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That’s our Lege

More on the PUC’s attempt to fix the grid

From TPR:

After the last big blackout, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 3, telling the commission to improve grid reliability. So, commissioners have been working on changing the state’s electricity market. They want to reform how energy is bought and sold on the power grid to create a market that makes sure power is there when people need it.

To do that, the commission hired a consulting firm that came up with a plan called a Performance Credit Mechanism, PCM for short.

Basically, this plan would create reliability credits that electricity providers (the companies most Texans pay their power bills to) have to buy from power generators (the companies that own the power plants). The credits represent a commitment from those power generators to deliver electricity when the grid is most stressed.

“I believe that PCM is the right solution because it’s a comprehensive solution that sets a clear reliability standard as required by [Senate Bill] 3,” Peter Lake, chair of the Public Utility Commission, said earlier this month.

The consulting firm that came up with the plan says it will cost $5.7 billion more a year. Supporters say power generators will use that money to invest in new power plants and to keep the energy supply humming in extreme weather. They also argue that not all that extra money will be shouldered by consumers. But, in Texas, consumers typically end up eating extra costs.

The plan is supported by power plant owners, who stand to earn money from the credits. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator, is in favor of it. Gov. Greg Abbott and Public Utility Commissioners, including Lake, who are appointed by Abbott, also support the PCM.

The list of opponents appears to be significantly longer.

The independent market monitor, a position that serves kind of as a third-party auditor for the Texas grid, does not think it is a good plan. Consumer and environmental groups oppose it or are skeptical. The Texas Association of Manufacturers, a group that represents big industrial energy users in the state, is against it. The oil and gas lobby is not convinced it will work, and many state politicians also oppose it.

This group of opponents represent diverse interests, so their reasons for opposing the PCM vary.

Environmentalists point out that the plan is designed to bring more natural gas power plants to Texas, which is bad for climate change and air pollution.

Others, who want more natural gas plants built, argue that the PCM may not accomplish that goal. Some would prefer more direct subsidizing of new plants instead of the addition of a new layer of rules into the already complex Texas energy market.

And others say a big overhaul of the energy market is not even necessary, and that the grid can be improved without investing billions in building more power plants.

“I think we have an operational flexibility problem,” Carrie Bivens, the PUC’s independent market monitor, told a state Senate Committee late last year. “I do not believe we have [an energy] capacity problem.”

One thing all opponents agree on is that the plan is untested. It will cost billions, but there’s no real-world example to show it will work.

See here for the background. At this point, it’s not about whether this plan works or not. The issue is with going forward with an untested plan when there was a lot of disagreement about what that plan was and even a lack of consensus that this was the right kind of plan. It’s also not clear to me what the definition of success is for this plan. If new plants are built, which is the goal of this plan, but big outages still occur, is that a “success” because the new plants were built? If the capacity issues that Carries Bivens identifies are fixed before any new plants get built and the outages go away, is that a success for the plan? This is a basic thing that happens in the business world. If we can’t be sure that the plan worked, how will we know if it’s a good idea to do again if the same problems arise later? We’re just rolling dice and hoping for the best here.

The next round of voter suppression bills are coming

Brace yourselves.

Texas Republicans spent most of the 2021 legislative session focusing on election security — and this year, it’s a top priority for them again.

GOP leaders are discussing a range of election security measures, from higher penalties for voter fraud to broader power for the attorney general to prosecute election crimes. Many of them target Harris County, which Republicans have spent the past two years chastising for back-to-back elections blunders.

“Harris County is the big problem,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who plans to file close to a dozen election bills this legislative session. “You’ve got the nation’s third-largest county that has had multiple problems with multiple election officers, to the point where one had to resign, and the problem is that it’s too big a piece of the electorate to ignore.”

Harris County Elections Administrator Clifford Tatum did not respond directly to the criticism, but said the office supports any legislation that increases voter registration and access to voting.

“Right now, we are focused on implementing new systems to promote the efficiency with which our office runs elections,” Tatum said in a statement.

[…]

Bettencourt said he’s considering a bill that would raise the charges for some voting-related misdemeanors, such as failing to provide election supplies.

He also questioned the existence of — and the accountability measures for — the election administrator position in Harris County. [Isabel] Longoria was the first, appointed under a newly created office in late 2020; Tatum was named as her replacement last July.

“That’s somebody that’s supposed to have better acumen and better results than elected officials, but the reverse has been proven to be true in Harris County,” Bettencourt said. “One of the things we’re going to have to explore is: Why aren’t the elected tax assessor-collector and the elected county clerk — which are, quite frankly, both Democrats — why are they not running the election, where there’s some public accountability?”

I’ve said this multiple times before, but as a reminder for the slow kids in the class, many counties have election administrators, including many Republican counties like Tarrant and Lubbock. Ed Emmett first proposed the idea for Harris County. There were problems with elections back when the County Clerk – specifically, Stan Stanart – was in charge of running them. This is nothing but a pretext.

Beyond Harris County, lawmakers are looking at a slate of statewide elections reforms, starting with returning the penalty for illegal voting to a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The Legislature lowered the punishment when it passed Senate Bill 1, but top Republicans — including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — have pushed to return it to the stiffer penalty.

Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan, whose chamber amended the bill to include the lower penalty, rejected the idea when it was first floated during a series of 2021 special sessions.

“This important legislation made its way through the House after several thoughtful amendments were adopted,” he said. “Now is not the time to re-litigate.”

[…]

State Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Richmond Republican, said he’s exploring legislation to facilitate [the mail ballot] process, such as enabling election officials to check all identification numbers associated with an individual at the Texas Department of Public Safety. He also wants to review the system’s new online mail ballot tracker and ensure it’s working properly.

Republicans have also introduced bills to further investigate election fraud, to limit the state’s early voting period from two weeks to one, and to set earlier deadlines for handing in mail ballots. And some of them are hoping to give Attorney General Ken Paxton stronger authority to prosecute election crimes, after the state’s highest criminal appeals court ruled in 2021 that he could not unilaterally take on such cases.

Currently, Paxton can only get involved if invited by a district or county attorney, according to the court’s ruling. The decision led to an outcry from top Republicans, including Abbott and Patrick, who called for the case to be reheared.

Paxton encouraged his supporters to launch a pressure campaign and flood the court with calls and emails demanding, unsuccessfully, that they reverse the decision. The move prompted a complaint to the State Bar accusing Paxton of professional misconduct for attempting to interfere in a pending case before the court.

Much of this is also covered in this Trib story. I don’t know if Speaker Phelan will be persuaded or arm-twisted into changing his mind about making whatever minor infractions into felonies, but I hope he holds out. I commend Rep. Jetton for his interest in reducing the number of mail ballot rejections, though I have a hard time believing anyone can get such a bill through the Lege. As for Paxton’s continued desire to be Supreme Prosecutor, the CCA’s ruling was made on constitutional grounds. I feel confident saying that a constitutional amendment to allow this will not pass.

Anything else, however, is fair game and just a matter of whether the Republicans want it to pass or not. They have the votes and they have the will, and there’s basically nothing Dems can do to stop them. They’ll fight and they’ll make noise and they’ll employ the rules and pick up the occasional small-bore victory, but in the end they have no power. You know the mantra: Nothing will change until that changes.

And yes, it really is all about voter suppression, even if Texas Republicans are better than their Wisconsin colleagues at keeping the quiet part to themselves. It’s certainly possible that these laws aren’t as good at actually suppressing the vote as they’re intended to, but that’s beside the point. If they keep making it harder to vote, and they keep making it costlier to make an honest mistake in voting, and that cost is almost entirely borne by Democratic-leaning voters of color, it’s suppressive. The debate is about the extent, not the existence.

Poncho Nevárez’s recovery

Good story.

State Rep. Poncho Nevárez felt the sudden urge to fall back on old tendencies when the state’s top law enforcement officer gave him a call in the fall of 2019.

An envelope, with his official letterhead, containing about 2 grams of cocaine had been found by authorities on the floor of the Austin airport weeks earlier, Texas’ Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told him.

Nevárez was tempted to cover it up with more of the lies, omissions and deceit that had marked the last several years of his life.

A personal injury lawyer who’d been representing his Eagle Pass district for about six years at the time, he now likens the addict’s mentality to that of a mouse constantly searching for a way to escape traps and still somehow keep the cheese.

It was the same way of thinking that led him to make a choice that any sober person would find superbly dense: taking drugs to a federally secured airport in a receptacle with his own name on it.

“It doesn’t even seem like a choice,” he recalls, adding he didn’t even realize at the time where he’d lost it. “There’s a part of you that’s dominated by the disease that tells you that whatever the risk is, it’s worth it.”

This time, though, there was no room for deception: Police had video of him dropping the drugs.

Weeks later, as a meeting with prosecutors approached, he drank and used again. The next morning, weary and hungover, as he dropped off his son, Ponchito, at school, the reality of how his actions had been affecting others stirred something in him.

“You look sad, papi,” his 9-year-old told him from the backseat, stretching his small arm toward his father, offering him a pouch of Welch’s fruit snacks. “I like these because they make me happy because they’re good.”

“It broke me,” Nevárez said. “I didn’t just need to change — now I wanted to… I just kind of intuitively felt that If I tried to defend it, or if I tried to make it go away, I wasn’t going to survive it, and I’m not talking about the fallout. I’m talking about living.”

At the meeting with law enforcement, he came clean and learned he was eligible for pretrial diversion, an alternative to prosecution for offenders who stay out of trouble and comply with other terms, such as mandated counseling or community service.

That was Oct. 14, 2019. Ever since, Nevárez says he has maintained not just abstinence, as he likes to stress, but the conscious everyday choice of sobriety.

See here for a bit of background. I hadn’t thought much of former Rep. Nevárez since then, though I’d occasionally see him on Twitter, often in the replies to political and Texas media types that I follow, usually making a wisecrack. He’s making music now, and seems to have had some success at it. The impression I came away with from this piece, which includes quotes from several of his former Lege colleagues, is that he is in a better place now, and I’m glad to see it. I hope that continues. Go read the rest and see what you think.

Uvalde parents will take their fight to the Lege

They’re not going to get what they want and they know it, but they’re still going to fight. I have so much respect for them.

More than seven months after a teenage gunman killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School, the speaker of the Texas House was in Uvalde for a private meeting with relatives of the victims.

Dade Phelan had never met them. After the introductions in a room at the local community college, a family member started with the group’s main question: Will the Legislature raise the minimum age to purchase an assault-style weapon from 18 to 21?

Phelan was up front with them: No.

The House doesn’t have the votes, he said. And no, he doesn’t personally support it, either.

The tense discussion on Jan. 4 lasted just shy of an hour and a half, and Phelan spent most of it discussing potential mental health legislation, participants said. The families left discouraged, unsure of their next steps in a state where Republicans, most of whom oppose any firearm restrictions, control the Legislature.

It marked an awkward transition for the Uvalde activists, who have spent months advocating for gun control laws. They felt welcomed and heard on lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., and several of them campaigned heartily for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, who lost his challenge to Gov. Greg Abbott on Nov. 8.

Phelan was one of the few lawmakers to address the Uvalde shooting when the legislative session began Tuesday, promising “sensible, meaningful change.” Republican leaders have focused on bolstering mental health resources and improving the physical defenses of schools — both of which have bipartisan support as the session starts.

But the prospects for any gun regulations in Texas are dim, leaving the Uvalde families convinced that the next mass shooting is only a question of time.

“I just feel like we’re in new territory,” said Kim Rubio, who lost her 10-year-old daughter, Lexi, at Robb Elementary School. “When this happened, there was a lot of talk at the federal level about making changes, so we really hit the ground running toward that. Now, we’re back at square one.”

It’s kind of painful, but you can read the rest. The best the Uvalde parents can hope for is a state ban on straw-person sales, which is already a federal crime. Beyond that, it’s the usual bunkum about guns not being the problem and there being nothing we could do to stop the next school shooter even if guns were the problem, some promises to increase security at schools, and some vague and meaningless words about mental health. The school security measures have some value, and I’d be all right with them for the most part if they were part of a larger deal that included real gun reform, but they’re not. As these parents know all too well, it’s just a matter of time before some other group of parents are in the same unfathomable position they’re in now. They’re trying to do something about that, but they really can’t, not right now. This isn’t a lobbying or legislating matter, it’s a political and electoral one. That’s a bigger and more long-term problem. I wish them all the best anyway.

Two out of three state leaders open to expanded gambling

As we know, two out of three ain’t bad, but it also ain’t enough.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

House Speaker Dade Phelan on Thursday left the door open to legalizing sports betting and casino gambling in Texas, the latest sign that opposition may be softening among state Republican lawmakers, though the proposal still faces major hurdles in the Senate.

Phelan, the Beaumont Republican who leads the Texas House, told reporters in a roundtable interview he believes voters would approve a referendum on expanded gaming options. With limited exceptions, most forms of gambling are prohibited by the Texas Constitution, which can only be amended if two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers agree to put the matter to a statewide vote.

Echoing Gov. Greg Abbott, who voiced support last fall for expanding gambling options, Phelan said he doesn’t want to “walk into every convenience store and see … slot machines.”

