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February 6th, 2014:

Bexar County to offer “plus one” benefits

Good for them.

Without referencing same-sex couples, Bexar County on Tuesday agreed to extend health insurance benefits to the unmarried companions of county employees.

The “Plus One Qualifying Adult” policy adopted by Commissioners Court attempts to circumvent legal roadblocks that bar the county from offering benefits to workers’ domestic partners. Modeled after an approach used in the private sector and adopted last month by El Paso County, the commissioners’ resolution avoids the terms that have brought challengers in San Antonio and Dallas.

The unanimously-approved proposal, which drew no public opposition, requires proof of the couple’s “financial interdependence.” A qualifying adult must have lived with the county employee for at least a year and must continue doing so to remain eligible, the policy states.

County Manager David Smith said it’s unknown how many of the county’s 4,000 employees might qualify for the extended coverage, or how much the benefits might cost taxpayers, but in El Paso’s first month under its policy, only one employee applied.

An added individual, who must be at least 18 years of age, must offer proof the county worker and the second individual share “common financial obligations.” Evidence of that relationship would be a deed or mortgage; vehicle title or registration; joint bank or credit accounts; designation as primary beneficiary for life insurance or retirement benefits; or assignment of a durable power of attorney or health care power of attorney.

Excluded from the program — at least for now — are the worker’s parents; their parents’ other descendants; their grandparents’ other descendants; step relatives; and a worker’s renters, boarders, tenants or employees.

Commissioners agreed to revisit the possibility of dropping those exclusions to possibly allow a parent to take advantage of the benefits, which include medical, dental, vision and life insurance coverage.

Randy Bear at The Rivard Report had a preview of the Commissioners’ action, which includes the background on that AG opinion, and has has a report from the Commissioners Court meeting where the benefits were formally adopted. I can add a data point to this, thanks to an email forwarded to me by regular commenter Mainstream. He had sent an open records request to the city of Houston asking how many employees had applied for health benefits for their same-sex partners after Mayor Parker decreed that they were included under the wording of the 2001 charter amendment that restricted such benefits to “legally married” employees. The response he got was that six employees had done so, out of 19,809 total enrollments. So while Bexar is taking a broader and more inclusive path, I think it’s reasonable to assume their added cost will not be substantial. I applaud them for doing their part to increase access to health insurance, and I eagerly await Harris County following suit.

On succeeding Abbott as AG

The next Attorney General will inherit a lot of Greg Abbott’s unfinished fights, some of which he instigated and some of which were thrust upon him by the Lege.

Still not Greg Abbott

Defending the constitutionality of the state’s controversial public school finance system before the Texas Supreme Court will be a tall order for the person elected to replace Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Three Republicans and one Democrat are running for the position.

Houston lawyer Sam Houston thinks there are problems with the way Texas funds its schools, but an attorney general is bound to defend the state law whether he or she agrees or disagrees.

“That’s the job,” Houston said in an interview.

And backing Abbott’s current defense of the school funding system are all three Republican attorney general candidates: State Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas; state Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney; and Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman.

“All of the candidates are campaigning on the idea that they would carry forward the Abbott agenda on standing firm against federal overreach and the expansion of government,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.

[…]

During his tenure, Abbott has used the position to champion socially conservative positions on gay marriage and abortion as well as to launch political attacks against the Obama administration and federal agencies.

His defense of the school finance system became campaign fodder for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who filibustered against the 2011 cuts in the Texas Senate. Abbott has responded that he was acting in his capacity as attorney general to defend state laws.

Houston, the lone Democrat in the race, said in an interview that he questions what advice Abbott gave to members of the Legislature during the 2013 session regarding the system’s constitutionality.

He’s also questioned the advice Abbott gave the Lege about redistricting. I don’t think that comment Prof. Jillson made above applies to Sam Houston, at least not in the same way. Being tasked with defending the state against litigation doesn’t preclude one from seeking a settlement if one reasonably concludes that the state’s position is a loser and it’s going to get its tuchus handed to it in court. There’s already an argument being made by the Lone Star Project that Abbott can and should be seeking a settlement in the school finance case. A much more contentious question will arise with the state’s defense of its Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage law. The initial hearing to determine if there needs to be an injunction against it will be soon, but it’s very likely the appeals process will still be ongoing in 2015. The precedent exists for an Attorney General to decline to defend a state’s ban on same sex marriages. Houston may come under a lot of pressure if it’s his job to do that for Texas next year. The Supreme Court could possibly render that decision moot, but this is something to keep in mind going forward.

Indictments in petition forgery case

Whoa.

Four political campaign workers have been indicted by a Harris County Grand Jury in the wake of allegations of election fraud in a Harris County Justice of the Peace race, first reported by Local 2 News in January.

The suspects — two men and two women — were paid to gather signatures to place Republican candidate Leonila Olivares Salazar’s name on the ballot in the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2, Place 2 race.

[…]

The indictments, handed down Monday, come about two weeks after Salazar’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Judge George Risner, sued to have her name withdrawn from the ballot.

As first reported by Local 2, Risner obtained signed statements from three of the suspects admitting they did not actually obtain the signatures listed on the petitions.

Risner said his investigation shows that 380 of 447 signatures submitted to put Salazar’s name on the ballot were forged.

The indictments name campaign workers 57-year-old Ralph Basil Garcia, 53-year-old Annette Irigoyen, 28-year-old Iris Irgoyen and 55-year-old David Basurto. All face felony charges of engaging in organized criminal activity and tampering with a governmental record.

See here for the background. As we know, a Beaumont judge is hearing the lawsuit to determine if Risner’s opponent Salazar should be declared ineligible for the ballot. He has announced that he’s waiting till the other folks that have been indicted have turned themselves in, so they are all available to testify. Meanwhile, the County Attorney is supposed to be doing its own investigation, but no word on that yet. Campos has more.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 3

The Texas Progressive Alliance still has a dozen or so Republican responses to the SOTU it needs to get through as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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