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June 24th, 2013:

Two contradictory polls about abortion

The UT/Texas Trib poll painted a not-so-rosy picture for reproductive choice in Texas.

Texas voters remain split on the permissibility of abortion but favor banning the procedure after 20 weeks of a pregnancy, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The survey also found a divergence of opinion about public schools: Voters with school-age children give schools much better ratings than all voters as a group.

The divide on abortion — evident in past UT/TT polls — persists. Forty-six percent of Texas voters say it should never be permitted or permitted only in cases involving incest, rape or when the woman’s life is in danger. On the other hand, 49 percent say it should be allowed after the need for an abortion has been clearly established, or that the choice should be completely left to the woman. Within those numbers, 16 percent said abortion should never be allowed, and 36 percent said that a woman should always be able to get an abortion as a matter of personal choice.

Laws restricting abortion should be stricter, according to 38 percent of the respondents, while 26 percent said the laws should be less strict and 21 percent said they should be left as they are now.

“What you see is what you would expect in a relatively red state,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s a slight pro-life lean. It’s probably pushed a little bit because of the question about late-term abortions.”

The poll split a question about abortions after 20 weeks — an effort to see whether talking in the context of fetal pain changed the responses of Texas voters. It didn’t: 62 percent said they would support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks based on the argument that a fetus can feel pain at that point,” and that same percentage said they support “prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks.” Nearly half — 49 percent in the first question and 47 percent in the second — said they would strongly support those prohibitions.

“In terms of substantive policy, most of this is not particularly right-wing,” Shaw said. “Maybe the abortion stuff. These are abortion positions that are actually not strongly opposed — there is a 2-to-1 preference for that.”

I would dispute Daron Shaw’s assertion that the question about laws restricting abortion have a pro-life lean. I mean, by a 47-38 margin, respondents said that the laws did not need to be any more restrictive. For that matter, a 49-46 plurality expressed a preference for abortion to be available as needed. (I have no idea what “once a clear need has been established” means; it’s not a phrasing option I’ve ever seen before. I see nothing wrong with interpreting it to mean something like “once a woman has consulted her doctor” or something similarly mush-mouthed.) For a “red state” like Texas, that’s not too shabby.

It’s the question about banning abortions at 20 weeks that stands out. You would think that if 47% of respondents said abortion laws should be either left as is or made less strict there wouldn’t be room for 62% of respondents to support this extreme new restriction. That brings us to our other poll, from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, and it also offers a lesson in why question wording matters.

Major findings include:

  • Nearly three quarters of voters (74 percent) in the state say personal, private medical decisions about whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by politicians; just 19 percent of voters think government has a right and an obligation to pass restrictions on abortion. Support for a woman’s ability to make decisions on abortion for herself is both broad and deep, including among Independents (76 percent) and Republicans (61 percent).
  • Fifty-two percent of Texas voters think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 39 percent who say it should be illegal in all or most cases. Even among those who think abortion should be illegal, a majority (51 percent) believe that personal, private medical decisions about whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor, not by politicians.
  • Eight in ten voters agree that the special session should be focused on issues like “education, jobs, and economy instead of bringing up social issues like abortion”; 71 percent think that the Governor and the legislature should spend less time passing laws restricting abortion. Again, both Independent and Republican voters share this view.
  • Overall, a majority (51 percent) oppose the current legislation in the legislature, which “would place new restrictions and regulation on abortion providers that would likely result in the closure of all but five abortion clinics in the state of Texas, all of which are located along the I-35 corridor and would ban most abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
  • While voters are split on whether or not women’s access to healthcare is being threatened in the state (43 percent each threatened and not threatened), 57 percent do not trust the Governor or the legislature to make decisions about women’s healthcare.
  • In sum, this legislation is not a reflection of any voter sentiment that this is an important issue for the Governor and legislature to take up or any desire for further restrictions on abortion. Indeed, a majority opposes this legislation, being devised by politicians they do not particularly trust on women’s health issues.

You can see GQRR’s questions and the percentages here. The penultimate question above is asking about the same legislation as the UT/TT poll, but it gets majority disapproval. The GQRR question highlights the likely practical effect of the legislation, while the UT/TT question echoes the (medically highly dubious) claim about fetal pain. One mirrors the Democratic position, the other the Republican position. Question wording matters, y’all. By the way, the GQRR sample seems to be perfectly plausible – 50% GOP, 37% Dem; 46% conservative, 33% moderate, 15% liberal. All things considered, given the percentages on the first two UT/TT poll questions, it’s hard to conclude that the people are crying out for the abortion legislation currently under consideration in the House.

That of course is a matter to be settled on the playing field. Ultimately, Dems are just going to have to win more elections. I hope that the huge crowd that turned out to testify against the House bill can serve as a catalyst for action in 2014 and beyond, and I hope that the national vote on a 20-week ban that took place at about the same time galvanizes people, too. The pro-choice position is certainly capable of persuading people. We need for that to translate into results.

More on the rejected Dome ideas

The Chron pays some attention to the 19 ideas that were submitted to the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation for what to do with the Astrodome.

Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports and Convention Corp., said much of the plan it outlined features ideas and suggestions from 19 proposals it got from the public.

However, Loston said many of the pitches were not sophisticated. Most were for various types of museums. There were also suggestions for – naturally – shopping centers. Indoor recreation areas were popular, as well.

Ideas for amusement parks were thrown about, as was one for an indoor water park. The least sexy ideas apparently came from transportation hawks who wanted the iconic stadium turned into a transit station.

“The great majority of these are from citizens who were concerned and not in the business of making financial or formal proposals,” Loston said. He added that the submissions, with the exception of a couple, did not mention realistic or specific financing options.

“A lot would say things like, ‘The public ought to be willing …’ or ‘We could find someone who can … ‘” Loston said. “There were more ideas of how to use the building, not ideas of how to pay for it.”

[…]

Developer John Tuschman said he and his partners were among the 19 groups to submit plans to the county. He said he was disappointed that Loston dismissed what he said was a detailed financial plan.

Tuschman’s group proposed converting the space into a multipurpose center complete with a movie theater, a hotel and several sports museums. Their plan also called for a Texas dance floor with an “infinity pool” surrounded by waterfalls in the center of the ground floor.

Tuschman hopes to work with the sports corporation to meld some of his group’s ideas into the final proposal. He believes the county plan “lacks a focal point,” which he thinks could be a sports museum.

“Their concept fits into our concept,” Tuschman said. “We want to make Houston the capital of the world.”

You can see a bit more about some of the 19 plans here. It’s just stadium designs, no details or business plans, so I can’t evaluate Tuschman’s claim. As it happens, I’m going to be interviewing Willie Loston later today, so I’ll get a chance to ask about that. If there’s anything you’d like for me to ask him about the New Dome Experience, leave a comment or drop me a note.

Last redistricting bill passes Senate, House debates abortion bills

It was destiny.

The Texas Senate on Sunday wrapped up final redistricting loose ends by concurring with changes made by the House to political boundaries for the lower chamber.

In an 18-11 vote, the Senate signed off on a series of small tweaks to the House maps — changes that swap a couple of precincts in Dallas, Webb and Harris counties.

[…]

Bills outlining state Senate and congressional maps were approved by both chambers with no changes. Only the proposal containing the House maps underwent minute tweaks.

All three bills now await Perry’s signature. Democrats have said they plan to challenge in the court the maps the Legislature passed during the special session on the basis that they still discriminate against minority voters.

Greg fills in a few details. The main show for Sunday of course was the anti-abortion bills, but other items were on the calendar before it. The order of business itself caused outrage and a point of order, but things resumed in the evening. The Trib covered that on a blow-by-blow basis. As of the time that I called it a night, amendments were being filed and fought over on SB5. As that bill has passed the Senate, if the House passes it unchanged it can go straight to Rick Perry for a signature. If it gets amended, the Senate has to concur; there won’t be time for a conference committee. The House may try to pass some of its own bills, which would be one way of resurrecting the 20-week prohibition, but with the session ending Tuesday and the rules requiring a 24-hour wait before the Senate could take up any such bills, Democrats would have a good chance to kill them via filibuster, to run out the clock. Of course, there could then be a second special session. We won’t know what happens until very late, so I’ll update this after I wake up and see what ultimately transpired. Assuming they’re finished by the, of course. BOR and RH Reality Check have more.

UPDATE: Sometime around 3:30 AM, SB5 was brought to a vote and passed. From TrailBlazers:

With a sweeping 97-33, the House voted to tentatively pass the Senate’s catch-all abortion bill largely along party lines after 13.5 hours of debates, parliamentary inquiries and stalling. Instant cheers and jeers exploded on the floor and in the gallery where people have been waiting for a vote since 2 p.m.

While applause rang out among conservatives, the shouts of “Shame” were much louder and many in the gallery were escorted out. In her speech, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said the war on women was alive and called SB 5 the second missile fired by Gov. Rick Perry this year.

Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, brought up at 2 a.m. a motion to halt the overall debate on SB 5. It required 25 signatures — he had 40. About 16 amendments went unheard because of the motion.

“Anyone who has been here for the last several hours would not describe this as being rushed by any means,” Hughes said. “The people of Texas expect us to take a position on this bill, pro or con. We’re still miles before we sleep.”

Many Democrats were missing from the chamber when the House moved on to debate the juvenile justice bill.

Outside the doors, Rep. Chris Turner, D-Arlington, commanded a stairwell full of opponents to the bill.

“Your being here says that the people who come to Austin who are elected officials have to be held accountable and I know you will hold people accountable in the next election,”Turner said “I’ve never ever seen this kind of outpouring on a Sunday afternoon, Sunday night, early Monday morning in late June.”

It now requires a final vote from the House before going over to the Senate, which will more than likely accept the 20-week ban provision and put it up for a vote. Senate Democrats have said they are ready to use whatever tools they can under the law to prevent the bill’s passage.