“I want to see destination-style casinos that are high-quality and that create jobs, and that improve the lifestyles of those communities,” Phelan said.

[…]

This session, the gambling industry has hired an army of lobbyists to push for casino and sports betting legalization. Last month, however, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he isn’t expecting the issues to go anywhere.

“I don’t see any movement on that right now,” Patrick said in an interview with KXAN-TV in Austin.

Patrick, a Houston Republican who has overseen the Texas Senate since 2015, said that doesn’t mean things can’t change during the 140-day legislative session, which kicked off Tuesday.

He said there is “a lot of talk out there” about gambling, but he hasn’t seen any Senate Republicans file a bill on the issue yet. State Sen. Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, has filed legislation to open the state to casinos and sports betting, however.

See here for some background. I’m not saying Dan Patrick can’t change his mind on this. I have no idea what Dan Patrick will do. I’m just saying that until he says he’s changed his mind, nothing has changed. That’s really all there is to it. Reform Austin has more.

It’s re-redistricting time

More amusing than alarming, with a bit of annoying as well.

The Texas Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to again take up the decennial process of redrawing the boundaries of the state’s political districts a year and a half after the Legislature completed the process and yielded new districts. Those newly drawn districts increased the Republican majorities in both the Senate and the House and reduced the voting strength of voters of color.

The redistricting process this year is mostly procedural and is not expected to produce very different results.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she was taking the step “out of an abundance of caution” to ensure that Legislature had met its constitutional requirement to apportion districts in the first regular session after the federal census, which is done every 10 years. Because of the pandemic, census numbers were not released until after the end of the last regularly scheduled legislative session on May 31, 2021. Redistricted maps were passed in a subsequent special session that year.

Two Democratic lawmakers, Sens. Roland Gutierrez of Antonio and Sarah Eckhardt of Austin sued, saying that violated the Texas Constitution because the census numbers weren’t received until Aug. 12, 2021. That would make the current legislative session, which kicked off on Tuesday, the first regular session since the release of those numbers.

Eckhardt said the Senate’s decision to take up the issue again proves she and Gutierrez were right on the law, but she said she didn’t expect much change in the maps drawn by the state in 2021.

“I think this will be a check-the-box exercise,” she said. “I would have liked to have seen in the first go-around a substantive discussion and taking the input of constituencies into account.”

[…]

Huffman, who led the redistricting committee in the 2021 legislative session and will again lead its efforts this year, said the procedure would follow similar rules to those applied last session and would create an opportunity for “regional hearings” to be held in the Capitol that will be streamed on the internet for the public across the state. The public will also have an avenue to testify in those hearings virtually. Those hearings will be held between Jan. 25 and 28.

See here, here, and here for some background. While this resolution is only for the Senate, the same exercise will need to occur for the House and the SBOE as well; Congressional redistricting is exempt because the constitutional provision only applied to state offices. I think Sen. Eckhardt is correct in her assessment, and it’s a shame that the State Supreme Court did not see it the same way, but here we are. I presume the federal litigation over Texas’ maps and processes will be unaffected by this – the legal issue in question was one of state law. As noted I don’t expect much to change, but anytime there is redistricting there is the potential for shenanigans, so stay alert. Reform Austin.

The Lege does its housekeeping

In the Senate, they drew their lots to see who would have to run again in 2024.

Sen. John Whitmire

It was the luck of the draw for Texas senators on Wednesday as they drew lots to decide which half of them would get two-year terms and which would get four-year terms.

The practice is outlined in Article 3, Section 3, of the Texas Constitution, which calls for “Senators elected after each apportionment [redistricting]” to be divided into two classes: one that will serve a four-year term and the other to serve a two-year term. That keeps Senate district elections staggered every two years. After that, senators serve four-year terms for the rest of the decade.

On Wednesday, each of the chamber’s 31 lawmakers walked to the front of the chamber and drew lots by picking an envelope that held a pill-shaped capsule. Inside the capsules were numbers: Even numbers meant two-year terms, and odd were for four-year terms.

“I’m sure each and every one of you are happy with what you drew, right?” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joked.

Sixteen senators had Lady Fortune on their side and drew four-year terms, and fifteen unlucky souls will have to run for reelection in two years.

[…]

All eyes were on Sen. John Whitmire, a longtime Democrat who has announced plans to leave the chamber to run for Houston mayor after the session, and Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat who is second in seniority to Whitmire.

Whitmire drew a two-year term, and Zaffirni drew a four-year term.

Three freshmen senators drew two-year terms, including Democrat Morgan LaMantia of South Padre Island, who was in the tightest race in the Senate last year. The two other freshmen, Republicans Kevin Sparks of Midland and Mayes Middleton of Galveston, both drew four-year terms.

After the 2012 election, the main question was whether then-Sen. Wendy Davis, who won a tough race in a district carried by Mitt Romney, would have to run again in 2014. She drew a short straw, and I think that contributed to her decision to run for Governor. Of course, we were in a time and of a political makeup in which Dems were getting creamed in non-Presidential years. That changed quite dramatically in 2018, when Dems won back Davis’ old seat and picked up another Senate seat as well. Sen. LaMantia had a tough race in 2022, and at this time I have no idea if it’s better for her to run in 2024 or not. We’ll just have to see.

As for Whitmire, what this means is that if he’s elected Mayor this year, things will be messy in SD15 the next year. There would be both a primary and a special election to replace and succeed him, much as there was in HD147 this past year. You could have the primary winner, who would get to serve a four-year term after winning in November of 2024, and the special election winner, who would serve out the remainder of 2024, be two different people. One person could face five elections total in 2024, if the primary and the special both go to runoffs; this would happen for someone who wins the primary in a runoff and makes it to the runoff (win or lose) in the special. Did I mention that the primary runoff and the special election would take both place in May, but on different dates, again as it was in HD147? Speaking as a resident of SD15, I’m already exhausted by this possibility, which may not even happen. May God have mercy on our souls.

Anyway. The Houston-area Senators who will be on the ballot in 2024 are Carol Alvarado (SD06), Paul Bettencourt (SD07), John Whitmire (SD15), and Joan Huffman (SD17). The ones who get to wait until 2026 are Brandon Creighton (SD04), Mayes Middleton (SD11), Borris Miles (SD13), and Lois Kolkhorst (SD18).

Meanwhile, over in the House

Texas House leadership on Wednesday shut down a long-building push to ban Democratic committee chairs, deploying procedural legislative maneuvers to defeat multiple proposals on the issue.

The chamber also approved new punishments for members who break quorum, like most House Democrats did two years ago in protest of GOP-backed voting restrictions. Those members left for Washington, D.C., for weeks to stop the House from being able to do business in an effort to prevent passage of the bill. Under the new rules, quorum-breakers can now be subject to daily fines and even expulsion from the chamber.

The chamber passed the overall rules package by a vote of 123-19, with Democrats making up most of the opposition.

Going into the rules debate, most attention was on the subject of committee chairs, who have the power to advance legislation or block it from being taken up by the full House. For months, a small but vocal minority of House Republicans have been calling for the end of the chamber’s longtime tradition of having committee chairs from both parties. But Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and his allies moved successfully Wednesday to prevent the matter from even getting to a vote on the floor.

They did it by passing a “housekeeping resolution” earlier in the day that included a new section codifying a constitutional ban on using House resources for political purposes. That resolution passed overwhelmingly with little debate or fanfare. Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, then cited the new provision to call points of order — procedural challenges — on two amendments proposed by Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, to restrict Democratic committee chairs. Phelan ruled in favor of Geren both times.

“The amendment would require the speaker to use public resources, including staff time and government facilities, on behalf of one political instrumentality,” Phelan said the first time. “This obviously would require the speaker to violate the Housekeeping Resolution.”

It was a relatively anticlimactic end to the fight over Democratic committee chairs, which were a major issue in House primaries earlier this year, a rallying cry for conservative activists and a recurring theme in speeches as the legislative session kicked off Tuesday. After the House reelected Phelan by a nearly unanimous vote, he cautioned freshmen to “please do not confuse this body with the one in Washington, D.C.”

“After watching Congress attempt to function last week, I cannot imagine why some want Texas to be like D.C,” Phelan said.

Committee appointments are expected to be made in the next couple of weeks. Phelan has said he will appoint roughly the same proportion of Democratic chairs as last session, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be appointed to lead any powerful or coveted committees.

The amendment about sanctions for quorum-busting drew more No votes, almost entirely from Dems. Honestly, I have no problem with what was passed. It’s perfectly appropriate for the chamber to have sanctions for that kind of action, and it’s not that different, at least to my mind, than what was passed after the 2003 walkout. New rules get adopted each session, this can always be revisited in the future. TPR has more.

HD135 election contest dismissed

From the inbox:

This week, Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan dismissed the election contest filed by Mike May, the candidate who lost to Representative Jon Rosenthal in the 2022 election for house district 135. The case was dismissed because May failed to timely pay the security of costs required by Texas law.

“This quick dismissal shows these election contests are largely about political posturing and undermining our democratic processes,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “I thank Speaker Phelan and Representative Morgan Meyer for upholding the law and ensuring the will of the voters stands.”

Under Texas law, the Texas House of Representatives presided over this contest because it was filed by a candidate for that body. Unfortunately, more than 20 other election contests are still pending in Harris County—most of those races had greater vote margins than May’s. Those cases are expected to proceed over the next few months.

See here for the background. This one was particularly unserious, and the resolution shows how weak it was. Here’s County Attorney Menefee’s Twitter post, with a copy of the letter to May from Speaker Phelan:

My post about the HD135 election contest ran on December 3, so it was filed at least one day before then. The deadline for paying the required fee – I have no idea how much, but if there was even a sliver of a chance this was for real, this guy would have had no trouble getting some fat cat to pay for it as needed – was December 9. Maybe he could have gotten an extension if he’d asked and had some reason for it, but practically speaking this thing has been dead for a month.

This has no effect on the other challenges filed by other losing losers, as legislative contests are heard in the House while these others will be argued in a courtroom. They aren’t any more valid, they’re just in a different venue. From the County Attorney’s press release, they may take awhile to be resolved. I will of course keep an eye on them. The Trib, whose story published after I drafted this and which mostly recapitulates what I’ve got here, has more.

Is trap-neuter-return illegal?

A question that could affect a lot of cities, including Houston.

Trap, neuter, return programs are popular across Texas as a way to control feral cat populations. But one local official is now posing a thorny question: Are they legal?

Brazoria County District Attorney Tom Selleck has asked the attorney general’s office to determine whether the initiatives run afoul of animal cruelty laws that criminalize abandonment.

Selleck insists he is not trying to put an end to the programs, but instead wants clarification as several cities in his area consider their use.

“We’re certainly not saying it’s a bad program, quite the contrary, I think it has some excellent benefits,” he said. “I just don’t want somebody getting arrested over it. I’d like to know what my parameters are as a prosecutor.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton has yet to issue the opinion that could have sweeping implications for animal control efforts in Dallas and other cities. In addition to managing stray cat populations, the programs are also credited with cutting back on nuisance mating behaviors like fighting, yowling and marking.

Generally the programs work like this: Stray cats are trapped, then sterilized and vaccinated by a veterinarian before being returned to where they were found. Animals that have been through the process are often marked with a clipped ear.

In his November letter, Selleck questioned whether the programs may conflict with a state law that makes it a crime to abandon “unreasonably an animal in the person’s custody.”

“Returning the animal into the wild, without making reasonable arrangements for another individual to take custody of said animal, operates as a form of abandonment, by letter of the law,” he wrote. “If the abandonment is made unreasonably, such as leaving the stray in an open and unsafe environment, then that may support a conviction.”

Danielle Bays, a senior analyst for cat protection and policy at the Humane Society of the United States, pushed back on that notion.

“It’s not as if these cats are being left to fend for themselves,” Bays said. The stray cats are returned to the same place they were trapped, she said, often where they’re being fed or cared for by people.

“I don’t know of anywhere where people have actually been charged with abandoning cats when they return them to where they were found,” she said. “If you’re taking those cats and releasing them somewhere else, if you were just dumping them somewhere, that’s not the same thing.”

I get where DA Selleck is coming from – certainly as an officer of the court he wants to make sure he’s in compliance with the law – but I dunno, if the issue has never come up before and so many cities have been doing this without any problems, maybe it’s not an issue? Houston is one of those cities, so we have some skin in this game. Selleck says that he hopes the AG’s office will return an opinion in time for the Lege to take action if needed, a sentiment with which I agree. That said, if there really is a concern, there’s no reason not to ask a legislator right now to craft and carry a bill that would clarify the law and remove the potential conflict. Why take the chance on the opinion landing after the bill filing date, or the Lege not having the time to move it after the opinion drops? If it’s an issue, take action now. That’s my opinion.

It’s going to be a brutal legislative session for LGBTQ folks in Texas

I really wish this weren’t the case, but it is. It’s going to be bad.

Two bills that would ban classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in Texas public schools before certain grade levels are poised to receive top Republican backing in this year’s legislative session. But critics warn that the legislation could further marginalize LGBTQ students and families while exposing teachers to potential legal threats.

