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September 1st, 2021:

Final passage of the voter suppression bill

That’s all for now, we’ll see you in court for what will likely be a frustrating and unsatisfying denouement.

A wave of changes to Texas elections, including new voting restrictions, are headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Three months after House Democrats first broke quorum to stymie a previous iteration of the legislation, Republicans in the House and Senate Tuesday signed off on the final version of Senate Bill 1 to further tighten the state’s voting rules and rein in local efforts to widen voting access. Abbott, a Republican, is expected to sign it into law.

The bill was delayed one more time as its Republican author, state Sen. Bryan Hughes, disapproved of language added by the House to address the controversial conviction of Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman facing a five-year sentence for a ballot she has said she did not know she was ineligible to cast. Hughes’ objection triggered backroom talks to strip the Mason amendment before the bill could come up for a final vote.

[…]

On Tuesday, Democrats decried the Senate’s objection to the Mason amendment, with state Rep. John Turner, D-Dallas, stating he hoped it was “not because they believe that more people in situations like that of Crystal Mason should be prosecuted or imprisoned.”

[Rep. Garnet] Coleman and Turner were part of the panel that worked out the final version of the bill in backroom talks. Despite their support for the amendment, House Republicans on that panel also signed off on removing it.

The amendment — offered by state Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, but worked on as a bipartisan effort — was meant to prevent voter mistakes from being prosecuted as fraud.

“We’re just ensuring that people who do innocent things are not harmed from their past mistakes,” Cain said before it was quickly adopted by the House last Thursday.

Mason was convicted of illegal voting for casting a provisional ballot in the 2016 election while she was on supervised release for a federal tax fraud conviction. Her vote was never counted, and Mason has said she had no idea she was ineligible to vote under Texas law and wouldn’t have knowingly risked her freedom.

Tarrant County prosecutors pressed forward to land the conviction, which was upheld by a state appeals court that ruled that the fact Mason did not know she was ineligible was “irrelevant to her prosecution.” Her case is currently under review by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s court of last resort for criminal matters.

Cain’s amendment would have clarified existing law that currently defines illegal voting as an instance in which a person “votes or attempts to vote in an election in which the person knows the person is not eligible to vote” by emphasizing that a person must be aware of the “particular circumstances that make the person not eligible” and also that “those circumstances make the the person not eligible” to vote.

Mason’s case has played out as Republicans’ baseless claims of rampant illegal voting have intensified. But with lack of widespread evidence, her case has landed among the handful of high-profile prosecutions of people of color.

Mason, who is Black, is appealing her case as the Texas attorney general’s office prosecutes Hervis Rogers, who is also Black, after he was featured in news coverage of the March 2020 primaries for being the last person to vote at Texas Southern University in Houston at 1 a.m. His registration was active even though he was a few months away from completing his parole as part of a 25-year prison sentence for burglary and intent to commit theft in 1995.

Hughes on Thursday said the amendment raised concerns for “people in the building” and “outside the building” that the language could go farther than intended, and noted he believed non-citizens who vote in elections should be prosecuted even if they were not aware they were ineligible. Notably, the Mason amendment could have also affected the state’s prosecution of Rogers, who was charged with two counts of illegal voting.

Hughes also noted the bill still includes language that would require proof beyond a provisional ballot for an attempt to cast an illegal vote to count as a crime.

See here and here for some background. Credit to Briscoe Cain (a phrase I am unlikely to type again anytime soon) but in the end it was more important for the Republicans to keep going after the likes of Hervis Rogers and Crystal Mason because there aren’t any real voter fraud cases for them to tout. Look, either we get the John Lewis Act through the US Senate, or this is our reality until Democrats have full control of state government and sufficient awareness that even the watered down two thirds rule is a trap that (like the filibuster) will not allow them to pass anything of substance. I don’t care to speculate when that might be.

The legal situation with the heartbeat bill

I’m writing this at eight PM, and will very likely be asleep before SCOTUS takes any action, if they do take action. So let’s start with what we have as of now:

That was in reply to this:

See here for the previous entry. If I see that SCOTUS has taken action when I get up in the morning, I’ll update this post. If not, you can assume that there’s basically no such thing as abortion in Texas until further notice. And that will include medical abortion.

Two days before one of the strictest abortion laws in the country is set to go into effect in Texas, the state Legislature tentatively approved another bill Monday evening that would restrict the procedure during the first term of pregnancy.

Senate Bill 4 remains identical to the version of the bill passed by the Texas Senate. Texas Democrats were unable to attach amendments to the bill, despite more than a dozen attempts, which means the bill will head straight to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk if it is finally approved with no changes.

