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February 19th, 2013:

The war on women continues apace

Honestly, I’m surprised that it’s taken as long as it has for this to happen.

Right there with them

Abortion clinics in Texas may soon face harsh new state requirements that pro-choice advocates say could greatly reduce access to abortion.

Sens Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) filed a bill this morning that would require abortion clinics to meet the same conditions as ambulatory surgical centers.

The measure, Senate Bill 537, would force abortion clinics to follow the Texas Administrative Code for surgical centers, a 117 page document outlining everything from laboratory, nursing and anaesthesiologist requirements to radiological and construction procedures. Most of this code has little to do with the services provided by abortion clinics.

Filed by three pro-life doctors, legislation like this has been viewed as an underhanded tactic, which, in other states (like Alabama), has been criticized for threatening to close abortion clinics that don’t have the capacity or funding to meet such strict new requirements.

However, Sen. Deuell contends that the legislation is simply a method of increasing safety and health among Texas women. “Just as a medical doctor,” he said, “it came to me that they’re not under the same standards as any other surgical clinics and that we need to put them under that just for the safety of the patients.”

Deuell was adamant that the bill isn’t a pro-life tactic to close abortion clinics or make abortion less accessible. “It has nothing to do with abortions being done or not done.” He continued, “They’re legal, so they’re being done, and it is a surgical procedure, and it needs to be done in a place that has the same standards as a surgical center. Simple as that.”

He also asserted that the legislation would actually improve women’s health and accessibility to abortion providers. “The pro-choice movement talks about wanting to take abortions out of the back alley so they can be done properly. If you’re not certified as a surgical center, then that gets more toward the back alley and not in mainstream medicine, which is where it needs to be,” Deuell said.

Yes, I’m sure this just now came to Sen. Deuell. Of course, by his own reasoning, if he’s so concerned about women’s health, this should have been the very first bill he ever filed in the Senate. I mean, just think about all those poor women, having to get abortions in clinics that don’t measure up to his standards for cleanliness and safety for all these years. It’s scandalous, really. Of course, anyone who is content to let thousands of people die through his or her inaction or out of political spite really has no standing to claim “concern” for anyone’s health. The term “pro-life” is such a travesty these days, Jonathan Swift would be embarrassed to use it.

Not that any of that matters, I suppose. If this passes the Senate it will easily become law, and I have no reason to believe the courts will block it. As such, there are three people in the state that can prevent this from happening: Senators Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini. It was their support of the awful sonogram bill that allowed it to clear the two-thirds bar in the Senate and make its way to Rick Perry’s desk. It took all three of them to enable its passage, since Jeff Wentworth stood with the other nine Democrats to hold this off. Depending on whether this abomination comes to the Senate floor before or after the SD06 special election is resolved, we may need two or all three of them to say no, this is going too far. This would be an excellent time to call their offices and make your voice heard, especially if you live in their district. It’s up to them to decide who they want to stand with.

Somewhat ironically, that news story cam out at the same time as this one.

Doctors, hospitals, clinics, health care groups, faith organizations and family planning associations urged lawmakers Wednesday to restore funding cut from women’s health programs for contraceptives and health screening.

At the forefront of their fight are two women who serve on the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Rep. Sarah Davis, of West University Place, and Democratic Rep. Donna Howard, of Austin. Both appeared at a Capitol news conference hosted by the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition.

Howard cited state estimates that thousands more unplanned births to low-income women as a result of family planning cuts will cost Texas millions more in Medicaid payments.

The state has projected 6,480 more Medicaid births at a cost of $33 million in the current fiscal year due to the reduction in family planning expenses. In the next two-year budget period, an extra 24,000 births are anticipated at a cost of $103 million.

Davis, a breast cancer survivor who is on an Appropriations subcommittee overseeing health and human services, said, “It’s really no longer the time to be playing politics with women’s health.”

In the Statesman, Rep. Davis is quoted saying that some of her Republican colleagues who voted for the cuts “didn’t realize they would hurt other kinds of clinics”, which is a polite way of saying that they’re deeply ignorant. They were told at the time exactly what would happen, they just chose not to believe it. It’s nice to hear that they may be slightly less willfully dumb this time around, but their concern for women’s health remains at best highly selective.

Patrick files his “school choice” bill

From the Trib:

The State Board of Education currently oversees applications for charter school contracts, which state law caps at 215. Patrick’s Senate Bill 2 would create a new state entity to authorize the contracts and lift that cap, allowing for an unlimited number of charter school operators in the state.