The two bills — authored by Reps. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Jared Patterson, R-Frisco — closely resemble legislation out of Florida that critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” lawHouse Bill 631 and House Bill 1155 are among a flurry of anti-LGBTQ legislation awaiting lawmakers when they return to the Capitol on Tuesday.

Florida’s law prohibits schools from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. Both Texas bills mirror such a ban. Toth’s HB 631 would expand the restriction until fifth grade. Patterson’s HB 1155 would extend it to eighth grade.

Their proposals would also prohibit lessons on sexuality and gender identity at any grade level if they are “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” Patterson’s bill doesn’t define what is appropriate for various age groups. Toth’s bill requires the lessons to align with state standards but doesn’t specify which standards.

Like Florida’s law, the two Texas bills don’t explicitly ban the use of the word “gay” in schools. The bills’ authors also maintain that the legislation would protect “parental rights” by allowing parents to more directly control what their children learn in school, including the existence of different sexual orientations and gender identities.

“Parental rights are paramount to the safety and well-being of a child,” Patterson said in a Jan. 3 tweet introducing his bill. “Therefore, I filed HB 1155 to ensure no school teaches radical gender ideology to any child from K-8th grade, and where parents must review and sign off on any health-related services.”

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has signaled that he would support passing a Texas version of the Florida law — even before these bills were filed.

“I will make this law a top priority in the next session,” he said in a campaign email last April.

Critics of the legislation argue that the bills’ vague nature would suppress discussion related to LGBTQ issues and representation.

“The reality is that everybody has a gender identity and sexual orientation; avoiding those conversations is incredibly difficult,” Adri Pérez, an organizing director with Texas Freedom Network, told The Texas Tribune. “What it becomes is a tool to be leveraged specifically against LGBTQIA+ people, because what stands out is not the people who fit in but the people who are being specifically targeted and attacked as being different.”

[…]

Chloe Kempf and Brian Klosterboer, attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the bills could pose explicit risks to teachers and school districts in the form of lawsuits from parents who believe they’re not following the law.

Toth’s bill outlines a mechanism for parents to sue school districts for violating his proposals, which includes the parental notification portion of that bill. Experts say that part of these bills could require teachers to potentially out their students, and parents could sue districts if teachers don’t comply. School districts would be saddled with the cost of those lawsuits, experts say.

More broadly, Kempf said, the bills would pose risks to schools and educators in the form of potential ultra vires claims, which enable citizens to sue public officials who violate state laws. Although it’s not clear if these types of lawsuits would be successful, Klosterboer said, the larger impact is more confusion and headaches for schools.

“When a law is vague, it allows for discriminatory and targeted enforcement. And it also creates a very hostile and chilling atmosphere where people … go out of their way to self-censor,” Kempf said.

The bills’ vague language could also present challenges for schools trying to protect teachers from potential lawsuits.

“[Schools] might not even know what to tell teachers and staff how to actually protect themselves and protect the school district,” Klosterboer said.

Klosterboer added that it seems “very likely” that if Gov. Greg Abbott signs one of the bills into law, it would invite legal challenges.

[…]

Ultimately, LGBTQ advocates argue that these legislative actions are just another attack on an already marginalized population. As of last week, Texas Republican lawmakers have already filed 35 anti-LGBTQ bills for the 2023 session, far outnumbering the number of such bills that were filed ahead of the 2021 session, according to [Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas].

“The legislation is meant to stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing safe and inclusive classrooms,” he said.

There is ongoing litigation over Florida’s “don’t say gay” law. It will eventually be decided by SCOTUS. So yeah, that’s going great, too.

I would like to say something encouraging here. For sure, plenty of smart and passionate and dedicated people will do everything they can to fight these terrible bills, and you should do everything you can to help them. But the reality is that the Republicans have the numbers. They can pass whatever bills they want. This is what they want to do, and they believe they have a mandate after the 2022 election. They’re not going to stop until they’re voted out. Again, I wish I could tell you something else, but I can’t. It’s going to be a very rough six months. The Observer has more.

The only pre-session gambling expansion story you need

Just re-run a version of this for the foreseeable future.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

Although casino giants and sports betting groups are making a big push in Texas, the head of the state Senate said he isn’t seeing much progress on the issue going into 2023.

“I don’t see any movement on that right now,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said in an interview with KXAN-TV in Austin.

Patrick, a Houston Republican who has overseen the Texas Senate since 2015, said that doesn’t mean things can’t change during the legislative session that begins Jan. 10.

He said there is “a lot of talk out there” about gambling but that he hasn’t seen any Republican in the Senate file a bill on the issue yet. Republicans hold a strong majority and control the Senate’s agenda.

[…]

State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, has filed legislation to open the state to casinos and sports betting. Under her proposed Senate Joint Resolution No. 17, up to four “destination resorts” in metro areas with at least 2 million people would be allowed, in addition to limited casinos at horse and dog tracks, plus authorization for Native American tribes to operate casino games and slot machines.

In 2021, Patrick similarly doused expectations for expanded gambling in Texas, but even more forcefully.

“It’s not even an issue that’s going to see the light of day this session,” Patrick told Lubbock-based talk radio host Chad Hasty about sports betting legislation in 2021.

Every session, we get a breathless story about how much the gambling lobby will be spending on their hundreds of lobbyists to persuade the Lege to pass a joint resolution for a constitutional amendment to allow some form of expanded gambling. And then we get the same basic story the next session, because the one constant has been Dan Patrick, and even before him the general – and sufficient – Republican opposition to this idea. Never mind that Patrick wasn’t forceful about it this session – nothing has changed from his perspective since the last time, and none of those Republican Senators are going to file anything because they’re all Patrick’s puppets. Never mind that Greg Abbott has, in his typically mealy-mouthed fashion, expressed “openness” to the “idea” of some form of expanded gambling. Abbott’s a wuss who isn’t going to get into a fight with Patrick over this. All he’s saying here is that if Dan Patrick changes his mind and decides to allow something to come to a vote, he won’t oppose it. Nothing has changed, nothing to see here. File this story away for 2025, because it will be as relevant then as it is now.

Eventually, one of two things will change. Either Dan Patrick will decide that he’s okay with some more gambling, or someone else will become Lite Guv, and then we can find out what that person thinks. Until then, try to remain calm. And see if you can get one of those gambling lobbyist gigs. They have to be a great job, as there’s no expectation of success and they’ll be hiring again next time around.

A closer look at the maternal mortality report

I take no joy in predicting that the Legislature will take no action on this.

Nakeenya Wilson was at a meeting of Texas’ maternal mortality review committee when she got the call: Her sister, who had recently had a baby, was having a stroke.

Wilson raced to the hospital, leaving behind a stack of files documenting the stories of women who had died from pregnancy and childbirth complications. Many of the women in those files were Black, just like Wilson, who experienced a traumatic delivery herself.

“The whole thing just reminded me, if you change the name on those files, it could be me. It could be my sister,” said Wilson, who serves as the committee’s community representative.

A decade ago, when Texas first formed the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, Black women were twice as likely as white women, and four times as likely as Hispanic women, to die from pregnancy and childbirth.

Those disparities haven’t improved, according to the committee’s latest report, published Thursday.

In 2020, pregnant Black women were twice as likely to experience critical health issues like hemorrhage, preeclampsia and sepsis. While complications from obstetric hemorrhage declined overall in Texas in recent years, Black women saw an increase of nearly 10%.

Wilson said these statistics show the impact of a health care system that is biased against Black women.

“We’re still dying and being disproportionately impacted by hemorrhage when everybody else is getting better,” Wilson said. “Not only did it not improve, it didn’t stay the same — it got worse.”

The causes of these disparities aren’t always simple to identify, and they’re even harder to fix. It’s a combination of diminished health care access, systemic racism, and the impact of “social determinants of health” — the conditions in which someone is born, lives, works and grows up.

Wilson said she and her sister are prime examples. They grew up in poverty, without health insurance, routine doctor’s visits or consistent access to healthy food.

“We started behind the ball,” she said. “We’ve had so many hard things happen to us that have contributed to our health by the time we’re of childbearing age.”

Maternal health advocates in Texas say addressing these disparities will take more than fixing labor and delivery practices. It will require building a comprehensive health care system that addresses a community’s needs across the board, starting long before pregnancy.

In the end, Wilson’s sister survived her postpartum health scare. But the experience reminded Wilson why she volunteers her time to read, review and analyze stories of women who have died from pregnancy and childbirth.

“When you look at the work marginalized people do, they do it because they don’t feel like they have any choice,” she said. “If we want to see things change, and we want to be safe, we have to advocate for our own safety.”

See here for some background. There’s way too much for me to try to capture in an excerpt, so go read the whole thing. Rep. Shawn Thierry, who experienced some of these problems herself a few years ago when she was giving birth, is and has been working on getting legislation passed to address the issues, which includes things like expanding health care access, gathering better information, and strengthening the maternal mortality review process. See above for my assessment of the likelihood of passage. Rep. Thierry will need a lot more like-minded colleagues to make that happen, and we are very much not there yet. But the work is happening, and will continue to happen.

Will we finally close the “dead suspect” loophole?

The short answer is no we won’t, but it will be worth the effort anyway.

Rep. Joe Moody

In November, state Representative Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat who served on a committee that investigated the Uvalde killings, filed House Bill 30, a multifaceted measure that would close what’s called the “dead suspect loophole.” Under current law, Texas cops and prosecutors may withhold from the public many records stemming from investigations that did not result in a conviction. This statute arguably protects the reputations of innocent Texans, but it also casts a veil of secrecy over cases where there’s no conviction because the suspect is deceased—including when cops kill someone during an arrest, or a person dies in jail, or a school shooter’s rampage ends, as happened at Robb Elementary, with his own demise. Moody’s bill would specifically open up many cases where the lack of a conviction resulted from a suspect’s death.

Since May, state police have withheld records such as video and audio recordings from the Uvalde scene on the premise that the local district attorney is still investigating—a standard reason that agencies hold back much detailed information. Under the dead suspect loophole, however, those records can plausibly be kept secret forever. HB 30 would head this off.

“I certainly respect the investigatory process, but at some point you turn the corner and the public deserves to scrutinize the records, and that is at the heart of the Public Information Act,” Moody told the Observer. “The government doesn’t get to decide what is good for us to know and what is bad for us to know.”

In June, GOP Speaker of the House Dade Phelan tweeted support for closing the dead suspect loophole in Uvalde’s wake, and a spokesperson confirmed in early December that the speaker continues to support such a policy though he is “not yet familiar with the specifics of legislation that has been filed.”

In its present form, HB 30 would also expand public access to information about police misconduct in general and to videos of jail deaths or shootings by police, along with creating a public database of reports related to such shootings, among other provisions.

Next year’s legislative session, to begin in January, will mark the fourth time that Moody has tried to close the dead suspect loophole. In past sessions, discussion of his bills centered on prominent cases in which Texans were shot on their porches, tased in the back of squad cars, or left to perish in jails. Moody nearly succeeded in closing the loophole in 2019—with help from a contingent of small-government Republicans open to criminal justice reform—but he was derailed by a last-minute, scorched-earth campaign from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), the state’s largest police union, in a fight that left the El Paso lawmaker and the lobbying powerhouse as bitter adversaries.

Transparency advocates hope that Uvalde will make the difference this time around, but they won’t be getting any help from CLEAT. “Just like it has been in the past, this is a George Soros-funded fishing expedition that seeks to tear down our profession by false innuendo,” said CLEAT spokesperson Jennifer Szimanski, homing in on parts of the bill dealing with police personnel files. “We’ll definitely be fighting this piece of legislation.”

Szimanski—who also said of the bill: “This is ‘defund the police’”—added that there was likely no path for her group and Moody to discuss any compromise because “the author of this bill has not contacted us since 2019.”

Moody countered that his bill is “properly tailored” to only target information in police personnel files necessary to shed light on misconduct and specific incidents including ones involving dead suspects. “This is a serious policy. It’s not political grandstanding, but the people of that organization are completely disingenuous,” he said of CLEAT, adding that he has not received backing from George Soros, the Hungarian-American billionaire—often used as a bogeyman by the political right—who’s funded criminal justice reform efforts in recent years.

In addition to overcoming CLEAT, Moody would also need acquiescence from archconservative Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who controls the state Senate, and freshly reelected Governor Greg Abbott, who wields the veto pen and may harbor presidential ambitions. Neither responded to requests for comment for this article.

See here and here for some background. As I’ve said before on things like marijuana reform and expanded gambling, nothing will happen unless Dan Patrick changes his mind. We had our chance to do something about that, but we failed. Rep. Moody may be able to get a bill through the House again, but it will never make it through the Senate. It’s still worth the effort because of the stakes involved, but this is a long-term project. There’s no other way.

The rest of the story is about the history of this loophole, which has only existed since the late 90s – things were actually much better before then. Worth your time to read, I had no idea about it. For what it’s worth, Rep. Moody will surely have at least one cranky and pissed off ally in the Senate, and maybe that will have some effect.

Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, lambasted the emergency response to the Robb Elementary School shooting as “the worst response to a mass shooting in our nation’s history” during a congressional hearing Thursday.

