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Second trimester lawsuit appeal heard at the Fifth Circuit

Elections or no elections, the world keeps spinning.

The federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Monday morning about whether Texas should be able to ban doctors from performing the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, called dilation and evacuation.

In a nearly hourlong hearing, attorneys for Texas and lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood argued in front of a panel of three judges.

At issue was Senate Bill 8, a law signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017 but blocked by a federal judge that would ban abortions in which a doctor uses surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. The law would only allow the procedure to be done if the fetus is deceased.

[…]

Janet Crepps, senior counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, argued that the state’s proposed law was “invasive, medically unnecessary and poses a dangerous risk” to women. She said injections with potassium chloride using a three-to-four-inch spinal needle puts women at risks for infection and hospitalization.

“Just the idea the state thinks that’s what’s within its power is contrary to the whole idea that women have a right to autonomy, dignity,” Crepps said after the hearing.

The appeals case comes nearly a year after Judge Lee Yeakel said the provision imposed an “undue burden” on women seeking second-trimester abortions in Texas. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood filed suit last summer on behalf of several women’s health providers in the state. Yeakel issued a temporary restraining order on enforcing the measure in August, a day before the ban’s effective date.

Throughout the hearing the three judges asked questions around how to best interpret a Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that blocked Alabama’s dilation and evacuation ban from going into effect; how the injections work; and who are the women likely to need these services.

Medical professionals deem the dilation and evacuation method the safest way to perform an abortion, and reproductive rights groups have said this ban would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure.

See here for the previous update. I don’t have any faith in the Fifth Circuit or the Supreme Court interpreting “undue burden” in a meaningful fashion, but I’ll be happy to be surprised. Whatever the outcome of this case, if we don’t have a federal law protecting access to abortion on our near-term goals, we’re doing it wrong.

Planning to fail

Big surprise.

Right there with them

Anti-abortion activist Carol Everett had no experience running a family planning program when the state of Texas awarded her millions in taxpayer funds to help rebuild a network of low-income women’s health providers. The state knew that. So it should have been no surprise when Everett’s organization, the Heidi Group, failed to provide services to thousands of women after the Legislature slashed family planning funds and kicked out Planned Parenthood.

Last year, officials with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) acknowledged that the Heidi Group hadn’t met its contractual obligations, and the agency clawed back some of the money. But, until now, HHSC has refused to reveal how many patients Everett served, or just how much was spent on their care. Data obtained by the Observer shows that in fiscal year 2017, the Heidi Group served just over 3,300 clients, less than 5 percent of the nearly 70,000 Everett had pledged to cover. Nonetheless, the state renewed the group’s multimillion-dollar contracts for a third year.

“It’s outrageous. In what other area of state government would this kind of incompetence be rewarded over and over and over again?” said Dan Quinn, communications director at Texas Freedom Network, which called for an investigation into the Heidi Group contracts. “It’s a betrayal of taxpayers and especially of women who need these services and aren’t getting them.”

[…]

One of Heidi Group’s contracts is for the Healthy Texas Women program, which provides family planning services and preventive screenings for poor Texans. For fiscal year 2017, Heidi was initially awarded about $1.6 million to build a network of providers — a mix of clinics, individual doctors and crisis pregnancy centers — to serve nearly 51,000 patients enrolled in Healthy Texas Women. Despite spending more than $1.3 million, Heidi Group only managed to serve 2,300 clients, according to the new data.

Through a second contract, HHSC awarded the Heidi Group $5.1 million to serve nearly 18,000 clients through the Family Planning Program, the state’s other reproductive health program. Last year, the health agency conceded that the Heidi Group was falling short and cut back its contract by just over $4 million, reducing Heidi’s proposed client totals to about 3,500 and reallocating the remaining funds to other contractors. The Heidi Group missed that mark too, spending about $605,000 to serve just over 1,000 clients.

The Heidi Group was the only contractor in either program to have funds revoked in 2017.

See here and here for the background. We need to be clear that the Heidi Group’s incompetence, in conjunction with its anti-choice pedigree, is a feature and not a bug. As such, from the perspective of our state leadership, they’re doing a heck of a job. The Trib has more.

“Fetal remains” law tossed

Very good.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra struck down a Texas law on Wednesday that would have required hospitals and clinics to bury cremate fetal remains, causing another courtroom setback for state leaders and anti-abortion groups.

Under Senate Bill 8, passed in 2017, health care facilities including hospitals and abortion clinics would be required to bury or cremate any fetal remains — whether from abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or treatments for ectopic pregnancy regardless of patients’ personal wishes or beliefs. Legislators passed the bill following a ruling that year by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that struck down a similar rule implemented by the Texas Department of State Health Services. At the time Sparks said it was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

Over the course of a nearly 30-minute hearing at a federal court in Austin on Wednesday, Ezra gave a synopsis of the ruling, calling the case “a very emotional topic.” The requirement would have been challenging for health providers, in part because it would be difficult to find medical waste vendors willing to participate. In addition, Ezra expressed wariness about the state having to reach out to private cemeteries to help with fetal remain disposals.

“The implementation of this law, as I have pointed out, would cause and, if allowed to go into effect, would be a violation of a woman’s right to obtain a legal abortion under the law as it stands today,” Ezra said.

[…]

Multiple doctors and health advocates who testified said women often don’t ask what happens to their fetal tissue, since they assume it’ll be treated like medical waste. Providers also said they have experienced challenges trying to find medical waste vendors willing to work with their clinics. A top reason, they said, is that vendors are unwilling to endure backlash and harassment from anti-abortion advocates.

See here, here, and here for the background. I’m terribly amused by the fact that the zealotry of the anti-abortion movement was cited as a reason that this law they supported is illegal. If there’s a Greek goddess of irony, she’s pouring herself a glass of wine right now. Of course the state will appeal, and we know that the Fifth Circuit and soon SCOTUS are places where hope goes to be strangled in a back alley. But until then we have this, so let’s celebrate while we still can. The Observer has more.

“Fetal remains” trial ends

Now we wait for a ruling.

State and reproductive rights attorneys wrapped up a five-day trial in federal court on Friday that will determine whether a Texas law requiring health providers to cremate or bury fetal remains can go into effect.

U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra told attorneys on Friday that he has “not made up my mind on how I’m going to rule on this case” and is awaiting written closing arguments due on Aug. 3.

He’s expected to rule around the end of August.

