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NBA agrees to offer its arenas as voting centers

Nice.

“What was the plan?” was always the wrong question to ask of striking NBA players; what they wanted was to not play basketball, and they got it. But they used that time not playing to talk, to think and to make their voices heard.

But the players did get a significant commitment from their bosses: turning as many NBA arenas as possible into voting sites for November.

The league and union announced Friday that the playoffs will resume Saturday. That announcement included a concrete promise from the league. Every team-owned arena will turn into a polling place for the November election in locations where that’s still legally possible in order for voters to have a large, COVID-safe place to vote in person.

Three teams had already committed to this earlier in the summer — Bucks, Pistons and Hawks — and the Rockets made the announcement on Thursday.

Chris Paul, the Thunder point guard and longtime union president, gave an emotional interview to bubble media after the announcement.

“In 15 years in the league, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Paul said. “Everyone expects us to go out and play. I get it. But we needed some time,” he said, adding that he had spoken to Jacob Blake’s father.

We knew about the Toyota Center. I had not been aware of the other three arenas, which was apparently something that happened in early July. Here’s some more details about what this announcement means:

On Friday, the NBA and NBPA announced a three-point plan to promote social justice and racial equality, which includes converting NBA arenas into voting centers for the 2020 presidential election. The NBA playoffs will resume on Saturday in Orlando.

“1. The NBA and its players have agreed to immediately establish a social justice coalition, with representatives from players, coaches and governors, that will be focused on a broad range of issues, including increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.

2. In every city where the league franchise owns and controls the arena property, team governors will continue to work with local election officials to convert the facility into a voting location for the 2020 general election to allow for a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID. If a deadline has passed, team governors will work with local elections officials to find another election-related use for the facility, including but not limited to voter registration and ballot receiving boards.

3. The league will work with the players and our network partners to create and include advertising spots in each NBA playoff game dedicated to promoting greater civic engagement in national and local elections and raising awareness around voter access and opportunity.”

In theory, that could mean voting centers in battleground states like Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Arizona in addition the four that are already signed on. Maybe Dallas and San Antonio will join in as well. How many of these actually happen, and what kind of response the players will have if they feel the effort fell short for whatever the reason, remains to be seen. But in terms of direct action resulting from the wildcat strike the players engineered this past week, it’s pretty impressive. Well done.

(A more recent article than the NPR story I linked above suggests some other NBA teams, as well as teams in the NFL, NHL, and MLB, are taking similar action to allow their stadia to be used for voting. Not clear to me what relation these two efforts have. For sure, there are plenty of stadia, including hundreds of college stadia and arenas, that could also be used in this capacity, in all 50 states. It would be nice to say we’re just limited by our imagination, but of course we are very much limited by the ferocious opposition to this idea that those who don’t want to make voting easy and convenient would bring. What the NBA players have done is a great start. There’s a lot more that could and should be done.)

More pressure on Biden to really compete in Texas

Fine by me.

With President Donald Trump’s poll numbers sliding in traditional battlegrounds as well as conservative-leaning states, and money pouring into Democratic campaigns, Joe Biden is facing rising pressure to expand his ambitions, compete aggressively in more states and press his party’s advantage down the ballot.

In a series of phone calls, Democratic lawmakers and party officials have lobbied Biden and his top aides to seize what they believe could be a singular opportunity not only to defeat Trump but also to rout him and discredit what they believe is his dangerous style of racial demagogy.

This election, the officials argue, offers the provocative possibility of a new path to the presidency through fast-changing states like Georgia and Texas, and a chance to install a generation of lawmakers who can cement Democratic control of Congress and help redraw legislative maps following this year’s census.

Biden’s campaign, though, is so far hewing to a more conservative path. It is focused mostly on a handful of traditional battlegrounds, where it is only now scaling up and naming top aides despite having claimed the nomination in April.

At the moment, Biden is airing TV ads in just six states, all of which Trump won four years ago: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina and Florida. The campaign included perennially close Florida only after some deliberations about whether it was worth the hefty price tag, and when Trump’s struggles with older populations made it clearly competitive, according to Democrats familiar with their discussions.

The campaign’s reluctance to pursue a more expansive strategy owes in part to the calendar: Biden’s aides want to see where the race stands closer to November before they broaden their focus and commit to multimillion-dollar investments, aware that no swing states, let alone Republican-leaning states, have actually been locked up.

Yet they are increasingly bumping up against a party emboldened by an extraordinary convergence of events. Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic, his self-defeating rhetorical eruptions and the soaring liberal enthusiasm — reflected in the sprawling social justice protests and Democrats’ unprecedented Senate fundraising — have many officeholders convinced they must act boldly.