“It was system failure, it was cowardice,” Gutierrez said. He joined family members and supporters of the victims in calling for stronger federal action to prevent gun violence.

Gutierrez, a Democrat, made the remarks during a hearing of the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security that was focused on bipartisan legislative solutions to gun violence. But bipartisanship was hardly present as Democrats continued to point out what they called common-sense gun policy and Republicans accused them of trying to take away constitutional gun rights.

[…]

Congress passed a bipartisan law spearheaded by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the aftermath of the Uvalde shooting — the first major gun safety law in decades. The law increased funding for mental health resources, barred convicted violent domestic partners from buying guns, created grants for states implementing red flag laws and set money for state crisis intervention programs.

But Gutierrez criticized the bipartisan gun law as lacking basic provisions that would have stopped the massacre. He was angered that the Senate stripped a provision raising the minimum age to buy assault weapons to 21.

“The fact is in Texas you got to be 21 to buy a handgun, 21 to buy a beer, 21 to buy a pack of cigarettes, but you can be 18 and buy an AR-15, and that’s what happened here because this governor allowed it,” Gutierrez told reporters during a recess in the hearing. “It’s time for change, not just in Texas but throughout this country.”

As we know, Sen. Gutierrez plans to be a pain in the Senate’s ass about Uvalde and gun control. I’m sure he’d be persuaded to add this item to his list.

Senate committee makes small Uvalde recommendations

Par for the course.

A special Texas Senate committee that convened in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting made a series of policy recommendations Wednesday regarding school and gun safety, mental health, social media and police training.

In an 88-page report, the Special Committee to Protect All Texans acknowledged “more must be done to ensure the safety of Texas school children” in the wake of the May massacre, which killed 19 students and two teachers. The report was based in part on two days of testimony from police, mental health and education professionals, and gun safety advocates in June.

The committee made a single recommendation related to guns: Make purchasing a gun for someone who is barred from owning one a state-level felony. Straw purchases of firearms — when a person stands in to buy a gun for someone who is prohibited from having one — are illegal under federal law, though the committee expressed concern that U.S. attorneys too seldom prosecute offenders.

Gov. Greg Abbott in 2019 recommended banning straw purchases under state law in a report his office produced after the El Paso Walmart mass shooting. But the Legislature failed to pass it.

Such a law would not have prevented the Uvalde shooter from purchasing guns. He legally purchased two semiautomatic rifles in the days before the shooting.

On school safety, the committee proposed the creation of review teams to conduct on-site vulnerability assessments of school campuses and share the results with school leaders. It also suggested additional funding for grants to improve security at individual campuses based on needs.

It called for adding training centers for the school marshal program, through which teachers and staff can become certified to carry guns on campus. Since the program debuted in 2013, just 84 of the state’s more than 1,200 districts have joined.

On mental health care, the committee recommended expanding access to the state’s telemedicine system for mental health to all school districts within a “reasonable time frame.” It also implored lawmakers to look for ways to increase the number of mental health professionals to support this expansion, such as allowing practitioners to volunteer; offering loan repayment benefits for professionals, especially in rural areas; offering paid fellowship and internships; and streamlining licensure requirements.

There are more recommendations, but none that will make you say “yeah, that will definitely help”. Certainly, there’s nothing to try to keep high-risk people from getting guns, and nothing to prevent people under the age of 21 from buying them. Most of these recommendations are reactive in nature; one of the few that are proactive is the vulnerability assessment plan, which will expose problems that may or may not be able to be remediated. Why would we expect anything different? Oh, and as a reminder, the single biggest and most effective thing the state of Texas could do to improve access mental health care is to expand Medicaid. Yeah, yeah, I know. Reform Austin has more.

A thousand days of the COVID disaster declaration

Happy COVID Disaster Declaration Thousand-Day Anniversary to all who celebrate.

Thursday marks 1,000 days that Texans have been living under Gov. Greg Abbott’s public health disaster proclamation — an era of unprecedented gubernatorial authority for the state’s chief executive, triggered by the March 2020 scramble to contain the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to kill Texans every day.

The entire nation remains under a federal public health emergency at least through the winter season, which experts say could bring another wave of infections as families gather indoors for the holidays, immunity dips or virus variants sidestep older vaccines.

But after more than 92,000 deaths and 8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in Texas in the 32 months since the declaration was made, the state remains one of less than a dozen still under a statewide declared disaster or public health emergency.

The proclamations give executive branches more power to quickly respond to disaster situations that are too urgent to wait for the usual bureaucratic wheels to grind into action.

In Texas, the disaster declaration gives Abbott’s executive orders — normally nonbinding — the weight of law.

Using them, he has the ability to suspend any regulatory statute or state agency rule without legislative approval, transfer money between agencies without legislative oversight, commandeer private property and use state and local government resources, evacuate populations and restrict the movement of the people, among other things.

[…]

The declaration was first made on March 13, 2020, and has been renewed 32 times since.

“Declaring a state of disaster will facilitate and expedite the use and deployment of resources to enhance preparedness and response,” the proclamation read.

At the time, 80 Texans had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19. No deaths had been reported yet.

Under the public health disaster order, Abbott has made several unilateral decisions in response to the pandemic.

He extended the length of early voting in 2020 to help thin out Election Day crowds. He enacted mask mandates; directed state agencies to offer work-from-home options to employees; closed bars, gyms, nail salons and other businesses during one of the early surges; banned elective surgeries; limited long-term care visits; and capped venue occupancy until later removing those limits and banning cities from enacting them.

In his entire tenure as governor, Abbott has issued 42 executive orders. Most of them — 35 so far — are COVID-related and carry the weight of law. Only seven of them, none of which were binding, came in the four years before the pandemic hit.

His most enduring actions under the disaster declaration are a ban on cities and counties from enacting mask ordinances, vaccine mandates and occupancy restrictions — a provision that seems popular with most Texas Republican lawmakers and one of the main reasons Abbott’s office says he keeps renewing the disaster declaration.

There’s more so read the rest. As noted above, the main effect of this order has been to greatly increase Abbott’s executive powers, which he has used in part to wage his war on cities and Democratic counties. Some of those actions he has taken, specifically in regard to mask mandates, are still being litigated, with initial rulings going against Abbott but with the Supreme Court still to weigh in. Some of his actions have been helpful; the story cites an extension of emergency food assistance for needy families without additional oversight as an example. The Legislature could codify or rein in Abbott on any or all of these things, but they haven’t – you may recall the calls for a special session on various COVID-related topics that went unheeded – and they won’t. But I bet they would have if Beto had been elected Governor.

Abbott’s current COVID disaster declaration – we have to be specific here, as we are also under disaster declarations for the drought, the school shooting in Uvalde, the situation at the Texas-Mexico border and wildfires – ends on December 1, and it seems a likely bet that he will extend it again. He’s got a good thing going, no one will stop him, and yes, we may face another surge this winter for which such a declaration would be routine. It might even be a good idea in the hands of a better Governor. That’s not what we have here, but it’s probably going to be what we get.

Look to the state legislatures for the next frontiers in forced birtherism

The state of Texas will of course be on the forefront of this, but it will surely follow examples from other states as well.

As statehouses across the country prepare for next year’s legislative sessions — most for the first time since Roe v. Wade was overturned — Republican lawmakers are pushing for further restrictions on reproductive health, even in states where abortion is already banned.

But fissures are already emerging. Now, anti-abortion lawmakers must decide if they will push new abortion bans — a subject of debate among some abortion opponents — if they will amend existing bans to allow for abortions in cases of rape of incest, or if they will move to other reproductive health issues such as contraception. Abortion opponents have struggled to agree on all of them, especially with total abortion bans proving unpopular among voters.

“We will see this split in the Republican Party around following essentially their base, which wants to ban abortion without any exceptions, and the larger public,” said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state policy for the Guttmacher Institute.

Near-total abortion bans are in effect in 13 states, and others have limited access: In Georgia, the procedure is banned for people later than six weeks of pregnancy, and in Florida and Arizona, it is banned after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Bans in seven other states have been temporarily blocked but could take effect pending state court rulings.

With Republicans controlling the U.S. House, federal abortion legislation — whether a ban or national protection — is unlikely to pass. State legislatures are the likeliest source of new abortion policy, and most work only part-time, meeting to consider bills for a few months either every year or every other year. The legislative year typically starts in January, but lawmakers are starting to prefile bills, offering a first glimpse into what they hope to accomplish next year.

Two bills in Texas, one of the few states that has bills prefiled, show how legislation could prevent people from leaving the state to access abortion.

Republican lawmakers have put forth a bill that would prohibit government entities from giving someone money that might be used to travel out of state for an abortion. Another bill would eliminate state tax breaks for businesses in the state that help cover their employees’ travel costs associated with getting an abortion outside of the state.

Though no other states have similar bills yet, those could, if passed, offer a model for other states seeking to restrict abortion access further without directly banning interstate travel. Texas has already banned abortion completely, and it was the first state to eliminate access to abortions after six weeks, even before Roe v. Wade was overturned.

In Missouri — which, prior to Roe’s overturn had some of the most restrictive abortion policies in the country — lawmakers have begun to pre-file bills intended to keep people from accessing abortion. The procedure is already banned there, but no state law prevents people from getting medication abortion pills from another state, or from traveling out of state for an abortion.

If passed, these bills could change that. One would make it a felony to transport drugs that are intended to be used to induce an abortion, though the bill would not criminalize pregnant people. (Similar legislation last year did not pass.) Another bill would treat a fetus as a person — legislation that could effectively equate abortion with murder. Both could pass this session, Nash said, though it’s hard to tell what abortion bills lawmakers will prioritize until they come back to the capitol.

There’s more, so read the rest. We are well aware of the split between public opinion and Republican action on abortion, but as yet that has not caused the Texas GOP any electoral problems, so there’s no reason to believe they will be held back in any meaningful way. We also know that actual legislation is not required if threats and bullying do the heavy lifting for you. I haven’t spent a lot of time reading through legislative previews and stories of pre-filed bills because I know it’s going to be a massive shitshow and I’m trying to stay sane during the holidays. Just know that what happens in one Republican-dominated legislature will be copied by another, and it will work its way to the federal stage as well.

Time for the biennial salute to the new Secretary of State

So long, John. Hope the next guy is better than you were.

Texas Secretary of State John Scott will step down from his role as the state’s top elections official at the end of the year.

“When I took office as Texas Secretary of State in October of last year, I did so with a singular goal and mission in mind: to help restore Texas voters’ confidence in the security of our state’s elections,” Scott wrote in a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday. Scott said he would be returning to private practice.

Scott has served as interim secretary of state since last October, but he has struggled to walk the line between reassuring the public that the state’s elections are safe and secure and entertaining questions from some vocal critics who cast doubt on the integrity of elections. The Dallas Morning News first reported the departure.

Scott oversaw four statewide elections during his time as secretary of state. He also supervised an audit of the 2020 elections in four of the state’s largest counties. Critics have falsely said those elections included outsized voter fraud and irregularities. The first phase of the audit was released on New Year’s Eve 2021 and found no significant evidence of widespread fraud.

A news release from Scott’s office said he would release the findings of the audit before his departure on Dec. 31.

Scott came close a couple of times to actually saying the right thing about election denialism, but in the end he never overcame his lack of trustworthiness. Sometime in the next few months Greg Abbott will nominate a new person for SOS, and either that person will get confirmed by the Senate or will have to step down in two years as Scott is now doing. The Dems in the Senate do have some leverage as far as that goes, so maybe Abbott will decide to appoint someone relatively non-controversial. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for that, but you never know. Texas Public Radio and the Chron have more.

Time once again for the biennial paean to the gambling lobby

Such a weird tradition we observe.

Photo by Joel Kramer via Flickr creative commons

Even before Gov. Greg Abbott declared in October that he’s willing to consider expanded gaming options in Texas, that industry was trying to improve its odds in the state by doling out massive campaign donations and building an army of lobbyists in preparation for the legislative session that begins in January.

More than 300 lobbyists are now registered in Texas to work on gambling issues, according to state records, led by Las Vegas Sands, which added another just last week and now has 72 — the most lobbyists in Texas for any single group or business.

They are hardly alone. A newly created Sports Betting Alliance, BetMGM, Caesar’s, Boyd Gaming and Landry’s Entertainment, along with sports gaming companies like FanDuel and DraftKings, have all loaded up in what many in the gaming industry see as their best chance in decades to do business in Texas.

One reason for that is Abbott’s newfound willingness to listen to gambling options in Texas. In October, he told Hearst Newspapers through a spokeswoman that he’s prepared to listen to proposals.

“We don’t want slot machines at every corner store, we don’t want Texans to be losing money that they need for everyday expenses, and we don’t want any type of crime that could be associated with gaming,” said Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary. “But, if there is a way to create a very professional entertainment option for Texans, Gov. Abbott would take a look at it.”

While far from an all-out green light, it’s a world away from where Abbott has been in the past. In 2015, Abbott said he “wholeheartedly” supported the state’s strict laws against expanding gaming, essentially icing any attempts to pursue casinos or online sports betting options that have proliferated in other states over the past four years.