The law at the center of the case is Senate Bill 8, passed in 2017, which requires the burial or cremation of fetal remains. Legislators passed the bill following a ruling that year by U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that struck down a similar rule implemented by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Sparks said that rule was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

Throughout the five-day trial, a wave of patients, health providers, state agency officials, bioethicists, cemetery directors and religious leaders flowed through the witness stand.

Before dismissing attorneys Friday morning, Ezra rattled off a list of questions and concerns he wanted both sides to answer in his closing arguments, including: What authority does Texas have to pass laws around giving dignity to the unborn? What would happen to women’s access to care — for abortions and miscarriages — if health providers did not have a facility to handle fetal remains? And how many facilities — secular or otherwise — have committed to helping with burials and cremation?

Ezra noted that the case is unique because state attorneys waived the argument that SB 8 protects the health or safety of patients and plaintiff’s attorneys waived arguments about costs to patients and providers.

The dynamics involved “makes this case extremely unique in many ways and makes finding precedent all the more difficult because those issues are generally not only present in these kind of abortion-related cases — they’re often paramount in those cases,” Ezra said.

See here for the background. The judge’s questions, which the Observer examined in more detail, are the key to the case. During the trial, there was testimony by Blake Howard Norton, the daughter of State Rep. Donna Howard, about how she felt coerced by the Catholic hospital where she was going through a miscarriage into making a decision about disposing of the fetus, and there was more useless testimony from paid state witnesses who lacked any expertise in the subject matter and the law. I feel like the judge is skeptical of the law, but we’ll see what he has to say about it. The Chron has more.

“Fetal remains” lawsuit trial underway

Here we go.

State and reproductive rights attorneys are going head to head again in federal court on Monday to argue whether Texas should require health providers to cremate or bury fetal remains.

“It’s a tough case for everybody,” U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra said Friday during a pretrial hearing. In January, he had granted an injunction blocking a state fetal remains burial rule, but he said last week that the previous decision is no indication of how he would rule in the trial.

“It’s a very emotional case, and so I would ask counsel to do the best job they can to try and tamp down some of the more zealous individuals in your respective camps so that we don’t get a lot of extraneous stuff going on,” Ezra said to attorneys for the state and the Center for Reproductive Rights, who are representing the plaintiffs.

Arguments in the trial are expected to run all week.

[…]

Ezra listened as both sets of attorneys spent nearly two hours going over logistics of the trial and other issues including whether certain witnesses would be allowed to testify about the emotional trauma of abortions and fetal remain burials and keeping information about vendors confidential for safety reasons.

Throughout Friday’s pretrial hearing, Ezra laid out for attorneys what was on the court’s mind about the case, including: if women may face an undue burden if there aren’t enough providers or facilities statewide; the logistics of how doctors and clinics would deal with the law if it went into effect; and if Texas has enough facilities available statewide to help dispose of the fetal remains.

“I have to deal with this as a law in Texas that will affect every woman in the state of Texas,” Ezra said.

Another point of contention during the hearing was what to do about a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on whether the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops would have to turn over confidential internal documents to the Center for Reproductive Rights and Whole Woman’s Health for the fetal remains trial. Ezra had previously ruled it would, but in the middle of the pretrial hearing the 5th Circuit informed him it had reversed his decision.

See here for the previous update. I have no idea how this one may go, but I’ll be keeping an eye on it. There’s certainly a chance that none of this will matter given the likely future composition of SCOTUS, but we have to go through the process anyway. The Chron has more.

Omnibus lawsuit against anti-abortion laws

Talk about going big.

Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned major provisions of Texas’ omnibus House Bill 2, abortion rights groups want to use that decision to take down years’ worth of anti-abortion legislation, before the court makeup changes. In a 5-3 decision, the justices determined that provisions of the 2013 law didn’t provide “medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.” Emboldened by the ruling, abortion providers went through years of Texas regulations to determine others that could be challenged under the same health and safety standard, leading to the lawsuit filed against the attorney general, state health department, and others.

“I think of this as an omnibus repeal,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president of Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the lead plaintiff in the HB 2 case and the new lawsuit. “There’s a new standard, and we can look at it to challenge a bunch of things at once.”

The lawsuit, which Hagstrom Miller calls “the big fix,” is far-reaching. Filed in federal district court in Austin, it challenges a parental notification law from 1999 and abortion reporting requirements from 2017. It takes issue with the state’s ultrasound requirement, mandatory waiting period, parental consent requirement, restrictions on medication abortion and telehealth services, provider licensing laws and more than 20 other restrictions.

[…]

Work began on the new lawsuit not long after the HB 2 decision. Last May, Hagstrom Miller hinted at litigation, saying at the reopening of her Austin clinic that “we have the opportunity to try to get some other things fixed by the Supreme Court before the makeup changes — if the makeup changes.” She had already started brainstorming this lawsuit, holding meetings with providers and scribbling regulations to tackle on whiteboards, she told the Observer on Wednesday.

The new challenge comes as conservative lawmakers around the country are aggressively pushing anti-abortion legislation. One bill proposed during the last session of the Texas Legislature would have criminalized abortion and charged women and providers with murder. The Legislature passed a measure that bans the most common form of second-trimester abortion, and another that requires the burial or cremation of fetal remains after abortions and miscarriages. Both are currently blocked, but some anti-abortion advocates hope to push the former to the Supreme Court.

The Trib lists the plaintiffs: the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, the Afiya Center, Fund Texas Choice, the Lilith Fund, the Texas Equal Access Fund, the West Fund and Dr. Bhavik Kumar, who serves as medical director of the Whole Woman’s Health Alliance clinic. I can imagine them scoring at least a significant partial win in district court, then running into significant resistance from the Fifth Circuit – basically, exactly what happened with the lawsuit against HB2 – and after that who knows. It’s a bold strategy and has the potential for a lot of good, but as with any bold strategy there’s risk as well. Needless to say, I wish them all the best. A press release from the West Fund is here, and the Chron and Texas Monthly have more.

“Fetal remains” law blocked in court

It’s deja vu all over again.

Texas’ second attempt to require health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains has been temporarily thwarted by a federal judge and another court battle is imminent.

In his Monday afternoon ruling, U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra said the Texas Department of State Health Services’ arguments “lack merit.”

“For those eager for a result in this case, it is tempting to read the Court’s decision as a signal on who will win at trial or as a determination of the validity of Plaintiffs’ claims,” Ezra said. “Such guesswork would be premature. The Court only concludes Plaintiffs establish injunctive relief is warranted to preserve the status quo.”

