wins the Presidency, they’ll appoint the HHS secretary and will set the direction for that agency regarding patient privacy. How much faith do you want to put in that?

House passes bill to protect access to contraception

They’re on a roll.

The House on Thursday passed legislation that would protect access to birth control, the latest move in a broader effort by Democrats to enshrine into federal law rights they fear could come under threat by the Supreme Court following its decision to wipe away the constitutional right to an abortion.

The vote was 228-195, with eight Republicans joining every Democrat in voting in favor. All 195 “no” votes came from Republicans.

[…]

The bill, called the Right to Contraception Act, now goes to Senate, where it is unlikely to attract the support of 10 Republicans needed to pass it. The measure would create a statutory right for people to access birth control and protect a range of contraceptive methods, as well as ensure health care providers have a right to provide contraception services to patients.

“We are not willing to play defense on this critically important issue,” Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina who sponsored the measure, said during a press conference to promote the bill on Wednesday. “We are playing offense.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Republicans of attempting to roll back the clock for American women by curtailing access to birth control, but declared “we are not going back.”

“This is their moment. Clarence Thomas has made that clear, right down to the fundamentals of privacy they want to erase,” Pelosi said of Republicans. “With this passage, Democrats will make clear we will never quit in the fight against the outrageous right-wing assault on freedom.”

[…]

While Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that “nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a separate concurring opinion urging his colleagues to reconsider landmark decisions that recognized rights regarding contraception and same-sex relationships.

No other justice joined Thomas, but his opinion, coupled with decisions this term from the court’s conservative majority involving the environmentreligionguns and abortion, has prompted Democrats to push back legislatively.

“This rallying call by Justice Thomas and the actions of extremist Republican legislators are about one thing: Control,” said Manning, the North Carolina Democrat. “These extremists are working to take away the rights of women, to take away our right to decide when to have children, to take away our right to control our own lives and our own bodies, and we will not let this happen.”

As noted, the House also recently passed bills to protect access to abortion and same sex marriage. The latter has some chance of passing the Senate, while the former and this bill will need a larger Democratic Senate to go along with a Democratic House to have a chance. Not a bad set of issues to run on this year, and it’s always good to be seen taking real action. As you might imagine, no Texas Republicans voted in favor, though Rep. Mike McCaul did not vote on it. I’d be perfectly happy for the House to find a few more items like these to vote on. Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and the Chron have more.

House passes bill to protect same-sex marriage

A surprisingly bipartisan vote, by which I mean “more Republicans than you can count on your fingers voted for it as well”.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to pass a bill that would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage into federal law.

The bipartisan final vote was 267 to 157 with 47 Republicans joining with Democrats to vote for the bill. It’s not clear, however, whether the bill can pass the Senate where at least 10 Republicans would need to join with Democrats to overcome the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold.

The vote comes amid fears among Democrats that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court could take aim at same-sex marriage in the future, after the high court overturned Roe v. Wade in a highly consequential reversal of longstanding legal precedent.

The bill — called the Respect for Marriage Act — was introduced by Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee.

In addition to safeguarding the right to same-sex marriage nationwide, the bill also includes federal protections for interracial marriages. The measure holds that a marriage must be recognized under federal law if the marriage was legal in the state where it took place.

The bill would also enact additional legal safeguards for married couples intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity or national origin, including empowering the attorney general to pursue enforcement actions.

[…]

House Democrats, leaning into cultural issues in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, also are looking at moving a bill this week to guarantee access to contraception.

The Supreme Court’s bombshell opinion overturning Roe v. Wade has set off a debate over whether other precedents are now in danger.

The majority opinion from Justice Samuel Alito attempted to wall off its holding in the abortion case from those other rulings, but Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to call explicitly for other rulings to be revisited.

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote, referring to decisions on contraception and same-sex relationships.

Liberals have said that those rulings are now at risk.

In their dissent, the court’s three liberal justices wrote “no one should be confident that this majority is done with its work.”

“The right Roe and Casey recognized does not stand alone,” they wrote. “To the contrary, the Court has linked it for decades to other settled freedoms involving bodily integrity, familial relationships, and procreation. Most obviously, the right to terminate a pregnancy arose straight out of the right to purchase and use contraception. In turn, those rights led, more recently, to rights of same-sex intimacy and marriage.”

The liberals added: “Either the mass of the majority’s opinion is hypocrisy, or additional constitutional rights are under threat. It is one or the other.”

See here for my post about the House passing a bill to restore abortion access. This one got one Republican vote from Texas, one more than the abortion access bill got (and yes, one more Democratic vote, as Henry Cuellar can get stuffed). Unlike the abortion access bill, this one may have a chance to pass the Senate; at the very least, it’s got Senate Republicans all discombobulated. (To be fair, Ted Cruz remains solidly un-discombobulated.) They apparently just never expected Dems to make them vote on this stuff, which honestly doesn’t say anything good about either of them. But at least the Dems are pressing the issue now, and it will either result in a good law being passed or a good campaign issue presenting itself. More like this, please. The Chron and The 19th have more.

House passes national abortion access bill

They’re doing what they can. It’s the Senate that’s the problem.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

The U.S. House on Friday passed two bills that would restore abortion access across the country and prevent states like Texas from barring patients from crossing state lines to receive reproductive health care, the first major legislative response to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

While the bills are almost certain to stall in the evenly divided Senate, House Democrats cast their passage as a necessary effort after the Supreme Court ruling triggered laws in Texas and other red states banning abortion and sparked calls from the right to go further by stopping patients from crossing state lines to get abortions and cracking down on anyone who helps them.

“Right now, the rights of women and every American are on the line,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “House Democrats are ferociously defending freedom with these two important bills and we need two more Democratic pro-choice senators so that we can eliminate the filibuster and make this legislation the law of the land.”

[…]

The bill that passed Friday would make it clear that the freedom to travel to other states is a constitutional right, and would prohibit states from restricting travel for those seeking to obtain a lawful abortion. The legislation would also bar states from banning businesses or groups from assisting in that travel.

It comes as the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in June sparked uncertainty in states where old statutes on abortion, some dating back a century or more, remain on the books. Some Texas GOP legislators claim those old laws — revived by the Roe ruling — already do more than just ban abortion in the state, with clauses barring anyone from “furnishing” abortions as well, which they argue prohibits businesses or advocacy groups from covering a patient’s travel costs.

