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July 11th, 2013:

Four things to work on now that the omnibus anti-abortion bill is reality

1. Organize, organize, organize. Maintain the energy and sense of urgency that originated with the #StandWithWendy filibuster. This is a good way to draw people in while the iron is hot.

Progressives and Planned Parenthood took their opposition to the abortion-restricting bill winding its way through the Texas Legislature on the road to Houston Tuesday with the orange-tinged “Stand with Texas Women” tour.

Hundreds gathered in a sea of tangerine, apricot and melon at Discovery Green to welcome the motorcoach carrying state Sen. Wendy Davis, several other Democratic state legislators and Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Cecile Richards.

After a debut rally in Austin on Tuesday morning, the carrot-colored bus made an evening stop in Houston to oppose the bill’s anticipated effect on access to preventive health services and abortions. Rallies also are planned Wednesday in Dallas and Fort Worth.

[…]

“It’s time to get the Texas Legislature out of our exam rooms,” said Richards, daughter of former Democratic Gov. Ann Richards. “It’s wasn’t just that Gov. Perry and some of his allies in the Legislature ended the women’s health program and cut more than 130,000 women in Texas off of preventive care, but now the Legislature is considering a bill that would force dozens more health centers in this state to close down – close their doors – making it even harder for women to get care and ending access to safe and legal abortion.”

Don’t forget the veto of the Lilly Ledbetter bill, too. Democrats have underperformed with Anglo women in Texas compared to the country as a whole. The last two sessions have been very hard on women in Texas. These past few weeks I’ve seen a ton of stuff on Facebook from people I don’t normally think of as being politically oriented, some of whom I had no idea were on my side of this. We need to build on this. Stace, Egberto Willies, and Texas Leftist have more on the Houston event, and the Press has a photo slideshow.

2. Remind people who have aligned with the GOP in the past because of certain specific issues that they’re not dealing with the same party now. I’m thinking specifically of doctors and other medical professionals, who loved the GOP ten years ago when tort “reform” was on the agenda. BOR has an open letter from a couple of docs who’d like the Lege to stay out of their exam rooms.

While we can agree to disagree about abortion on ideological grounds, we must draw a hard line against insidious legislation that threatens women’s health like Texas HB2 (House Bill 2) and SB1 (Senate Bill 1).

That’s why we’re speaking to the false and misleading underlying assumptions of this and other legislation like it: These bills are as much about interfering with the practice of medicine and the relationship a patient has with her physician as they are about restricting women’s access to abortion. The fact is that these bills will not help protect the health of any woman in Texas. Instead, these bills will harm women’s health in very clear ways.

We’re setting the record straight, loudly and unequivocally, with these simple messages to all politicians: Get out of our Exam Rooms.

I would submit to the members of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Texas Medical Association, and other organizations that formally opposed SB1 and HB2 that if they want legislators that won’t interfere with the doctor/patient relationship, they need to vote against legislators that do interfere with the doctor/patient relationship, and that includes everyone who voted for these bills, including the handful of Dems who did so. Do it in March and do it again in November as needed. Nothing will change until the leadership changes.

3. Prepare for the inevitable litigation.

The Guttmacher Institute reported earlier this week that more new abortion restrictions were enacted in the first half of 2013 than in all of 2012; 2013 now ranks second to 2011 as a landmark year for antichoice legislation.

Now from a superficial point of view, the latest batch of state antichoice actions have focused on the relatively safe ground (politically and to a lesser extent constitutionally) of late-term abortions, where the Supreme Court has allowed some leeway in the past. But since most of the “fetal pain” laws have been accompanied by what Guttmacher calls “TRAP” measures—Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers—they are clearly intended to restrict access to all clinical abortions at any stage of pregnancy, and certainly have that effect.

Since the current constitutional standard for abortion restrictions remains Casey v. Planned Parenthood’s ban on measures that place an “undue burden” on the right to choose, most of these new state laws are clearly in the “danger area” constitutionally. Just yesterday, a federal district court judge in Wisconsin temporarily blocked implementation of that state’s new regulations on abortion providers pending a showing that it did not violate Casey. Federal court challenges are likely in other states as well.

So the long-awaited day of a fresh SCOTUS review of the constitutional law of abortion (last visited by the Court in the 2007 Carhart v. Gonzales decision upholding a federal “partial-birth abortion” ban) may soon be upon us. It could even happen sooner that expected: at the end of the recently concluded term, SCOTUS agreed to hear an appeal of a case involving a Oklahoma restriction on the use of RU-486 that could involve a reinterpretation of Casey. And in any event, the shrewd adoption by antichoicers of the strategy of justifying restrictions as “health and safety regulations” seems designed to exploit the loophole opened up in Carhart by Justice Kennedy that invited policymakers to make their own determinations of women’s health interests.

Litigation is hardly risk-free, as there are four solid votes to overturn Roe and Casey, and who knows what bee will be in Anthony Kennedy’s bonnet by the time the appeals make their way to SCOTUS. The best thing that could happen between now and then would be for Kennedy and/or Scalia to retire, but of course we can’t count on that. But what other choice is there? Let’s bring our A games and keep our eyes open about what could happen when we go down this road.

4. Fight back with reason and with ridicule. In my post about Tuesday’s action in the House, I included a link to Baptist Standard editorial about all the things that the state of Texas and its Republican leadership is not doing for the post-born. Many Democratic legislators filed and fought for amendments to HB2 that would have tried to address some of these things, but of course the Republicans and the “no one is more pro-life than me” author of HB2 rejected them all. That needs to be a campaign issue – really, it needs to be THE campaign issue – in 2014. But it’s also time for our legislative Democrats, who have fought the good fight with honor and perseverance, to not always be so high-minded. A little snark can go a long way, as Lisa Falkenberg demonstrated.