“There is no one answer to transforming schools but lifting the cap to add high quality public charters will give Texas parents, including the nearly 100,000 currently on a charter school waiting list, more choices to find the best education for their child,” Patrick said in a statement.

The legislation also includes language that makes it easier for local school boards to vote to become “home rule districts” and convert into charter schools. It follows Gov. Rick Perry’s call for more charter schools in his State of the State address, where the governor praised the innovation they bring to the public education system.

The charter school measure is one of a comprehensive set of proposals expected from Patrick to expand school choice in the state this session. Patrick has said those will also include fostering open enrollment across school districts and creating a private school scholarship fund through offering a state business tax savings credit to corporations.

Here’s SB2. The Observer summarizes what’s in it:

– Scraps the cap on state-approved charters, which currently stands at 215. Charter holders can already open multiple campuses (big chains like Harmony or KIPP), but charter advocates say there’s huge unmet demand, with long waiting lists at many charters across Texas.

– Creates a seven-member “Charter School Authorizing Authority.” Currently, charters are approved by the elected State Board of Education, but Patrick’s bill would put the power in the hands of seven appointees: four picked by the Governor and one each appointed by the lieutenant governor, education commissioner, and the State Board of Education chair. The governor would get to name the board’s presiding member.

– Give charters money for school buildings and other facilities—something charter schools in Texas have always done without.

– Requires school districts to make any empty or “underutilized” facilities available to charter schools that want them for the low, low price of $1.

– Makes it easier to close low-performing charters. Under Patrick’s proposal, the new charter authority must close charter schools that get poor academic or financial ratings from the state in three of the last five years.

– Gives more freedom to “home-rule districts.” Any school district can already become a home-rule district with approval from its local school board and the state, freeing itself of many rules imposed by the state. It’s a favorite cause of free-market groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation, but in 17 years, no district has even tried to make the switch. Patrick’s bill would give “home-rule” districts almost all the freedom charter schools enjoy, and let districts make the change with a majority vote of the school board, not the two-thirds vote required today.

But the Texas Charter Schools Association is delighted with what’s in here. But there’s plenty here to rile advocates of traditional neighborhood schools—from the extra facilities money in a time when the Legislature is otherwise tight-fisted with money for schools—to the requirement that school districts hand over their empty buildings to charters.

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) raised some of those concerns Monday afternoon in a Senate Finance Committee working group. ”I don’t want to take away from what has to be done for charter schools, but we don’t want to leave the public school facility needs out at the time,” he told Patrick.

“These are public schools, and we’re not funding them,” Patrick said.

Lot of that going around, isn’t there? I’ve said before, I favor broadening school choice within and across school districts, I’m open to increasing the number of charters, and I absolutely oppose the use of public funds for private school “scholarships”, which is to say vouchers. As I have done before, I will once again point out that the percentage of charter schools rated Academically Unacceptable by the Texas Education Agency is nearly double that of traditional public schools, and it’s currently very difficult to shut down a failing charter school. If SB2 does make it easier to close a failing charter then that’s all to the good, because charter schools are not a panacea. They’re a piece of the puzzle, and a relatively small one at that. Expecting them to be more is asking for trouble.

UPDATE: I received the following in my mailbox this morning from Raise Your Hand Texas:

Texas Needs to Clean Up Existing Charters Before Issuing New Ones

(AUSTIN, TEXAS) Raise Your Hand Texas released the following statement from CEO Dr. David Anthony regarding the introduction of charter schools legislation (SB 2) today by Senate Education Committee Chair Dan Patrick (R-Houston):

On proposal to remove the charter cap:

“Unlimited expansion of charters as proposed in SB 2 will result in more charters, but not necessarily better ones. With 17.9% of charters rated academically unacceptable under the accountability system in 2011, let’s show that we can effectively oversee the charter schools that we have before authorizing the creation of a bunch of new ones.”

On facilities funding for charter schools:

“According to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, Texas expended $938 million on charters in 2011-2012 to serve 3% of Texas students. We simply can’t fathom providing facilities funding for charter schools in addition to the funding that they already receive when Texas public schools are still suffering from $5.3 billion in funding cuts.”

I think these are both valid points.

Marriage equality bill filed

As I said before, some things you do because they’re the right thing to do.

On the right side of history

State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, filed a bill Thursday to permit same-sex couples to marry, calling it a “Valentine’s Day gift to all Texans.”

