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April 30th, 2021:

Poll shows opposition to the extreme anti-abortion bills in the Lege

From the inbox:

Today, the Trust Respect Access coalition is releasing data from polling on abortion laws and anti-abortion bills in the Texas Legislature. The poll includes approval ratings as well as opinions on legislative priorities and House Bill 1515/Senate Bill 8, companion bills that would ban abortion at six weeks gestation, before many people even know that they are pregnant. HB 1515/SB 8 would also allow anyone to sue an abortion provider or anyone who helps someone obtain an abortion.

The poll jointly commissioned by Trust Respect Access partners offers insights by Texans from across the political spectrum. The following are key findings:

Across the political spectrum, Texans are united against extreme proposals

A majority of all respondents – including a majority of ideological subgroups – are opposed to anti-abortion measures currently being considered in the Texas Legislature. These unpopular proposals include HB 1515/SB 8, a six-week abortion ban that would allow out-of-state people to sue Texans who help someone access abortion. HB 1515/SB 8 also includes a “rapist rights” provision that would allow rapists to sue a doctor who performs an abortion on their victim.

It is worth noting that it is rare to see Trump voters, Democrats, and Independents on the same side of an issue – this survey shows that the combined opposition transcends ideology.

“Texans from across the political spectrum are categorically rejecting these extreme anti-abortion measures,” said Diana Gómez, advocacy manager at Progress Texas. “Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land, but extremist politicians are hoping to challenge existing law with dangerous bills like HB 1515 and SB 8. Not only would these bills ban abortion before most people know they’re pregnant, but they would allow for anyone to enforce the rule, meaning a rapist could sue their victim’s doctor and reap a cash reward. Texans deserve better than these attacks on our rights. If passed, these laws would be some of the most extreme abortion restrictions in the country. Texans want our legislators to protect access to essential health care, and that includes abortion.”

Double-digit opposition

Texans have differing ideologies and opinions, but when it comes to the anti-abortion measures currently under consideration at the Legislature, voters expressed opposition by wide margins. In the bipartisan survey, only 33% of respondents identified as Democrats while 68% identified as a Republican or Independent. Even so, the poll found the combined opinions as follows:

Measure to ban abortion: 51% oppose, 36% favor, 12% not sure
Out-of-state lawsuits: 63% oppose, 19% favor, 18% not sure
“Rapists rights”: 76% oppose, 12% favor, 13% unsure
Carrying non-viable pregnancies to term: 64% oppose, 20% favor, 15% unsure

“These polling results reveal that Texans overwhelmingly reject extreme anti-abortion bills,” said Caroline Duble, political director at Avow. “HB 1515/SB 8 is so egregious that it allows ‘any person,’ Texan or not, to sue another person for providing abortion care or helping someone access abortion care. This means that a neighbor could sue a mother for driving their child to an abortion procedure, or a classmate could be sued for giving a friend $20 to help pay for an abortion. The bill is written so broadly that it would even allow rapists to sue their victim’s doctors and loved ones — something that 76% of Texans from across the political spectrum oppose.”

Misplaced priorities by the Legislature

When asked what they think the number one priority should be for the Legislature, the top issue voters chose was ensuring a stable energy grid. That was followed by public schools and healthcare (covid response, hospitals, and vaccines). Texans do not believe that abortion should be a top priority in the Legislature.

“The evidence is loud and clear, Texans want access to safe abortion care,” said Carisa Lopez, policy director for Texas Freedom Network. “For years, data consistently shows that people all over Texas from all-sides of the political spectrum don’t want additional barriers to safe reproductive health care. Legislators need to align themselves with the priorities of the voters who gave them their seat at the legislature. If not, they won’t have that seat for long.”

To emphasize just how distant abortion restrictions are from Texans’ minds, when asked what the Legislature’s top priority should be, 17% responded “not sure” whereas only 10% said abortion regulations. Getting outranked by “not sure” is not good in any poll.

“By trying to ban abortion in Texas, the Legislature is pandering to anti-abortion extremists and ignoring the will of the majority of Texans,” said Drucilla Tigner, Policy & Adocacy Strategist, ACLU of Texas. “Most Texans want our leaders to focus on the real issues they face every day and are tired of elected leaders playing political games. Instead of insisting on banning abortion, the Texas Government should focus on trying to keep the lights on for everyone.”

Black and Brown voters continue leading the way in progress on reproductive rights

When breaking down responses to the poll by race, there is more support for abortion rights and a greater opposition to restrictions amongst Black and Brown Texans in many of the questions.