Public and private polling shows Trump not only trailing badly in swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin but also running closely with Biden in traditionally conservative bastions like Kansas and Montana.

“Trump’s abominable presidency, especially in the context of the total failure to confront coronavirus, makes Texas very winnable,” said Rep. Filemon Vela, an early Biden supporter. He said he is “getting bombarded” with pleas from Texas Democrats who are similarly convinced the state could turn blue with a substantial commitment.

[…]

While the campaign has made a flurry of hires in recent weeks, its pace of building out regional desks and state teams has prompted some private grumbling from party operatives. They worry the Biden camp isn’t yet positioned to capitalize on this year’s opportunities — or adequately prepared for the organizational demands of a massive vote-by-mail push made necessary by the pandemic.

Long-tenured Democrats, however, say there are more profound reasons to contest a broad array of states.

“An Electoral College landslide gives Biden the ability to move on major issues,” Brown said. “Second, it’ll give him a stronger majority in the Senate and give the party more state legislators.”

More broadly, Brown posited, a resounding repudiation of Trump would make it more likely that Republicans will discard his politics.

“They’ve got to reject their plays to race if they’re going to be a national party that can compete in the future,” he said.

Paul Begala, the veteran Democratic strategist, was even blunter about the need for a convincing win.

“It used to be that anything past 270 electoral votes was useless because it doesn’t matter how far you run past the goal line in football,” Begala said. “But for the first time in American history there’s a legitimate concern that the incumbent president will not surrender power.”

I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I’ve already said on this subject. Resources are finite, and decisions have to be made about how best to deploy them. But I do think the “we need a landslide” argument has a lot of merit, and with recent polls showing Biden even or slightly ahead in Texas, it’s hard for me to understand the case for just letting things play out as they would. I understand that if Texas is truly winnable, then Biden has already won, and it thus makes more sense to ensure that he has indeed locked up those other states first. I’m not advocating an abandonment of the states Biden is currently contesting. I am saying that unless the resources just aren’t there, it makes more sense to me to add in some contingency states than it does to double down on the existing battlefields, because surely there’s a point of diminishing returns there. The Senate seat in Texas plus the multiple Congressional seats and the chance to win the State House all add weight to that position. I admit I’m biased, but I will not concede that it doesn’t add up to compete in Texas. It doesn’t add up to not compete.

UPDATE: So, this happened.

Joe Biden is launching his first general-election TV ads in Texas as a growing number of polls show a close presidential race here.

As part of a four-state ad buy that Biden’s campaign is announcing Tuesday, the presumptive Democratic nominee is going up with a 60-second spot in Texas that addresses the increasingly dire coronavirus situation here.

“I’m thinking all of you today across Texas,” Biden says in the ad, which opens with a shot of Marfa. “I know the rise in case numbers is causing fear and apprehension.”

“The virus is tough, but Texas is tougher,” Biden later says, telling Americans to follow guidelines to slow the spread of the virus — and that he wants them to know: “I will not abandon you. We’re all in this together.”

The buy, which also features digital ads, is across Texas, Arizona, Florida and North Carolina — and it marks the campaign’s first TV and digital ad spending in Texas since Biden secured the nomination. A Biden campaign official described the size of the four-state buy as “mid-six figures.”

It’s a start. A “mid-six figures” buy is not a whole lot, but it did generate some earned media, which is always a plus. As others have noted, Trump has been running ads here; my younger daughter loves procedurals, of which NCIS is one of her favorites, and I’ve seen a few Trump ads when she has streamed episodes from the most recent seasons on CBS All Access. If Trump thinks it’s necessary to run a few ads in Texas, it’s got to be worth it for Biden to do so as well.

That’s not how you test

Oops.

Texas health officials made a key change Thursday to how they report data about the coronavirus, distinguishing antibody tests from standard viral tests and prompting slight increases in the state’s oft-cited daily statistic known as the positivity rate.

The positivity rate is the ratio of the confirmed cases to total tests, presented by the state as a seven-day rolling average. The Texas Department State of Health Services disclosed for the first time Thursday that as of a day earlier, it had counted 49,313 antibody tests as as part of its “total tests” tally. That represents 6.4% of the 770,241 total tests that the state had reported through Wednesday.

Health experts have warned against conflating the tests because they are distinctly different. Antibody tests detect whether someone was previously infected, while standard viral tests determine whether someone currently has the virus.

Now that DSHS is reporting the number of antibody tests, it has recalculated its daily positivity rates starting Tuesday to exclude such tests. That led to a 0.41 percentage-point increase in Tuesday’s rate and a 0.55 point increase in Wednesday’s rate, according to DSHS calculations.

