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Texas Values

Paxton courts the business lobby

Not sure what to make of this.

Best mugshot ever

Making his case for the “bathroom bill” to Texas business leaders, Attorney General Ken Paxton said Tuesday that Senate Bill 6 would have a narrow focus, and he urged them to listen to parents “just concerned about the safety of their children.”

[…]

Paxton, who has been battling the federal government in court over transgender student guidelines it issued last year, struck a conciliatory tone Tuesday as he spoke at the association’s meeting. He acknowledged that the group has been involved in the debate before stressing that the bill “doesn’t apply to businesses, from what I can tell.”

SB 6 would pre-empt local ordinances — as applied to bathrooms — that protect transgender individuals from discrimination in public accommodations. Those ordinances effectively require businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores, to allow transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Paxton also said the legislation “doesn’t apply to entities that are leasing government facilities,” apparently referring to a part of the bill that would, for example, exempt a sports league that rents a publicly owned venue. It is a key component of the legislation in light of concerns the legislation could cause the state to lose out on major athletic events such as the Final Four, which is set to be held in 2018 in San Antonio.

This talk was given during a conference held by the Texas Association of Business. It’s basically the Buckingham pitch, which seems to me to be contradicted by what’s actually in the bill, and is clearly aimed at blunting the opposition to the bill. Plus, of course, the ever-popular Won’t Someone Please Think Of The Children? angle, which very conveniently overlooks the fact that lots of children are already being harmed by this debate, and will be even more harmed by SB6.

There’s nothing in the story to indicate how receptive the audience was to this message, so it’s hard for me to say if any of it may have worked. And as it happens, Paxton wasn’t the only one giving a speech to the TAB about potties.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday further brought the battle lines over the “bathroom bill” into focus, saying lawmakers should be “very careful” about doing anything that makes the state less economically competitive.

“There’s been a lot of work put into our state’s economic success,” Straus said in a speech to the Texas Association of Business, which has vocally opposed the legislation. “We want to continue that success, and we want Texas to keep attracting the best and the brightest. One way to maintain our edge is to send the right signals about who we are.”

[…]

On Wednesday, Straus emphasized that he was not speaking for all House members but expressing a personal view and reflecting the concerns of constituents in his San Antonio-based district. The city is set to hold the Final Four in 2018, and Straus detailed all it has done to prepare for the college basketball event.

“Many people where I come from get concerned about anything that can slow down our overall job-creating machine,” Straus said. “They are also watching what happened in North Carolina, and they are not enthusiastic about getting that type of attention,” Straus added, referring to the state that incurred controversy when its lawmakers pushed a similar bill.

While Patrick has been outspoken about the legislation, Gov. Greg Abbott has not commented on it since its release. Straus applied some pressure on Abbott to weigh in, saying his view could make a “big difference.”

“If you are concerned — I know many of you are — now is the time to speak up,” Straus told TAB members.

Straus, in his typical way, didn’t say he was taking direct action to kill this bill, just that he’d talk to his members about it. This isn’t the first time he’s poured some cold water on it. Giving Abbott a nudge is a good move, though one that could backfire. He’ll either get some cover, or a doubling of the pressure on him, assuming Abbott ever bothers to grace us with an opinion. RG Ratcliffe adds a few thoughts.

Having said all that, this Observer story suggests that the all-about-the-children pitch may be a harder sell than Ken Paxton and Dan Patrick think.

For Texas Values, a right–wing advocacy group, the small, relatively conservative community of Dripping Springs may have seemed like a good target for its latest anti-transgender bathroom campaign.

But three months after the group stormed into town, Dripping Springs ISD officials were standing firm in their decision to allow a 9-year-old trans girl to use restrooms according to her gender identity.

Soon after Texas Values launched its campaign, a large group of parents formed to support the third-grade student and defend the district. Organized as “Many Stripes, One Tiger,” the group plans to take its fight to Austin to lobby against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s anti-trans bathroom bill.

“We’re trying to get the message out that our school district is doing just fine without Dan Patrick coming in and regulating our bathrooms,” said Andy Hutton, whose son attends Walnut Springs Elementary School with the trans student.

[…]

Hutton said he believes Texas Values chose Dripping Springs for its proximity to the Capitol and its status as a rural district in which few have been exposed to the debate over LGBT rights. But he doesn’t think the group anticipated the backlash it would receive from parents who personally know the trans girl and trust the judgment of school officials.

“I don’t think anybody questions that her gender identity is true and heartfelt and sincere,” Hutton said, adding that “even a lot of social conservatives” stand behind the girl.

Emphasis mine. Funny how things can change when politicians and special interest groups are saying horrible things about people you know, isn’t it? Let’s hope there’s more like this out there.

Trying again to fix birth certificates

This is encouraging.

A Republican committee chairman smacked down an anti-LGBT witness Wednesday during a hearing on a proposal to allow same-sex parents to have both their names on the birth certificates of adopted children.