“In my beloved home state of Texas, we are in a crisis. A health care crisis. A humanitarian crisis,” said U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat who authored the bill.

“Texans who can do so have been traveling out of state to obtain abortion care, first to Oklahoma and Louisiana and New Mexico and, as some of these states have now banned abortion, they are now traveling even further,” Fletcher said. “And now in response to this exercise of their constitutional right to travel between the states, lawmakers in Texas — and in other states across the country — are threatening to take away that right, too.”

Fletcher pointed to a letter the Texas Freedom Caucus sent last week to Dallas law firm Sidley Austin LLP saying the firm was “exposing itself and each of its partners to felony criminal prosecution and disbarment” for reimbursing travel costs for employees who “leave Texas to murder their unborn children.” The letter said the caucus also plans to push legislation next session that would prohibit any employer in Texas from paying for elective abortions or reimbursing abortion-related expenses, regardless of where the abortion occurs.

“This is not hypothetical and it is not hyperbole,” Fletcher said.

The House has done its part, on this and on other issues like voting rights and gun control, to move the country forward or at least keep it from sliding back. The Senate remains the problem, as Dems are two members short of having a majority that will allow bills to be passed by a majority. The stakes of the 2022 election are now being stated as if the Dems can hold their majority in the House and if the Dems can pick up at least two seats in the Senate – hold their existing seats and flip Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, at least – they will reconvene in January 2023 and get bills like these to President Biden’s desk. Those are some big ifs, and you’d get fairly long odds on them in Vegas. But it’s where we are, and it’s the reason why we can’t give up. Whatever else it is, it’s as simple as that.

Paxton sues over emergency guidance to doctors

This is what “leaving it to the states” looks like.

Best mugshot ever

Texas is suing the Biden administration over guidance released Monday telling the nation’s doctors they’re protected by federal law to terminate a pregnancy as part of emergency treatment — and threatening to defund hospitals that don’t perform these procedures.

The Biden administration’s guidance states that federal law requires doctors to perform abortions for pregnant people in emergency rooms when it is “the stabilizing treatment necessary” to resolve a medical emergency, including treatments for ectopic pregnancy, hypertension and preeclampsia.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration also warned retail pharmacies that they must fill prescriptions for pills that can induce abortion or risk violating federal civil rights law.

These two recent actions pit the federal executive branch against state governments after the U.S. Supreme Court undid a nearly half-century-old precedent that had affirmed access to abortion as a constitutional right.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office filed the suit challenging the guidance in federal court on Thursday, saying the Biden administration’s guidance violates the state’s “sovereign interest in the power to create and enforce a legal code.”

[…]

The Biden administration reassured the nation’s doctors that they don’t need to wait until a patient’s health deteriorates before acting and that they can act in cases where nontreatment would result in serious impairment, guidance that comes as medical professionals in Texas and other states where abortion is banned are trying to figure out what kind of women’s health care is allowed under new restrictions. The guidance isn’t seeking to update existing law but is said to clarify a hospital’s duties under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

I thought it was federal law that was sovereign, but what do I know? I know that if Paxton gets his way women are going to die because doctors won’t be able to treat them properly and in a timely fashion. That’s what’s really at stake here. And I expect Paxton to get his way, at least at first. The Chron points out the obvious:

The case underscores the dominant position that conservative Republicans hold in the federal judicial system: Paxton filed the case in Lubbock, in the U.S. Northern District of Texas, where there are 12 judges, 10 of whom were appointed by Republican presidents and six of whom were named by former President Donald J. Trump.

If Paxton were to lose, the case would go to the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, widely recognized as one of the most conservative federal appellate courts in the country, and the final step would be the Supreme Court, which ruled last month to overturn Roe v Wade in the first place.

I guarantee you, whatever the district court judge does, the Fifth Circuit will give Ken Paxton what he wants because that’s what they do. And then SCOTUS gets to make another abortion ruling. Great system we have here, isn’t it?

I had drafted a post about the imminent threat to EMTALA that the Biden administration’s guidance had queued up, and then made the mistake of not publishing it in time to keep up with the news cycle. My bad. The original post is beneath the fold. I stand by what I said in this post. Now let’s bring the fight that this requires. Daily Kos and Mother Jones have more.

(more…)

Brief abortion news roundup

Too much news, etc etc etc. You know the drill.

Houston crisis pregnancy centers, labeled ‘deceptive’ by experts, find new spotlight after Roe ruling.

Since 2011, pregnant Houstonians seeking abortions at the Planned Parenthood clinic off the Gulf Freeway have encountered a large blue bus parked outside the entrance, offering “free and confidential pregnancy services” and “real choices.”

But those choices do not include abortion.

In fact, the bus, run by the nonprofit Houston Coalition for Life, is one of 22 crisis pregnancy centers in the Houston area that seek to deter patients from terminating a pregnancy, often with medically unreliable advice.

They are not licensed clinics and are usually run by religious organizations. Supporters say their services — free ultrasounds, parenting classes and baby items — help low-income, expectant mothers who may feel they have no options outside of abortion. One Houston center, run by Catholic Charities, also connects new refugee parents with rent and utility assistance. But when it comes to health care, the American Medical Association says they should be considered sources of “propaganda” and “misinformation” that undermine women’s health.

While the medical community has criticized the centers for years, last month’s overturning of Roe v. Wade puts them in a new spotlight. Abortion rights advocates and healthcare providers worry their advertising methods — using neutral language that gives the impression of a clinic — will absorb a rush of abortion-seeking patients who misunderstand the centers’ mission in states that offer no other alternative.

“As states move to ban and criminalize abortion care, it is critical that people who need abortions are able to access evidence-based, non-judgmental health information from qualified professionals, not crisis pregnancy centers that use deceptive advertising and misinformation to spread their ideology,” American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists President Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins said in a statement supporting new federal legislation that would crack down on abortion-related disinformation.

These things have been a plague for a long time. Fun fact, a few years ago SCOTUS ruled unconstitutional a California law that required “crisis pregnancy centers” to display a sign that stated truthfully that they were not a licensed medical facility on the grounds that the law impeded their free speech rights, even though SCOTUS has previously upheld state laws requiring doctors to give out misleading information about abortion, on the grounds that such laws did not impede the doctors’ free speech rights. So they’re a plague that has the protection of our lawless and radical Supreme Court.