The current fight is over Senate Bill 8, a law passed during the 2017 legislative session that has a provision forcing health care facilities to bury or cremate any fetal remains from abortions, miscarriage or treatment for ectopic pregnancy, regardless of their patients’ personal wishes or beliefs. That provision was supposed to go into effect Feb. 1.

In his temporary ruling, Ezra said attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights, who are representing the plaintiffs, showed evidence that the new rule would infringe on women’s right to an abortion and that medical providers would have a difficult time following through with the rule, causing them to be fined.

Ezra’s ruling echoes a case from 2016 where reproductive rights groups sued to stop the Health and Human Services Commission from implementing a similar fetal burial rule. During the multi-day court hearing at the time, state attorneys said the rule was designed to provide aborted or miscarried fetuses a better resting place than a landfill. They also argued that there would be no cost for patients to worry about and only miniscule costs for providers. The state also said that there were multiple groups willing to help with costs.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks struck that rule down in 2017, saying it was vague, caused undue burden on women and had high potential for irreparable harm.

See here for some background on the legislation. This is just an injunction hearing, to decide whether to allow the law to take effect while the litigation is ongoing. The hearings and rulings on the merits come afterward. As noted, the rule that preceded this law was struck down almost exactly a year ago; the state is of course appealing that ruling. From the zealots’ perspective, it almost doesn’t matter if they win or lose. It’s time consuming and expensive for the clinics to fight – and let’s not forget, even as the omnibus HB2 was struck down awhile back, many clinics closed for good in the meantime – and it keeps the rubes whipped up. What’s not to like for them? A statement from the Center for Reproductive Rights is here, and the Current has more.

Abortion procedure ban struck down

Good news, for now.

A federal district judge handed a victory to abortion rights groups Wednesday when he struck down part of a Texas law curbing access to the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, called dilation and evacuation.

In a decision that will be appealed before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Lee Yeakel said the provision imposes an “undue burden” on women seeking second-trimester abortions in the state.

It had been slated to go into effect Sept. 1 as part of Senate Bill 8, a law signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this year. But the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood filed suit in July on behalf of several women’s health providers in the state. Yeakel issued a temporary restraining order on enforcing the measure in August, a day before the ban’s effective date.

The temporary restraining order was set to expire Wednesday evening.

[…]

“The court concludes that requiring a woman to undergo an unwanted, risky, invasive, and experimental procedure in exchange for exercising her right to choose an abortion, substantially burdens that right,” Yeakel wrote in the opinion.

He added: “The State’s valid interest in promoting respect for the life of the unborn, although legitimate, is not sufficient to justify such a substantial obstacle to the constitutionally protected right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability.”

Almost immediately after the ruling was issued, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement saying he’d appealed.

See here for the last update, and here for a copy of the ruling. The Fifth Circuit is a crapshoot with loaded dice, but at least for now doctors and women can do health care without the state butting in. The Austin Chronicle and the Center for Reproductive Rights have more.

Second trimester abortion lawsuit hearings conclude

Now we wait.

In a five-day trial that concluded Wednesday, lawyers for the state defended part of a Texas law that bans the most common second-trimester abortion procedure unless the fetus is deceased.

Abortion rights groups sued the state in July, arguing the provision restricting the dilation and evacuation procedure imposes an undue burden on Texas women seeking second-trimester abortions. Medical professionals deem the procedure the safest way to terminate a second-trimester pregnancy.

But the state argued in court the method is inhumane and that it’s reasonable to require fetal demise before the procedure is performed.

“The state has legitimate interest … in protecting the health of a woman and life of a fetus that may become a child,” said Darren McCarty, a lawyer for the state, in closing arguments. The provision at issue, he said, “regulates the moment of death, the moment of fetal termination, and nothing more. Whether … the lethal act is going to be, for instance, grabbing the leg and pulling it off the fetus, or whether instead the lethal act is going to be a single injection or perhaps just a snip of the umbilical cord.”

The trial centered on part of Senate Bill 8, a state law passed earlier this year that bans dilation and evacuation abortions unless the fetus is deceased. The ban had an effective date of Sept. 1. But Federal District Judge Lee Yeakel blocked its implementation with a temporary restraining order in August – a month after a lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood on behalf of several women’s health providers in the state. Whole Woman’s Health is the lead plaintiff.

During the dilation and evacuation procedure, doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — a process proponents of the law have called “dismemberment abortion.” Doctors would face criminal charges for violating the ban; the only exception would be in cases of medical emergency.

Yeakel did not say when a ruling would come, but a temporary restraining order on enforcing the ban expires Nov. 22. The decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, an outcome Yeakel alluded to several times during trial.

See here for the background. We know the drill here, we’ve been down this road too many times already. All I can say is look what happened in this Tuesday’s elections, and think about what could happen here. The Center for Reproductive Rights has more.

Julian 2020?

He has raised the possibility.

Julian Castro

Texas Democrat Julian Castro confirmed Sunday he is seriously considering running for president in 2020 and former state Sen. Wendy Davis left open the possibility she will take another run at running for governor in 2018.

“I might,” Castro told more than 350 people at a political conference near the University of Texas on Sunday morning. Davis’ comments came at the same event.

Castro, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, said the country needs a very different president than what is in office now and he will spend 2018 weighing a bid. He said the country needs someone “fundamentally honest” in the White House.

“We’ve had too much lying out of the White House,” Castro said.

Well, it’s hard to argue with that. There has been talk of Julian Castro running for President in 2020 – it’s even had an effect on Joaquin Castro’s consideration of running for Governor this year. I’ve no doubt that Julian Castro has been thinking about running since approximately November 9 of last year. It’s mostly a question of how he goes about it. I’ll be happy to see Julian run and will give strong consideration to supporting him, but for now all I care about is 2018.

Speaking of 2018, from the same story:

At the same event, Davis meanwhile left open the possibility that she will be running for governor again in 2020.

The former state senator from Fort Worth said although she was defeated in 2014 by Gov. Greg Abbott, it was before voters knew how far right he would go in supporting legislation like SB 4, which she called the “show me your papers” law that threatens every citizen with brown skin. Supporters of SB 4 have said the legislation was to outlaw so-called sanctuary cities and allow local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they pull over.

Davis made clear she’s only considering it largely because other Democrats have failed to step forward to run.

“Because no one else is stepping forward,” Davis said when asked by moderator Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune why she was not ruling it out.

I love Wendy Davis. I don’t know how many other Democrats love her at this point. It’s a hard thing, losing an election like she did. This story came out before Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez put her name out there, and I think it’s safe to say that if Valdez gets in, Davis will not. But she’s there, maybe, just in case.