DSHS acknowledged last week that it was reporting an unknown quantity of antibody tests as part of the “total tests” figure. Despite that, Gov. Greg Abbott incorrectly claimed Monday that the state was not “commingling” the numbers while promising the state would soon break out the antibody test count.

[…]

When public health agencies combine antibody testing figures with viral testing figures, “I want to scream,” said Seema Yasmin, an epidemiologist and director of the Stanford Health Communications Initiative.

Viral tests, usually taken from nasal swabs, can detect an active coronavirus infection. If a person’s biological sample is found to have traces of the virus’s genetic material, public health workers can order them to self-isolate and track down any of their contacts who may have been exposed.

Antibody tests “are like looking in the rearview mirror,” Yasmin said, because they may show if a person has recovered from a coronavirus infection. That can be useful for public health surveillance, but it does not offer much insight about where the virus is currently spreading. Another issue is that many antibody tests have been shown to have high rates of inaccuracy, she said.

“As an epidemiologist, this level of messiness in the data makes your job so much more difficult, and it misleads the public about what’s really happening,” Yasmin said. “We’ve been talking about the capacity for testing increasing over the last few weeks, but now we might have to tell the public that might not be true.”

And dumping antibody testing data into the pool of viral testing data brings the overall positivity rate down, reflecting “a deceptive misuse of the data,” analysts for the COVID Tracking Project wrote last week. That’s because the numbers may make it seem like the state has grown its testing capacity even if a state’s viral testing capacity remains flat.

“This is crucial as we need increased capacity for viral testing before reopening to identify active infections even in the pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic stages,” the analysts wrote.

To be fair, Texas is not the only state to have done this. Florida and Georgia have been accused of manipulating their data in other ways as well. The bottom line here is that we’ll never get our arms around this pandemic if we don’t have good data. The data is messy enough as it is, we surely don’t need to be making it worse.

The NBA takes a baby step towards coming back

This may not amount to much, but it’s a potential sign that there may be more like it coming.

The NBA is reopening team practice facilities beginning on Friday for players in states and municipalities that are loosening stay-at-home restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

Players can return to team facilities in states such as Georgia for voluntary individual workouts as soon as next week, which allows for NBA organizations to start allowing players to return to training in a professional, safe environment.

Teams will remain prohibited from holding group workouts or organized team activities, sources said.

In markets in which more restrictive governance of stay-at-home orders remain in place, the NBA is telling teams the league will work with franchises to help find alternative arrangements for their players, sources said.

The NBA’s decision to reopen facilities based on the loosening of local governmental policies isn’t reflective of a new timetable for a resumption of play this season, sources said. Commissioner Adam Silver and owners still believe they need more time for a clearer picture on whether, when or how they could possibly resume the season, sources said.

Many team executives have been clamoring for the chance to get players back into their facilities, which they believe to be among the safest possible environments around the pandemic. On a conference call with general managers and Silver on Thursday, some GMs said they had players asking about the possibility of traveling to Atlanta to work out in fitness centers with gymnasiums, an idea that concerned many team executives, sources said.

“If our players can travel and play at a 24-Hour Fitness in Atlanta, they should be able to have access to our facilities,” one GM told ESPN on Saturday.

With Greg Abbott’s announcement about a plan to “reopen the economy” coming today, we might see the Toyota Center among those facilities. As noted before, the NBA is still sounding a lot of caution about when or if it might be able to resume its season. Unlike MLB, they have not been floating various games-in-a-bubble scenarios. As such, I don’t think this is necessarily anything more than just the teams trying to provide a (hopefully) safe way for players to work out. It’s not hard to imagine how that could lead to something more, however. It’s also not hard to see how that could lead to more players getting sick. For right now, it’s a bit of news, and we’ll see where if anywhere it goes.

Vote by mail is not a panacea

Let’s be clear, I very much support expanded access to vote by mail. I support the ongoing TDP lawsuit to force expanded vote by mail, and I would very much advise anyone who is at risk for COVID-19 to apply for a mail ballot. I believe allowing no-excuse vote by mail should be universal, along with a bunch of other voting rights reforms. But we need to recognize that if we do get expanded vote by mail for this year, it’s going to fit within the existing system we have now, not one that has been prepared for it in advance. There are real risks to large-scale expansion of vote by mail, and as is always the case, they fall disproportionately on minority voters.

As election officials scramble to expand their absentee programs, voter advocates are pressing them to preserve adequate in-person voting options, pointing specifically to the obstacles faced by voters of color. They are also noting the ways that vote-by-mail systems — particularly, if implemented sloppily — tend to disenfranchise minority voters at a higher rate than white ones.