The legislation would limit patients’ access to abortion-inducing pills, preventing physicians or providers from giving abortion-inducing medication to patients who are more than seven weeks pregnant. Current law allows practitioners to give these pills to patients who are up to 10 weeks pregnant.

Notably, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration set its guidelines in 2016 advising that abortion-inducing pills are safe to use up to 70 days, or 10 weeks, after initial conception.

These pills have increasingly become the most common method for women to terminate a pregnancy if they are aware of their pregnancy early enough. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research institute that supports abortion rights, 60% of women elect to take a pill over having surgery.

It’s grim. This bill might have a chance of being knocked down by litigation, but who can even say at this point.

It should be noted that there is some state litigation happening, but that will not have the effect of blocking SB8.

Travis County District Judge Amy Clark Meachum issued a temporary restraining order barring the anti-abortion organization Texas Right To Life; John Seago, its legislative director, and others from “instituting any private enforcement lawsuits” under SB 8 against the plaintiff, a Dallas attorney, according to the order.

But the full scope of the order was narrow, and does not apply to a majority of providers or Texans.

“While the temporary restraining order issued by the Texas state court in Austin provides some relief to the two individuals and one nonprofit organization against lawsuits from the Texas Right to Life, it does not provide the full relief needed to ensure all Texans can access their constitutional right to an abortion,” said Julie Murray, staff attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Here’s a bit more on that litigation from KXAN:

District Judge Amy Clark Meachum considered three cases on Tuesday morning: one, brought by an attorney and sexual assault victim’s advocate named Michelle Tuegel; another brought by Bridge Collective, a resource group for people seeking an abortion; and another brought by Allie Van Stean, a woman who regularly donates to women’s health clinics.

On Tuesday morning, the judge granted temporary restraining orders (TROs) in all three instances, against the group Texas Right to Life. According to attorneys for these three plaintiffs, the TRO’s prevent Texas Right to Life from filing lawsuits under the new fetal heartbeat law, until the court can conduct a full-scale temporary injunction hearing later in September.

Their attorneys say the ruling is significant for their clients because they had to prove “probable right to relief” to get the TRO — meaning they were able to show the judge evidence supporting their challenge to the law’s constitutionality.

KXAN spoke to Van Stean earlier this month, who explained, “Simply donating to places like Planned Parenthood count as aiding and abetting an abortion… If I’m donating to Planned Parenthood, I’m not necessarily giving with the intent to assist women in getting an abortion. Planned Parenthood and other places provide necessary and needed services like birth control at a lower cost, affordable option for women who can’t afford it.”

A spokesperson for Texas Right to Life told KXAN on Tuesday, the judge’s ruling was “narrow” and does not block the Texas Heartbeat Act from being broadly enforced at midnight.

Rewire wrote a story about Michelle Tuegel, who had filed a lawsuit in Dallas. In that one she sued a whole lot of people, mostly legislators. I don’t know what happened to that suit or if it is related in some way to this one. You should read that story, which links to this one about how Tuegel won a big judgment against US Gymnastics over the Larry Nassar case. If nothing else, I’m glad to have someone like that fighting the good fight.

And that’s all I know right now. If there’s any news in the morning, I’ll include it here. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: No word from SCOTUS, so SB8 officially became law at midnight last night. They can – and some people think they will – still act today. But SB8 is in effect until and unless they do.

“Big boy pants”

Some hot Dutton on Patrick action going on here.

Another partisan stalemate has broken out in the final days of the second special session called by Gov. Greg Abbott this year, again imperiling the jobs of 2,100 legislative staffers along with two key conservative priority bills.

On Monday night, Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, abruptly adjourned the House Public Education Committee, which he chairs, without voting on two bills prioritized by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the leader of the Senate: a bill that would limit how educators can teach social studies and talk about race at Texas public schools, referred to as the “critical race theory bill,” and another that would require transgender students to participate in sports based on the gender listed on their birth certificate instead of their gender identity.

“We have gotten to the point now where the Senate has adopted certain principles and practices that I don’t think bode well for this Legislature. I think that what’s happened is we have allowed them to do certain things and they disrespect the House in certain fashions,” Dutton said. “It has gotten worse to the point where today, what I am told, is that if we don’t pass these two bills — the [critical race theory] bill and the transgender bill — the Senate is not going to consider trying to fix the funding in Article X. So, I want to see if he has his big boy pants on. This meeting is adjourned.”