[…]

But Abbott hasn’t been the only stumbling block in Texas. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Houston-area Republican who oversees the state Senate, made clear in 2021 that expanded gaming was not going to see “the light of day.” He said then it just didn’t have the votes in a body dominated by Republicans.

As the leader of the Senate, Patrick has wide power to stop legislation from getting to the floor of the chamber to be debated or voted on.

But the industry continues to direct campaign donations to Patrick and others in Texas to improve their chances when the Legislature meets.

I’ve done many of these before, as you can infer from the title, so I don’t care to belabor this. The smart bet continues to be for nothing of substance to happen. This is partly because of Dan Patrick, and partly because I don’t think there’s enough Republican support to get the two-thirds majority in each chamber that a Constitutional amendment requires. As you know, I’m generally ambivalent about all this – I have no problem with allowing adults who want to gamble the legal opportunity to do so, but I also have no love for the Big Gambling business and lobby – but the news that Patrick’s campaign keeps getting fat with gambling money despite his rigid opposition to them – I guess they think they can eventually soften him up – inclines me to root for another expensive and humiliating defeat for them. At least then I’d get to write the same blog post in two years’ time, and what could be more important than my need for content?

It’s legislative bullying time

Here we go again.

Republican lawmakers in Texas and Washington D.C. are threatening some of the nation’s largest corporate law firms if they provide what the lawmakers consider to be improper advice on issues such as climate change, diversity and abortion.

The Texas legislators have even threatened business lawyers with criminal prosecution and disbarment.

In letters sent Nov. 3, five GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee told 51 of the nation’s largest law firms, including 33 with offices and lawyers in Texas, that they have a “duty to inform clients of the risks they incur by participating in climate cartels and other ill-advised ESG schemes.”

The memo doesn’t describe what a “scheme” involving environmental, social and governance principles might look like. Nor does it say what is objectionable about efforts to defend the environment or democratize corporate capitalism.

In July, 11 members of the politically conservative Texas Freedom Caucus sent a letter to Sidley Austin Dallas partner and chair Yvette Ostalaza, threatening her and other corporate law firms operating in Texas with criminal prosecution, civil sanctions and a ban on practicing law if they help their employees in the state to get an abortion in another state.

The three-page letter to Sidley Austin, which has nearly 200 lawyers in Houston and Dallas, accused the firm of being “complicit in illegal abortions.” The Freedom Caucus members posted the letter on its website and sent a copy to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The letters, legal experts say, show that conservative Republican lawmakers believe they can score political favor with their base by attacking corporate lawyers, which they see as facilitating more liberal causes.

“Corporate law firms, especially in Texas because of the political environment, are taking these letters very serious,” said Kent Zimmermann, a consultant who works with several Texas law firms. “These are pure political hit jobs, but the law firms do not want to give any of these threats oxygen by responding.”

“It puts law firms in an unfair position in what amounts to a play to the (GOP) base,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmermann said law firm leaders need to respect the lawmakers even if the demands are not legally sound.

[…]

“It’s a stupid letter; a totally stupid letter,” Dallas legal ethics expert Randy Johnston said. “It’s kind of offensive in concept. “Some of the authors are also lawyers and are flirting with an ethical violation by this attempt to intimidate other lawyers in connection with those lawyers’ representation of advice to clients.”

Dru Stevenson, a professor at the South Texas School of Law in Houston, describes the letter as “mostly political theater,” but he cautions that it needs to be taken seriously.

Stevenson, who studies the legal issues associated with the ESG movement, says antitrust litigation may prove to be the only real weapon to curb increasingly popular trends toward climate change mitigation and, more specifically, energy transition and decreased use of carbon-based fuels like oil, natural gas and coal.

“The senators can’t sue, only threaten legislation,” Stevenson said. “For now, they are stuck (with the Biden administration), but the issue is worth keeping in mind. The political pendulum goes back and forth.”

We’ve seen this before, and as we get closer to the start of the legislative session we’ll see much more of it. Unfortunately, the voter backlash to Dobbs and the rejection of efforts to further limit abortion via referendum all happened outside of Texas. The fanatics have every reason to believe they’ve been vindicated, and they will act accordingly. The best part, as far as they’re concerned, is that the bluster is often enough to get what they want, because large firms are risk averse and would rather placate than fight. But if it comes down to it, or just because it’s what they want, they’ll still push forward with plenty of unhinged legislation aimed at criminalizing abortion and various forms of dissent. Some of this may wind up in court, and Lord help us if that happens. You know what I’m going to say about nothing changing until election results start to change. This is our motivation for next time. There’s no other choice.

Do we actually know how to fix the grid?

The evidence is unclear.

Texas lawmakers and experts who study the state’s power grid aren’t thrilled with a proposal by state energy officials aimed at preventing future widespread outages such as the one during the 2021 winter storm.

The Public Utility Commission of Texas last week unveiled a proposal, backed by Chair Peter Lake, that would essentially pay power generators to make sure they have enough reserve electricity to feed the state’s electrical grid in times of extremely high demand. Generators would receive “performance credits” after proving their ability to keep the lights on during those periods — a system that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, according to the commission’s consultant.

In the days since, state legislators and energy experts have cast doubts on the proposal, which would cost power customers an additional $460 million yearly, according to the PUC’s estimate. They also questioned the plan’s complexity and the time it would take to implement such a novel system.

“There are huge reliability stakes and huge dollar stakes,” said Alison Silverstein, a former senior adviser at the PUC, which regulates the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the state’s grid operator. “We need certainty. But there are ways to create certainty without making potentially billion-dollar errors.”

The Texas Legislature last year ordered the commission to overhaul the state’s energy market, which functions mostly off of supply and demand, in the wake of the winter storm. Texas’ electrical grid nearly collapsed as ice and snow blanketed the state. Below-freezing temperatures caused the demand for electricity to surge, triggering widespread power outages that left millions of Texans in the dark without heat for several days. Hundreds of people died as a result.

Power suppliers were allowed to charge sky-high prices for energy as demand spiked during the storm — but frozen equipment meant that they couldn’t meet that demand.

During their first chance to weigh in on potential reforms to the market, lawmakers on a key Senate panel this week made it clear they’re not impressed with the commission’s main proposal.

“This plan is so convoluted, has a long timeline to be put into place, that it’s a set-up for failure for everybody,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said during a Thursday hearing of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, adding that the additional costs of the plan will ultimately be paid by power customers.

“The end loser is the end user,” Campbell said.

Senators expressed concerns about making the state’s power customers pay more for an untested system on top of paying off billions of dollars in costs incurred during the storm — costs that energy experts have said Texans will be paying off for decades.

“There was already a wealth transfer that we saw happen [during Uri], probably the largest in the state’s history,” state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said.

I’ve read this story and the Chron story about the same hearing a couple of times, and I’m still not really sure what was on the table here. Part of the reason for this is that PUC Chair Lake rejected the recommendations of the consulting firm they hired, which among other things called for requiring electric providers to buy “reliability credits” from power generators, the idea being that generators would commit in advance to provide enough power during periods of high demand. Given that this kind of robustness was cited as a key problem from last February it at least sounds like a decent starting point. If that’s not the plan, and we don’t care what FERC has to say, then where exactly are we? I don’t know, and it sounds like the Lege doesn’t either. Maybe we should do better about that? Just a thought. TPR has more.

Sen. Gutierrez begins his mission to be a pest about Uvalde

One of the things I’ll be watching this session.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

State Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio has pre-filed three bills ahead of Texas’ next legislative session that would reform state gun laws and set up a state fund to compensate victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.

The two gun-related bills would establish high risk protective orders to keep firearms away from potentially dangerous people and raise the age limit to buy any firearm from 18 to 21.

The other proposal would set up a $300 million fund for Uvalde victims and their families and waive legal immunity for state and local law enforcement who responded to the Robb Elementary shooting on May 24.

“We are doing what should have been done after Sutherland Springs, Santa Fe, El Paso, and Midland-Odessa,” the Democrat said in an emailed statement. “Making sure that young killers cannot get their hands on the weaponry that is used in most of these shootings.”

[…]

The next session of the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature session starts in January. So far, Texas GOP leaders have shown no willingness to impose new limits on gun ownership despite multiple high-profile mass killings across the state.

“It’s time for the killing in Texas to stop,” Gutierrez said. “We cannot continue to live in fear of going to school, going to church, shopping for groceries, and just living our lives.”

See here for the background. To be clear, many, many, many bills are filed every session. Few ever see the light of day, and fewer still even get a committee vote. Without Republican backing, these bills aren’t going anywhere. That’s where Sen. Gutierrez’s pledge to force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation comes into play, and is what I’ll be watching for. In the best case scenario, he manages to succeed and get one of these bills passed. More likely, he’s a thorn in Dan Patrick’s side. I’ll take either outcome.

Sen. Gutierrez vows to be a pest about Uvalde and gun control in the next session

I’m rooting for him.

Sen. Roland Gutierrez

As he watched a couple load ice chests into their car at a gas station, something didn’t sit right with Roland Gutierrez. The pair were likely on their way to the lake to enjoy the late May sunshine in San Antonio—a normal way to spend the day, he knew. But Gutierrez, the state senator for District 19, couldn’t help thinking how surreal it is that life continues after a tragedy. He was on his way to Uvalde just days after an 18-year-old had opened fire on a classroom at Robb Elementary School, killing 19 students and two teachers.

“I was thinking how sad it is that … we move on with our lives,” Gutierrez said when we met at his San Antonio law office in September. “It’s not an unnatural thing. I get it. When these things happen, we always say, ‘Oh, it’s just too bad. I feel so sorry for those people.’”

Gutierrez represents a massive district that stretches from his hometown of San Antonio west to Big Bend National Park, encompassing a broad swath of southwest Texas, including Uvalde. The Democrat is relatively new to the Texas Senate, taking office in January 2021. His campaign had promised certain priorities: to push for legalized marijuana, to bolster mental health resources for rural Texans, and to improve public schools. Although he hasn’t dropped these issues, nearly all of his public appearances since May have been about Uvalde.

The shooting “changed me for sure,” Gutierrez said. “I won’t be a singular-issue public servant, but it has become a very, very big issue in my life and in the lives of these new friends that I’ve made. … For these parents … there’s no issue out there that matters if you don’t have your kid.”

Gutierrez, a father of two girls aged 15 and 13, has emerged as one of the most vocal lawmakers in the shooting’s aftermath. He called for accountability from the agencies that responded to the killings, appealed to Governor Greg Abbott to call a special session on gun laws, and sued the Texas Department of Public Safety and its powerful chief Steve McCraw to try and force the release of more records about the massacre. The state police agency’s response to the Uvalde shooting only deepened his concern. He’s been skeptical of DPS ever since the launch of the “bullshit propaganda machine for Greg Abbott” that is Operation Lone Star, the multi-billion-dollar border security initiative in which state troopers play a starring role.

[…]

If re-elected, Gutierrez said, he’ll go into the 2023 legislative session with a no-excuses plan: force the issue on gun reform. He plans to spearhead legislation on age increases for gun purchases, expanded background checks, and red flag laws. If that doesn’t work, he said he’ll force debate by offering gun control measures as amendments on all sorts of other priority legislation.

“If they don’t want to talk about guns, and they don’t want to talk about gun violence in this state, well, I’m going to be talking about it,” Gutierrez said. “We’ll have Uvalde families in there. … As far as I can see, those families aren’t going to stop, nor should they.”

I’m sure there are plenty of procedural ways in which he can make a pain of himself – Dems have had some success in this department in recent years, though generally speaking at some point the weight of the majority wins, if not in the same session. I would hope that he’ll have plenty of company – it’s clear that one of the Republican goals for this session is to limit Democrats’ influence, so it’s not like there’s much to lose. Not everyone needs to be actively involved with this, but plenty of Dems will have little else of substance to do, most likely. May as well make some political hay – if you want the public that agrees with you on the issues to support you in the next election, you have to make sure they know who is and is not on their side.

Sen. Gutierrez is already at work on this.

Texas Sen. Roland Gutierrez released call logs Monday that he said show Gov. Greg Abbott waited hours after the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School to have phone conversations about the tragedy with the state’s top cop.

Gutierrez, whose district includes Uvalde, said the late timing of the three calls Abbott made on May 24, the date of the shooting, to the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, shows the Republican governor’s lack of concern.

So do their brevity, the Democratic senator added. Records show the three calls totaled 31 minutes.

“That’s not what leaders do, but that’s what this person did,” said Gutierrez, who shared the call logs during a Monday press conference.

[…]

During his Monday press event, Gutierrez said he received the call logs 60 days ago but declined to share them until now because he wanted to give the state’s investigation into the shooting “the benefit of the doubt.”

However, Gutierrez said he’s dismayed by the lack of transparency from both DPS and Abbott’s office around the shooting. He also accused the governor of bankrolling recent ads against him.

“If he wants to play politics with me and with South Texas, then we’re going to tell the truth,” Gutierrez said.

“This man has done absolutely nothing, which is why we’re sharing this today,” the senator added.

I might have acted sooner than that, but at least we’re all clear about who has good faith. This will definitely be worth watching come January.