Their concerns have already been borne out in the few states that have large-scale mail-in voting programs; in many of them, minority voters’ use of the options lags behind that of white voters.

“From our experience of doing voter engagement, one of the things is that there is confusion,” said Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, which mobilizes black voting around key races.

Her group recently surveyed registered black voters in swing states and found that 4-in-10 had concerns about voting by mail, a process only 36 percent had experience with. Even with the ongoing pandemic, voting-in-person was about tied with vote-by-mail when the survey-takers were asked their preferred method for November’s election.

“In some ways there’s an instinct that you have about the challenges that make them suspicious or concerned even if they don’t know the specifics,” Shropshire said. “On the reality side, we already know the challenges that black voters face when they vote by mail.”

The potential for racial disparities in how vote-by-mail systems are implemented has already become a flashpoint in upcoming primaries in Ohio, Nevada and Georgia.

Some of the resistance to absentee voting can be chalked up to historical or cultural trends, experts say, such as the longstanding “Souls to the Polls” practice of black church-goers traveling to polling places after Sunday services.

“Early voting has been really, really important for African American communities in encouraging voter participation,” said Danielle Root, an expert at the Center For American Progress who worked on a recent CAP-NAACP paper on the need for in-person voting during the pandemic. “So eliminating all in-person options obviously negatively impacts African American voters in that way.”

There are other systemic issues at play as well. African Americans change addresses more frequently, and they make up a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population. Transience can make participating in vote-by-mail elections challenging.

Given the unreliable nature of postal service on tribal lands, certain mail-in voting policies present unique challenges for Native American communities.

In-person voting is also needed for non-English speaking voters and for voters with disabilities, advocates say.

Pointing to these populations, voter advocates have criticized — and in some places, sued — election officials who have sought to all but eliminate in-person voting during the pandemic, as they have expanded absentee voting opportunities.

“For communities — and this is true for African American voters — that have higher rates of moving and lower rates of voter-by-mail usage, [election officials] need to be figuring out how to reach voters, and not looking for ways to, frankly, cut corners and in turn cut people out of the process,” said Hannah Fried, the national campaign director of the advocacy group All Voting Is Local.

There’s more, and you should read the rest. We have talked about some of these concerns, but this article goes into a lot more detail, and it addresses concerns I had not previously considered.

There are three basic takeaways here. One is that the goal here is to make voting easier for everyone, and that means giving them the best way for them to vote, whether it’s mail or in person. Two, focusing on safety and risk mitigation means considering all reasonable options to make in person voting safer as well – more locations, hand sanitizer and wipes everywhere, getting as many poll workers in place and trained as possible, etc. We can’t afford to be too focused on one method of voting at the expense of others. And three, we need to really listen to the voters who always face the hardest challenges to voting and take their feedback seriously. I’m going to be fine whatever we wind up doing. Lots of people are not in that same position. We need to accommodate those voters before we worry about voters like me.

Using one civil rights law to negate another

You have to give them credit for evil creativity, I guess.

A majority-black county in rural Georgia announced a plan last week to close seven of its nine polling places ahead of the November election, claiming the polls cannot continue to operate because they are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The move sparked instant opposition from voting rights advocates, who have threatened legal action if Randolph County follows though with the plan. Activists are also scrambling to collect enough signatures to stop the effort before Friday, when the election board will make a final determination.

The racial implications of the closures have generated significant attention. The county is over 61 percent black, and one of the polling locations that would be shuttered serves a precinct where more than 95 percent of voters are African American. Had the U.S. Supreme Court not gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the closures would most likely have been blocked by the Department of Justice.

But the method in which the county is justifying the closures has generated less attention. Republican lawmakers and election administrators in Randolph County are not the first to use the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), intended to protect the nation’s disabled communities, as a pretext to disenfranchise minority voters.

The good news is that the subsequent public outcry eventually caused county officials to cancel this plan. I make note of this for two reasons. One is that under the Obama administration, Harris County was sued for having voting locations that violated the ADA, with election observers being dispatched in 2016 to monitor the situation. The last update on the lawsuit I had was from 2017, and earlier this year the Trump administration announced there would be no observers this year. I have no idea where any of this stands now.

And two is that in a world where people with evil intentions are not running the place, there is a much better, fairer, and more equitable solution to this kind of problem, and that’s to take all reasonable steps to make these voting locations accessible to all. The federal government could allocate funds to facilitate this, or it could fund the whole damn thing if it wanted to. Frankly, given the various atrocities committed by Republicans nationwide in the name of making it harder for some people to vote, something like this should be part of a comprehensive program by Democrats when they regain control over government (please, please), along with an updated Voting Rights Act, an updated National Voter Registration Act, redistricting reform, a serious review and upgrade of the nation’s voting machines and elections security, and so on and so forth. We’re supposed to be a democracy, let’s act like it and make it easier for everyone who is eligible to participate in it.