His measure is one of several bills filed recently that deal with gay rights issues.

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, filed Senate Bill 538, which would take the term “homosexual conduct” out of the penal code.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Texas laws banning sodomy were unconstitutional. Though such laws cannot be enforced anymore, some are still technically on the books. Rodríguez’s bill would nix the part of the Texas Penal Code that lists “homosexual conduct” as a misdemeanor crime. Similar bills filed in 2011 were unsuccessful.

[…]

Burnam’s House Bill 1300 would extend the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, including property and homestead rights, child custody and support, adoption, and workers’ compensation benefits. Lawmakers who have signed on as co-authors include Democratic state Reps. Mary González, Ana Hernandez Luna, Donna Howard, Eddie Lucio III, Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, Mark Strama, Chris Turner, Armando Walle and Gene Wu. A similar bill, SB 480, allowing civil unions, was filed by state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Rep. Burnam’s bill would only take effect if one of the joint resolutions that were filed previously to repeal the loathsome double secret illegal anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment is adopted. No, of course I don’t expect that to happen this session, but it’s coming eventually and we all know it. Well, most of us do, anyway.

Former state lawmaker Warren Chisum, who sponsored the proposal that put Texas’ version of the Defense of Marriage Act in the state constitution, said he hasn’t changed his views and he doesn’t think the state has, either.

“I know there’s a big push, seems like, around the United States, but you know, I don’t think Texas has changed their mind,” Chisum said. “We’ll be the oddball of all of them, I guess. If everybody else in the country switches, I still think the view of Texas is a little more conservative than the rest of the country.”

Gov. Rick Perry’s spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said, “The governor fully agrees with Texas voters, who made clear in 2005 that they believe marriage should remain between a man and a woman.”

Chisum and Perry sure are a couple of excellent symbols for the Texas GOP, aren’t they? Old, white, proudly intolerant, and stuck in the past as the world changes around them. Somewhere, a bunch of young Republican activists are grinding their teeth. Anyway, you can see a video of Rep. Burnam discussing his bill here. BOR has more.

Alamo Drafthouse at Regent Square

This is an interesting development.

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which is opening its second area location Thursday in Vintage Park Shopping Village, just announced that it will open a third location in the Inner Loop mixed-use project Regent Square, where it will also show outdoor movies in a park there.

[…]

At Regent Square, occasional outdoor movies will be among such other park activities as concerts and farmer’s markets, said James Linsley, president of its Boston-based developer, GID Development Group.

The park plaza will feature a portable movie screen and serve as “another anchor,” Linsley said.

“Since Alamo Drafthouse is the premier theater operator, we thought we should collaborate with them on programming the outdoor movies,” he said.

The 4.2 million-square-foot Regent Square project, already under construction, will include a 21-story luxury apartment high rise at 3233 West Dallas and other retail and residential components.

The Alamo Drafthouse, part of the project’s phase 2, will begin construction later this year.

That’s very cool, and I’m certainly happy that I’ll have the chance to visit an Alamo Drafthouse without having to take a road trip, but I shudder to think what traffic will be like once that’s been built. West Dallas and Dunlavy aren’t exactly major thoroughfares, and the proximity to Allen Parkway will make this even dicier. I foresee a traffic light on Allen Parkway at Dunlavy when this is built, which totally ruins the Allen Parkway Psalm. Alas.

As long as I’m talking about parking, let me be the first to suggest that this new Alamo Drafthouse do what it can to provide bike parking, preferably in a covered location. The area around Regent Square is already densely populated, and I’d bet that folks who live around there would be willing to bike in. Hell, if the traffic is as heavy as I suspect it will be, it’ll probably be quicker to bike there if you live within a one mile radius or so. There will be a B-Cycle kiosk nearby, at the Sabine Bridge; perhaps a second location at the theater is a good idea, as well. Paging Laura Spanjian…

Alamo Drafthouse had previously announced plans for a Midtown location at a proposed development on Louisiana, but [Neil Michaelsen, CEO of Triple Tap Ventures, owner of its Houston-area locations] said his group now is “reviewing alternate sites in Midtown for an Alamo and is committed to bringing the concept to that market.”

That announcement was last May. I wonder what happened to make them change directions so quickly. Still, between that and the other new high-end theater mentioned in the story, which will be on Westheimer just inside the Loop, there will be more close-in movie options than we’ve had in a long time, at least since the days of the old Bellaire Theater.