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December 6th, 2022:

LULAC files that lawsuit to end Houston City Council At Large districts

We’ve been waiting for this.

The League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday filed its long-anticipated lawsuit against the city of Houston, seeking to get rid of at-large City Council seats that it says leave Hispanic residents with insufficient representation at City Hall.

The group, one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, first announced plans to take legal action against the city in January.

While 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic, Robert Gallegos of District I is the only Hispanic person holding a seat on the 16-member body, even though the city previously created two other Hispanic-opportunity districts, H and J.

The federal lawsuit aims to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats dedicated to certain geographic areas. Houston’s current election system has created barriers to Hispanic representation and deprived hundreds of thousands of minority Houstonians of their voting rights guaranteed by law, the complaint says.

“The Latino voters of Houston have waited for fair redistricting plans. They have waited for years for the city of Houston to end its long relationship with ‘at-large’ districts that dilute the electoral strength of Hispanics,” the lawsuit says. “The time has come to replace this old election system that functions solely to dilute the power of Houston’s Latino voters.”

Houston City Council was comprised of all at-large positions until 1980, when it switched to a mix of district seats and five at-large seats. The change led to more diverse council bodies and better representation of minority voters, according to the complaint. Still, only four with Spanish surnames have been elected to one of the five at-large districts since then because Latino-preferred candidates rarely do well in citywide races, it says.

While many local Latino candidates also face other challenges, such as a lack of resources, the council structure remains a major hurdle for them, according to Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor in political science at University of Houston.

“When you look into political science literature, you’ll find that at-large seats tend to decrease the likelihood for minority candidates to win an election,” he said.

It is, however, not sufficient to simply look at the absence of Latino city council members, Cortina said. To substantiate LULAC’s claim that Houston is in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the organization would have to prove that Latino Houstonians have been acting as a cohesive voting bloc but unable to elect a candidate of their choice.

“It would take a lot of time and a lot of data,” Cortina said. “But the fact is that Latinos have been running and Latinos are not winning these elections.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. I’ve said all I have to say in that first link. Whatever happens with this lawsuit happens, and I’ll be fine with it. Courts have ordered cities like Pasadena and Farmers Branch to incorporate City Council districts in recent years, but those places began with all-At Large systems, and they were much more clearly discriminatory in my opinion. They were also decided in a time before SCOTUS went all in on destroying the Voting Rights Act. This could go either way, and I’ll be surprised if there is a temporary restraining order in place to block the use of the current Council map for the 2023 election. After that, we’ll see. The Trib has more.

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.

A non-prescription pill

This sounds like a good idea.

If you’re one of the estimated 10 million people in the United States taking oral contraception, you probably needed a prescription to get it. But that could soon change: In July, a Paris-based company, HRA Pharma, announced it asked the US Food and Drug Administration for permission to sell its progestin-only birth control pill over the counter. For the first time since its approval in 1960, the Pill may be available with no requirement to consult a health care professional—a significant hurdle for those most in need of the medication.

The US wouldn’t be the first country to #FreeThePill; in fact, oral contraceptives are available without a prescription in more than 100 countries. That’s because the Pill is nearly 100 percent effective when taken regularly, and safe for most people. Blood clots, a risk associated with the drug, are serious, but rare in today’s formulations: Every year, between one and five out of 10,000 women who are not on hormonal birth control or pregnant experience a blood clot; for people on the combination (estrogen and progestin) pill, the risk rises to between three and nine out of 10,000 people. And there’s no increased risk of clots for those on a progestin-only pill. In recent years, dozens of US medical organizations have declared support for a nonprescription pill, and an overwhelming majority of voters appear to be in favor of making the change.

[…]

An FDA approval would be a “step forward,” California Latinas for Reproductive Justice Communications Director Susy Chávez Herrera says, “in terms of expanding health care access, and folks in our community having bodily autonomy.”

A decision from the FDA is likely several months away: A panel of independent experts was set to meet on November 18 to discuss HRA Pharma’s proposal, but the meeting was postponed, reportedly to accommodate more data. Now, the agency is expected to weigh in on over-the-counter birth control sometime next year.

In any case, the fight for access won’t end at the pharmacy. For one, the FDA typically only considers one product at a time; a green light for HRA Pharma’s pill won’t automatically free up other options. (So far, just one other company, Cadence Health, has said it plans to ask the FDA for approval to sell its combination pill over the counter, but has yet to complete the necessary research trials.) And just because a drug is available doesn’t mean it will be affordable. “Having the FDA approve an over-the-counter birth control pill would be a huge win,” Chávez Herrera says, “but it would not be complete if it was not accessible to the people that really need it.”

Research underscores the need to keep costs low. A 2018 study from Ibis found that generally, adults are willing to pay up to $15 for a one-month supply. “If the price goes up much more than that,” says Daniel Grossman, a professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, and an author of the study, “then interest really kind of bottoms out.” When I asked HRA Pharma how much its pill would cost, their Chief Strategic Operations and Innovation Officer Frederique Welgryn told me in an emailed statement that the company would “set an acceptable price tested with consumers” and is working on developing a financial assistance program.

I’m in favor of anything that increasing reproductive freedom and gives women more control over their lives. I feel confident that the forced birth fanatics will fight back, via state laws that put restrictions on pill access and lawsuits that seek out friendly judges, but that’s a fight we should be willing to have. Whether this would blunt their already ongoing environmental attack is not known to me. Be that as it may, the important thing is finding ways to move the ball forward in whatever way we can.