One of the other brand-name candidates who is at least thinking about “stepping forward” is Andrew White, who as this Trib story about the same event notes was criticized by Davis fr being anti-choice. White has since updated his website to address some issues; he says “Roe v Wade is the law of the land, and I respect the law” in the Women’s Health section, which doesn’t tell us very much about what sort of bills he would sign or veto if he were to be elected. You can see what he has for yourself – I’m more concerned about his Border Security position, which doesn’t make any sense to me. Filing begins this weekend, so one way or another we’ll begin to get some clarity.

Second trimester abortion lawsuit hearings begin

Deja vu all over again.

Texas abortion providers argued in court Thursday that it is not medically necessary to require women to undergo injections or other procedures in order to comply with a new state law restricting the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.

[…]

Dr. Mark Nichols, an Oregon-based doctor, called the dilation and evacuation procedure the safest method to perform a second-trimester abortion. Nichols argued the three most common procedures used to kill the fetus before performing the abortion are often complicated to perform, require extra training and are not always effective. He also believes they are not medically necessary.

“There is a real failure rate in the procedures we described,” he said.

If a similar law to SB8 existed in Oregon, Nichols said he would hesitate to perform the dilation and evacuation procedure out of fear that the fetus may still be alive, and he would then violate the law.

Under SB8, doctors would face criminal charges for violating the ban, except in a case of a medical emergency. The law was set to go into effect Sept. 1, but Yeakel blocked its implementation with a temporary restraining order which remains in effect.

Nichols said doctors may end up having to experiment on patients “to figure out how not to violate the law.”

According to 2015 data, the latest available, the procedure was used 4,386 times to terminate a pregnancy. In total, 55,287 abortions were performed that year, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for Friday coverage. The Trib had a story from before the hearings began, if you want more background. We all know that this is a multi-year process that will end up before the Supreme Court, and along the way the Fifth Circuit will rubber stamp the state’s law under whatever pretext it feels like using. It’s like the NBA regular season, where the real action is in positioning oneself for the final showdown. All I can say is that I’ve had a few medical procedures in my time, including a few surgeries, and I’m damn glad the state of Texas hasn’t tried to intervene in the treatment. I don’t want them to make medical decisions for my doctors, and I don’t want them making medical decisions for other people’s doctors. Not sure why this is so hard to understand.

State Rep. Larry Gonzales to retire

This is an opportunity for the Democrats.

Rep. Larry Gonzales

State Rep. Larry Gonzales, R-Round Rock, is not running for re-election.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve HD52 and this great state,” Gonzales wrote Wednesday night on Facebook. “We certainly gave it our all.”

Gonzales announced his decision not to run again at a meeting Tuesday night of the Williamson County GOP Executive Committee, according to attendees.

First elected in 2010, Gonzales has served on the Sunset Advisory Commission since 2014 and currently chairs the panel, which is responsible for periodic reviews of state agencies. He is also the chairman of a House Appropriations subcommittee.

[…]

At least two Republicans have already lined up to run for Gonzales’ seat in House District 52: Texas GOP chaplain Jeremy Story and Round Rock resident Christopher Ward.

Another person, James Talarico, has filed paperwork indicating he is interested in running. He is expected to make an announcement early next week.

HD52 is one of several in which Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump by less than five points, with the spread in the downballot races being about eight points. It was a bit more Democratic than in 2012, though not dramatically so. It’s still one of the clearer Democratic targets for 2018, especially now that it is open. If that isn’t enough incentive, there’s also the Speaker’s race dynamic. HD52 is also a target for the wingnuts.

Gonzales was already facing a Republican primary challenge from the right in March. Jeremy Story, a 42-year-old father of seven from Round Rock who founded and is president of Campus Renewal, a Christian organization seeking to unite campus ministries across the country, has announced he’s running for the Republican nomination. Story also serves as chaplain to the Williamson County and Texas Republican parties.

Story said Wednesday that, like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, he was disappointed that Straus did not deliver on more of the governor’s 20-point agenda for the special session. He said he believed the House could benefit from a change in leadership.

But, on Tuesday night, the Williamson County Republican Party executive committee defeated, 31-14, a measure to call for the speaker’s replacement, and Chairman Bill Fairbrother said that support for Straus was stronger in the southern end of the county that makes up Gonzales’ district.

Fairbrother described Gonzales as a successful and popular legislator who had worked tirelessly to get around and represent the district. He said he expects several other Republicans to jump into the race in the near future.

They need to be joined by at least one good Democrat. Don’t let us down, Williamson County.

Meanwhile, up north there’s another retirement:

State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, announced Thursday she is not running for re-election.

Laubenberg, who chairs the House Elections Committee, did not provide a specific reason for her decision in a statement. “I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” Laubenberg said.

Laubenberg has served eight terms representing House District 89 in Collin County.

The seat is likely to stay under GOP control. One name that was already being mentioned Thursday evening as a potential candidate to replace Laubenberg was Candy Noble, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee from Lucas.

Laubenberg was the author of the infamous HB2 abortion bill that eventually got canned by SCOTUS, but not before a bunch of clinics were forced to close. I seriously doubt that anyone else will be better than she was – HD89 is a safe Republican seat, having been carried by Trump by over 20 points – but no one I know will be sorry to see Jodie Laubenberg walk out the door for the last time.

Second trimester abortion procedure ban halted

For now, at least.

A federal judge has temporarily stopped Texas officials from enforcing a ban on the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, just one day before the ban was set to go into effect.

Judge Lee Yeakel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas granted a temporary restraining order Thursday, delaying enforcement of the ban until Sept. 14. It was originally set to go into effect Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 8, which passed during the 2017 regular legislative session, banned dilation and evacuation abortions — where doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — unless the fetus is deceased.

[…]

“The provisions of SB 8 that we’re challenging criminalize a safe and common method of abortion,” said Molly Duane, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Politicians in Texas are trying to punish doctors who are using their best medical judgment.”

In court Tuesday, [Darren McCarty, an attorney for the state] questioned the timing of the lawsuit’s filing, and argued it was a strategy to force the court to “rubber stamp” emergency relief days before the ban was slated to go into effect. Yeakel, agreeing, said he could see no reason why the suit couldn’t have been filed as soon as the governor signed the bill into law, and said its timing was a “real imposition” and put “maximum pressure” on the court to act at the last minute.