63% of Hispanic/Latino respondents and 58% of Black respondents say abortion laws should be less restrictive or stay the same, compared to 49% of white respondents. 60% of both Hispanic/Latino voters and Black voters also oppose HB 1515/SB 8’s measure banning abortion compared to 46% of white voters.

“Abortion restrictions disproportionately harm Black Texans and other Texans of color, folks in rural communities and those with lower incomes. Texas legislators are fixated on advancing their political interests rather than fighting for the will of the people,” said Marsha Jones, executive director at The Afiya Center. “Texans want access to safe abortion care and the polls show Texans reject harmful anti-abortion bills like HB 1515/SB 8. This political grandstanding continues to put lives at risk and the weird obsession with the relentless attempts to deny bodily autonomy and healthcare harms the state’s most marginalized populations, especially Black women. If Texas legislators want to focus on abortion legislation, let it be only to ensure the safety of those seeking abortions and increase opportunities for quality care.”

Voters want the state to move on from this issue

By a combined total of 54%, voters say that Texas abortion laws should stay the same or be less restrictive, while only 33% are interested in more restrictions. This is consistent with findings from a Progress Texas poll in March that showed that 52% of Texans generally support abortion rights. If conservatives aren’t listening to the will of the voters, exactly who are they listening to?

“Pushing forward the most extreme abortion bans in the country is a purely political move that is not supported by the majority of Texans,” said Dyana Limon-Mercado, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. “These bills are part of a nationwide, extremist strategy to ban abortion by pushing access to care completely out of reach. HB 1515/SB 8 would outright ban abortion at six weeks — before many Texans even know they are pregnant — with no exceptions. For decades, politicians who have created medically unnecessary barriers to abortion access have simultaneously ignored the real health needs of every day Texans, such as Medicaid expansion, providing COVID-19 relief or addressing Black maternal mortality.”

Poll results: Full poll results including questions, responses, and crosstabs

The survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling from April 23-24, evenly divided between landline and text message, and includes responses from 593 registered Texas voters with a +/- 4% margin of error.

About Trust Respect Access The Trust Respect Access coalition envisions a Texas where everyone — regardless of their age, income, zip code, gender identity, immigration status, or whether they are incarcerated or detained — has access to all reproductive health care options including abortion.

The coalition includes: ACLU of Texas, The Afiya Center, Avow, Counter Balance, Deeds Not Words, Fund Texas Choice, Jane’s Due Process, Lilith Fund, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, Progress Texas, Texas Equal Access Fund, Texas Freedom Network, West Fund, Whole Woman’s Health, Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, Dr. Bhavik Kumar, and Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi.

You can see the polling data here. The sample seems reasonable – they reported voting 51-45 for Trump over Biden, and they give Biden a 43/48 approve/disapprove mark. The first abortion-related question asked was “Generally speaking, do you think that laws regarding abortion access in Texas should be more restrictive, less restrictive, or kept the same as current state law?”, and “more restrictive” was the plurality choice, with 33% picking that answer, to 31% for “less restrictive” and 23% for “kept the same”.

We have discussed before the challenges in polling about abortion – while basic attitudes towards Roe v Wade have been remarkably stable over time, you can get a lot of variance in polls by how questions are worded, and people can give answers that may appear to be contradictory. The questions in this poll accurately reflect what is in the bills that have been put forth, and I think the numbers are also an accurate reflection, but it’s important to remember two things. One is that in real life, the side that favors these bills gets a chance to describe them in terms they believe are more accurate (and thus favorable to them), and that will have an effect on how people perceive them. Two, even if people do ultimately reject the premise of these bills even after they are fully informed, that doesn’t mean they’ll vote in a manner that is consistent with that belief. People can and do put a higher priority on other things. Making them care enough about your thing, enough to change their voting behavior, is a tall, tall task.

I say this not to be a bummer, but to be a realist, and believe it or not to be a bit of an optimist for the longer term. The realist says that just because we may have opinion on our side on this issue doesn’t mean we’ll win the next election because of it. It’s more complicated than that, and while there are definitely people we can sway with this kind of argument, we need to be attuned to what is of higher value to them as well. There are two pieces of good news to accompany that. One is that public opinion is on our side of some other hot button issues, like permitless carry and voting restrictions and Medicaid expansion, so we have plenty of options to sway the folks who need to be swayed. The other is that once Democrats do have power in Texas, they can and should feel free to repeal these laws in bulk, for the same reason why the Republicans feel empowered to pass them: For the most part, it’s not what the voters will act on when they next express their preferences. We already know that to be true, and I expect it will still be true when we are in a position to act on it.