“If this issue was so important, then it deserves the right — when people come from across this state when they sign up — for every one of them to be heard, to have their say, to stay all night and listen to everyone of our constituents from across the state,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, to loud applause from the 100 or so orange shirts still in the gallery.

“All of a sudden to make somebody else’s agenda, we’re doing everything we can to rush through this process,” he said. “If one has the majority that doesn’t mean they should exercise the majority with an arrogance of power.”

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, who had been missing from the front microphone since around 11:50 p.m., came up around 3:20 a.m. to close on her bill. By not debating and instead asking the chair to make motions to table amendments, Republicans saved about 10 minutes per amendment.

The House is in recess until 6:46 AM, which is the earliest that it can reconvene after adjourning at 4:46, at which point it will need to pass SB5 on third reading. Once that has been done, it must go back to the Senate for a vote to accept the 20-week “fetal pain” provision. From the Trib:

To reach the Governor before the special ends, the House must approve SB 5 on third reading on Monday, as the Senate must wait 24 hours to layout the legislation and confirm the changes to the legislation approved by the House. The longer the bill has in the Senate, the longer a Democratic senator would have to filibuster the bill to prevent its passage.

So there’s still some hope, but remember that a second special session is always an option. Just as was the case with putting this crap on the call for this session, it’s entirely up to Rick Perry. I have a hard time believing he will allow this to fail by missing the deadline. My deep appreciation to everyone who showed up to fight against this atrocity, even if you did make poor widdle Rep. Jonathan Stickland wet his pants with fear at having to face people who don’t agree with him. Now let’s channel this energy into 2014. PDiddie, who stayed awake till the bitter end, has more.

UPDATE: There was actually one more thing accomplished last night. From the Trib, same link as before:

With a vote of 86-17 and two present not voting, the House tentatively approved Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would ask voters to approve amending the state constitution to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to the State Highway Fund. It is estimated to raise close $1 billion a year for road construction and maintenance.

“This will not solve the problem, this is a start to solve the problem,” said state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, the sponsor of SJR 2.

Perry added transportation funding to the special session call after efforts to find extra money for the Texas Department of Transportation failed in the regular session. TxDOT has said it needs an additional $4 billion a year just to maintain current congestion levels.

An amendment by state Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving, was added to the bill. It would devote one-third of the growth in motor vehicle sales taxes to the transportation fund.

Critics of the measure have noted, among other things, that the revenue will dry up whenever the current oil drilling boom ends. Phillips added a “perfecting amendment” to ensure the money was not used for toll roads and to make the balance needed in the Rainy Day Fund a floating target instead of a fixed $6 billion.

I presume this has to go back to the Senate as well, so unless it is taken up before SB5, it too would be vulnerable to a filibuster.

UPDATE: Via Michael Li on Facebook, a reminder that to the likes of Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, “pro-life” means what she says it means, no more, no less.

A priceless exchange occurred between Harper-Brown cohort Jodie Laubenberg of Rockwall and Dallas Dem Rafael Anchia. Laubenberg proposed to enforce a three-month waiting period before expectant mothers could begin receiving prenatal and perinatal care under CHIP. Anchia pointed out that the eligibility change would kick nearly 100,000 children out of the CHIP program. “That is absolutely untrue!” Laubenberg shot back, proving her point by waving a sheet of paper. Then again, “That is absolutely untrue!”

“You know,” Anchia replied, “I can hear you yelling, but just because you yelled, it doesn’t make it true.” Anchía pointed out the consequences of denying health care to the unborn. “You do know, don’t you, that these are U.S. citizens?”

“But they’re not born yet,” Laubenberg, a “family values” conservative, retorted. Dukes, standing behind Anchia at the back mic, whipped her head around in a shocked double take. Anchia, smelling blood, observed, “You have an anti-life amendment,” which set Laubenberg off on a loud tirade in which she claimed to be the most pro-life member of the House.

Yeah.

Patrick versus Ratliff

TFN Insider:

Texas State Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, has already made clear his disgust over the political witch hunt that forced the state’s Education Service Centers to stop writing lesson plans in their CSCOPE curriculum management system. In May, for example, he tore into Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, for his role in those attacks on CSCOPE, which hundreds of Texas school districts have been using. Now Ratliff has written another scathing piece, this time about Patrick’s efforts to bully and harass teachers into not using CSCOPE lessons that have already been created.

This is a “must read.” Ratliff isn’t pulling any punches. (Links, italics, boldface and underlining in original.)

Go click over and read. To say the least, Ratliff isn’t kidding around. As for Dan Patrick, he’s now best buddies with John Carona and Tommy Williams in addition to Ratliff. One more like that and I believe he gets to be promoted to “arch-nemesis”. On a slightly more serious note, if you go back and watch that Trib video discussion of the Texas Monthly Ten Best/Ten Worst list, this is why Patrick landed on the Worst list despite an objectively impressive array of legislative accomplishments. He was able to get stuff done, but alienated a lot of people along the way. The TM criteria for inclusion on these lists is certainly open to debate, but if you accept their premise then the conclusion readily follows. TFN Insider link via Hair Balls.