Yeakel also asked repeatedly what evidence legislators had considered before passing the law, and how Texas’ provision differs from similar bans that have been contested in other states. Laws like SB 8’s dilation and evacuation ban have been opposed or halted in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, according to a press release from the center. In court Tuesday, neither side pointed to substantive differences between Texas’ law and these others.

Duane said the new law is part of a “coordinated strategy by the state of Texas and by states around the country to ban abortion method by method, one restriction at a time, until it’s practically unavailable for women.”

See here and here for the background. No question, that is the strategy, and it has been a successful one. There will be another hearing on September 14 to either extend the ban, make it permanent pending appeal, or lift it. But as Judge Yeakel acknowledged, this is all just the first aria in a Wagner-length opera:

But this is the first battle in what is likely to be a long legal war. Yeakel wearily acknowledged as much on Tuesday, during a hearing on the temporary halt to the law. He called his court a “whistle stop on the train on the way to New Orleans, then on to Washington” for anti-abortion lawsuits, referring to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

There is a “constant never-ending stream of these cases and I think it will continue,” said a frustrated Yeakel about the new law, which would have gone into effect Friday. “It seems like the Legislature just jumps out and produces statutes, they’re signed by the governor, and then we start over here.”

Say it with me now: Nothing will change until the people we elect change. What are you doing to make 2018 different? The Current has more.

Latest abortion lawsuit heard in court

Here we go again, and again and again and again.

For the fifth time since 2013, lawyers for Texas will defend an abortion-related law or regulation Tuesday in the Austin federal courthouse, where they hope to reverse a string of legal defeats that included a precedent-setting decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The latest lawsuit seeks to block a law, passed by the Legislature in May and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, that bans “dismemberment abortions,” a term not used in medical literature or by doctors but which targets a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, commonly called D&E abortions.

Abortion providers argue that the law bans the safest and most commonly used procedure for second-trimester procedures, placing an unconstitutional limit on access to abortion that would force women into unnecessary medical procedures at a higher risk and with additional pain and expense.

[…]

The limit on D&E abortions was included in Senate Bill 8, a sweeping measure passed during the Legislature’s regular session that also requires fetal tissue to be buried or cremated, prohibits the use of fetal tissue from abortions in medical research and creates state crimes for two practices already prohibited by federal law: selling fetal body parts and performing “partial-birth” abortions.

Those regulations also take effect Sept. 1, although a federal judge in January blocked Texas from enforcing a similar fetal-burial rule that state health officials had adopted last year. Paxton has appealed that ruling.

In addition, during the special session that ended two weeks ago, the Legislature banned general insurance plans from covering abortions and required stricter reporting for abortion-related medical complications.

See here for the background. I never got around to posting about the rape insurance law, which is awful in its own way but probably not something that can be beaten in court. This kind of law has been halted in several other states, so there’s a chance. With September 1 just two days away, we should get a ruling quickly. Fingers crossed.

Another national publication looks at CD07

Mother Jones, come on down.

Rep. John Culberson

In addition to [Laura] Moser, the top competitors for the March primary are first-time candidates with stories that fit the political moment in different ways. Lizzie Fletcher, a well-connected lawyer at a large downtown firm, got her start in politics as a teenager during the 1992 Republican National Convention, when she volunteered to stand outside abortion clinics blocking Operation Rescue types from chaining themselves to the entrance. Alex Triantaphyllis, who at 33 is the youngest of the bunch, co-founded a mentoring nonprofit for refugees in Houston after spending time at Goldman Sachs and Harvard Law School. Jason Westin, an oncologist and researcher at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, told me he first thought about running a week after the election, after watching his daughter’s soccer game. She had taken a hard fall and Westin told her to “get back up and get back in the game”—but sitting on the couch later that day, scrolling through Facebook, he decided he was a hypocrite. He decided to enter the race with encouragement from 314 Action, a new political outfit that encourages candidates with scientific backgrounds to run for office. The primary is not until March, but in a sign of the enthusiasm in the district, Culberson’s would-be Democratic challengers have already held two candidate forums.

The 7th District starts just west of downtown Houston, in the upscale enclave of West University Place near Rice University, and stretches west and north through parts of the city and into the suburbs, in the shape of a wrench that has snapped at the handle. It had not given any indication of turning blue before last year. But a large number of voters cast ballots for both Hillary Clinton and Culberson. Moser and Fletcher see that as a sign that Republican women, in particular, are ready to jump ship for the right candidate. In the Texas Legislature, West University Place is represented by Republican Sarah Davis, whose district Clinton carried by 15 points, making it the bluest red seat in the state. Davis is an outlier in another way: She’s the lone pro-choice Republican in the state Legislature and was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes in 2016. “To the outside world it looks like a huge swing,” Fletcher says of the November results, “but I think that a more moderate kind of centrist hue is in keeping with the district, so I’m not surprised that people voted for Hillary.”

But whether they’re Sarah Davis Democrats or Hillary Clinton Republicans at heart, those crossover voters still make up just a small percentage of the overall population. Houston is the most diverse metro area in the United States, and a majority of the district is non-white—a fact that’s not reflected in the Democratic candidate field. To win, Democrats will need to lock in their 2016 gains while also broadening their electorate substantially from what it usually is in a midterm election. That means making real inroads with black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters in the district, many of whom may be new to the area since the last round of redistricting. “[The] big thing in the district is getting Hispanic voters out, and nobody knows how to do that,” Moser acknowledges, summing up the problems of Texas Democrats. “If we knew how, we wouldn’t have Ted Cruz.”

[…]

At a recent candidate forum sponsored by a local Indivisible chapter, Westin, the oncologist, warned voters against repeating the mistakes of Georgia. “One of the take-home messages was that a giant pot of money is not alone enough to win,” he said. Westin’s message for Democrats was to go big or go home. While he believes the seven candidates are broadly on the same page in their economic vision and in their opposition to Trump, he urged the party to rally around something bold that it could offer the public if it took back power—in his case, single-payer health care. “We’re behind Luxembourg, we’re behind Malta, we’re behind Cypress and Brunei and Slovenia in terms of our quality of health care,” Westin says. “That is astounding.” Who better to make the case for Medicare-for-all, he believes, than someone in the trenches at one of the world’s most prestigious clinics?

Moser, who likewise backs single-payer, may be even more outspoken about the need to change course. She argues that the Obama years should be a teachable moment for progressives. They let centrists and moderates like former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus call the shots for a once-in-a-generation congressional majority, she says, and all they got was a lousy tea party landslide. “I don’t know if we would still have been swept in 2010—probably, because that’s the way it goes—but at least we could have accomplished some stuff in the meantime that we could claim now more forcefully and more proudly,” she says. A missed opportunity from those years she’d like to revisit is a second stimulus bill to rebuild infrastructure in places like Houston, where floods get worse and worse because of a climate Culberson denies is changing.