Julie Drenner, of Texas Values, claimed the bill would lead to threesomes adopting, affect all birth certificates and require the state to revise more than 20 forms.

But Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs, told Drenner he was “struggling” with those arguments, and suggested that same-sex couples have been more willing to adopt special-needs children than “the traditional community.”

“That’s a terrible indictment on one group, to be honest with you,” Cook told Drenner. “In regards to your issue that you have to change the forms, so what? I really don’t understand that argument at all. Right now in Texas, we are struggling. We do not have enough parents who are willing to adopt. Thank goodness for people that will adopt children and give them loving homes.”

In 1997, the Legislature amended the Texas Health & Safety Code to require supplemental birth certificates issued to adoptive parents to contain the name of one female, the mother, and one male, the father. Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), the author of House Bill 537, said as a result, roughly 9,000 Texas children who are being raised by adoptive same-sex parents don’t have accurate birth certificates. That leads to problems enrolling children in school, adding them to insurance policies, admitting them for medical care and obtaining passports.

“Regardless of what you think about the parents, this state should be about promoting policies that protect children and foster adoption, and that’s what this bill does,” Anchia said.

[…]

Cook, who has an adopted child, left the bill pending but indicated he plans to call it back up.

“We owe it to young people like [14-year-old Zoe Touchet] to give them some peace of mind on this issue and some clarity,” Cook said.

The Trib also covered this.

Cook, who has an adopted child, said he supports the bill not as an endorsement of gay rights, but out of concern for the well-being of adopted children. But gay rights advocates and Democrats alike are celebrating his backing of the measure.

“This bill is not about gay rights issues. This is about children,” Cook told The Texas Tribune. “It really is a different issue from the way some of the folks have tried to frame it.”

[…]

Daniel Williams, a legislative director for Equality Texas, described Cook as a statesman “who is absolutely committed to passing laws that help the state of Texas.” The birth certificate measure is a key component of the group’s legislative agenda to benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

This is not the first time Cook has drawn attention for his position on contentious issues before the committee. In 2011, when it was considering a bill banning so-called sanctuary cities — cities that forbid local peace officers from enforcing federal immigration laws — Cook voiced his concerns about the bill and said he wanted to understand how it might affect young people for whom he said he has a “soft spot.”

Cook’s support for the birth certificate measure could put him at odds with members of his party who may be unwilling to support legislation that benefits same-sex couples.

At a time when Republicans are increasingly concerned about picking up primary challengers if they don’t stick to the Tea Party’s far-right ideological line, Cook, who was first elected in 2002, said conservatives should be focused on passing good policy rather than trying to get re-elected.

“We need to try to do what’s right for our state and for our constituents,” Cook said. “It’s an injustice to look at it from the perspective of what keeps me in office, what keeps me from having an opponent.”

See here for some background. Rep. Anchia filed a similar bill in 2013 that never made it out of committee. Rep. Cook is not known to be an ally of the LGBT community – he scored an F on the 2013 Equality Texas report card – but he did establish a close rapport with Rep. Mary Gonzalez last session, so who knows, maybe that had an effect on him. Kudos to him for smacking down the professional liar from Texas Values and for focusing on what really matters in this issue – the adopted children. Especially in a session that’s been lousy for equality issues otherwise, this is a nice piece of hopeful news. I hope Rep. Cook keeps his promise to bring the bill up for a vote later.

We don’t need no (sex) education

Here’s the state of Texas leading the nation in yet another unflattering category.

In Texas and across the country, the rate of teenage births has declined significantly since its peak in 1991. Birth rates among teenagers in Texas dropped 43 percent between 1991 and 2012. In states like California and Connecticut, the drop was even larger, and nationwide, the rate declined 52 percent in that period.

But despite the improvements in the Lone Star State, it is faring worse than most. Texas has the nation’s fifth-highest birth rate among teenagers, behind Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and New Mexico. And Texas, where schools are not required to teach sex education, has the highest rate of repeat births among teenagers ages 15 to 19. Teenage birth cost Texas taxpayers $1.1 billion in health care, foster care and lost tax revenue in 2010, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Teenage mothers often drop out of school, specialists said, and their children are also likely to become teenage parents.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office said a drop in the birth rate among teenagers in the last decade corresponded with the state’s abstinence education program.

“Teen pregnancy is a multifaceted issue with many contributing factors,” a spokesman for Perry, Travis Considine, said. Among those factors, advocates said, are race, ethnicity and economic status.

Dr. Janet Realini, president of Healthy Futures of Texas, a nonprofit that works to prevent teenage and unplanned pregnancy, said that Texas’ often ineffective sex education helped explain the state’s comparatively high teenage birth rate. Other factors, she said, include the limited access to health care and insurance for the poor as well as the high rates of school dropouts and poverty.