Biden pushes to protect inter-state abortion access amid Texas crackdown.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Friday to bolster access to abortion and other reproductive health services after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In his most pointed remarks since the ruling last month, Biden said he was outraged by the court’s decision and would take every step within his power to curb the damage. But he said he has limited ability to prevent Texas and other states from cracking down.

“The most extreme Republican governors and state legislatures have taken the court’s decision as a green light to impose some of the harshest and most restrictive laws seen in this country in a long time,” Biden said. “What we’re witnessing is a giant step backwards in much of our country.”

The directive instructs federal health officials to push back against state-led efforts to cut off access to federally approved abortion pills and out-of-state abortion services. It also calls for protecting privileged patient information around abortion and the privacy of those seeking information about reproductive care online.

But the order stopped short of more forceful responses that some fellow Democrats have pushed for in recent weeks, such as declaring a public health emergency and authorizing abortion care on federal lands in states with abortion bans.

The reaction I’ve seen online from reproductive rights activists is that this executive order was not expansive enough. Some of the things that President Biden did not include, like authorizing abortion care on federal lands in states with abortion bans, would be challenged in court and very likely knocked down by SCOTUS when it got to them. On the one hand, it’s almost certainly better politics to be caught trying to do as much as you can, and for sure the base really wants and needs to see a higher level of commitment not just from the President but from other Democratic leaders as well. Let SCOTUS continue to be the villain here, that’s a net positive for us. On the other hand, inviting them to make more rulings on the subject could result in firmer and more extensive restrictions or evisceration of existing rights. I don’t know how to evaluate the risks here, but in the absence of further information I side with those who pushed for more. There’s nothing to prevent the President from issuing another EO, so maybe this isn’t the end. Also, never forget that the stated goal of the forced birth radicals in the Legislature is to outlaw travel to other states to get abortions, and in keeping with SB8 to make it a crime for anyone to assist in that in any way. The stakes are already higher than you think.

Houston urologists say ‘tremendous’ uptick in vasectomies after Roe v. Wade ruling.

Houston urologist Russel Williams typically performed about 10 vasectomies a day. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade, it’s already up to 15.

Houston urologists are seeing an increase in vasectomies, mirroring national trends, as Texas prepares to ban most abortions, following the Supreme Court decision.

Dr. Williams, who runs The Y Factor and its six urology and fertility clinics that dot the Greater Houston area, said there has been “a tremendous increase” in patients getting the procedure at his offices.

“We’re pretty busy, which is the new normal in our office,” said Stephanie Alvarado, the surgery coordinator at The Y Factor.

[…]

Houston Metro Urology, which staffs 19 urologists has seen similar trends at its facility in the Galleria area.

“It’s definitely something we’ve taken notice of and have tried to accommodate,” chief operating officer Nancy Nicolovski said.

Although her office is well staffed to handle the surge, she said, Nikolovski has considered expanding its operating hours to meet the demand. HMU was also already working on opening a vasectomy-only clinic on Saturdays before the Supreme Court’s ruling, but talks have accelerated and will likely open in the next few months, because she expects the trend to keep up through the end of the year.

“Vasectomy has always been a very popular procedure, anyway, but the changes in our landscape has prompted people who have been discussing it to just do it,” she said.

I mean, yeah. What did you think would happen?

Sheriff Gonzales withdraws from consideration for ICE

Not a big surprise at this point.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has withdrawn from consideration to lead U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he confirmed Monday afternoon.

Gonzalez’s withdrawal comes 14 months after President Joe Biden first nominated him to lead ICE.

“It’s taken far too long,” Gonzalez said Monday. “It’s in best interest of myself, my family, the country and the residents of Harris County that elected me to serve as sheriff to remove myself from further consideration and remain in place as sheriff.”

Gonzalez’ nomination surprised some, in part because in 2017 he’d ended a controversial partnership with ICE that had allowed sheriff’s deputies to screen jailed suspects to find those in the country without legal permission — and later declined to cooperate with an ICE operation in 2019 to arrest large numbers of immigrant families living without legal permission in Houston and other large cities.

Biden first nominated Gonzalez in April 2021. He faced a tense reception from Senate Republicans later that year, ultimately promising not to abolish the partnership he’d scrapped in Harris County in which local law enforcement agencies screen jailed suspects to identify people unauthorized to be in the country.

[…]

The struggle to confirm Gonzalez reflects shifting norms in the Senate and the growing difficulty of confirming political appointees in recent years, said Max Stier, CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes effective government.

“Everything is becoming harder and slower, and you have even fewer people actually being confirmed for very important positions,” Stier said.

The exit of Gonzalez from the process this week marks the latest setback for the Biden administration, which has struggled to win Senate confirmation for high-profile appointments for other contentious posts — and for ICE itself, which has been without a Senate-confirmed leader for more than five years.

See here for the previous update. Not a whole lot to add, but if Dems can pull off maintaining the Senate, especially if they can pick up Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, then maybe the next ICE nominee will have an easier time. Maybe. In any event, please return any speculation you may have engaged in regarding who would be selected to replace Gonzales as Sheriff back to the shelf.

Biden signs modest gun control bill

It’s now the law. We’ll see for how long.

President Joe Biden on Saturday signed into law a bipartisan measure to address gun violence, less than 24 hours after the bill was approved by the U.S. House and a month and a day after the deadly shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

“Today, we say more than enough. We say more than enough,” Biden said at the White House. “At a time when it seems impossible to get anything done in Washington, we are doing something consequential.”

The measure was negotiated by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead. That shooting had come less than two weeks after a massacre in a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 people dead.

In a statement announcing the signing, the White House thanked Cornyn and a small bipartisan group of other senators involved in its drafting.

The law is widely viewed as a series of modest changes to current gun regulations, falling far short of proposals pushed by House Democrats and Biden to raise the age to purchase a gun, ban assault weapons and expand universal background checks. The most noteworthy provision of the law would close what is known as “the boyfriend loophole.”

Current federal statutes prohibit firearm purchases for those convicted of committing domestic violence against spouses or partners who live together or share a child. To close the loophole, the new law will leave to the courts the contours of expanding how to define and include dating partners who commit such abuse.