In Moser’s view, Democrats lose swing districts not because they’re too liberal but because they’re afraid to show it. When DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, a congressman from New Mexico, told The Hill in August that the party would support pro-life Democratic candidates next November on a case-by-case basis (continuing a long-standing policy backed by Nancy Pelosi), Moser penned another article for Vogue condemning the position. “As a first-time Congressional candidate, I’ve been warned not to criticize Ben Ray Luján,” she wrote, but she couldn’t help it. Red states like Texas were not a justification for moderation; they were evidence of its failure. “I have one idea of how to get more Democratic women to polling stations: Stand up for them.”

Fletcher and Triantaphyllis have been more cautious in constructing their platforms. They’d like to keep Obamacare and fix what ails it, but they have, for now, stopped short of the single-player proposal endorsed by most of the House Democratic caucus. “I don’t think anyone has a silver bullet at this point,” Triantaphyllis says. Both emphasize “market-based” or “market-centered” economic policies and the need to win Republican voters with proposals on issues that cut across partisan lines, such as transportation. Houston commutes are notorious, and Culberson, Fletcher notes, has repeatedly blocked funding for new transit options.

Still, the field reflects a general leftward shift in the party over the last decade. All the major candidates oppose the Muslim ban, proposals to defund Planned Parenthood, and Trump’s immigration crackdown. Even in America’s fossil-fuel mecca, every candidate has argued in favor of a renewed commitment to fighting climate change. It is notable that Democratic candidates believe victory lies in loudly opposing the Republican president while defending Barack Obama in a historically Republican part of Texas. But Moser still worries her rivals will fall for the same old trap.

“I just think in this district people say, ‘Oh, but it’s kind of a conservative district,’ [and try] to really be safe and moderate, and I find that the opposite is true,” Moser says. “We just don’t have people showing up to vote. We don’t even know how many Democrats we have in this district because they don’t vote.”

Pretty good article overall. I often get frustrated by stories like this written by reporters with no clue about local or Texas politics, but this one was well done. This one only mentions the four top fundraisers – it came out before Debra Kerner suspended her campaign, so it states there are seven total contenders – with Moser getting the bulk of the attention. It’s one of the first articles I’ve read to give some insight into what these four are saying on the trail. They’re similar enough on the issues that I suspect a lot of the decisions the primary voters make will come down to personality and other intangibles. Don’t ask me who I think is most likely to make it to the runoff, I have no idea.

As for the claims about what will get people out to vote next November, this is an off-year and it’s all about turnout. CD07 is a high turnout district relative to Harris County and the state as a whole, but it fluctuates just like everywhere else. Here’s what the turnout levels look like over the past cycles:


Year    CD07   Harris   Texas
=============================
2002  37.37%   35.01%  36.24%
2004  66.87%   58.03%  56.57%
2006  40.65%   31.59%  33.64%
2008  70.61%   62.81%  59.50%
2010  49.42%   41.67%  37.53%
2012  67.72%   61.99%  58.58%
2014  39.05%   33.65%  33.70%
2016  67.04%   61.33%  59.39%

These figures are from the County Clerk website and not the redistricting one, so the pre-2012 figures are for the old version of CD07. High in relative terms for the off years, but still plenty of room to attract Presidential-year voters. Note by the way that there are about 40,000 more registered voters in CD07 in 2016 compared to 2012; there were 20,000 more votes cast in 2016, but the larger number of voters meant that turnout as a percentage of RVs was down a touch. Job #1 here and everywhere else is to find the Presidential year Democrats and convince them to come out in 2018; job #2 is to keep registering new voters. The candidate who can best do those things is the one I hope makes it on the ballot.

Smell ya later, Senate

How about that?

The special legislative session is over — in one chamber, at least.

The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday evening after voting to approve the Senate’s version of a school finance bill that largely stripped provisions the chamber had fought to keep.

Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back for a special session on July 18. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days, which gave both chambers til Wednesday to work.

The House’s abrupt move came after days of difficult negotiations with the Senate on school finance and property tax bills — and leaves the fate of the latter in question.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen had been expected to appoint conference committee members Tuesday so that the two chambers could reconcile their versions of the bill.

But instead, shortly before the surprise motion to Sine Die, the Angleton Republican made an announcement.

“I have been working with members of the Senate for several days on SB 1, we have made our efforts, so I don’t want there to be in any way a suggestion that we have not, will not, would not work with the Senate on such an important issue,” he said.

So now the Senate can take it or lump it on SB1, which in the end was the bill Abbott was really pushing for. Dan Patrick has a press conference scheduled for today, and I expect it will be epic. I have no idea what happens next, but this is as fitting an ending for a stupid special session as one could imagine. Some things, including at least one really bad thing got done, but most of the petty attacks on local control, as well as the odious bathroom bill, got nowhere. We’ll see if Abbott takes his ball and goes home or drags everyone back out again.

More birth control by mail options

Good to see.

“We want women to see us and say, ‘These are people who believe that if you want birth control you should have it,'” said Hans Ganeskar, co-founder and CEO of Nurx, a California-based site founded in 2015 that can both dispense and prescribe by way of computer or app.

Nurx (pronounced New RX) became available to Texas women in June, bringing the total number of states it serves to 17.

Women answer a series of health questions or in some cases undergo video consultation, and then their prescriptions are written by a state-licensed doctor affiliated with the company. The prescription is then sent to a local pharmacy to handle delivery. With insurance, the cost is generally free; without, it is $15 for a one-month supply of pills.

A similar company, The Pill Club, entered the Texas market in early July. It, too, is a California-based startup touting the same message of accessibility and inclusiveness.

The Pill Club differs from Nurx in that it provides all prescriptions and products in-house, without involving local pharmacies.

While it is possible to get an online exam and first-time prescription in some states through The Pill Club, founder Nick Chang said the exam service is not yet available to Texas women. In states where it is unavailable, women upload an existing prescription. The cost is typically covered by insurance.

Chang, a Stanford Law School graduate who also attended medical school, said his company takes its cues from the many personalized niche shopping sites such as Birch Box with its makeup or the Dollar Shave Club.

“All of these things are being delivered, but not birth control. There’s something wrong with that,” he thought as far back as 2014, although his company did not officially launch until last year. It is now in 13 states.

