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March 15th, 2017:

Senate passes bathroom bill

Take your victory lap, Dan Patrick.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday tentatively signed off on the so-called “bathroom bill” on a 21-10 vote with one Democrat — state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville — voting in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 6, a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and other publicly-owned facilities that match their “biological sex” and not gender identity. And it would preempt local anti-discrimination laws meant to allow transgender residents to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The vote on the controversial legislation came after a four-and-a-half-hour debate over discrimination against transgender Texans, local control and whether the proposed regulations would actually deter men from entering women’s restrooms.

Before passing the bill, senators considered 22 amendments. Republican senators joined the bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, in rejecting all but three amendments that make minor tweaks to the legislation but did not alter the main bathroom policies proposed in the legislation.

More than a dozen amendments were rejected including one that would have added discrimination protections for transgender individuals to the bill and another that would have prohibited individuals from personally investigating the gender identity of someone using a public bathroom. The Senate also rejected amendments that would have required the state to study the bill’s economic impact as well as crimes that occur in bathrooms.

You know the story by now, so I’ll just skip ahead. The Senate has to take one more vote on this, but that will be a formality. All the Republicans and the one Democrat who sorely needs to be primaried supported this atrocity. It’s up to the House to kill it, whether by neglect or by voting it down. Two things to call your attention to: One is the statement from the Texas Association of Business.

“We’re disappointed the Texas Senate would choose to pass discriminatory legislation like Senate Bill 6, despite clear indications that its passage will have an economic impact in Texas. TAB remains committed to fighting and defending the Texas economy against bills that discriminate and run counter to Texas values.

“Our members believe everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally, and we have heard what they know- equity and non-discrimination is a twenty-first century economic imperative. Senate Bill 6 is simply not worth the risk, and it will do nothing to improve personal safety.

“Given the overwhelming economic evidence, and the clear rejection of the public safety argument from Texas law enforcement, Senate Bill 6 is a solution in search of a problem, and we hope that the Texas House will strongly reject this measure.”

RG Ratcliffe notes how business has lost control of the Republican Party. I’ll just say it again, if the TAB doesn’t work to defeat at least a few of the SB6 advocates, starting with Dan Patrick, then their opposition to SB6 basically meant nothing. Yes, there is a risk in trying to kill the king. This, and bills worse than it, is the risk of doing nothing. Your choice, TAB. And two, I give you this Statesman story on Jessica Shortall of Texas Competes:

Jessica Shortall, head of a Texas business group that advocates for LGBT rights, delivered a thoughtful and impassioned speech about the transgender bathroom debate at the South by Southwest conference on Sunday. It was the kind of speech that brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation — twice.

[…]

Shortall’s speech sprinkled anecdotes of her own life, touched on the Texas Competes mission, and worked in themes such as why it’s important to find common ground with political opponents.

“Assume there are no monoliths,” Shortall said. “The second you do that and label a whole group, you miss all the opportunities to find allies and build bridges.”

[…]

On Sunday, with a notepad in one hand and a handful of photos and data points projected on to a screen, she emphasized the need to build bridges with people who hold different beliefs, of finding common ground by rooting arguments in data, not emotion.

Midway through the speech she told the story of a trasngender girl who had an accident in a hallway at school because teachers couldn’t figure out which bathroom she should use.

“I wanted to shout,” Shortall said. “But I took a breath.” She noted that it feels good to be ideological and righteous, and isn’t as fun to stick to a strategy that involves talking to the other side and find common ground.

“Do you think I wanted to be the most boring, most data-driven LGBT advocate in the country?” Shortall said. “I am half-Venezuelan, raised in New Jersey, a very loud person. I like things big. But my job is to create this delicate new space for the business community to get involved in something risky. If I burn that down with my anger, I’d be at zero. I don’t matter. What matters is the goal.”

But she noted that arguments based on data and facts can only get you so far. To create change, you have to tap into empathy and love, she said. “Love is the only bridge that lets us see the people around us simply as people,” she said.

You can see a video of her speech here. I’ll take ten Jessica Shortalls over all 21 Senators who voted Yes on this piece of crap. A statement from Sen. Jose Rodriguez is here, a statement from Sen. Borris Miles is here, and the Chron has more.

Some men just can’t take a joke

Poor babies.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

State Rep. Jessica Farrar accused some Republican men in the Texas House of engaging in “a retaliatory effort”

against her over her filing of a bill that would fine men $100 for masturbating.

On Tuesday, a separate and unrelated bill from Farrar — a measure that would allow attorneys’ fees to be recovered from other legal entities in the state — was taken up on the House floor. As Farrar laid out that measure, House Bill 744,she was asked by state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, whether it was a “satirical bill.”

“I’m specifically focused on this bill and whether or not this is one of the satirical bills you filed,” Rinaldi said to Farrar.

Last week, Farrar filed House Bill 4260, a set of “proposed satirical regulations” that would penalize men for masturbating and create a required booklet with information about benefits and concerns regarding men seeking a vasectomy, a Viagra prescription or a colonoscopy. In explaining her motivation for the bill, Farrar said men in Texas should be subject to the same “unnecessary” and “invasive” procedures women in the state often had.

[…]

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Rinaldi said, “When a representative admits to filing bills for satire and treats serious matters of life and death like abortion as a laughing matter, it calls into question the intent behind their entire body of work.”

“While [Farrar] is filing bills for comedy,” Rinaldi said, “Republicans are busy working on a budget, securing our borders, and providing tax relief.”

Farrar said HB 744 was a “simple fix” to ensure consistency for all government entities. The modern business climate, she said, allowed some legal entities to collect attorneys’ fees from corporations, but not the other way around. She added HB 744 was unrelated to HB 4260.

