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October 4th, 2021:

Interview with Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

I will be finishing off interviews with HISD trustees this week, and then moving into the HCC races next week. We have two incumbents and one challenger to meet, and we begin with Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, the incumbent in District VI. Appointed to fill out an unexpired term in January 2017, she was elected to a full term that November, and has served on the Audit and Special Education committees. A native of Ohio before moving to Houston and attending HISD schools, she is the daughter of Colombian immigrants and was a bilingual pre-k and early childhood teacher for six years, and is now Chief Relationship Officer at thinkLaw, an organization that uses real-life legal cases to teach critical-thinking skills. The interview I did with her in 2017 is here, and the interview I did with her for this election is below:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

One more lawsuit against Texas’ voter suppression law

From Mi Familia Vota:

Non-profit civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota, along with individual voters, filed suit today in the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio seeking to block a new voter suppression law enacted by the Texas Legislature.

The lawsuit challenges Texas Senate Bill No. 1 (SB 1), a law designed to suppress votes from Texans of color and other marginalized communities through measures that include prohibiting drive-through voting, limiting voting hours, making it unlawful for counties to automatically mail eligible voters mail-in ballot applications; implementing stricter rules for voting by mail; allowing election officials to reject allegedly defective ballots without notice to the voter prior to the election; implementing monthly purges of voter rolls; limiting physical and language assistance at the polls; and enabling partisan poll watchers, which creates increased risk of voter intimidation.

The law was passed on the heels of the 2020 election, which saw enormous gains in the number of Black and Latino voters in Texas, in part driven by counties like Harris County, which took actions to make voting safe and accessible, including by offering drive-through and 24-hour voting options. “Texas’s new voter suppression law, 2021 Texas Senate Bill No. 1, 87th Legislature (“SB 1”), is a calculated effort to disenfranchise voters,” the complaint reads. “If allowed to stand, the bill will unconstitutionally burden qualified voters and inevitably prevent many voters from lawfully casting their ballots in future elections.”

The plaintiffs argue that these changes to voting law in Texas create an undue burden on voters, especially those who are Black or Latino, in violation of the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They cite a pattern of voter suppression legislation in Texas throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, and they demonstrate as false Texas officials’ claim that the law is targeting “voter fraud.”

“Latinos and other voters of color came out to vote in big numbers in 2020,” said Angelica Razo, Texas State Director for Mi Familia Vota. “We saw places like Harris County come up with ways of making voting widely available and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our state should empower voters to find safe and accessible voting options. Instead, our legislators chose to suppress voters, make it harder for us to vote, and subject us to voter intimidation. Voting is a constitutional, protected right, and we are proud to continue to advocate for the voting rights of our community, so that all eligible voters are able to exercise their right to vote.”

[…]

The defendants in this case are Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Texas Deputy Secretary of State Jose Esparza, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The plaintiffs are represented by Free Speech For People, a nonpartisan legal advocacy nonprofit dedicated to defending our democracy; the law firm of Stoel Rives; and the law firm of Lyons & Lyons. Free Speech For People filed a federal lawsuit last month in Phoenix, on behalf of Mi Familia Vota, Arizona Coalition for Change, Living United for Change in Arizona, and Chispa Arizona, to block two new Arizona laws restricting voting rights.

”SB 1 creates unconstitutional burdens on the right of Texans to vote, in an effort to block voters–and specifically voters of color–from voting and having their votes counted,” said Courtney Hostetler, Senior Counsel for Free Speech For People. “It shuts down reasonable practices that counties have implemented to increase voters’ access to the polls. It makes voters and election officials vulnerable to intimidation. And it will force certain voters to jump through costly and time-consuming hoops to remain on the voter rolls. The law violates the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

A copy of the lawsuit is here. It’s lawsuit number 6 by my count – there were two federal lawsuits filed before SB1 was signed, then two more federal lawsuits plus a state lawsuit filed right after it was signed. I still haven’t really read any of them, but these are all people who have been down this road many times before. Their arguments may not work in the courts that we have now, but they will have merit regardless. I expect the federal suits to get combined, maybe not all of them into one but some of them. And it will surely take months before we get our first hearings and maybe rulings. Stay tuned, and do keep reminding our Democrats in Washington that it’s still not too late to pass a federal voting rights bill.