Conservatives previously raised concerns that an expansive definition of a partner could threaten constitutional rights. The law will also permit offenders to regain their gun rights if there are no further offenses over five years.

See here for the background. Please note that first sentence in the last paragraph above, because I’ve been speculating about legal challenges to this new law ever since it became apparent that it was about to become law. I was called out in the comments of that earlier post for my assertion that “SCOTUS essentially declared all state gun control measures to be illegal”. I will admit that was a bit of hyperbole, but it’s absolutely the case that state gun control measures of all kinds around the country are now going to be challenged in federal court. Where do you think this Supreme Court will draw a line and say okay, no, that’s a reasonable and constitutional restriction and may stand? It’s not at all clear to me that they believe there is one. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong – and even happier if we finally get around to reforming this completely radicalized and out of control SCOTUS – but I wouldn’t bet any of my own money on it. In the meantime, let’s see when – and yeah, I mean “when” and not “if” – the first suit is filed against this law.

PS – I know I make a lot of podcast recommendations as supplemental material for my posts, so here’s another for you: This week’s Amicus podcast talks for about 30 minutes about the Bruen decision, with the actual legal expert doing the talking sounding a lot more sanguine about certain types of state gun laws surviving future review; he also specifically thinks this federal law will survive. I’m the opposite of an expert, but I am deeply cynical and have zero faith in the consistency or fidelity of this court. You make the call which of us will be more accurate about the future.

Cornyn-Murphy gun bill gets final passage

What great timing, huh?

Exactly one month after a gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers in a Uvalde elementary school, the most significant new gun laws in decades were headed to President Joe Biden’s desk on Friday after the U.S. House cleared a bipartisan package of reforms requiring greater scrutiny of young buyers, closing the so-called boyfriend loophole and more.

The gun laws, authored by a group of senators including John Cornyn of Texas, easily passed the Democratic-controlled House on a 234-193 vote, just hours after 15 Senate Republicans joined every Democrat in approving the bill in the Senate late Thursday night. Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.

“When I met with families from Uvalde, they asked me how it was possible for the man who murdered their loved ones to get a dangerous weapon so easily,” U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro said in a statement. “Today, Congress has voted to pass historic gun safety reforms that will save lives and keep deadly weapons out of the hands of people who present a clear danger to their communities. We need to make more progress on gun safety, but today’s vote is an important step forward.”

It is the first tightening of federal gun laws since 1994. It bolsters background checks on buyers under 21 years old and restricts access to firearms for dating partners convicted of domestic abuse. The bill creates stiffer penalties for gun trafficking and “straw” purchasing, in which someone buys a firearm for someone prohibited from owning one.

The legislation also provides funding for mental health programs, school security and for states to enact red flag laws or other intervention methods meant to stop shootings before they happen.

Just 14 Republicans voted for the bill in the House, where GOP leaders had urged members to oppose the legislation. Only one Texan was among them: U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, whose district includes Uvalde. The rest opposed the legislation.

See here for the background. It would be nice to feel good about this, even as watered down as this bill is, but with SCOTUS on a rampage, it’s hard to feel good about anything. The fact that this got initial passage in the Senate on the same day that SCOTUS essentially declared all state gun control measures to be illegal was the kind of irony none of us needed. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before a federal lawsuit is filed to invalidate even this modest effort, and who would take a bet on those plaintiffs losing? But here we are anyway. If we can ever find our way to fixing the courts, we can improve on this and do a lot more besides. One step at a time. The Trib has more.

Cornyn’s gun control bill passes the Senate

Happy to have had my cynicism proven wrong.

Exactly four weeks after a teenage gunman armed with a semiautomatic rifle massacred 19 elementary schoolers and two teachers in Uvalde, the U.S. Senate voted 64-34 Tuesday night to advance a bipartisan compromise that, if enacted, would become the first major legislation on gun safety since 1994.

The legislation does not restrict any rights of existing gun owners — a nonstarter for Senate Republicans. Instead, it would enhance background checks for gun purchasers younger than 21; make it easier to remove guns from people threatening to kill themselves or others, as well as people who have committed domestic violence; clarify who needs to register as a federal firearms dealer; and crack down on illegal gun trafficking, including so-called straw purchases, which occur when the actual buyer of a firearm uses another person to execute the paperwork to buy on their behalf.

The legislation includes $11 billion for mental health services and $2 billion for community-based antiviolence programs. It also includes money to help young people access mental health services via telemedicine, money for more school-based mental health centers and support for suicide hotlines.

Republican John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas, who was formally rebuked by the Republican Party of Texas on Saturday evening for taking part in the bipartisan negotiations, said he felt confident that senators would see the deal as a reasonable compromise. If it holds up, that would itself be an extraordinary achievement after years in which mass shootings have devastated American communities with numbing reality.

“This is an issue that divides much of the country, depending on where you live, and maybe divides people living in the same household. But I think we have found some areas where there’s space for compromise and we’ve also found that there are some red lines and no middle ground,” Cornyn said on the floor of the Senate. “We’ve talked, we’ve debated, we’ve disagreed and finally we’ve reached an agreement among the four of us but obviously this is not something that is going to become law or fail to become law because of a small group of senators. The truth is we had a larger group of 20 senators, 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, come together and sign on to an agreed set of principles, and I believe that as the senators see the text that supports those principles, they will see we’ve tried our best to be true to what those agreed principles should be.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the bill. It still has to pass the House, but I expect that will happen. This bill started out as modest and got watered down further – I mean seriously, we couldn’t just raise the minimum age for buying gun to the same as it is for buying a beer? – and yet it’s the first real advance in a long time. It remains the definition of “better than nothing”, but we’re so used to nothing it feels like more.

To be sure, there are issues.

There’s still a fundamental problem on the Democrats’ part in getting here: They ceded to Republican arguments that the problem is mental health and school safety and not simply the fact that the country is awash in deadly weapons. The extra funding in the bill for mental health support is a good thing, but a good thing that could have been achieved through Medicaid expansion to the hold-out states without pushing the myth that mental illness is intrinsically tied to violence and further stigmatizing it. It accepts school massacres as inevitable by beefing up school security—which does not make Black and brown students safer, since they’re often targets of abuse from cops at school—and creating programs for trauma support in schools for after the attacks occur.