Contraceptives have been available through online pharmacies long before these new, more hip entrants, but Chang said for reasons not entirely clear many women were not taking advantages of them.

[…]

At Prjkt Ruby (note the text message spelling), contraception comes paired with social conscience. Also launched in 2015, the service arrived in Texas earlier this year, chief marketing officer Daniel Snyder said.

It also offers its own in-house mail-order pharmacy and prescription services. In Texas, those come after a video consultation. But the company does not accept insurance, instead charging the $20-per-cycle prescription services by cash or credit card.

For every order of a three-month cycle, the company donates 75 cents to Population Services International, a nonprofit organization that supports access for birth control to women in developing nations.

“We’re like the TOMS Shoes of birth control,” said Snyder, referring to the shoe seller that donates either a pair of shoes or a portion of the profits from other items to those in need.

Despite the white-hot political glow that surrounds all things reproductive these days, online contraceptive marketing has mostly flown under the radar, even as they also fill the controversial morning-after pills, said Dr. Kristyn Brandi, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Los Angeles and an advocacy fellow for the Physicians for Reproductive Health.

Despite some initial reservations, she said, the potential boost to access outweighs potential safety concerns in misdiagnosis.

“A lot of the trouble with contraception is getting it,” she said.

Snyder agreed, adding it’s impossible to extract the current political climate from what it happening with his company. In the days after the November election, he said they experienced a noticeable surge in business.

“People were panicking,” he said.

Indeed they were. I noted the existence of Nurx after its appearance in Texas. I think there’s a lot to be said for this business model, but I continue to be worried that it’s just a matter of time before it’s in the crosshairs of the the anti-abortion fanatics. It hasn’t happened yet – several more ridiculous anti-abortion items were on the agenda for this special session, so perhaps Greg Abbott hasn’t been informed about birth control by mail – but I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. Until then, if this is something that might be good for you or someone you know, check it out.

Senate has mostly completed the Abbott special session agenda

I’m just going to hit the highlights here because this stuff is happening quickly and often late in the day, but most of the Abbott 20-point special session agenda has been turned into bills that have as of this morning passed the Senate. Yesterday’s action included vouchers and still more unconstitutional abortion restrictions, while the weekend saw a lot more. Basically, if it hasn’t passed the Senate yet, it will in the next day or two. They’ll then sit around and wait for either more agenda items to be added or amended bills to come back to them from the House.

As for the House, they’re just getting started. They passed the sunset bill on first reading, which is the one thing they had to do. There are committee hearings scheduled for the week – unlike in the Senate, the House is going to follow its usual process, which means taking a certain amount of time rather than acting like they have ants in their pants while their hair is on fire. How many Senate bills they take up, and how many they vote on, remains to be seen. You can bet that the voucher bill is a non-starter, but most things after that are at least possible. That includes some kind of bathroom bill, though whether they pass anything more than the weakened form of the bill that the Senate rejected in the regular session is anyone’s guess at this point.

In the meantime, the threat of the bathroom bill as well as the reality of the “sanctuary cities” ban continues to cost the state business, and there’s more where that came from. Texas Competes had a small business-focused press conference yesterday, and in their release they totaled the damage so far at over $66 million in canceled conventions, with $200 million set to pull out if Dan Patrick gets his wish, and over a billion that may follow suit. The Charlotte News & Observer sums it up nicely:

The story now is well-known: Bill passes, business vanishes, national disgrace ensues, Republicans stumble through an amateur hour of near repeal and finally, thanks to intervention from business people, a settlement is reached that unfortunately allows Republicans to save a little face by limiting local governments’ rights to pass anti-discrimination ordinances for a period of time. But North Carolina did enough to bounce back and start landing business again.

Ah, but in Texas, pardners, the HB2 lesson has gone unlearned, as Republicans in the Texas legislature prove themselves to be – using a Lone Star expression – “all hat and no cattle.” They’re actually pushing their own version of HB2, even after many Republican states backed away when they witnessed what happened in North Carolina.

[…]

In this age of Republicans driven by the hard-right, or whatever it is, ideology of the “base” that elected Donald Trump, the Texas debate proves that anything (crazy) is absolutely possible. What’s astonishing is that Texas lawmakers had a perfectly clear view of the economic catastrophe that came to North Carolina after HB2 — tens of millions of dollars lost, including $100 million economic impact for Charlotte with loss of the NBA All-Star Game, and thousands of jobs gone, with companies deciding against establishing offices or expanding the ones they had.

It’s as if, pardon the Texas-sized metaphor, Texas lawmakers stood and watched North Carolina Republicans run full-face forward into a cactus, and then turned to one another and said, “Hey, that looks like fun.”

Yes, this is the world we live in these days. Call your representative and let them know you’d really rather we not slam our faces into a cactus.

Yet another lawsuit filed over yet another unconstitutional anti-abortion law

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Texas is heading to court over a state law going into effect in September banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood announced on Thursday they’re suing over a provision in Texas’ Senate Bill 8 bill that outlaws dilation and evacuation abortions. In that procedure, a doctor uses surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue. SB 8 only allows the procedure to be done if the fetus is deceased.

Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a news release that Texas legislators “have once again compromised the health and safety of the women they were elected to represent” to appease abortion opponents.

“The law we challenged today in Texas is part of a nationwide scheme to undermine these constitutional rights and ban abortion one restriction at a time,” Northrup said. “We are prepared to fight back using the power of the law wherever politicians compromise a woman’s ability to receive the care she needs.”

Medical professionals deem the method the safest way to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman, and reproductive rights groups have said this change would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure. Abortion opponents call the procedure “dismemberment” abortions and argue it’s inhumane.

Provisions similar to SB 8 have been halted in Louisiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama, according to the center’s news release.

See here for the background, and here for the news release. This will be stopped by the courts, and when all is said and done we the taxpayers will get to pick up the tab for the legal fees incurred as the state defends this indefensible monstrosity. Personally, I think it would be more efficient to just make a donation to the CRR directly, but to each their own. Oh, and do keep in mind that the madness never ends, so get ready for even more of this fun in the not too distant future. The Observer and the Current have more.

State appeals injunction of “fetal remains” rule

Here we go.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked a federal appeals court Tuesday to overturn an Austin judge’s ruling that blocked the state from enforcing a rule requiring fetal tissue to be buried or cremated.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled in January that the regulation was vaguely worded, placing abortion clinics at risk of arbitrary enforcement from hostile state agencies, and appeared to be a pretext for restricting abortion access because it provided no health benefits and replaced tissue-disposal regulations that caused no health problems.