Houston police reform items announced

It’s a start.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday unveiled a sweeping effort to reform policing in Houston by banning no-knock warrants for non-violent offenses, restructuring the police oversight board, publicly releasing body camera footage when officers injure or kill residents, expanding diversion programs and allowing online and anonymous complaints against officers.

The reform package, which Turner outlined at a City Hall press conference with Police Chief Troy Finner and other city officials, comes nearly 11 months after the mayor appointed a task force to explore changes the city should make after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The group published a lengthy report last September that recommended 104 reforms to policing in Houston. Turner at the time said he supported “almost all” of the measures.

The city made more modest changes before and after it unveiled the report, such as an executive order curbing certain uses of force, “safe harbor” court to provide alternatives to jail for people who cannot afford to pay fines, and joining a cite-and-release program that gives citations instead of arrests for certain nonviolent crimes.

The slow pace in addressing big-ticket items, though, frustrated advocates looking for more immediate reforms. Turner sought to change that Thursday, addressing many of the central recommendations in the task force’s report. He said the city now has implemented more than half its suggestions.

Among the changes: a dashboard to track police misconduct and encounters while also accepting anonymous complaints; a revamped oversight board with full-time investigative staff; the ban on no-knock warrants, one of which resulted in two civilian deaths and unearthed a major scandal for Houston police; and the public release of body camera footage within 30 days of critical incidents.

The online complaint form, available in five languages, and data dashboards will be available by the end of May, Turner said. It will allow for anonymous complaints, which advocates have said is critical.

Scott Henson, executive director of justice reform nonprofit Just Liberty, said a similar change had a profound impact in Austin, where officers began anonymously reporting each other for infractions.

[…]

Turner also said he will use more than $25 million in federal pandemic relief dollars over three years to expand diversion programs, a key victory for some advocates who had called for the city to add mental health counselors to police responding to certain calls, or replace them altogether.

The diversion programs include Crisis Call Diversion, which directs certain 911 calls to mental health professionals with the goal of resolving an incident without a police response; Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams, which dispatch mental health professionals without law enforcement; and Crisis Intervention Response Teams, which pair a mental health counselor with a police officer.

The mayor said the city will expand the call diversion program to around-the-clock coverage, at an annual cost of $272,140, and hire 18 new mobile crisis outreach teams at a cost of $4.3 million per year, as the task force recommended.

While the report called for 24 new crisis intervention teams, the city will hire six new teams to add to the current staff of 12, among other efforts.

“We do ask our police officers to do way too much, and put them in some very precarious situations where the outcomes sometimes are not positive,” Turner said.

See here for the previous update. Overall, this seems pretty good, and the announcement drew praise from CMs Letitia Plummer and Tarsha Jackson, who are among the leaders in pushing for reforms on City Council. Some advocates were more muted, but at least no one was quoted in the story with harsh criticism. It’s still early days, so we’ll see about that. The next step is in the implementation, which will be another measure of the commitment from the city, as well as an indication of if we’re going in the right direction and at the right pace. It’s a good start, now we need to take the next steps. The Press has more.

On the topic of criminal justice reform, there were also a couple of items of interest from the Lege. First, the George Floyd Act passed the House.

The Texas House on Thursday quickly gave preliminary approval to three police reform measures that are part of a sweeping set of legislation following the in-custody murder of George Floyd last year.

The bills would require Texas law enforcement agencies to implement more uniform and substantive disciplinary actions for officer misconduct, bar officers from arresting people for fine-only traffic offenses and require corroboration of undercover officer testimony.

State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, lead author of the bills and the omnibus George Floyd Act, said the disciplinary measure was about fairness and accountability.

“The bill is by no means a cookie cutter process,” said Thompson, D-Houston. “Every case of officers’ misconduct is different. But so are other crimes in this state.”

The approved measures will head to the more conservative Senate after a final vote in the House. The upper chamber has also passed targeted pieces of Texas’ George Floyd Act — though only those that are also supported by police unions. The measure on officer discipline is strongly opposed by major police unions.

See here for some background. I am cautiously optimistic, but with the Senate working to pass permitless carry over the objections of law enforcement, I fear they’ll aim to appease them by watering down this bill. We’ll see.

Also from the Lege: Smaller penalties for pot possession passes the House.

The Texas House preliminarily approved a bill that would lower the criminal penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana and provide a path for many Texans charged with such a crime to expunge it from their criminal records. The bill applies to possession of one ounce or less — approximately two dime bags.

Currently in Texas, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, which can be punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. House Bill 441, authored by state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, would reduce possession of one ounce or less to a Class C misdemeanor, which carries no jail time. Police also wouldn’t be allowed to make arrests for possession at or under an ounce.