There are some improvements, though none is without a downside. It enhances background checks for 18 to 21 year olds seeking to buy assault weapons. That imposes a waiting period on them from three to 10 days,  which could prevent some impulse massacres. But that provision sunsets in 10 years, ending in 2032.

The bill includes $750 million that could help states that don’t have red flag or crisis intervention laws implement them. These laws allow for courts to order weapons removed from people determined to be a danger to themselves or others. The grant money, however, is in the form of Byrne JAG grants and can be used for a variety of law enforcement and judicial programs, including mental heath courts, drug courts, and veteran courts. This is a win for Republicans whose states don’t have and won’t pass red flag laws. They want their states to still be able to access the money, so other “crisis intervention” programs will receive it and guns don’t necessarily have to be removed from people in crisis.

The loophole that allows dating partners convicted of domestic violence to keep their guns is partially closed. Current law only bars individuals who have committed violence against a spouse, live-in partner, or someone with whom they share children from owning guns. The ban has been expanded to anyone convicted of domestic violence against someone they have a “continuing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” with, including “recent former” dating partners. It does not stipulate what “recent” means. It is not retroactive, so survivors from past attacks can’t petition to have their abuser’s weapons taken away. It also allows people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence to get their guns back in five years if they don’t commit other crimes.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline calls it “partially closing” the loophole, and a “significant step,” but advocates warn that there’s still a loophole in the “recent” language. “He doesn’t need to be ‘recent’ to cause harm,” Susan B. Sorenson, a University of Pennsylvania professor who studies family violence, told The Washington Post. “Feelings, not all of them positive, live on long after a relationship has ended.”

One of the more significant parts of this bill just flat won’t mean anything in a lot of states.

But even if it passes, federal funding for the bill’s most-discussed provision is unlikely to persuade many of the 30 states that don’t have red flag laws—most of them Republican-led—to adopt them. Some of these states have repeatedly voted down red flag legislation; at least one has formally outlawed their implementation. This means the federal gun control bill, aimed at reining in the epidemic of mass shootings, could have limited impact in a large swath of the country.

[…]

In a deadlocked Congress that has struggled to pass bills to keep kids fed and local governments running, the Uvalde shooting spurred momentum for this package to come together, though it falls short of many Democrats’ goals. The House, with its stronger Democratic majority, was able to pass a slate of gun control measures immediately after the Texas shooting that would have blocked semiautomatic rifle sales to people under the age of 21, created stricter gun storage regulations, and outlawed the sale of magazines holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition. That package stood no chance in the evenly divided Senate, where most bills have to garner the support of at least 60 senators because of the filibuster. An idea to create a national red flag law emerged in the hours immediately following the Uvalde shooting, but Democratic lawmakers saw both logistical challenges to that proposal and political ones.

Thus, optional funding for states to create their own red flag laws seemed like the safest bet to get anything across the finish line with Republicans wary of taking any action on guns, lest they lose their re-elections. Tellingly, several of the GOP senators in the bipartisan Uvalde-response contingent are retiring.

But while the incentive money could be used to help states that already have red flag laws, half a dozen state lawmakers and experts tell Mother Jones it is unlikely federal funding will persuade states that don’t already have red flag laws to create them.

This includes the state where tragedy prompted the bipartisan legislative framework in the first place: Texas. “I don’t believe any federal requirements or incentive would get Texas to move on this,” says Texas state Rep. Diego Bernal, a Democrat in favor of stricter gun control.

He draws a comparison to Texas, joined by 11 other historically red states, opting not to take federal funds in order to expand Medicaid healthcare access to more poor residents: “If we’re not willing to take tremendous amounts of federal money, at no expense to us, in order to insure our uninsured residents, then I don’t see any daylight for financial incentives to get us to adopt a red flag law.”

I haven’t seen any discussion of what kind of legal challenges might get filed against this bill, assuming it does pass as now I believe it will. You know the NRA, which opposes the Cornyn/Murphy bill, will not sit quietly, and there are plenty of wingnut Attorneys General and Trump judges out there. That’s an issue for another day, I suppose. For now, be glad we got what we got, and let’s keep working to make it possible to get more in the future. The Chron has more.

COVID vaccines for kids under 5 are now available

It’s been a long wait.

On Saturday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed off on Covid vaccines for the youngest Americans. Her endorsement means shots can begin immediately, finally ending the two-and-a-half year wait on the part of parents of children under 5.

Walenksy accepted the recommendation within hours after the CDC advisory committee voted unanimously in favor of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for children as young as 6 months. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee on Saturday endorsed Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines for the youngest children, the last step before CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky could issue her final sign-off.

The unanimous recommendations from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices followed the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the shots on Friday.

President Biden responded to the announcement Saturday hailing it as a “monumental step forward.”

“For parents all over the country, this is a day of relief and celebration,” Biden said. “As the first country to protect our youngest children with COVID-19 vaccines, my Administration has been planning and preparing for this moment for months, effectively securing doses and offering safe and highly effective mRNA vaccines for all children as young as six months old.”

Shortly before Saturday’s votes — one for Moderna and a separate one for Pfizer — many panel members celebrated the milestone, noting that parents will soon have two effective tools to protect their youngest children from Covid after more than two years of living with the virus.

“We want to say today that if you’re not going to immunize your children, we think that’s a misplaced concern and that you should immunize your children to save their lives,” said committee member Dr. Sarah Long, a pediatrician at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.

While young children are generally less likely than adults to experience the most serious outcomes of the virus, some do. Among children 6 months old through age 4, there have been more than 2 million confirmed cases of Covid, more than 20,000 hospitalizations and more than 200 deaths, according to CDC data. Covid is the fifth most common cause of death in children younger than 5.

“This is an opportunity, which one doesn’t get very often, to participate in preventing the death of young children,” said committee member Dr. Beth Bell, a clinical professor in the department of global health at the University of Washington. “A death of a young child is an incredible tragedy, and we know that this disease is killing children.”