Lawsuit filed against North Carolina anti-equality law

That was fast.

It took only one day for North Carolina’s legislature to pass the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBT bill (HB2), and only four days after that for Lambda Legal and the ACLU of North Carolina to file a lawsuit challenging it.

The suit takes direct aim at the law’s ban on transgender people using bathrooms that match their gender identity by highlighting the experiences of two transgender men, Joaquín Carcaño and Payton Grey McGarry. A third plaintiff, lesbian Angela Gilmore, further challenges the other anti-LGBT provisions in the law. All three are part of the state university system in some capacity.

Carcaño works for UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for Global Health and Infection Disease, while McGarry is a full-time student at UNC-Greensboro. Both have undergone hormone therapy and regularly use the men’s restrooms, which they would now be prohibited from doing under HB2. Because they both spend time in buildings with only sex-segregated restrooms, this creates a real obstacle.

“Using the women’s restroom is not a viable option for Mr. Carcaño, just as it would not be a viable option for non-transgender men to be forced to use the women’s restroom,” the suit explains. “Forcing Mr. Carcaño to use the women’s restroom would also cause substantial harm to his mental health and well-being. It would also force him to disclose to others the fact that he is transgender, which itself could lead to violence and harassment.”

Additionally, “The idea of being forced into the women’s restroom causes Mr. Carcaño to experience significant anxiety as he knows that it would be distressing for him and uncomfortable for others. He fears for his safety because of the passage of HB2.” McGarry expresses similar concerns.

As a result, both Carcaño and McGarry would be significantly burdened. Carcaño would have to leave campus to find a local business with a men’s room or find a gender-neutral bathroom in another building, stigmatizing him and interfering with his ability to perform his job duties. Likewise, McGarry would have to find single-use restrooms outside the buildings where he has class, which would “disrupt his ability to attend class and would interfere with his educational opportunities.”

Because North Carolina law does allow transgender people to change their birth certificate if they’ve undergone sex reassignment surgery, there is room under HB2 for transgender people to legally access bathrooms, but that exception does not work for either plaintiff. Such surgeries “may not be medically necessary, advisable, or affordable for any given person,” the suit notes, adding that for McGarry, “surgery is not medically necessary for him.”

As an associate dean at North Carolina Central University, Gilmore and her wife also face consequences. The suit notes that because they have the same first name, they often have to disclose their lesbian relationship. They often travel to Charlotte and will now no longer be protected by the city’s sexual orientation nondiscrimination protections, which HB2 preempts. In regards to the claims that HB2 makes bathrooms safer, the suit also notes, “As a non-transgender woman who always uses the facilities designated for women in both public and private spaces, the passage of H.B. 2 does not make Ms. Gilmore feel safer in these facilities.”

See here for the background. As the story notes, transgender men were the subject that no one discussed during the anti-HERO campaign in Houston last year. It’s good that they’re the focal point of this litigation, and as you can see from my embedded image, taking to social media to get their word out. There’s already been some backlash from the business community, enough to help spook the governor of Georgia into vetoing that state’s anti-equality bill, so with a bit of luck this may not only be the death of this awful law, it may also serve as a disincentive for other states to copy the idea. I hope. Daily Kos has more.

North Carolina takes a big step backwards on equality

Shameful.

RedEquality

Wednesday was a whirlwind day in North Carolina’s government. The legislature convened a special session, a complicated multi-part bill was introduced, it passed through the House and Senate — both Republican controlled — and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed it into law. Just like that, North Carolina became the state with the most hostile laws against LGBT people in the country.

Targeting Charlotte for passing its recent LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance, the sweeping legislation preempts municipal nondiscrimination ordinances, essentially making it illegal for cities and counties to extend protections to the LGBT community. Only two other states, Arkansas and Tennessee, have such a law, but North Carolina’s bill goes much further. It also bans transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender unless they’ve managed to change their birth certificate, and prevents civil suits from being filed in state court even when discrimination is documented by the already-poorly-funded Human Rights Commission. On top of all the anti-LGBT measures, the legislation went further and prohibited cities from mandating any employment compensation (minimum wage, benefits, etc.) beyond what is offered at the state level.

Gleefully signing the bill that he openly called for, McCrory claimed that “the basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte.” Calling the ordinance a “radical breach of trust and security under the false argument of equal access,” he said that he believes it “defies common sense and basic community norms by allowing, for example, a man to use a woman’s bathroom, shower or locker room.”

In a video statement, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R) added that “the loophole this ordinance created would have given pedophiles, sex offenders, and perverts free reign to watch women, boys, and girls undress and use the bathroom.”