“Unfortunately, we have to deal with these shenanigans,” Farrar said. “We are telling young women you can grow up to be anything you want to be, except when you disagree with certain Republican men.”

See here for the background. I always thought it was women who were supposed to have no sense of humor, but clearly Rep. Rinaldi was busy passing budgets and securing borders when the good Lord was handing them out. We should all try to be nicer to Rep. Rinaldi, you know how he gets when people are being mean to him. Speaking of such things, I should note that Rinaldi represents HD115, which is a district that ought to be quite competitive next year. You know, in case someone wants to recruit a strong female candidate to run against him. But please no one tell Rinaldi about this. We don’t want him falling to pieces on us again.

More reasons not to put people in jail

We shouldn’t put people in jail for owing fines.

In January, state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, filed House Bill 1125, which would ban Texas judges from jailing people for an offense that is punishable only by a fine. State Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, soon signed on as a joint author. On Thursday, White also filed House Bill 3729, which would require courts to ask whether a defendant can afford to pay a fine and offer alternatives to payment.

Bernal said representing a district with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds made him realize how a simple traffic ticket could dramatically affect someone’s life. HB 1125 would “level the playing field” and “give people some dignity,” he said.

Thousands of Texans are at risk of being arrested at any given moment for not paying fines related to traffic offenses or other city ordinance violations, according to a recently released report by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Fair Defense Project. Those who can’t afford to pay often find themselves hit with additional fines or other restrictions such as being blocked from renewing their driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations.

More than 200,000 Texans can’t renew their licenses and approximately 400,000 have holds on vehicle registrations due to unpaid fines, according to the report. In 2015, almost 3 million warrants were issued in cases where the punishment was originally just a fine.

“What happens is that the current system is counterproductive, and it drives people further into debt because they’re accumulating more tickets for driving illegally and on top of those tickets are all of the costs and fees that start snowballing as well,” said Mary Mergler, criminal justice project director with Texas Appleseed. “So it drives people further into debt … and impedes people’s abilities to make a living.”

Courts generally don’t offer alternatives to jailing or ask about a defendant’s ability to pay, the study found. In 2015, judges rarely used community service to resolve “fine-only” cases – just 1.3 percent of the time. In fewer than 1 percent of cases, they waived fines or reduced payments owed because the defendant couldn’t afford to pay, according to the study.

Many drivers feel a sense of helplessness related to paying off their mounting fines, said Emily Gerrick, a staff attorney with the Texas Fair Defense Project.

“It’s very easy for people to accumulate thousands of dollars in ticket debt even if they’re not bad drivers, just because they have to get their kids to school, they have to go to the doctor,” she said. “There’s no choice but to drive, so they’re going to keep getting these tickets and then eventually, what ends up happening is they get their warrant, they go to jail.”

That kind of disruption puts families, jobs and housing at risk, studies and individual accounts have shown.

“They’re usually very distressed,” Gerrick said, describing clients behind bars. “I’ve had them not know where their kids were when I saw them.”

Mergler added that the situation undermines, rather than improves, public safety.

“People with outstanding warrants who are afraid of being arrested on those warrants are inclined to avoid contact with law enforcement, whether that’s to report a crime or even to ask for help when they themselves are a victim of crime,” she said.

I agree with this, and I agree that we should not jail people for having unpaid fines. I’m sure there are some exceptional circumstances under which jailing is the best option, but it should be the exception and not the rule. Otherwise, people should always be given alternative means of complying – payment plans, community service, some other means that people smarter than I am can come up with – and should not have additional violations and fines piled on top of their existing ones if they are in the process of paying them off. It’s not justice, and it’s not right. I support these bills and I hope to see them become laws.

(By the way, that same argument at the end of this story, about how this situation undermines public safety, is basically the same argument made by police chiefs and sheriffs against so-called “sanctuary cities”. Just wanted to point that out.)

Another voter ID update

From the Lone Star Project:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Last week, the Trump Department of Justice brought press attention to the ongoing Texas voter ID lawsuit that remains pending before Federal District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos in Corpus Christi. The Trump DOJ withdrew long-standing federal government claims that the Texas law was adopted with the intent to discriminate against Hispanic and African American Texans.

By withdrawing its claims of discriminatory intent in the Texas case, the Trump DOJ, led by embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sent its first clear signal that the DOJ under Trump will not responsibly defend the U.S. Voting Rights Act or block discrimination against minority citizens.

Moreover, in their brief to Judge Ramos, the Trump DOJ argued that she should delay her ruling on discriminatory intent until the current Texas Legislature decides on the adoption of a new Texas voter ID law.  The argument is extraordinary in that it somehow reasons that the intentions of a Legislature convened in 2017 can repair or erase the discriminatory intentions of a different Legislature convened in 2011.

On Tuesday, allied plaintiffs challenging the Texas voter ID law, who include U.S. Congressman Marc Veasey (TX33 – Dallas/Fort Worth), filed their brief responding to the Trump DOJ.  The brief is relatively short and easy to follow.  The key points made are:

  • The Trump DOJ withdrew its claims of discriminatory intent based on political rather than substantive legal considerations.  They failed to cite any new evidence refuting discriminatory intent.
  • Action by the current Texas Legislature to consider or pass a new voter ID law does not reflect on the intent of the Legislature five years ago, and should not affect Judge Ramos’ actions or ruling on discriminatory intent now.
  • Judge Ramos should issue her ruling on discriminatory intent now, while holding her final judgement and prescribing a remedy until the Legislature completes whatever actions it may take on new voter ID legislation.

Judge Ramos is expected to issue her response to the briefs filed soon.

See here for the background. I didn’t think much of the state and DOJ’s arguments last week, and I don’t think any more of them now. Between this and the redistricting decision, the potential to substantially roll back some of the most egregiously restrictive voting laws of this decade is great.