“It’s this mentality that we’re Texas, we do it our way, we ignore science and kind of go with our gut,” said David Wiley, a professor of health education at Texas State University in San Marcos. “That Wild West mentality about public policy is not helpful.”

One state with similar demographics to Texas is faring much better: California, which cut its teenage birth rate by 64 percent from 1991 to 2012. Melissa Peskin, an assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston, said Texas could lower its teenage birth rate by following California’s example in areas like sex education and access to contraception.

Others are not convinced. Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, which promotes family values and abstinence-focused sex education, said California’s abortion rate is higher than Texas’.

“In Texas, since when did we think it was a good idea to adopt any policy from California?” Saenz said.

“I don’t think the proper measure is how do we compare to other states,” he added. “It’s undeniable that not only in our state but across the country, teen birth rates are at historic lows.”

The real problem, he said, is the glamorization of sexual activity.

Boy, you couldn’t come up with a better illustration of what Professor Wiley is talking about if you tried. Jonathan Saenz is the perfect distillation of the idiotic theocracy that our state is beholden to. If you need to be reminded what 2014 is all about, think about him.

Anyway. As you might imagine, the recent budget cuts that slashed family planning funds and forced the closure of dozens of clinics didn’t help. It was so bad even some Republicans are now dimly aware that there’s a connection between unprotected sex and pregnancy. As usual, we’re in the position of hoping we can maybe get back to where we were a few years ago, which is better than where we are now but still way behind where we should be given the state’s robust population growth. Which means we’ll fall even farther behind California, and Colorado, too. Happy now, Jonathan?

On a side note, according to the Trib this story is one entry in a 10-part series on the flip side of state leaders’ aggressive pursuit of the “Texas Miracle”. Other entries will be found here, and see also their Hurting For Work series for more. Kudos on the reporting here, because Lord knows there’s a ton of stories like these out there needing to be told.

The backlash to marriage equality

It’s been almost two weeks since a federal judge struck down Texas’ anti-gay marriage law. The sky hasn’t fallen, rivers continue to run downstream, dogs and cats are not cohabitating, and strangest of all, the Republican Party of Texas has not gone into full freakout mode. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a backlash coming, of course. The Observer gives us a preview.

RedEquality

To say the gay rights movement in the United States is experiencing a period of success is an understatement—even if the blowback to that success poses risks. Yet here in Texas, where you might expect more conflict about what remains a momentous social issue, you haven’t seen much yet beyond grandstanding. That’s partially a result of the fact that the Texas Legislature won’t meet again for another nine months. Texas groups agitated about the ruling haven’t had any space to float policy proposals or legislation.

But I was curious about what anti-gay marriage activists might have in store. So I called Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values, the group which says it stands “for biblical, Judeo-Christian values by ensuring Texas is a state in which religious liberty flourishes, families prosper, and every human life is valued.”

Saenz, who responded to activists trying to strip anti-sodomy provisions out of Texas law last week by arguing that gay people only want gay rights because they’re gay, flatly denies the “homosexuals” are making any progress at all, and says his movement and Christians in the state won’t give up without a fight. What’s more, he left the door open to pushing for a bill, like the one recently vetoed in Arizona, that makes it legal for businesses to discriminate against gay people if serving them conflicts with a “deeply held religious belief.”

“This is the beginning of an epic battle,” Saenz told me. “There’s a strong likelihood that the Fifth Circuit [Court of Appeals] is going to overturn this decision. If Texas’ gay marriage laws are not constitutional, there’s no guarantee that the court won’t open up marriage to polygamy and polyandry.”

There’s definitely a chance the traditionally conservative Fifth Circuit overturns the Texas decision, but gay rights lawyers in Texas and elsewhere know these cases will be appealed and are laying the groundwork for the Supreme Court to take up the issue. That’s the reason U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia stayed his own ruling, as has happened in many states. It puts the ruling on hold until a higher court can weigh in. But even in that, Saenz sees encouragement.

The fact that Garcia stayed his ruling, Saenz says, “shows some hesitation on his part. I think the homosexual advocates were ready to go on down to the clerk’s office” and get married, he says cheerily, “and he put a stop to that.”

Link via Lone Star Q, who has another example of how obsessed Saenz is about this. I don’t know when the courts will take action again, but with Wendy Davis officially supporting same sex marriage while Greg Abbott files an appeal with the Fifth Circuit, there’s no escaping this issue, and the broader issue of equality, this election. I will be shocked if we don’t hear about some legislators and candidates proposing laws like the one that passed in Arizona before getting vetoed by the governor, and I will be shocked if the culture warriors of education don’t turn their gaze to the gay curriculum as they did a couple of years ago with social studies and its lack of sufficient-to-them deference to white people. Despite galloping advances in public opinion about gay rights and marriage equality, people often have a skewed view about how other people think, leading them to believe that the pro-equality side is a minority when in fact it is not. Things may be quiet on the surface now, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that the resentment and the resistance aren’t there.