What is perhaps most troubling about the passage of this law in North Carolina is that it could pave the way for other states to also target the transgender community for discrimination. South Dakota’s may have been vetoed, but Tennessee’s supposedly dead bill has already been revivedthis week as several other states continue to introduce theirs.

Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill that would ban transgender people from bathrooms and allow people to sue schools and government agencies if they saw transgender people in their facilities. Republicans in Minnesota’s legislature have similarly introduced a bill targeting public restrooms — albeit without the lawsuit provision. And when the Michigan Department of Education announced this week that it was considering some protections for transgender students, it prompted a GOP backlash that could result in legislation to either overturn or block them.

What happened in North Carolina could prove to be the deadly recipe that helps these other discriminatory bills actually make it across the finish line.

[…]

The very opposite is happening in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has until May 3 to consider an anti-LGBT bill that has been widely scorned. Just this week, Disney and Marvel promised to pull out of the state if he signs it, following pressure from other companies like Apple and the NFL that have made similar threats, including not bringing the Super Bowl to the state. This was after plenty of public debate during the many weeks the legislature spent considering and amending the bill.

The test for North Carolina will be to see what political and legal consequences there will be for the lawmakers who rushed this legislation through. Democratic National Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) scorned the Republican party for being “stuck in the Stone Age on LGBT equality.” Denouncing North Carolina’s lawmakers for “steamrolling over local officials just because they had the courage to stand up for transgender rights,” she promised that “our friends in the LGBT community deserve better and so do all the people of North Carolina.”

The key, I think, is for the companies and organizations that have been threatening action in Georgia now need to actually take those threatened actions in North Carolina, and they need to do it quickly and with as much fanfare as possible. There have to be consequences – not just at the ballot box, but right now – or else we will see this same sort of bill get pushed through in a lot of other states. And yes, that includes Texas. Our next legislative session is not for another ten months, by which time one hopes it has been made clear that this sort of legislation is Not Acceptable, but we could get a special session on school finance much sooner than that, and there’s no telling what could happen. Our legislative process is not designed to work in this kind of lightning-strike manner, but remember that the 2011 redistricting bills were passed during a special session with minimal public input. I can also easily envision some kind of amendment to a school finance bill that forbids ISDs from enacting anti-discrimination policies or accommodating transgender students. So don’t think this can’t happen here, or that it can’t happen before next year. It can, and it will if we’re not ready for it. TPM, Daily Kos, The Slacktivist, and Slate have more.

SCOTUS upholds same-sex adoption rights

Awesome.

RedEquality

The U.S. Supreme Court in a victory for gay rights ruled Monday that states must honor adoptions by same-sex parents who move across state lines.

Citing the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, the justices in a unanimous opinion rebuked the Alabama Supreme Court for denying a lesbian’s right to visit the three children she had adopted and raised with her former partner in Georgia.

Last year, a divided Supreme Court said same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry in every state. But to the surprise of gay-rights advocates, the Alabama Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Roy Moore said in September that the woman’s adoption decree from Georgia was “void” and would not be honored.

Without bothering to hear arguments, the justices reversed the Alabama Supreme Court in an opinion that spoke for the full court.

The Alabama ruling “comports neither with Georgia law nor with common sense,” the justices said. “States may not disregard the judgment of a sister state because it disagrees with the reasoning or deems it to be wrong.”

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the decision resolves one of the key outstanding issues in the wake of last year’s marriage ruling. “Everyone was waiting and watching for this case,” she said. “This should be the end of it now that the Supreme Court has weighed in.”

While the court’s conservatives dissented last year and said states should decide the marriage laws, they agreed Monday that the Constitution requires states to recognize legal judgments from other states.

That’s the nickel summary. What’s important about this ruling, in addition to what it actually was, is that it was unanimous and it came without any oral arguments. SCOTUS didn’t need to hear what the state of Alabama and any of its supporters had to say for themselves to know that their actions were wrong. That’s about as strong a message as they could send, one that may be loud enough for the Texas Legislature to hear. Don’t get me wrong, so-called “religious freedom” bills are definitely going to be at the top of the priority list. But with this clear message from SCOTUS, the bad guys may be forced to rein it in just a little. ThinkProgress and SCOTUSBlog have more.

Here comes I-14

Don’t hold your breath waiting for it, however. This will take awhile.

Texas is getting a new interstate, as part of a long-term federal transportation bill.

Interstate 14 will be cobbled together mostly from U.S. 190 and other existing roads to create a new freeway from western Texas to the Louisiana border. The Gulf Coast Strategic Highway Coalition, based in Austin, announced the designation Tuesday.

