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February 21st, 2013:

The birth control poll

The Texas Freedom Network would like you to know that Texans support having access to birth control.

A new statewide poll from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund shows Texans believe that access to family planning and birth control is important and should not be limited by a woman’s income level, employer or medical provider. Voters support government taking action to ensure that Texas women can make their own decisions about family planning, including providing state funding for family planning and birth control programs in the state.

Support for state funding for providing access to family planning services and birth control for low-income women is both broad and deep, crossing political, racial, generational and geographic lines. Moreover, strong support exists for access to birth control among religiously observant Texans, including both Catholics and Protestants, as well as Born-again Christians.

Here’s the poll memo:

Texans believe that access to family planning and birth control is important and should not be limited by a woman’s income level, employer, or medical provider. Voters support government taking action to ensure that Texas women can make their own decisions about family planning, including providing state funding for family planning and birth control programs in the state.

Support for state funding for providing access to family planning services and birth control for low-income women is both broad and deep, crossing political, racial, generational, and geographic lines. Moreover, strong support exists for access to birth control among religiously observant Texans, including both Catholics and Protestants, as well as Born-again Christians.

Voters support efforts to make birth control more accessible to women, not less. Texans oppose the cuts to funding for family planning made by the state Legislature in 2011 and want to see funding restored. They also oppose allowing employers to deny their employees health care coverage for family planning services and birth control, and want to ensure that state funding for family planning goes to medical providers that offer a full range of family planning services, including birth control.

The results in this report are based on a statewide poll of registered Texas voters, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Chesapeake Beach Consulting for the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. The survey reached a total of 604 registered voters in Texas and was conducted February 6 – 11, 2013. The margin of sampling error for the sample is +/- 3.99 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

The poll was conducted jointly by Democrat Anna Greenberg and Republican Bob Carpenter. It has certainly accomplished the goal of getting media attention, as these Chron, DMN, Statesman, AusChron, and Hair Balls stories show. But only the Texas Observer notes the disconnect:

Despite the overwhelming evidence of support for family planning services, some legislators have filed bills that go after contraception. Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), for example, is pushing “Hobby Lobby” legislation, which would give tax breaks to companies, like Hobby Lobby, that face federal fines over their refusal to provide emergency contraception coverage to their employees through insurance.

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) filed HB 1057 last week, which would prevent abortion providers or their affiliates (like Planned Parenthood) from providing sex education materials for public schools.

But, according to [TFN President Kathy] Miller, this study only illustrates that lawmakers have lost sight of what Texans actually want. “Last legislative session, we saw some legislators openly declare war on contraception. Texans clearly want that war to stop,” Miller said.

I’m not surprised by this poll result, and I do hope it gets a lot of attention. But, and I hate to be a wet blanket here, the fact is that many Republican legislators have nothing to fear, or at least they believe they have nothing to fear, from it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when was the last time someone lost an election in Texas for being wrong on birth control? Far as I can tell, the next time will be the first time. Lord knows, there are plenty of Republicans who’ll be on the ballot in 2014 that should take heed of this, starting with our promiscuously litigious Attorney General/Governor wannabee Greg Abbott, who’s been busy amicus-briefing the federal courts over the Obama administration’s contraception mandate for employers, including Hobby Lobby. But until someone actually does lose an election over this, why should we expect anything or anyone to change? Someone needs to start convincing some of those Republican women to reconsider some of the people they’ve been voting for.

Meet SWIFT

SWIFT is the State Water Infrastructure Fund for Texas, which would be created by the big water bills of the session, HB4 and SB4. Basically, this is a plan to create a water infrastructure bank, to finance various water projects that the state needs at low interest, with some seed money from the Rainy Day Fund to get started. So far the proposals have been met with approval by the various stakeholders.

A parade of Texas mayors on Tuesday urged state lawmakers to invest $2 billion in reservoirs, pipelines and other water-supply projects.

Houston’s Annise Parker, San Antonio’s Julian Castro and other mayors said the passage of House Bill 4, which would create a fund to help pay for water-related infrastructure, is necessary to satisfy the demands of residents and businesses.

“We are not going to wait, but it sure would be nice to have the state with us,” said Parker, who said Houston is moving forward on water projects. “If the rest of the state does not make the same efforts we have, we may lose our competitive advantage.”

[…]

State Rep. Allan Ritter, a Nederland Republican who filed the bill, said a $2 billion capitalization could finance the state’s entire long-range water plan, which identifies 562 projects at a cost of $53 billion over the next half-century.

The initial $2 billion would come from the state’s rainy day fund

The projects would be selected by the Texas Water Development Board but would be locally owned and controlled, Ritter emphasized.

“They need help in what I call ‘getting over the hump,'” he said of the financing challenge water providers face with projects that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take years to complete.

There’s a lot of money at stake, and any time there’s a lot of money at stake, there are many competing interests for it.

“We can’t afford to pit one [group] against another,” said Laura Huffman, of the Nature Conservancy. “A growing state is going to want to eat, drink and turn the lights on.”

Much will depend on whether key lawmakers—Rep. Allan Ritter (R-Nederland) and Fraser in particular—can craft a fair structure for distributing what will likely be billions of dollars over the coming decades.

“I think it’s like most of the issues that come before this body,” said state Rep. Doug Miller (R-New Braunfels). “Follow the money.” Austin American-Statesman reporter Asher Price did just that. He found that one of the organizations behind the push for a state water bank, H2O4Texas, is funded by “industries that stand to benefit from massive projects to move water around the state.”

