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March 19th, 2012:

Interview with Rep. Garnet Coleman

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

State Rep. Garnet Coleman is one of my favorite people in the Legislature. He’s one of the most knowledgeable members in the House on matters relating to health care policy, and he’s a leader on a wide range of issues where leadership is always needed – civil rights, women’s health, reproductive freedom, marriage equality, voting rights, the list goes on and on. He has served for a number of years now as the Chair of the Legislative Study Group, which every session provides the best and most comprehensive analysis of the bills that the Lege takes up. It’s always a pleasure to talk to him.

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Why no ID?

Grits asks an interesting question.

Why do so many adult Texans lack ID? In part because 2 million drivers have had their drivers licenses revoked because of nonpayment of the Driver Responsibility Surcharge, which readers will recall is a stiff civil penalty tacked on top of any fines, punishments or court costs stemming from certain traffic offenses, including  driving without a license, driving without insurance, “point” accumulation, and DWI. Of those, around 1.2 million have not had their licenses reinstated, which would explain why so many voters may have had a DL number when they registered to vote but don’t now. If 2.4 million Texas voters lack state ID, and all but 800,000 had IDs when they registered, then the Driver Responsibility Surcharge could account for as much as three-quarters (1.2 out of 1.6 million) of those who had ID when they registered to vote but do not today.

I’d love to see the state run another matching program to find out how many voters without a current ID have defaulted on one or more Driver Responsibility Surcharges. This redundant civil penalty has inflicted untold misery on drivers who owe it, and judges blame the surcharge for Texas’ declining DWI conviction rate. Now it appears the surcharge is a major contributor to Texas’ Voter ID law being challenged. Meanwhile the Lege is using most of the “dedicated” funds from the surcharge to balance the budget instead of dispensing it to trauma center hospitals as they promised.

A comparison to other states that don’t have something like the DRS in place would be interesting as well. As I said before, Texas could have very easily headed off this particular objection, by making an acceptable state ID more widely available. But they didn’t, and in fact made it even harder for many people to get ID by cutting the budget for DPS, which led to the closure of many DMV offices. And again, this was entirely in harmony with their intent, which was to throw a bunch of people they didn’t like off the voting rolls, possibly for good. They could have gotten most of what they wanted, but they wanted it all and then some. The scary thing is, they still might get it.

Abbott files suit over WHP

Say what?

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is filing yet another lawsuit against the federal government, this one, no surprise, over the Women’s Health Program.

Federal health officials announced Thursday what state leaders had predicted for weeks: that they are halting funding for the program — which provides contraception, well woman exams and cancer screenings for more than 100,000 women every year — over Texas’ decision to ban Planned Parenthood clinics from participating.

Texas’ Republican leaders make a states’ rights argument, saying they’ve got every right to pass rules that ban Planned Parenthood; the Obama administration says the move violates federal Medicaid law. Gov. Rick Perry has vowed to find the funds — some $30 million a year — to run the program without the federal government’s help.

You can see the suit here. Basically, the state is saying “You can’t tell us what to do with your money!” I’m no lawyer, but how exactly is it unconstitutional for the federal government to put conditions on matching funds like this? The Chron addresses that question.

Legal and political observers said the suit’s chance of prevailing hinges on the exact conditions that courts rule the federal government can impose on the funding it provides. They noted there’s a long history of courts finding the federal government can make rules for the funding, though they’ve also warned it can go too far.

Carl Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political scientist, said the Obama administration’s demand is not capricious and that Abbott’s suit’s appears to be a losing battle.

“The law by which the federal government has transferred funds to help with women’s health issues gives women the choice of providers they use,” said Jillson. “It doesn’t give states the right to select among providers those that women may choose. That’s the key issue.”

But Seth Chandler, a University of Houston health law professor, called the suit “a reasonable demand that courts clarify the meaning of the Medicaid provision used to justify the complete funding cutoff.”

Chandler noted that a district court’s 2011 temporary injunction nullifying an Indiana law that sought to cut off Medicaid funding to abortion providers is not a definitive precedent. The case, very similar to the Texas conflict, is awaiting a ruling by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

I have a hard time seeing how a requirement that patients be allowed to choose their medical provider is an unreasonable restriction. But since we know that Perry and Abbott and the rest of the Republicans believe they know better than all those poor, benighted women, it’s hardly a surpise that the state would make that argument. I think Rep. Garnet Coleman gets it right when he says this is just another frivolous lawsuit. We’ll see what the courts say. Postcards has more.

Americans Elect starts the petition process

And they’re off.

Will not be on the ballot

Americans Elect — an emerging, alternative third party that plans to use the Internet to field a presidential ticket this year — is starting to gather signatures of registered voters in Texas to try to gain a spot on this year’s election ballot.

“Americans Elect continues to gain ballot access state by state to provide voters in Texas and across the country with another choice for president this November,” said Elliot Ackerman, chief operating officer with Americans Elect. “We are creating a second nominating process for president by holding an online primary for the first time in history, bypassing the two-party system and giving every voter a chane to have their voice heard regardless of where they live.”

You know how I feel about Americans Elect. This is going to be different than it was for Carole Keeton Strayhorn or Kinky Friedman in 2006 when they were petitioning to get on the ballot. It’s one thing to recruit on behalf of an actual candidate, who has policy ideas that can be articulated in favor of doing so. It’s another, I suspect, to recruit on behalf of a concept that may result in the inclusion of anyone from Rocky Anderson to Dennis Kucinich to Olympia Snowe to Buddy Roemer to Ron Paul. But maybe I’m wrong and everyone will see what they want to see and that will work for them. We’ll know soon enough.

Ezra Klein talks to Ackerman and Khalil Byrd of Americans Elect, and it’s still not clear to me what exactly it is they think they’re doing, or how they think they’re going to be different than, say, the Reform Party. They say their real goal is to get down-ballot access and run candidates in all kinds of races all over the country. Again, I have no idea who will choose to do that for a group that doesn’t have some set of principles, but who knows? I’m just going to point out that Klein is wrong when he says they their “real accomplishment is having secured ballot lines in all 50 states”, since clearly they have not yet done so in Texas, and leave it at that. Ed Kilgore and Colin Woodard have more.