The interstate will take years to build as highway segments must be brought up to freeway standards such as no at-grade intersections and various safety upgrades to allow for higher speeds.

According to the coalition, I-14 will connect Killeen, Belton, Bryan-College Station, Huntsville, Livingston, Woodville and Jasper before terminating at Texas 63 at the Sabine River.

Houston-area drivers would most likely encounter the new interstate where it crosses Interstate 45 in Huntsville, among the most used routes to and from Houston.

[…]

The designation is the first of many steps to convert federal and state highways into I-14. Efforts to turn portions of U.S. 59 into Interstate 69, for example, have taken decades, with many more sections to go.

In many spots, it will take rebuilding and potentially re-routing the highway. Bushell said officials are still working through some of those specifics, including where U.S. 190 currently shares roadway with I-45 northeast of Huntsville.

“Where possible we would want to stay on existing highway footprints but that may not be possible in some places,” Bushell said.

I-14 will go all the way to the Georgia/South Carolina border. Lord only knows how many years it will be before we see even a single I-14 road sign, but someday this new interstate may divert a bit of truck traffic from I-10. Of course, by then I-10 will likely have been widened to the point of being right next to I-14 anyway. Link via Streetsblog, and Paradise in Hell has more.

The national fight against equality

Once again, Texas leads the way in an undesirable category.

RedEquality

In Georgia, where lawmakers are considering a bill that critics fear could allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers, the former head of the country’s largest Protestant denomination recently urged lawmakers to reign in “erotic liberty.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in April and could decide by June whether gay couples can marry, and national opinion polls show U.S. voters increasingly unopposed to gay rights. Yet lawmakers in a handful of states are backing longshot legislation targeting gay rights, doubling down on the culture wars. Most, if not all, of the efforts are led by Republicans.

The bills are more political theatre than serious policy. Few seem to have widespread support among lawmakers, and senior Republicans are not adopting these efforts as their own. In Georgia, well-funded business groups oppose them.

Still, the legislation remains popular with vocal and organized voting blocks in states or parts of the states where they’ve been proposed. But any political points they score could come at a price.

If the bills’ backers manage to force a sharp debate in coming weeks, and the Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage a few months later, supporters of the bills would be exposed to criticism that they’ve been fighting for a fringe issue.

“On no issue during my 40-year career have opinions moved as rapidly as they have on the issue of the morality of gay relationships and ultimately gay marriage,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the National Rifle Association. “When you have conservative organizations like the U.S. military and the Boy Scouts openly accepting gay members, the debate is close to being over.”

Not in Georgia. In a devotional delivered to newly convened lawmakers, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention urged them to defend the freedom to act on religious beliefs, though he stopped short of endorsing legislation that supporters say would do precisely that.

“We are a living in a society that is on a collision course with a choice between erotic liberty and religious liberty,” the Rev. Bryant Wright told lawmakers. “… Your role in government is about restraining sin.”

Georgia politicians rejected tougher legislation last year, avoiding a showdown that occurred over a similar bill in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a measure the Republican-controlled Statehouse had adopted.

This year, the toughest measure comes in Texas, where Republican state Rep. Cecil Bell has proposed stripping state and local officials of their salaries if they issue or honor same-sex marriage licenses. In 2005, Texas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage, but a federal judge struck it down last year. The judge stayed his ruling until an appeals court could consider the issue.

Republican lawmakers in South Carolina, Virginia and Utah have proposed giving government officials or wedding celebrants the right to opt out of gay nuptials if participating violates their religious beliefs.

See here for more on Rep. Bell’s insane bill. This story doesn’t even take into account the various bills and joint resolutions to nullify municipal equal rights ordinances, since it’s focused on the upcoming SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage. Note the expression “erotic liberty”, which as The Slacktivist notes is the zealot attempt to rebrand equality as nothing more than a sex act. Specifically, anal sex, which these guys seem to spend an awful lot of time thinking about. It’s ridiculous and offensive, but that doesn’t mean it can be dismissed. If these guys gain traction in their fight to reduce a large class of people to their sex lives so that they can more effectively legislate against them, don’t think they’ll stop there. History has shown that they won’t.

The states that are making life harder for their National Guard members

It’s not just Texas.

RedEquality

While a majority of states ban same-sex marriages, most are not fighting the new policy. But Pentagon officials say that in addition to Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia have balked. Each has cited a conflict with state laws that do not recognize same-sex marriages. (A West Virginia official said, however, that the state intended to follow the directive.) While the president has the power to call National Guard units into federal service — and nearly all Guard funding comes from the federal government — the states say the units are state agencies that must abide by state laws.

Requiring same-sex Guard spouses to go to federally owned bases “protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people,” Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma said last week.