It’s a function of where we are now in this pandemic that this isn’t bigger and more exciting news than it is. The vaccination rate for kids in the 5 to 11 year old range remains disappointingly low, and the estimates I’ve seen suggest that maybe 20% of the under-five crowd will get their shots. We could of course mandate COVID vaccines for enrollment in schools, but, well, I think you know what would happen then. The best way forward, as even a modest number of kids getting their shots will help save lives, is for those of us who have kids in that age range to get them vaccinated, and for the rest of us to help persuade our family and friends who do to do the same. Your Local Epidemiologist, who has two young kids of her own, has some ideas on that front. COVID is still out there killing people, y’all. We should try to remember that.

So how’s that bipartisan agreement on a framework for a gun control deal going?

Let’s check in.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn arrived at the Texas GOP convention in Houston Friday to address his role as chief negotiator for a bipartisan gun package head on — and was promptly booed for it.

“No gun control!” the crowd jeered, even as Cornyn reiterated popular Republican talking points — that Republicans would vote out President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Audience members shouted back, “You too!”

Cornyn was speaking to the state’s most dedicated Republicans, many of whom are more conservative than the general electorate. And none were shy in voicing their opposition to the gun deal, which emerged just weeks after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at a Uvalde elementary school.

The senator defended his role in the negotiations, saying the compromise would not impact law-abiding Texans. The package, which is still in its early stages, would expand background checks, introduce greater scrutiny of young buyers and encourage states to pass “red flag” laws that temporarily remove firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

It also includes billions of dollars for mental health resources and school safety plans.

“Let’s see if we can find a better way of enforcing existing law and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill,” Cornyn said. “But I will not, under any circumstance, support new restrictions for law-abiding gun owners. That will always be my red line. And despite what some of you may have heard, the framework that we are working on is consistent with that red line.”

The audience members were not impressed, chanting “no red flags!”

That’s always the problem with bipartisan deals, isn’t it? They involve Republicans.

Look, whether this is a matter of Cornyn’s legacy or it’s an old familiar game of perpetually moving goalposts, one fact remains: Nothing is ever assured in the US Senate. I mean, we don’t even have a bill here. Maybe we’ll get there, and maybe what eventually passes, if indeed something passes – the default in the Senate is always for nothing to happen – we can talk about what it means and what it might do. Until then, it’s vaporware. It’s more advanced vaporware than we’ve seen before, and it’s easy to feel optimistic about that. But until we have a bill and a cloture vote, that’s all it is. Reform Austin, the Chron, and Stace, who was properly in touch with his inner cynic from the beginning, have more.

Biden signs executive order to protect trans kids

Good.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to enhance protections for transgender children and take steps to ban conversion therapy as efforts continue in Texas and other states to restrict gender-affirming medical care.

The executive order calls on the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to increase access to gender-affirming care and develop ways to counter state efforts aimed at limiting such treatments for transgender minors.

Biden signed the order Wednesday afternoon, joined by six LGBTQ teens who were reportedly from Texas and Florida.

“My message to all the young people: Just be you,” Biden said to a crowd of members of Congress, administration officials and LGBTQ advocates. “You are loved. You are heard. You are understood. You do belong.”

The federal health department will release sample policies for states to expand health care options for LGBTQ patients. The federal education department will release a sample school policy to achieve full inclusion of LGBTQ students.

[…]

Biden’s order also asks the health department to lead an initiative aimed at reducing youth exposure to conversion therapy and expand awareness and support for survivors of the practice. Biden is also asking the Federal Trade Commission to see if conversion therapy “constitutes an unfair or deceptive act or practice, and whether to issue consumer warnings or notices,” per the White House. He is also directing department heads to promote an end to conversion therapy worldwide.

Texas is one of 22 states that has not banned conversion therapy, a debunked practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The health department will explore guidance clarifying that federally funded programs cannot conduct conversion therapy.

Biden’s order calls on the health department to expand youth access to mental health services and issue new guidance for providing mental health care for LGBTQ youth. The order also charges the health department with strengthening LGBTQ nondiscrimination practices in the foster care system. Biden is also calling on the department to increase access to voluntary family counseling.

“We’re in a battle for the very soul of this nation,” Biden said. “It’s a battle I know we will win.”

I feel like there had been some earlier promise from President Biden to take this action, but if so I don’t see that I blogged about it. I assume there will be a lawsuit filed by our shitbird Attorney General to stop all this, which will exist alongside the earlier lawsuit that had been filed to stop the feds from turning off some funding sources in response to our anti-trans bullying ways. In the meantime, we’ll wait and see what the new policies this order directs look like. Whatever the ultimate outcome, this was the right thing to do.

March For Our Lives

I sure would like to think that all this activist energy means that things are different this time.

Hundreds of Houstonians gathered near City Hall in downtown Saturday for the student-led March for Our Lives, one of dozens of events planned across the nation today to rally for stronger regulations on guns.

The protest comes almost three weeks after 21 were killed in a mass shooting at a Uvalde elementary school. In Houston, demonstrators marched just over a half mile from City Hall to outside the office of Sen. Ted Cruz.

Some explicit chants broke out as demonstrators called for voters to oust Cruz in the next election.

The event followed a demonstration of about 150 people in The Woodlands, where advocates also worked to register voters.

Katherine Chen, high school senior and executive director of MFOL Houston, said her experience as a student has included three instances of gun violence.

“The first time I had a brush with gun violence was the community college across the street from my middle school had an active shooter,” she said, remembering the sounds of helicopters and the commotion of the scene directly facing her classroom.

“That’s not something that should happen to kids at school. Especially not when you’re 12 years old.”

[…]

MFOL started in 2018 following the shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and rallies in support of new gun safety laws.

Among MFOL’s sought reforms: banning assault-style weapons or raising the age to purchase one from 18 to 21; outlawing high-capacity magazines that can hold many rounds of ammunition; implementing “red flag” laws to temporarily remove firearms from individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others; expanding background checks to include all gun sales; and establishing a “cool-off” period for someone seeking a firearm.

There were other rallies like this one around the state and around the country. The next step is to turn this into action at the ballot box, for all the reasons we have discussed a million times before.

I hesitate to be optimistic, because we have certainly seen this kind of outrage and emotion in other public rallies, and we know how they all ended up. But maybe this time it is a little different. It feels a little different, though I admit that may just be extremely wishful thinking on my part. But then, this part is actually different.