Article X refers to the section of the state budget that covers funding for the state Legislature and other independent agencies that support its work. Abbott vetoed legislative funding in June in retaliation for the defeat of his priority election and bail changes bills when Democrats first walked out of the House in May during the final days of the regular legislative session.

The Legislature was set to lose its funding this month, as the new fiscal calendar starts Wednesday, but Abbott and legislative leaders extended its funding through the end of September. Still, the Legislature has not passed a long-term solution for the rest of the next two-year budget cycle, putting in peril the livelihoods of the staffers funded through the Legislature. Lawmakers salaries are constitutionally protected and therefore not affected by Abbott’s veto.

House Bill 5, a wide-ranging bill that includes funding for a 13th check for retired schoolteachers and the restoration of legislative funding, was set to be heard on the chamber floor Monday, but its author, Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, suddenly postponed its consideration until Wednesday. On Tuesday, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, asked the House to reconsider the motion by which the bill was postponed, which would allow lawmakers to take up the bill immediately. The vote failed by a vote of 74-49.

Dutton did not say who had told him that the Senate would not pass the legislative funding bill until the House passed the two bills in his committee. His office has not returned a request for comment from The Texas Tribune. Patrick’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

I’ll never complain about someone spitting on Dan Patrick, but Harold Dutton is hardly a hero here. He has already shown that he doesn’t care about trans kids, and it’s clear that his interest here is in not getting rolled by the Senate. That said, no one with any power in the House has stood up for the restoration of Article X funding, which continues to be in jeopardy and clearly isn’t anything Dan Patrick cares about. It’s pathetic how little pushback Dade Phelan and the House Republicans have given to Greg Abbott on this, which leaves that task to the likes of Dutton, who does know what to do with the power he has. There’s no one to cheer for in this story, and I feel confident that Dutton will give Patrick what he is demanding if Patrick plays ball, but at least for now he’s standing for something worthwhile. The Chron has more.

Please enjoy the higher natural gas prices you’ll soon be paying

And by “enjoy”, I mean “blame Greg Abbott”.

Texans are on the hook for $3.6 billion in natural gas costs incurred by utilities during one freezing week in February — a burden consumers will bear for a decade or longer.

During that same winter week, several natural gas pipeline companies and traders made billions of dollars as they transported and sold natural gas at sky-high prices when supplies were short.

Pipeline companies Energy Transfer of Dallas and Kinder Morgan of Houston made $2.4 billion and $1.1 billion, respectively, while British oil major BP made more than $1 billion from its natural-gas trading business during the deadly, historic storm, according to company filings and analyst estimates. Houston pipeline company Enterprise Products Partners said it made $250 million for transporting and selling natural gas at high prices to utilities, industrial customers and power generators during the storm.

Ultimately, Texans will fund these companies’ profits, said Jim Krane, an energy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“It’s pretty clear this is a wealth transfer from the public to investors and traders who could capitalize on the high prices,” Krane said. “The frustrating thing is, even though people were shivering in their homes, their (natural gas) bills are going up anyway. They’re still going to have to pay for this. It’s really a slap in the face.”

More than 1.8 million CenterPoint Energy customers in the Houston area are responsible for the $1.14 billion natural gas bill incurred by the Houston utility when it had to quickly buy natural gas at sky-high prices after demand soared and supplies plunged during the storm.

[…]

Utilities such as CenterPoint pass along the cost of natural gas to customers without any markup and instead make money on its natural gas business through state-regulated distribution fees.

CenterPoint on Friday filed a request with regulators to finance the billions of dollars in excess gas costs. The paperwork submitted to the Railroad Commission outlined how much the financing would cost Houstonians in the coming years, reflected in their monthly bill.

The average natural gas bill in the Houston area — about $30 — could go up by $2 to $5 a month starting next year if CenterPoint is allowed to use state-issued bonds to finance what it owes for that high-priced gas. That means Houstonians could pay as much as $60 more a year for their natural gas over the next decade.

If CenterPoint’s request is rejected, it would levy a fee of $15 to $40 a month over the next year, pushing the average gas bill to almost $80 during summer and to more than $100 in winter. That means Houstonians could pay as much as $480 more for their natural gas over the next year.

The cost would hit everyone in CenterPoint’s territory, even if they couldn’t turn on their natural-gas heating systems because of rolling blackouts, Krane said.

“You either buy your local bill collector a six-pack or a gym membership,” Krane said. “It’s not insubstantial. For some people, it’s going to be pretty tough news if you’re just hanging on.”

See here for some background. As a reminder, this is how the system was designed to work. And of course, Greg Abbott benefited from that transfer of wealth, because that too is how the system is designed to work.