But the six states are violating federal law, Mr. Hagel told an audience recently. “It causes division among the ranks, and it furthers prejudice,” he said. Mr. Hagel has demanded full compliance, but Pentagon officials have not said what steps they would take with states that do not fall in line.

Though the government does not keep official figures on same-sex marriages in the military, the American Military Partner Association, which advocates for gay service members, estimates that the number could be 1,000 or more of the nearly half-million National Guard members nationwide, said Chris Rowzee, a spokeswoman for the group.

The military grants a range of significant benefits to the spouses of active-duty guardsmen, including the right to enroll in the military’s health insurance program and to obtain a higher monthly housing allowance. Spouse IDs allow unescorted access to bases with their lower-priced commissaries.

Officials in the six states say they are not preventing same-sex spouses from getting benefits, because those couples can register and receive IDs through federal bases. But those officials conceded that many couples would have to travel hours round trip to the nearest federal installation. Advocates for gay service members, though, fear that some benefits offered on bases, like support services for relatives of deployed service members, could still be blocked.

Moreover, gay spouses say that in an age that saw the scrapping of the military’s ban on openly gay service members, it is discriminatory — and humiliating — to have to jump through extra hoops to receive benefits.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m still waiting for the threatened lawsuit to be filed. Note that even among the states that banned same-sex marriage, Texas and these others are a minority. There’s no public policy purpose being served here, just disrespect for people who have done nothing to deserve it. One way or another, these states need to be made to do the right thing and do right by their National Guard members.

Two more ways to divert money from public schools

Number One: Taxpayer-funded scholarships to private schools.

When the Georgia legislature passed a private school scholarship program in 2008, lawmakers promoted it as a way to give poor children the same education choices as the wealthy.

The program would be supported by donations to nonprofit scholarship groups, and Georgians who contributed would receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits, up to $2,500 a couple. The intent was that money otherwise due to the Georgia treasury — about $50 million a year — would be used instead to help needy students escape struggling public schools.

That was the idea, at least. But parents meeting at Gwinnett Christian Academy got a completely different story last year.

“A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,” Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. “The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.”

A handout circulated at the meeting instructed families to donate, qualify for a tax credit and then apply for a scholarship for their own children, many of whom were already attending the school.

“If a student has friends, relatives or even corporations that pay Georgia income tax, all of those people can make a donation to that child’s school,” added an official with a scholarship group working with the school.

The exchange at Gwinnett Christian Academy, a recording of which was obtained by The New York Times, is just one example of how scholarship programs have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children.

Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs are operating in eight states and represent one of the fastest-growing components of the school choice movement. This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization. Legislators in at least nine other states are considering the programs.

While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show. Even some private school parents and administrators have questioned whether the programs are a charade.

If this sounds a lot like vouchers to you, you’re right. It’s vouchers in a different package, done in a clever way to work around those pesky church-state obstacles. I haven’t seen this particular variant rear its head in Texas yet, but I figure it’s only a matter of time.

That leads to Item Number Two: Virtual schools, which are operating here in Texas.

report released Tuesday by the liberal groupProgress Texas is adding another layer to the controversy over virtual schools, claiming that despite their popularity, the programs have failed Texas students and are run by businesses seeking profit.

“It’s a $24 billion industry with zero accountability,” Progress Texas executive director Matt Glazer said in a statement. “Virtual schools provide unregulated financial windfalls to a few insiders by shortchanging our children’s education.”

The Progress Texas findings come in response to a March report by  the conservative Austin think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which supported virtual schools. The TPPF report claimed that virtual schools save money and can reduce drop-out rates because students who must drop out to work can take classes online whenever they have time. It said that virtual schools can also help students with special needs like dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and physical disabilities.

In 2004, the American Legislative Exchange Council, made up of businesses and nearly 2,000 legislators, created a bill that supported online learning in classrooms and virtual schools. The measure initiated a wave of virtual schools across the country. In 2007, Texas approved Senate Bill 1788, similar to the ALEC model, which created a state-operated virtual school network and supported integrating online learning in Texas classrooms. Tax dollars help fund virtual schools, but businesses run them.

One of the only full-time virtual schools in the state, Texas Virtual Academy, was ranked academically unacceptable by the Texas Education Agency in 2009 and 2011, yet enrollment in the academy increased 3,203 percent in those years – from 254 students to 8,136, according to the Progress Texas report.

The report is here, and Progress Texas’ press release is here. ALEC was also a factor in the scholarship scam. Yeah, I’m as shocked as you are. Read ’em both and keep your eyes open during the next legislative session. There’s a lot more to what’s going on with schools than just the nasty budget cuts from last year.