A bipartisan group of senators on Sunday announced a deal on framework of legislation aimed at reducing gun violence that includes funding for mental health and school security. Thus far, 10 Republican senators stated their support of the deal.

The agreement is currently in principle as legislative text has yet to be drafted. The deal comes in the wake of a series of mass shootings nationwide, including the tragic elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas late last month.

The deal includes enhanced background checks for buyers under the age of 21, funding for the expansion of mental health services and school security, and state grants to implement so-called “red flag” laws championed by Republicans that permit law enforcement to seek temporary removal of firearms from those who pose threats to themselves or others.

The deal closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” in order to prevent a domestic abuse from purchasing a gun if they are convicted of abusing their partner.

Additionally, it seeks to crack down on illegal straw purchasers and firearms dealers without a license.

It’s still not enough – the House bill that passed included banning the purchase of these weapons by anyone under the age of 21, which really should be the starting point – but we’ve not gotten this far on anything like it in the filibuster-everything era. It still needs to actually pass, and it may face resistance from the more progressive wing of House Democrats, who have some leverage here, but it would be something. That’s almost shocking, which says a lot of other things about where we are. But it’s something. The Trib has more.

House passes Ike Dike bill

Getting closer, but there’s still a big obstacle to overcome.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday night voted 384-37 to approve the plan for the $31-billion “Ike Dike,” a massive project designed to protect the vulnerable region from storm surge.

The plan centers on gates that would be built across the mouth of Galveston Bay and lowered ahead of hurricanes to block waves of water from pushing up the ship channel, and flooding industrial facilities and homes.

A House committee in mid-May approved the bill, known as the Water Resources Development Act of 2022. A Senate committee has also cleared similar legislation approving the project. That bill awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

If the measure is approved by the Senate, the bills will then be merged for a bicameral vote. Federal funding for the project still needs to be approved. The state legislature created a government district that can levy taxes in the Houston region to pay the local share.

The Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study, as the federal plan is formally known, is the largest engineering recommendation of its kind that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has ever proposed.

See here and here for the background. The big bipartisan vote gives some hope for it passing the Senate, but the calendar may be a tougher issue than the filibuster. Hoping for the best, prepared as always to be disappointed. The Trib has more.

(PS – I changed the embedded image I’ve been using for Ike Dike posts after Ed Emmett left a comment on the previous post noting that I had been using a picture of the SSPEED proposal instead. Hope this one meets with your approval.)

We’ve seen this movie before

I appreciate the sentiment, but I know how this ends.

Major Republican donors, including some that have contributed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns, joined other conservative Texans in signing an open letter supporting congressional action to increase gun restrictions in response to the mass shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead last week.

The letter, which [was] expected to run as a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday, endorses the creation of red flag laws, expanding background checks and raising the age to purchase a gun to 21. More than 250 self-declared gun enthusiasts signed it.

“Most law enforcement experts believe these measures would make a difference,” the letter reads. “And recent polls of fellow conservatives suggest that there is strong support for such gun-safety measures.”

The letter voices support for Texas’ senior senator, John Cornyn, who has been tapped to lead bipartisan negotiations in Congress over possible gun reform measures.

“We are grateful that our Senator John Cornyn is leading efforts to address the recent tragedies in Uvalde and elsewhere across our great Country,” the letter says. “He’s the right man to lead this bipartisan effort, as he has demonstrated throughout his career.”

[…]

The letter was paid for by Todd Maclin, a former senior executive at J.P. Morgan Chase who now runs the Dallas-based finance firm Maclin Management. Maclin said he is a conservative gun owner who has been stirred to action by the shooting in Uvalde.

“These events have really motivated me and really gotten under my skin and encouraged me to support the effort that’s underway,” Maclin told The Texas Tribune. “I just felt like I needed to do something, and I also believe that there are reasonable things that can be done.”

He said he is still hearing from more conservative gun owners who are feeling a “great sense of urgency and a great need to support [Cornyn] as he does his best to address these issues.”

Maclin said the group is focusing on federal legislation, which he believes is the best avenue to passing gun safety laws and ensuring they are applied uniformly across the country. He declined to comment on the state response to the shooting or gun legislation, except to say that he hopes any federal plan led by Cornyn and passed with conservative support would be embraced by state governments.

Among the signatories are deep-pocketed Abbott supporters, including billionaires Robert Rowling, whose holding company owns Omni Hotels, and Ray L. Hunt, executive chairman of Hunt Consolidated Inc.

A decade ago it was big-money donors to the Republicans warning against making deep cuts to education and racist anti-immigration bills. We know how that has turned out. While it’s nice to see some Republican voices calling for actual legislation to curb gun violence, there are many recent examples we can point to where the likes of John Cornyn were “tapped” to lead “negotiations” on similar measures that everyone knew were doomed because Mitch McConnell would never let them pass. Who’s fooling who here?

I believe that Todd Maclin is sincere in his desire to get some modest form of gun control legislation to President Biden’s desk, just as I believed in Bill Hammond’s desire to invest in public education and push for sensible immigration reform. The problem is that Hammond didn’t have, and I strongly suspect Maclin doesn’t have, a backup plan for when the legislators he has supported and to whom he is now appealing tell him “No”, or string him along with vague promises and then just drop it when the heat is off. Is Todd Maclin going to stop supporting the Republicans that do this to him, or is he just going to shrug it off and go on as if nothing bad had happened because we’re all friends here? Like I said, I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends. I’ll be delighted to be proven wrong, but years and years of recent history suggest I won’t be.

Please don’t ever talk to me about “a good guy with a gun” or “hardening the schools” again

The police were there but did nothing.

A gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers at a South Texas elementary school walked unopposed onto school grounds, state law enforcement officials said Thursday — and once he was inside, it took police an hour to stop him.

In the days after the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety said the shooter encountered a police officer employed by the school district before charging through a back door — and gave conflicting accounts about whether the officer fired at the gunman.

Agency officials now say there was no police officer on campus when the shooter first arrived — but did not explain why they first believed there was.

The gunman crashed a truck in a ditch near the school at 11:28 a.m., fired at two passersby on the street, then entered the school 12 minutes later through a back door before police arrived, DPS officials said Thursday.

“He was not confronted by anybody,” Victor Escalon, a DPS official, said during a press conference Thursday. The agency is leading the investigation into the shooting along with Uvalde police.