That’s not terribly surprising but suggests that legislators will have to be careful to guard against allowing the water bank to turn into a slush fund.

The key word is: prioritization. The state water plans lists 562 distinct water projects, a wish list drafted by hundreds of “stakeholders” organized into 16 regional water planning groups. Those projects are the essence of the plan. But how do you pick which ones to fund? What form does the funding take—grants, loans, etc? Which projects get funded first? Do conservation-focused projects receive a leg up or is the money going to flow into new reservoirs?

Ritter’s legislation, House Bill 4, has been praised by environmentalists for requiring that at least 20 percent of the funds go toward water conservation.

Sen. Fraser’s legislation, Senate Bill 4, would create a fund outside of the state treasury but would put the Texas Water Development Board in charge of prioritizing the projects. But Fraser repeatedly complained today that the board is ill-equipped to take on such a huge task. Fraser said he’d had trouble getting a simple list of water-supply projects that the board considers top priorities.

Under Senate Bill 4, the Water Development Board would be run by three full-time commissioners instead of six part-timers. It would also set up a nine-member advisory committee to recommend water projects to the full board. Other senators, however, piled on Fraser’s proposal, leading him to stress that it was a work in progress and likely to be negotiated until the bitter end.

This AP report goes into more detail about conservation and highlights a potential stumbling block for the legislation.

Luke Metzger, director of the advocacy group Environment Texas, told the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that it was critical that the state emphasizes conservation and ensures enough water is left behind for the eco-system. He pointed out that large-scale water projects, such as new reservoirs, can have a negative impact on the environment.

“In 1968, the State Water Plan predicted that by the year 2020 you would need 32 million acre-feet of water. Of course it’s almost 2020 now, and we’re only using 18 million acre-feet,” he said. “It’s critical that in planning for the next 50 years, we are flexible and we’re careful not to burden Texans in the future with huge debts for projects we might not need.”

He pointed out that San Antonio grew by more than 65 percent while still using the same amount of water and said other cities could follow that model. He said plans are for the state to meet 34 percent of future water needs through conservation and called on the committee to set aside that much of the new water fund for projects that save water.

Just fixing leaky water mains could save enough water for 2.7 million Texans, Metzger said.

[…]

So far no group has come out against creating what would be called the State Water Infrastructure Fund for Texas, or SWIFT. But the measure may require Republican lawmakers to vote in favor of lifting the state’s constitutional spending limit, which many conservatives do not want on their record.

Have I mentioned before that artificial spending and revenue caps are stupid and destructive? This is another illustration of why. The issue here is whether appropriating money from the Rainy Day Fund would count towards the revenue cap, which mandates that spending can only grow so much from one biennium to the next. Use of the Rainy Day Fund wasn’t originally intended to be included in such calculations, but the fanatics who rule over Republican primaries don’t care for such subtleties, so the issue remains a potential roadblock for doing the things the Lege has said it wants to do.

Bike trail on utility rights-of-way bills filed

This is a big show of support for making bike trails on CenterPoint’s rights of way happen.

Houston voters last fall approved a $166 million bond measure to expand the city’s trail system, to be matched by $105 million in private donations via the Houston Parks Board. About 78 miles of trails would get built, limited largely to east-west paths that run along bayous. Many of the utility easements run north-south.

Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, filed Senate Bill 633 and state Reps. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, and Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed House Bill 200. Both drafts were filed Monday.

In a prepared statement, the lawmakers cast their proposals as a way to cut time and cost in trail development.

“The people of Houston have said loud and clear that they want more hike and bike trails,” Ellis said in a statement. “But it has become very difficult to acquire the land in urban areas like Houston that is suitable for development of trails. This legislation is a unique and innovative compromise solution to develop new trails without undue delays and excess cost.”

See here for the background. I’m not a lawyer, but comparing the text of the original bills that were filed by Reps. Sarah Davis and Jim Murphy, HB 404 and HB 258, to the updated bills HB 200 and SB 633, the main difference seems to me to be that the original bills basically exempted the utility from any and all liability, while the updated bills “[do] not limit the liability of an electric utility for serious bodily injury or death of a person proximately caused by the electric utility’s wilful or wanton acts or gross negligence with respect to a dangerous condition existing on the premises”. That, frankly, was my main concern, so I’m glad to see that saner heads have prevailed. It may be that CenterPoint is still getting away with something here – again, I Am Not A Lawyer, and I don’t know what level of protection CenterPoint would have without this bill – but on the surface at least this looks better to me. Barring any further revelations, I’ll be happy to see this pass. Hair Balls has more.

Day One runoff EV totals

Here’s your Day One runoff EV report for the SD06 election. For comparison purposes, here’s the final report from the first round. This isn’t apples to apples, of course, because there were 12 EV days in Round 1 whereas there will only be seven days this time, but note that the in person total yesterday exceeds the in person plus mail ballots from Day One in Round One, the mail ballots returned yesterday is greater than any two days from Round One, and the total mail ballots sent is 30% more than the total mail ballots sent last time, with more likely still to be sent. Point being, even with the compressed schedule, the potential exists for a greater number of early voters in the runoff, which is consistent with my hypothesis that the total turnout this time around could match or exceed Round One. Too early to say for sure, of course, but keep an eye on it. Houston Politics has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 18

The start of Spring Training always makes the Texas Progressive Alliance happy as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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