In a committee hearing, Zwiener said the language had been worked on with Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and praised the “bipartisan conversation” over reducing possession penalties. The House passed a similar measure two years ago, but Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick opposed it and quickly declared it dead in the upper chamber. Patrick’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

I continue to believe that no measure of marijuana decriminalization will pass the Lege as long as Dan Patrick is in a position of power. I will be happy to be proven wrong about that.

No charges files in Capitol date rape drug incident

A not very satisfying resolution.

The Texas Department of Public Safety and Travis County District Attorney’s Office said Thursday “that there is not enough evidence to support” an allegation that a lobbyist used a date rape drug on a Capitol staffer and that “no crime occurred in this instance.”

“DPS has conducted a thorough investigation following allegations of drugging of a Capitol staffer by a lobbyist,” the joint statement said. “Together, we have concluded that … criminal charges are not appropriate.”

The statement did not name the lobbyist, and officials have not offered further details — including the names of anyone allegedly involved — since DPS confirmed it was investigating the allegation, as first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.

Earlier this week though, after DPS confirmed it was investigating the allegation, Bill Miller, a co-founder of the prominent Austin-based HillCo Partners, told The Texas Tribune that one of its employees was “a person of interest” in the investigation.

In a statement after Thursday’s news, Miller said that neither the firm nor the employee “had absolutely anything to do with the” allegation and said “DPS found we are completely clear of any and all wrongdoing.”

“The announcement today confirms our own internal investigation into the issue,” Miller said. “We commend law enforcement for a forceful and swift investigation into this serious matter.

After news of the investigation surfaced Saturday, state lawmakers, staffers and other Capitol observers expressed outrage, with many House members declaring that they planned to ban from their offices any lobbyist or lobby firm associated with the accusation. By Sunday, Buddy Jones, another co-founder of HillCo told state lawmakers in an email that the group had hired outside legal counsel and “a respected former law enforcement official” to launch an investigation into the matter.

Meanwhile, Austin lawyers David and Perry Minton, who said earlier this week they were representing a person” purportedly being looked into” for the investigation, said in a statement Thursday that the allegation was “100% false.”

“It is our opinion that the individual or individuals involved in this outrages and immoral scheme [of making the allegation] should be held accountable by their employers and then prosecuted by our new district attorney,” the two said.

See here and here for the background. You can see the full statement here. Saying there’s not enough evidence to support the allegations is not the same as saying that nothing bad happened – to say “no crime occurred” is a tautology, since that is exactly what it means to not bring charges. We have due process for a reason, and this is the result. Maybe nothing did happen, or at least nothing that was ill-intentioned. Maybe it was too late for a drug test to render a judgment, since rohypnol metabolizes quickly. Maybe this was just another powerful guy getting away with it. We’ll never know for sure. If the lobbyist in question, whose name has been released by one right wing website, is innocent then this really sucks for him, since this incident will always follow him around. It’s going to suck even more for the woman who made the allegation, especially if it was true.

Putting all that aside, and putting aside the bills that have been filed to try to do something about sexual harassment and sexual assault at the Capitol, the one thing that seems clear is that little to nothing will change from a cultural perspective. Women aren’t going to be any more respected or valued at the Capitol, and the men who have been at the forefront of creating the hostile environment they work in – as well as the men and women who enable that environment – will not be held accountable. It’s aggravating, and I say that as a dude who has never been in a remotely similar position. My thoughts are with the woman who made the report, and with everyone who has ever gone through something like that. The Chron has more.

Alcohol to go passes both chambers

Off to get a signature.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday passed a measure to permanently allow Texans to purchase alcohol to-go from restaurants, advancing a shared goal of Gov. Greg Abbott and restaurateurs.

House Bill 1024which cleared the lower chamber last month, would allow beer, wine and mixed drinks to be included in pickup and delivery food orders, securing a revenue stream made available to restaurants in the last year during the pandemic intended to help those businesses when they closed their dining areas.

The Senate approved the legislation, filed by Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren, a restaurant owner in Fort Worth, in a 30-1 vote. The measure now heads to Abbott’s desk.

Abbott signed a waiver in March last year to allow to-go alcohol sales. The waiver was originally to last until May 2020, but it was extended indefinitely. As lawmakers began their work during the current legislative session, expanding Texans’ access to booze picked up bipartisan support.

“Making tools for alcohol-to-go permanent will accelerate the industry’s recovery, supporting thousands of jobs and small businesses along the way,” said state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, laying out the bill Wednesday. “Once this provision was placed in through the pandemic, we saw restaurants that were closed down, open back up.”

See here for the background. Not much to say that I haven’t already said. It’s just nice to see at least one positive bill come out of the dumpster fire that is this session.