The law enforcement response to the active shooter call has drawn mounting scrutiny in the days since the massacre. State law enforcement officials have given vague and conflicting answers on what exactly happened after the gunman arrived at the school, and parents have criticized police for not acting quickly enough to stop the shooter.

At a Wednesday press conference in Uvalde, DPS Director Steve McCraw said that a school police officer “engaged” with the gunman before he entered the school but did not exchange gunfire with the gunman. Other DPS officials were quoted in media reports saying there was an exchange of gunfire at that moment.

That was Wednesday. By Friday, they had gotten the story straight, and the local PD screwed it all up.

The head of the Texas Department of Public Safety criticized the police chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District on Friday, saying he acted too slowly in responding to the elementary school gunman who killed 21 people, including 19 children.

Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the incident commander — identified by the San Antonio Express-News as Uvalde CISD police chief Pete Arredondo — believed the situation was no longer an active shooter, but that of a barricaded suspect.

But 911 calls, reviewed by Texas Rangers, reveal that at least two people inside the Robb Elementary School classroom called police and reported that there were children inside who were alive.

Meanwhile, the shooting continued periodically.

“With the benefit of hindsight, of course it was not the right decision,” McCraw said. “It was the wrong decision.”

He said once the shooting continued, the incident commander — who he did not identify directly — should have switched back to an active shooter response.

“We believe should have been an entry at that as soon as they (could),” McCraw added. “When there’s an active shooter, the rules change.”

Meanwhile, inside the classroom, children made terrified calls to 911, whispering and asking for help.

All of this has made Greg Abbott mad because he had been out there praising the Uvalde PD’s response before being clued in about how inept they were. He should maybe be mad that all of his party’s “solutions” for stopping mass shootings at schools just don’t work.

Four years after an armed 17-year-old opened fire inside a Texas high school, killing 10, Gov. Greg Abbott tried to tell another shell-shocked community that lost 19 children and two teachers to a teen gunman about his wins in what is now an ongoing effort against mass shootings.

“We consider what we did in 2019 to be one of the most profound legislative sessions not just in Texas but in any state to address school shootings,” Abbott said inside a Uvalde auditorium Wednesday as he sat flanked by state and local officials. “But to be clear, we understand our work is not done, our work must continue.”

Throughout the 60-minute news conference, he and other Republican leaders said a 2019 law allowed districts to “harden” schools from external threats after a deadly shooting inside an art classroom at Santa Fe High School near Houston the year before. After the Uvalde gunman was reportedly able to enter Robb Elementary School through a back door this week, their calls to secure buildings resurfaced yet again.

But a deeper dive into the 2019 law revealed many of its “hardening” elements have fallen short.

Schools didn’t receive enough state money to make the types of physical improvements lawmakers are touting publicly. Few school employees signed up to bring guns to work. And many school districts either don’t have an active shooting plan or produced insufficient ones.

In January 2020, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District received $69,000 from a one-time, $100 million state grant to enhance physical security in Texas public schools, according to a dataset detailing the Texas Education Agency grants. The funds were comparable to what similarly sized districts received.

Even with more funds and better enforcement of policies, experts have said there is no indication that beefing up security in schools has prevented any violence. Plus, they said, it can be detrimental to children, especially children of color.

“This concept of hardening, the more it has been done, it’s not shown the results,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a public health professor at New Mexico State University who studies school security practices and their effectiveness.

Khubchandani said the majority of public schools in the United States already implement the security measures most often promoted by public officials, including locked doors to the outside and in classrooms, active-shooter plans and security cameras.

After a review of 18 years of school security measures, Khubchandani and James Price from the University of Toledo did not find any evidence that such tactics or more armed teachers reduced gun violence in schools.

“It’s not just guns. It’s not just security,” Khubchandani said. “It’s a combination of issues, and if you have a piecemeal approach, then you’ll never succeed. You need a comprehensive approach.”

I was on the board of our elementary school’s PTA in 2012, when the Sandy Hook murders happened. Our school adopted the “only one entrance” idea then, so even though there were other entrances to the school, you had to go through this one, and be buzzed in, if you wanted to visit. That could easily be defeated by an attacker, of course, but it’s in line with the official Republican response. The other ideas, you know, about limiting access to extremely deadly automatic weapons that can fire dozens of rounds in a few seconds, we’re still waiting on that.

Again, there’s plenty of reporting and analysis out there. You don’t need me to regurgitate it all. What we need, all of us, is a change in political leadership in this state, plus at least two more Democratic Senators, to maybe have a chance to move this forward. (We’ll also have to deal with the radical Supreme Court, but with those two more Democratic Senators, bigger things are on the table.) We’re not going to get anything from the Greg Abbotts and Dan Patricks. We have to get them out of power to have a chance.

UPDATE: Here’s two more things for you to read if you haven’t had enough yet.

House committee passes Ike Dike bill

Another step forward.

A House committee on Wednesday approved legislation that gives the go-ahead to the so-called Ike Dike project, a massive $31 billion proposal that includes building giant gates across the mouth of Galveston Bay with the goal of stopping hurricane storm surge.

The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure voted to move the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 toward the full House for a floor vote. This follows a vote two weeks ago by a similar committee in the Senate, which also included language in its bill approving the project.

Getting the sign-off from key committees in both chambers of Congress marks a significant step forward for a plan that has been spiritedly debated since Hurricane Ike hit with devastating force in 2008. Both bills must be approved by their respective bodies, then merged for a final bicameral vote.

“The Water Resources Development Act is our legislative commitment to investing in and protecting our communities from flooding events, restoring our environment and ecosystems and keeping our nation’s competitiveness by supporting our ports and harbors,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-California, chair of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Her comments prior to the vote addressed the big picture: “Through the biannual enactment of WRDA, this committee has addressed local, regional, national needs through the authorization of the new US Army Corps of Engineers projects, studies and policies that benefit every corner of the nation.”

The Coastal Texas Protection and Restoration Feasibility Study, as the federal version of the Ike Dike plan is formally known, is the largest engineering recommendation of its kind that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has ever proposed. It was one of 16 finalized projects included in the House bill.

See here for the background. I still need to see it pass a cloture vote and not get doomed to procedural hell by the likes of Rand Paul, but for now it is moving forward. For now.