We have already entered Speaker’s Race season

And I’m already exhausted.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt

State Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, announced Friday he is running for speaker, challenging fellow Republican Dade Phelan.

Tinderholt is one of the furthest-right Republicans in the chamber, and in a statement, he made clear he would be running on his opposition to Democratic committee chairs.

“Will the priority legislation of the Republican Party of Texas receive a vote on the Texas House floor?” Tinderholt said in a statement. “The truth is, we have no idea with our current speaker in control.”

Phelan is expected to run for speaker again but has not made it official yet. His office declined to comment on Tinderholt’s announcement.

Tinderholt has served in the House since 2015 and once was a member of the staunchly conservative Freedom Caucus. Even before Texas’ latest restrictions, he has been an ardent opponent of abortion, filing legislation that would make it possible to charge a woman who has an abortion with criminal homicide.

Phelan has been speaker since 2021, when he was elected with near-unanimous support of the 150-member chamber. He helped steer the state further right through his first session, allowing passage of the state’s new laws banning almost all abortion and allowing permitless carry of handguns.

But his critics on the right have not been satisfied, arguing conservative priorities will always be held back if the minority party is permitted to chair committees and control what legislation reaches the floor. Like his GOP predecessors, Phelan has given some chairmanships to Democrats, including on the prominent House Public Education Committee.

I mean, this session is going to be a shitshow in any circumstance other than a Democratic majority in the House, which to put it mildly is highly unlikely. Tinderholt is the kind of politician that will be unappealing to most normal people, but first he has to get himself elected Speaker, and that’s always harder than it looks. If he really has some juice, we’ll start seeing other members publicly backing him. In the meantime, note that his HD94 is not very red, though it used to be; it is slightly redder than it was pre-redistricting. If we’re lucky, Tinderholt will do us the favor of making himself a bigger electoral target. May take a couple of cycles to get there, but keep hope alive.

In case you needed a clear example of the moral depravity of the “right to life” movement

So a couple of days ago State Sen. Robert Nichols, who has a consistent anti-abortion voting record, said at the Texas Tribune Festival that he would be willing to add a rape exception to Texas’ extremely strict forced birth laws. In other words, he’d be willing to support adding a provision to the existing law that national and state polling says is overwhelmingly popular, like in the 90% range.

This of course caused an immediate backlash among the most virulent of the forced-birth fanatics. Within a day or so, one of those groups announced on Twitter that they had rescinded their endorsement of Sen. Nichols, who I remind you again has been a stalwart ally and who – in fairly conditional and qualified language – offered support for an amendment to Texas law that would allow rape victims to legally access abortion, which is something that a huge majority of Texans support.

Okay. Now that you have all that, I want you to read the quote – on the record, for publication – that the leader of this organization gave in response to a question about why they no longer endorsed Sen. Nichols:

Sxxx, of Texas Right to Life, said it was “mind-boggling” to hear that other groups that bill themselves as pro-life would continue to support Nichols.

“It reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be pro-life,” said Sxxx. “To say that you’re going to punish the child for a sin of the father — that misses the point. That’s pro-life 101.”

Yeah, the fact that there’s absolutely no mention of the mother in this quote is the perfect distillation of this warped and immoral viewpoint. Not even the possibility that the mother could well be a little girl, it not only doesn’t matter, it doesn’t even bear consideration. The person who is pregnant does not matter to them, not even a little bit. Their words make that clear. I could not illustrate this any better if I tried.

State delays report on maternal mortality until next year

Sorry, didn’t get to it, other things to do, you know.

Texas health officials have missed a key window to complete the state’s first major updated count of pregnancy related deaths in nearly a decade, saying the findings will now be released next summer, most likely after the Legislature’s biennial session.

The delay, disclosed earlier this month by the Department of State Health Services, means lawmakers won’t likely be able to use the analysis, covering deaths from 2019, until the 2025 legislative cycle. The most recent state-level data available is nine years old.

In a hearing this month with the state’s Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee, DSHS commissioner Dr. John Hellerstedt said the agency wanted to better align its methodology with that of other states, and that there hadn’t been enough staff and money to finish the review for a scheduled Sept. 1 release.

“The information we provide is not easily understood, and not easily and readily comparable to what goes on in other states,” Hellerstedt told the committee. “And the fact it isn’t easily understood or easily comparable in my mind leaves room for a great deal of misunderstanding about what the data really means.”

In a statement, DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen said the agency is reviewing its “internal processes” to try to develop more timely data.

“I expect we’ll be having conversations with legislators about what could be done to speed up the lengthy review process,” he said.

The setback comes four months before the start of the legislative session and two months before the midterm election, which has been dominated in part by the state’s new Republican-led abortion ban. Those restrictions have placed more scrutiny on the state’s maternal mortality rate, which is among the 10 highest in the country, according to national estimates that track pregnancy-related complications while pregnant or within a year of giving birth.

“There are a lot of us that want to know whether or not pregnancy in Texas is a death sentence,” said state Rep. Ann Johnson, a Houston Democrat and member of the Texas Women’s Health Caucus. “If we’ve got a higher rate of maternal mortality, we sure want to figure it out. You can’t figure it out if somebody’s sitting on the numbers, and that’s my worry.”

Like in other states, maternal outcomes in Texas are worse for Black women, who have died at about three times the rate of non-black women. This year’s findings were expected to drill further into the causes behind those disparities.

Rep. Shawn Thierry, a Houston Democrat who has described going through her own dangerous birthing experience, said the data is critical for understanding the role cesarean sections play in maternal deaths and whether implicit bias is playing a factor in the quality of maternal care for Black women.

“There is so much to unpack from the data,” Thierry said, adding that “no woman who chooses life should have to do so in exchange for their own.”

Members of the state’s maternal mortality committee, which compiles the official report, said they were disappointed by the decision to hold the preliminary findings.

“(We) do the work to honor the lives of women who lost their lives, and families that are forever impacted by the loss of a mother,” said Dr. Carla Ortique, the committee chair. “So there’s disappointment on both fronts: that we’re not honoring those women and families, and that we may be negatively impacting efforts to improve maternal health outcomes in our state.”

Pathetic. And typical. But don’t worry, even if the Lege has no current data on maternal mortality to take action on in the next session, they will be fully prepared to make abortion more illegal, because that’s what they care about. Daily Kos has more.

Plan B

I have three things to say about this.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott told The Dallas Morning News that rape victims can take emergency contraception, like Plan B, to prevent a pregnancy. With abortion now banned in Texas, even in instances of incest or rape, the governor recommended the use of emergency contraception to ensure a victim of rape does not become pregnant.

But for the lowest-income people in Texas, emergency contraception isn’t widely accessible, advocates said — a consequence of the significant number of people of childbearing age who are uninsured and the state’s lack of programs that provide access to treatment like Plan B.

During a pre-recorded segment of Lone Star Politics, Abbott said of rape victims, “By accessing health care immediately, they can get the Plan B pill that can prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place. With regard to reporting it to law enforcement, that will ensure that the rapist will be arrested and prosecuted.”

[…]

After signing Senate Bill 8 into law last September, which banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and didn’t provide exceptions for rape or incest, Abbott said the state’s goal was to eliminate rape. Abbott’s office did not return a request for comment on Saturday.

In 2020, Texas ranked 16th in the nation for total number of forcible rape cases per capita.

Emilee Whitehurst, the CEO of Houston Area Women’s Center, said a significant number of rapes aren’t reported, and the actual number of victims is higher than those that seek treatment at a hospital.

Whitehurst added that emergency contraception is not a substitute for abortion access in any way, but those responsible for the abortion ban in Texas have left victims of sexual assault with few options. She said it was insulting to hear that Plan B should be relied on to prevent pregnancies given the dangers victims of sexual assault already face.

“To presume Plan B could be a substitute for abortion care represents such a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of women’s lives and our biology,” Whitehurst said.

While emergency contraception is available for purchase over the counter, it can cost $50 at a pharmacy. Some insurance plans cover the cost of emergency contraception, but those who are uninsured have to pick up that additional expense.

For women of childbearing age in Texas, more than a quarter had no health insurance in 2017 — the highest rate in the nation. This is caused, in part, because Texas has not expanded Medicaid and has one of the lowest eligibility standards in the country. A single parent with three children would have to earn less than $400 a month to qualify for Medicaid.

In addition to the lack of coverage, the state’s programs that target women’s healthcare don’t provide emergency contraception. Neither the Family Planning Program nor the Healthy Texas Women Program provide emergency contraception.

Title X clinics remain one of the few options for low-income people to access emergency contraception at an affordable cost. However, these federally-funded reproductive health clinics don’t operate in every community in the state.

1. How’s that plan to eliminate rape going, Greg? Making any progress on it?

2. Boy, it sure is a good thing that health care is so easily and affordably accessible in this state, especially for women and people of color and people who don’t have insurance.

3. It is true that Plan B remains legal in Texas, and that the author of SB8 insists that he doesn’t want to make Plan B illegal – for now, anyway. But come on, does anyone believe that the forced-birth fanatics don’t have the various types of emergency morning-after contraception in their sights? Those people already think Plan B is an abortifacient. It’s just a matter of time, unless there are other laws in place to ensure that it remains legal. In the meantime, here’s a question Greg Abbott will not want to answer: If a bill to ban Plan B passes the Legislature, would he sign it or veto it? We know what Beto would do. I think we can also be pretty sure about Abbott.

“Safe haven” laws are also not a replacement for abortion

Continuing a theme.

What are safe haven laws?

flurry of Houston baby abandonments in the ’90s led Texas to become the first state to enact a safe haven law in 1999.

Created as an incentive for parents in crisis who are unable to care for their newborns, the law allow parents to drop off babies 60 days or younger at any hospital, fire station or EMS station in the state, no questions asked.

The baby will then be protected and given medical care until a permanent home is found. Provided the baby arrives unharmed and safe, the parents avoid prosecution for abandonment or neglect.

Do people actually use the laws?

Roughly 400,000 babies are born in Texas each year, but data shows that a small fraction of people actually utilize the option.

Just 172 infants have been relinquished under the state’s safe haven law since 2009, according to data from the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Why?

Most families have likely never heard of it, said Sheila M. Katz, a sociology professor at the University of Houston.

This is especially true for middle- and low-income families who may not have the “extra bandwidth” to explore something until they’re in the situation, Katz said.

[…]

Katz said safe haven laws are “very good” at doing what they’re designed to do, but weren’t created to be an option for people unwilling to continue pregnancies.

“It’s taking a law and trying to make it look like a band-aid for bigger issues,” she said.

“If a woman is in an unhealthy relationship and decides to get an abortion to sever ties,” Katz added, “a safe haven law will not help in this situation.”

Or, to put it another way, people who choose to get abortions do so because they don’t want to be pregnant. There’s a separate decision made about what to do after giving birth once that one has been made. The impression I get is that the kind of person who would dump a baby at a fire station is someone who felt truly desperate and trapped and without any other option. While it is very likely that the post-Dobbs criminalization of abortion in Texas will increase that population, the availability of abortion pills and the still-robust abortion access network may mitigate that. I could be wrong, of course – we may in fact see enough of an increase in that population to drive an equivalent increase in the number of babies getting deposited at these locations. If you think that’s something to cheer about, well, you know what I think of you.

The gaps in Texas’ background check law

From Pro Publica:

In the spring of 2009, Elliott Naishtat persuaded his colleagues in the Texas Legislature to pass a bill that he believed would require the state to report court-ordered mental health hospitalizations for Texans of all ages to the national firearms background check system.

Nearly two years had passed since a student with a history of serious mental illness had gone on a deadly shooting rampage that left 32 dead at Virginia Tech. And Naishtat, then a Democratic state representative from Austin, argued that Texas was as vulnerable as Virginia had been to such mass shootings because it didn’t require the reporting of involuntary mental health commitments to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS. Federally licensed dealers are required to check the system before they sell someone a firearm.

“This bill will ultimately save lives, and I hope you’ll give it your most serious consideration,” Naishtat said when he introduced the measure.

But 13 years after the legislation became law, following a string of mass shootings carried out by troubled young men, an investigation by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune has uncovered a major gap in the law and its implementation.

Despite language in Naishtat’s bill that says local courts should report to the state’s top law enforcement agency any time a judge orders any person, regardless of age, to receive inpatient mental health treatment, the news organizations found that they are not reporting juvenile records because of problems with the way the law was written, vague guidance from the state and conflicts with other Texas laws.

[…]

When it comes to the reporting of adult mental health records, the Texas law has been highly effective. By the end of 2021, the state had sent more than 332,000 mental health records — the sixth-highest number in the country — to the national background check system, according to FBI data.

Unlike adult records, juvenile records are tightly controlled under state law, which includes criminal penalties for officials who release them unlawfully. That has likely contributed to widespread confusion about the reach of the 2009 law, which does not differentiate between adults and minors, said Dru Stevenson, a South Texas College of Law professor whose research focuses on gun violence and regulation.

“Anybody dealing with either health records or juveniles are super skittish about preserving privacy and confidentiality,” he said.