Women will always bear the brunt of the responsibility for family planning and pregnancy, which is why the folks in Austin are back at it again this week, trying to help the little women in this endeavor by protecting their health with unnecessary regulations and restricting access to constitutionally protected medical options.

Still, I can’t help but think the men of this state are worthy of some Texas-style reproductive protection as well. The Legislature’s compelling interest in restricting the reproductive rights of Texans shouldn’t stop at lady parts.

Gentlemen of Texas, it’s with sincere concern for your health and safety – and a hat tip to legislation pioneered in Oklahoma, Georgia, Illinois, Virginia and Ohio – that I hereby propose the following pro-life omnibus bill to regulate your man parts.

The bill is already written, someone just needs to file it at the next opportunity. File it for what’s left of this session. Of course it won’t go anywhere. That’s not the point. Someone needs to do this.

UPDATE: “I want you to be angry and remember,” Wendy Davis says at the Fort Worth rally. That’s what I’m talking about.

Elsewhere in the House

No action on transportation yet.

House budget writers on Tuesday ended a hearing on transportation funding with no clear decision about how to raise money for Texas roads.

The House Appropriations Committee is considering several proposals to see which has the most support, even if that means trying to pass a combination of bills in the remaining days of the 30-day special session, said Aaron Greg, chief of staff for state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, the chamber’s lead budget writer.

The House committee was expected to pass House Joint Resolution 1, which would require voter approval of a constitutional amendment to divert half of the oil and gas severance taxes that fill the Economic Stabilization Fund — or Rainy Day Fund — to transportation funding.

Instead, the hearing revealed lawmakers’ concerns about whether that bill would provide enough funding for roads in the long term. Lawmakers expressed more interest in other proposals to raise money for transportation.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he worried about a safeguard in the bill that was intended to keep the balance in the Rainy Day Fund from falling too low.

Turner said that the minimum amount of money the fund must maintain would start at more than $4 billion, would rise to more than $5 billion in 2015 and would continue to increase over time. At some point in the future, the minimum amount needed in the fund would rise so high, Turner said, that no money from it would be allocated to roads.

“I am very uncomfortable with that because you have a perpetual savings account that becomes very, very difficult to touch,” Turner said in an interview.

[…]

Five other transportation proposals were discussed at the committee hearing. Lawmakers seemed most interested in HJR 2, by state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso.

Currently, transportation is funded largely through a 20-cent tax on gasoline, and a quarter of that amount goes into public education. HJR 2 would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to allocate the tax on fuel solely to transportation needs and then use the Rainy Day Fund to replace the lost education funds.

“Pickett’s bill has some attraction for several of us. It’ a lot cleaner,” Turner said. “We simply want to make sure education doesn’t miss out at all.”

HJR 2 would generate slightly less money than HJR 1, but both would produce about $800 million for transportation.

Have I mentioned lately that raising the gas tax and indexing it to inflation would generate more revenue, and it would leave the Rainy Day Fund alone? I’m just saying.

Meanwhile, there was progress on the third issue of the session.

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has once again recommended a bill that would close a sentencing loophole for 17-year-olds convicted of capital murder.

Members passed House Bill 4 with a 5-1 vote Tuesday morning following public testimony Monday.

State Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburgh, cast the dissenting vote. Canales has been pushing his own version of a new sentencing structure that would allow for life with parole and life without parole. But House Bill 10 also included a lengthy list of mitigating circumstances to be used during sentencing.

Canales’ bill was left pending in committee.

[…]

Prosecutors have asked that state legislatures move 17-year-old capital murder defendants in with the criminal code that covers juveniles, ages 14-16, who receive mandatory life with parole eligibility at 40 years.

The Senate repeatedly has approved a bill that would do just that, but representatives have gone back and forth on what is appropriate punishment for a juvenile.

Senate Bill 2 also has passed out of committee and is waiting on a full hearing.

If either of these bills fails to pass this time around, it won’t be because of a filibuster, that’s all I know.

The drought affects the coast, too

Even more reasons to hope for rain.

A growing body of research into the effects of the state’s ongoing drought, which began in late 2010 and peaked in 2011, reveal a coast deeply affected by the prolonged dry spell.

“Coastal areas don’t get much attention during a drought,” said Anna Armitage, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University at Galveston. “But we have found a significant effect on the coastal ecosystem.”

Since 2009, Armitage has been studying an estuary – an area where the current from rivers and streams mixes with sea­water – in the Sabine Neches area along the upper Texas coast.

As the drought peaked and freshwater flows slowed to a trickle, the salinity of the estuary spiked from 3 to 5 parts per thousand to around 30 parts per thousand, making it nearly as salty as water in the Gulf of Mexico.

This wiped out much of the plant and marine life living in these brackish waters, Armitage said.

“The reason I’m so interested in all of these tiny plants, tiny fish and shrimp is that they provide food for other more important fishery species,” she said. “This is the base of the Galveston Bay food web, and I’m worried about the stability of the food web.”

[…]

It’s not clear when the drought will improve to the point of restoring the Texas coast to more normal conditions.

John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist, noted that Texas’ reservoirs are only about 65 percent full, the lowest they have been in a long time.

“The reservoirs are a good indicator of streamflow into Texas bays and estuaries,” he said, noting that the flows from the Brazos to the Guadalupe “are already at record or near-record low levels for this time of year.”

Absent substantial rain, this summer will bring the most severe drought conditions to Texas bays and estuaries since at least the 1960s and probably the 1950s, he said.

The drought has had the effect of helping to beat back one invasive species that couldn’t handle the increased salinity. On balance, though, it would be better to have more rain. More rain, please.

Texas blog roundup for the week of July 8

The Texas Progressive Alliance stands with Texas women as we bring you this week’s roundup.

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