Medicaid and the “heartbeat” law

Of interest.

Texas’ new abortion ban makes no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest. Nearly a month after it was enacted, state health officials still won’t say whether that includes Texans on Medicaid, a small but critical population that they are required to help access the procedure.

Under federal Medicaid rules, states are obligated to cover abortions in rare circumstances, including for victims of sexual abuse. The new Texas law prohibits abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and allows nearly anyone to sue those who defy the restrictions. It is at least temporarily in place while state and federal courts review whether it is constitutional.

The law appears to have forced the state Health and Human Services Commission into a predicament: either it flouts the state ban or it violates the longstanding federal guidelines.

The agency has not said how it is complying with either directive; a spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. In its Medicaid handbook, the agency still provides instructions for submitting abortion claims for reimbursement.

The Department of Justice pointed to the Medicaid impact in a lawsuit it filed earlier this month against the Texas ban. A hearing on that suit is scheduled for Friday.

“The statute arbitrarily denies Medicaid beneficiaries coverage of a procedure for which Medicaid coverage is mandatory,” lawyers for the department wrote in their complaint.

See here and here for some background on the DOJ lawsuit. The subject of Medicaid did come up in oral arguments on Friday, but it didn’t appear to be a main topic of interest. As this story notes, the main lever the federal government has to enforce this is to threaten to withhold Medicaid funding, but that would mostly hurt Medicaid recipients, and it is not at all clear that Greg Abbott would be inclined to give an inch. Some states like South Dakota have routinely violated this law, without consequence. Maybe it matters in this lawsuit and maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know. But there it is.

The Women’s March, the next generation

I look forward to a day when these aren’t necessary, but in the meantime I am grateful to all who cared enough to participate or were there in spirit.

A crowd of more than 10,000 turned out Saturday in downtown Houston to encourage voter registration and to fight Texas’ restrictive abortion ban.

Participants in the Women’s March, organized by the nonprofit Houston Women March On, made their way from Discovery Green nearly a mile to City Hall, where Mayor Sylvester Turner greeted the crowd and proclaimed Oct. 1 as Women’s Voter Registration Day.

U.S. Reps. Al Green, Lizzie Fletcher and Sylvia Garcia attended, as did George Floyd Foundation executive director Shareeduh Tate, and DeAndre Hopkins’ mother, activist Sabrina Greenlee.

Although rain started falling as the speeches began, the crowd didn’t dwindle, even occasionally shouting in unison, “vote him out” or “our bodies, our rights.”

A main focus at the event was abortion rights in response to Senate Bill 8, which effectively prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected at around six weeks into a pregnancy. It became law Sept. 1.

[…]

Women’s marches took place in more than 500 cities across the U.S. Saturday. The protests emulated the women’s marches that were held across the country in January 2017 after the election of President Donald Trump.

The protests come just days before the Supreme Court reconvenes for its new nine-month term Monday. The court is expected to review whether all state laws that ban pre-viability abortions are unconstitutional.

Couple of things here. One, I wish media would be a lot more careful in describing this law, because the statement that it prohibits abortion “after a fetal heartbeat is detected at around six weeks into a pregnancy” is factually inaccurate and I believe gives the law greater support in opinion polls than it would get if it were correctly attributed. The whole “fetal heartbeat” claim is one made by its advocates, and it is not backed by any medical evidence. It’s disappointing to see that just accepted without any reference to the facts of the matter.

Two, we’re very much going to need this kind of energy not only going into the 2022 election, but for now and for after it to put pressure on Congress and specifically the Senate to take action on a whole range of issues that have popular support but are being stymied by a range of anti-majoritarian practices, mostly but not exclusively the filibuster. The idea that the Texas ban on abortion would flip the script on abortion politics is theoretical. Seeing people take action is the practice. Let’s keep that up. Slate has more.