Mike Schneider, a former Harris County juvenile court judge, said the 2009 law fails to account for nuances in the juvenile code. For example, the law requires the reporting of all court-ordered mental health commitments. But Schneider and other juvenile officials say that in many cases juveniles end up in inpatient treatment not through a judge’s order, but via treatment plans agreed to by mental health professionals working on their cases. Additionally, Schneider said he interprets the law to directly address only the mental health commitments of juveniles already in lockup, not those first entering the system.

As a result, he estimated that some 99% of juvenile mental health commitments in the state are not the result of the kinds of judicial orders spelled out in the 2009 law.

“It’s just a really, really, really tiny sliver and would miss most of the people who are juveniles who have court-ordered mental health services,” he said.

The Office of Court Administration convened a task force of clerks, judges and various state officials more than a decade ago to figure out how to increase the number of all mental health records being sent to DPS.

The resulting report, published in 2012, found that “DPS lacks the resources to assist the district and county clerks with reporting mental health information.” It made a number of recommendations for ensuring better reporting across the state, including that OCA distribute a reporting manual to clerks detailing the law’s exact requirements. But neither the report nor the resulting manual addressed the reporting of juvenile records.

The agency has since moved to remedy that.

“Recently, because of increased questions, we decided to update the quick reference table to make it even more clear that juvenile records should be included under those provisions, and an updated FAQ section will be going in the manual,” spokesperson Megan LaVoie wrote in an email last month.

Amid a lack of clear direction, courts across the state aren’t following the law as Naishtat intended.

[…]

Schneider, the former Harris County juvenile judge, said the Legislature should address the narrowness and ambiguity that has resulted in the widespread failure to report juvenile mental health records, though he said such an effort will require lawmakers to answer difficult questions about how to handle sensitive records. In his mind, the law should cover young Texans with troubling histories of bullying, animal cruelty and sexual assault, behavior that foreshadows what experts call “future dangerousness.”

“What do you do with kids who have tortured a cat or a dog or done something really cruel, sexually or not, to another kid?” he said. “Those are, I think, the ones that people really worry about, because that seems to be so strongly correlated with really, really bad outcomes in the future.”

This is a long story with a lot of detail, so go read the rest for yourself. I think I’ve captured the main points in my excerpts, so the real question is whether the Lege is even interested in trying to address the gaps in that law. On that score, there was no comment from either Dan Patrick or Dade Phelan, so at the least there’s a lot of work to be done to even get it on the radar. And in keeping with what I’ve suggested before, this isn’t a whole solution but a part of one. Combining a fix to the Naishtat law with a ban on most types of gun purchases by anyone under the age of 21 would be a start. But first, the will to act has to be there. We can have a say in that this November.

The Lege sure thinks a lot of companies need to be coddled

It’s kind of amazing, actually.

Texas banned 10 financial firms from doing business with the state after Comptroller Glenn Hegar said Wednesday that they did not support the oil and gas industry.

Hegar, a Republican running for reelection in November, banned BlackRock Inc., and other banks and investment firms — as well as some investment funds within large banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan — from entering into most contracts with state and local entities after Hegar’s office said the firms “boycott” the fossil fuel sector.

Hegar sent inquiries to hundreds of financial companies earlier this year requesting information about whether they were avoiding investments in the oil and gas industry in favor of renewable energy companies. The survey was a result of a new Texas law that went into effect in September and prohibits most state agencies, as well as local governments, from contracting with firms that have cut ties with carbon-emitting energy companies.

State pension funds and local governments issuing municipal bonds will have to divest from the companies on the list, though there are some exemptions, Hegar said.

“The environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) movement has produced an opaque and perverse system in which some financial companies no longer make decisions in the best interest of their shareholders or their clients, but instead use their financial clout to push a social and political agenda shrouded in secrecy,” Hegar said in a written statement on Wednesday.

New York-based BlackRock, which has publicly embraced investing more in renewable energy, criticized Hegar’s decision.

“This is not a fact-based judgment,” a spokesperson for the company said in a written statement. “BlackRock does not boycott fossil fuels — investing over $100 billion in Texas energy companies on behalf of our clients proves that.

“Elected and appointed public officials have a duty to act in the best interests of the people they serve,” the spokesperson added. “Politicizing state pension funds, restricting access to investments, and impacting the financial returns of retirees, is not consistent with that duty.”

The other nine companies banned completely are: BNP Paribas SA, a French international banking group; Swiss-based Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS Group AG; Danske Bank A/S, a Danish multinational banking and financial services corporation; London-based Jupiter Fund Management PLC, a fund management group; Nordea Bank ABP, a European financial services group based in Finland; Schroders PLC, a British multinational asset management company; and Swedish banks Svenska Handelsbanken AB and Swedbank AB.

[…]

Texas energy experts said the intent of the law, and Wednesday’s announcement, was to punish financial firms that don’t want to invest in the backbone of Texas’ economy — oil and gas.

“But at the end of the day, it’s all about a rate of return,” said Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston. “Quite honestly, fossil fuel companies, in particular oil and gas companies, have not been great performers in the (stock market) prior to this year.”

The Lone Star Chapter of the environmental group Sierra Club said Hegar’s “climate-denying publicity stunt will be costly for taxpayers.”

​​“Major financial institutions like the ones on this list are beginning to recognize that investments in fossil fuels bring significant risk in the face of an inevitable clean energy transition, and that addressing the financial risks of the climate crisis is essential to good business,” said Sierra Club Fossil-Free Finance Campaign Manager Ben Cushing. “The fact that the Texas Comptroller has arbitrarily picked a handful of companies that, despite their climate commitments, continue to have massive fossil fuel investments, shows that this is nothing more than a political stunt at Texas taxpayers’ expense.”

We’ve already determined that Comptroller Hegar is math-challenged, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve also seen the Lege make similar laws to protect gun manufacturers and the country of Israel, about which more in a minute. I suppose one could make a protectionist case for this kind of legislative cherry-picking, and as someone old enough to remember the efforts to divest from South Africa in order to pressure it to abandon apartheid, there is certainly a moral case for this kind of law, if not for these specific ones. But if you’re going to go that route, you need to be clear about what you’re aiming at.

The firms on Hegar’s list are BlackRock, UBS Group, BNP Paribas, Credit Suisse Group, Danske Bank, Jupiter Fund Management, Nordea Bank, Schroders, Svenska Handelsbanken, Swedbank, and UBS Group.

Of the six firms that responded to the Houston Chronicle’s inquiries by press time, four deny that they are “boycotting” the oil and gas industry, even if they admittedly have some investments that reflect the growing influence of — and consumer and investor interest in — the environmental, social and governance (ESG) movement.

“As we noted in our response to the Texas Comptroller, Credit Suisse is not boycotting the energy sector as the bank has ongoing partnerships and strong client relationships in the energy sector,” said a spokesperson for Credit Suisse, based in Zurich. Spokespeople for BlackRock, UBS Group, and Schroders made similar points in disputing the comptroller’s “boycotting” label.

[…]

This is a different approach than the one taken by BlackRock, for example, which had $287 billion in assets invested in energy companies globally as of June, $108 billion of which is invested in Texas energy companies, a spokesperson said.

There are “many similarities” between BlackRock’s approach to investing in the fossil fuel industry and that of other major firms, such as JP Morgan, didn’t make the list, said Andrew Poreda, senior vice president and senior ESG Research Analyst at Sage Advisory Services, an investment firm based in Austin.

A “frequently asked questions” document prepared by Hegar’s office, raises questions itself about the state’s methodology, Poreda said. For example, the comptroller’s initial criteria included whether a firm had made public pledges to the Net Zero Banking Alliance or Net Zero Asset Managers Initiative, which call for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, nearly three decades from now.

That’s not exactly radical territory. Oil and gas companies are openly talking about plans for the energy transition — including getting to net-zero emissions.

“Envisioning a different world in three decades hardly classifies as a boycott, and at this point is so far away that it is largely aspirational,” Poreda argues.

It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to make the base think they’re owning the libs. That’s Republican policy in a nutshell these days.

To bring it back to the Israel example for a minute, that law has been mostly blocked by a federal judge, who ruled that an engineering firm that couldn’t get a contract with the city of Houston had its free speech rights violated by the Texas law. I Am Not A Lawyer, but it sure looks to me like the laws banning “boycotts” of fossil fuels and gun manufacturers are at least in the same neighborhood as the anti-Israel boycott law is. Credit Suisse and Blackrock probably don’t need the state of Texas’ business, but other red states are adopting similar laws, and at some point it does start to cost them real money. When that happens, the lawyers usually get involved. I don’t know what happens from there, but I won’t be surprised if that’s where it goes. The Chron has more.

I don’t know why anyone thinks that IVF will be safe in Texas

That’s what people are saying now.

Abortion bans across the country have thrown into question the fate of in vitro fertilization, an expensive medical process that helps people become pregnant.

But experts and anti-abortion groups say Texas’ laws shouldn’t apply to IVF treatment, and clinics across the state are proceeding with the procedures for now.

Similar to other “trigger laws” enacted to ban abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, a Texas law passed last year broadens the definition of an “unborn child” to begin at “fertilization” and include “embryonic” stages.

That type of language can raise questions about the “personhood” and rights of embryos in IVF and other fertility treatments, said Dr. Natalie Crawford, who is co-founder of Fora Fertility in Austin.

In IVF, Crawford said, doctors use hormone injections to save more of a woman’s eggs during a menstrual cycle and take them out to fertilize them with sperm in a lab. The eggs are then allowed to grow into a blastocyst, or an implantation-stage embryo.

Crawford said this allows doctors to select the embryo they believe has the “highest chance of success” for a pregnancy to put back inside the woman’s uterus and save the other embryos so patients can try again or grow their family in the future. Doctors can also use these embryos to test for genetic diseases.

Once a person or couple no longer need the embryos, they decide whether to discard them as medical waste, donate them for scientific research or to donate them to another couple, she said. It’s this step in particular that is posing a question for IVF treatments in the face of abortion bans.

“The thing that we’re the most uncertain about is, ‘could it impact discarding embryos, like when somebody is done with their family and they have remaining embryos?’” Crawford said. “Or if they have genetically abnormal embryos, could it potentially make it harder to discard those?”

Some also worry about doctors’ ability to conduct genetic testing.

Right now, Crawford and other fertility doctors in Texas and other states are continuing IVF treatments because most laws against abortions focus on embryos during pregnancies, not outside of the womb.

“While they contain phrases like ‘every stage of human development,’ or ‘from the moment of conception,’ which makes us nervous, they are written in a statute that is clearly about terminating an established pregnancy,” said Sean Tipton, chief policy and advocacy officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine broke down “trigger laws” across the country, based on its lawyers’ analysis, and says Texas’ trigger law “does not appear to be applicable to IVF and reproductive medicine services prior to implantation of embryos.”

[…]

In Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma, attorney generals’ offices have clarified anti-abortion laws should not have implications for IVF, but Idaho’s attorney general said it would be up to local prosecutors to decide how to enforce the state’s trigger law, according to NBC News. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune.

[…]

[John] Seago said Texas Right to Life has concerns about the “destruction” of “excessive” embryos, particularly in medical research, but the issue is not one of its priorities for Texas’ 2023 legislative session. Instead, its priorities include enforcing existing laws against abortion and providing more support for pregnant women.

Amy O’Donnell, a spokesperson for the Texas Alliance for Life, said the group had not finalized its legislative priorities yet, but said the group supported a law passed in 2017 requiring the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to post information on its website about embryo donations to other people to promote the option.

A bill filed in 2019 aimed to ban state agencies from contracting with vendors affiliated with “destructive embryonic stem cell research,” human cloning and abortions, but the legislation didn’t gain traction.

Do you trust Ken Paxton, the guy who’s now suing to force doctors to let women die rather than perform an abortion that would save them, to take a reasoned and nuanced view of this? Do you trust the forced-birth advocates, who worry about the “destruction” of “excessive” embryos, to sit this one out? They could force you to pay for storage of your unused embryos for literally all of eternity, or to give them to strangers, if they get their minds to it and still have the legislative majorities. Do you trust the same legislature that passed SB8 to refuse to do their bidding if it comes to that?

If I were in this position, this is what I would do.

[Dr. Robert] Hunter runs a fertility clinic offering in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Louisville, Kentucky, where a blocked abortion law could soon put IVF in jeopardy, too. Now, many patients are scrambling to make decisions about their future. Kentucky is one of a handful of states that wants to use an abortion regulation to define life as beginning at fertilization, common language that is present in several other abortion bans that have gone into effect or will soon, including in UtahTexas and Louisiana.

The Kentucky law is currently blocked by courts, but that could change soon and, in November, voters will determine whether the state can even guarantee the right to an abortion.

Other states want to move further, giving embryos constitutional rights through what are called “personhood” bills, even though, scientifically, most will never become babies. Roe was the largest roadblock stopping these kinds of bills from becoming reality, but without it, patients in states including GeorgiaIowaOhioOklahomaSouth Carolina and Nebraska, where personhood laws have been proposed but have not yet passed, could face the same questions as Hunter’s patients in Kentucky.

Both kinds of laws could affect embryos created through IVF, causing spillover effects into other areas of reproductive care. Hunter’s patients likely now have a small window before those laws become more concrete realities in Kentucky, putting into question what they can do with their own embryos. Moving embryos to another state could buy patients some time. It may also afford them something even more valuable: a choice.

“IVF is just another side of the reproductive choice coin,” Hunter said. “You think about abortion as being a woman’s right to choose ‘no.’ IVF is their right to choose ‘yes.’”

And if it comes to it, this same legislature that will if unchecked start passing bills to criminalize everyone even tangentially involved with abortion will make it a crime to transport embryos across state lines. It’s just a matter of time. Get them to another state now while you still can. The Chron has more.

More on polling about abortion

Not a new poll, but a closer look at the June UT/Texas Politics Project poll, with a longer look back at over a decade’s worth of polling data.

Under current Texas law, abortion is prohibited even in cases of rape or incest. But polling shows Texans overwhelmingly support exceptions for rape and incest — only 13% and 11%, respectively, said pregnant people should not be able to obtain abortions in those cases.

Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston, is not involved with the Texas Politics Project but has also conducted polling on abortion policy.

“More helpful polling questions are those that try to get to the nuance, rather than do you support or oppose this one option,” she said.

To that end, the latest Texas Politics Project poll asked registered voters to consider how far along in pregnancy a person should be allowed to obtain an abortion when accounting for different circumstances, including when the person’s health was endangered, the pregnancy was a result of rape or the family could not afford any more children. This is the first time pollsters asked these questions of respondents.

While most Texans support exceptions for rape and incest, some still want to see limitations based on how far along a person is in their pregnancy. Nearly a quarter of respondents want abortions in cases of rape or incest limited to the first six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many people do not know they are pregnant. Last September, 10 months before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Texas banned abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, with no exception for cases of rape or incest.

Poll respondents supported more restrictions when asked about abortion in cases where the family is low income, or the pregnant person either doesn’t want to marry or is married and doesn’t want more children. Over 30% of voters said abortion should not be allowed in those cases.

These numbers are mostly consistent over time. The Texas Politics Project started polling registered voters about abortion availability in 2009. A historical look shows voters’ opinions on abortion have not changed much in over a decade.

One thing that has changed is people’s views on whether Texas’ existing laws about abortion should be made more strict, less strict, or left about the same. As Texas’ laws have gotten increasingly strict, the “abortion laws should be made less strict” group has grown from 26% in 2013 to 43% as of this June. The “more strict” group – one wonders what could possibly sate them, then one decides it probably isn’t worth asking that question – has gone from 38% to 23% in that same time span, while the “leave it as is” crowd has been basically static, from 20% to 23%.

It’s worth looking at the polling project’s post about their June numbers and scroll down to the section on abortion, where they asked questions about at what stage of a woman’s pregnancy would you support her being able to get an abortion under various circumstances. The choices for “when” are Never, up to 6 weeks, up to 12 weeks, up to 24 weeks, up to 36 weeks, and Any Time. The first four question are about circumstances where things are bad: The woman’s health in in danger, the woman was a victim of rape, the women was a victim of incest, and there is a strong chance of a serious birth defect. In all of those cases, support for allowing an abortion is high, though a significant portion of that support is often for just the first six weeks, while the support for “Never” ranges from 8 to 19 percent. If you group the “through 12 weeks” responses with the increasingly liberal ones, all of those positions get a majority, ranging from 53 to 62 percent. “Never” and “up to 6 weeks” add up to at most 35% for those items.

That’s the good news. The less good news is that for questions about discretionary abortions – the woman’s family is poor and they can’t afford a child, the woman is unmarried and doesn’t want to get married, the woman is married and doesn’t want another child – the Never group is the biggest at 34 to 36 percent, with the Any Time group at half that level. There’s still more support for the “up to 12 weeks” and more liberal groups than Never (41 to 45%), but Never plus “up to 6 weeks” is a slight plurality in all three cases.

In other words, this all only goes so far. That may yet change over time – this is June data we’re talking about, we’re still figuring things out in this post-Dobbs world – but we’re a long way from the state being a basically pro-choice place. It’s more pro-choice than what the Legislature allows – much more so in some cases – but there are definite limits.

One more thing:

Jim Henson, director of the project, said that in the years the poll has been conducted, people haven’t had many reasons to shift their viewpoints on abortion.

“Abortion has been a present enough issue that I think most people who have an attitude on abortion have thought on it enough to be pretty fixed on their attitude,” he said.

[Joshua Blank, research director for the project notes that these attitudes were all developed under Roe v. Wade. Now that it’s overturned, people will be forced to ask themselves new questions about where exactly they stand on the issue of abortion.

“That was all under the framework of Roe v. Wade, which allowed people to develop attitudes,” he said. “The fact that there were clear guardrails around what was and was not allowable in terms of restrictions helped enforce the rigidity of peoples’ attitudes because there was a backstop either way about what the courts would presumably accept.”

[…]

The Hobby School of Public Affairs also recently polled registered Texas voters on abortion availability and policy. [Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School] said the polls focus on proposed laws after the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

“So rather than focusing primarily on ‘do you support abortion rights,’ we went a step further saying ‘this is the law of the land now, so now what do you support.’”

The Hobby School’s poll asked voters to assess potential policies such as whether abortion should be considered a homicide and whether it should be legal for Texans to take abortion-inducing pills obtained out of state. Around 60% of respondents oppose both classifying abortion as a homicide and making it a felony to take abortion-inducing pills from out of state. Around 30% support those classifications, while around 10% said they don’t know.

What that suggests to me is that for now, the best approach is probably to try to draw a line in the sand and say “no more restrictions”, talk a lot about how women are being endangered right now because they can’t get treated for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies because of our “no exceptions” law, and emphasize that what Republicans want is to punish people for abortion. That’s where the vast majority of the support is. We’re going to have to do a lot more work to move things beyond that, but for the purposes of the November election, vowing to protect the rights of women that have been taken away by SCOTUS and the Legislature is the best bet.

Ted Cruz says Texas should repeal its anti-sodomy law

I feel obligated to note this.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, one of the most socially conservative Texans serving in Congress, told The Dallas Morning News that Texas should repeal its now-dormant law that bans gay sex.

“Consenting adults should be able to do what they wish in their private sexual activity, and government has no business in their bedrooms,” Cruz’s spokesperson told the newspaper.

The Texas Legislature passed the law decades ago. It hasn’t been enforceable since 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a landmark ruling that it violated the Constitution. There have been regular attempts by Democrats to repeal the law since, but they have repeatedly failed in the Legislature.

But questions over the future of that precedent have surfaced after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. Both the 1973 abortion case and the gay sex case, known as Lawrence v. Texas, were decided based on the idea of a constitutional right to privacy.

The court’s overturning of Roe caused some to wonder whether other cases based on that privacy right would be next — and conservative Justice Clarence Thomas had suggested that the court reconsider the Lawrence precedent.

The court’s landmark ruling legalizing gay marriage was decided under similar reasoning. In recent weeks, Cruz has reiterated his opposition to that decision. He also frequently brought up his opposition to that ruling while campaigning for president that year in socially conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina.

Recently on his podcast, Cruz reiterated his belief that the decision was “clearly wrong” on the grounds that states, not the enacting of a federal standard, should govern gay marriage policy.

Even so, he said he didn’t think the court would overturn that ruling.

Whether SCOTUS would go along with Clarence Thomas’ fondest wish or not is unknown, but they will likely have ample opportunity in the near future to hear cases that have been brought by the same people that pushed to overturn Roe and are now pushing to overturn Windsor and Obergefell. I see no reason at all to trust in their intentions. But taking that into account and remembering that this is still Ted Cruz talking, I appreciate what he has said here. And given that he has said it, I see no reason why the Texas Legislature can’t do it. If even Ted Cruz thinks this is the right thing to do, what argument does some random Republican State Rep have?

Abortion penalties will increase on August 25

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its official judgment in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, clearing the way for Texas’ “trigger law” banning almost all abortions to go into effect Aug. 25.

The law will increase the criminal and civil penalties associated with abortion, but the procedure is already virtually outlawed in Texas under an old statute that was in effect before the high court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973.

The state’s two dozen abortion clinics stopped providing abortions almost immediately after the court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June, fearing criminal prosecution under those pre-Roe statutes, which make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison to provide or “furnish the means” for an abortion.

Those statutes are separate from the trigger law, which the Legislature passed in 2021. That law, which is triggered by the overturning of Roe v. Wade, increases the penalties for performing an abortion up to life in prison. The trigger law also says that the attorney general “shall” bring a lawsuit to seek a civil penalty of no less than $100,000 per abortion performed.

Both the pre-Roe statute and the trigger law have only narrow exceptions to save the life of the pregnant patient.

While other states’ trigger laws went into effect immediately, Texas’ was written to go into effect 30 days after the Supreme Court issued its official judgment, after which no rehearings or appeals can be filed. That process usually takes about a month.

There’s been a lot of confusion over just when and how the law was going to change in Texas. I suspect that most people quite reasonably expected that abortion was essentially banned as soon as the Dobbs decision was made available, and for practical purposes that’s correct. The difference at this point is that all of the darkly muttered threats about the vengeance that is to be unleashed will turn into action on that date. Whatever constraints there may still be now will be gone. As bad as it is now, it’s going to get worse. I’m sorry to have to say that.

As for the remaining clinics themselves, they’re thinking about what comes next for them as well.

A month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Texas’ two dozen abortion clinics are slowly coming to terms with a future where their work is virtually outlawed.

Some clinics have already announced that they are shutting down operations and moving to New Mexico and other states that are expected to protect abortion access. Others, including Planned Parenthood, say they will stay and continue to provide other sexual and reproductive health services.

But keeping the doors open will likely come at a high cost for these clinics — financially, politically and psychologically — as they absorb more patients with fewer options.

“It’s really hard to find words in the English language that honor what the experience has been like,” said Dr. Bhavik Kumar, medical director of primary and trans care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast in Houston. “It’s just devastation.”

Planned Parenthood will still be around, doing less than it has been able to do in the past. Whole Women’s Health is moving to New Mexico. Some others will stay, some others will leave. The devastation will increase. As I said before, that’s a feature and not a bug.

Uvalde school board asks for a special session on guns

They’re not going to get it, just like everyone else who has asked that Greg Abbott Do Something about them.

The Uvalde school board is formally urging Gov. Greg Abbott to call state lawmakers back to Austin so they can raise the legal age to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21, more than two months after a gunman used such a weapon to kill 19 elementary school students and two teachers days after he turned 18.

Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District trustees approved the largely symbolic resolution in a unanimous vote on the same night they voted to delay the start of the school year. Trustees moved the first day of school from Aug. 15 to Sept. 6 so that more security improvements can be made to campuses and district staffers can receive trauma-informed training.

Uvalde County commissioners have also asked Abbott, who in June asked the Texas Legislature to form special committees to make recommendations in the aftermath of the shooting, to call a special session to increase the legal age to buy an assault rifle. Democrats have made similar calls since the May 24 shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary. The governor is the only Texas official with the power to call special legislative sessions.

In an emailed response to The Texas Tribune, a spokesperson from Abbott’s office said the governor “has taken immediate action to address all aspects” of the massacre in Uvalde.

“As Governor Abbott has said from day one, all options remain on the table as he continues working with state and local leaders to prevent future tragedies and deploy all available resources to support the Uvalde community as they heal,” the spokesperson said. “More announcements are expected in the coming days and weeks as the legislature deliberates proposed solutions.”

The vote on both items comes more than a week after a Texas House report detailed a series of “systemic failures” that allowed for the gunman to enter Robb Elementary in Uvalde and remain inside two adjoined classrooms for more than 73 minutes before law enforcement confronted him.

See here for some background. Two things to note here. One is that Abbott’s canned response every time someone asks him to Do Something to prevent teenagers from legally buying high-powered automatic weapons that they use to kill children is basically “I already did, so leave me alone”. He doesn’t want to take action, or to commit to something that might lead to action, so he deflects and hopes no one notices.

Two, the otherwise pretty good House report did not have any specific policy recommendations, such as raising the minimum age for purchasing the aforementioned weapons to 21. One assumes they got some sense of direction if not from Abbott himself then from the official Republican position, which is almost certainly farther to the right than the consensus of the individual members. I mean, I wouldn’t expect there to be anything like a majority within the GOP caucus for raising the age to 21, but I would expect there to be more than enough support when combined with Dems to pass such a bill in the House. I’d also expect that to have at least plurality support among self-identified Republicans, though likely not among Republican primary voters. Which in the end is the group that matters here. The obvious answer, if this is what one wants, is to elect enough Dems to make it happen, at least in the House. I’d still expect it to die in the Senate, but at least we’d have it all on record.

One more thing:

At a school board meeting last week, Uvalde residents called for district officials to fire district police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was among the first officers to arrive at the school the day of the shooting. School board members were scheduled to discuss that Saturday, but the school district postponed the meeting at the request of the police chief’s lawyer.

See here and here for the background. I was hoping to see an update on when this might happen, but not yet. I’ll keep watching.