Paxton defended the rule, saying it required abortion clinics, hospitals and health centers to treat fetal remains — whether from an abortion or miscarriage — with dignity, replacing regulations that allowed fetal tissue to be incinerated and sent to a sanitary landfill.

Similar restrictions were included in legislation approved last week by the Texas House and Senate. Abortion rights advocates have indicated that they intend to challenge that regulation in court as well.

In briefs filed Tuesday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Paxton argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that states can adopt regulations expressing “profound respect for the life of the unborn” as long as the rules do not create a substantial burden women seeking an abortion.

See here for the background. As the story notes, the same rule was included as a piece of the unconstitutional anti-abortion bill passed late in the session. You can be sure there will be litigation related to that as well. As far as this goes, the Fifth Circuit is trash, but the SCOTUS ruling on HB2 may have cooled their jets a bit. We’ll see what they do.

This session’s unconstitutional abortion bill passes

Here we go again.

Right there with them

Texas senators voted Friday to send a bill banning the most common second-trimester abortion procedure and changing how health care facilities handle fetal remains to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Under Senate Bill 8, which passed 22-9, health care facilities including hospitals and abortion clinics would be required to bury or cremate any fetal remains — whether from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth. The bill would also ban facilities from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers, and aims to outlaw “partial-birth abortions,” which are already illegal under federal law.

Most controversially, the bill now bans dilation and evacuation abortions — a common second-trimester procedure where doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — unless the fetus is deceased. Medical professionals deem the current method the safest way to perform the procedure on a pregnant woman, and reproductive rights groups have said this change would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure.

[…]

Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a news release that Texas legislators are continuing “their crusade against a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion.”

“Texas women deserve access to the health care that is best for them and their personal circumstances — not abortion restrictions pushed by extreme anti-abortion organizations,” Allen said. “The Center for Reproductive Rights vows to battle any unconstitutional measures in the courts until the rights of Texas women are respected and protected.”

The group sued late last year over a Texas Department of State Health Services proposal requiring health providers to bury or cremate fetal remains. Center lawyers won a temporary restraining order and in January a federal judge ruled Texas could not proceed with the rule, citing its vagueness and potential to harm patients.

See here for the background. I don’t know what to say that I haven’t said already, but if I’m going to repeat myself anyway, I’ll say this again: Nothing will change until the people we elect change. We have a chance to do something about this next year. It’s up to us.

It’s HB2 all over again

Here we go again.

Right there with them

GOP House lawmakers took a sweeping approach to anti-abortion legislation on Friday, preliminarily passing a measure that would ban the most common form of a second-trimester procedure and change how health care providers dispose of fetal remains.

Under the broad strokes of Senate Bill 8, abortion providers would have to bury or cremate fetal remains following an elective abortion and they would be banned from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers. The bill also bans “partial-birth abortions,” which are already illegal under federal law.

An amendment added to the bill during House debate would also ban providers from performing “dilation and evacuation” abortions — a common second-trimester procedure where doctors use surgical instruments to grasp and remove pieces of fetal tissue — unless the fetus is already deceased. Abortion opponents call the procedure “dismemberment abortions.”

House lawmakers passed the bill 96-47; the chamber must take a final vote on the measure before it returns to the Senate.

Opponents call “dilation and evacuation” abortions the safest way to perform the procedure on a pregnant woman, and say requiring the fetus to be deceased would subject women to an unnecessary medical procedure.

They have also said burying or cremating fetal remains — and taking away a woman’s right to donate fetal tissue to medical research — are additional ways to burden and stigmatize women who choose to have a legal procedure.

They predicted even more litigation.

“Why don’t we just stop passing unconstitutional laws for a change?” asked state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

But Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, the bill’s House sponsor, said the measure would “make sure tissue from aborted babies are not turned into a commodity.” And even though partial-birth abortions are already illegal, she said her measure helps align state and federal statute.

See here and here for some background. As the story notes, there is already an injunction in place against the “fetal remains” rule as it was enacted by HHSC, so the future lawsuit against SB8 is basically ready to go now. Of course as we know, even passing laws that will be killed by the courts exacts a price on reproductive choice and counts as a big win for the bad guys. The only way we’re going to change that is by changing the Legislature, and that needs to start right away. Note that Rep. Burkett is up top of that list, by the way. Quite a few of the “Freedom Caucus” members are in districts that aren’t really all that red. Channel that anger you’re feeling, there’s a lot of good that can be done. The Observer has more.

SB4 is what you get when you vote for Greg Abbott

This is me, shaking my head.

Duque, who is Latina and Catholic, represents two constituencies Abbott courted during his campaign. The same constituencies strongly opposed the sanctuary cities ban, which Abbott made an emergency item in January and championed throughout the legislative session.

Now, his crusade may have cost him the support of some Latinos and Catholics, who are promising to oppose Abbott when he runs for re-election next year.

“He says one thing, but does another,” Duque said. “I think this is a moment for the next generation of Latinos to come out and vote and elect someone who will be really honest.”

During Abbott’s State of the State Address in late January, he pointed out a guest in the audience, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Abbott thanked DiNardo for his support on issues, such as abortion, that he fights on partly because of his Catholic faith.

But Abbott hasn’t publicly responded to DiNardo and other Texas bishops who oppose the sanctuary cities ban. The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement two weeks ago saying its members were “disappointed” in the bill passed by the House and signed by Abbott.

“Immigration law should be enforced in a way that is targeted, proportional and humane,” DiNardo said in that statement. “This bill does not meet the standard.”

On Friday, the Texas bishops joined a chorus of other advocacy groups asking Abbott to veto the bill. Sunday night, as churchgoers were wrapping up their days of worship, Abbott signed the sanctuary cities ban during a Facebook Live video stream. Some Catholics took that as an affront.

“I’m shocked that the Governor chose to sign this anti-Latino, anti-immigrant, ‘Show Me Your Papers’ bill today on a day of worship,” Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, said in a statement. “While many Hispanics and immigrants are attending mass, the Governor is signing a bill that will profile these people and tear apart their families.”

Here’s a letter signed by a large number of faith leaders denouncing SB4, which will have no more effect on Abbott than a letter signed by Hollywood celebrities. You’ve heard the term “cafeteria Catholic”, which refers to people who pick and choose which part of the dogma they adhere to? It’s often used derisively to describe pro-choice Catholics, but by any reasonable definition, it fits Greg Abbott to a T. He’s right there on banning abortion and discriminating against the gays, but one matters like immigration, refugees, economic and environmental justice and on and on, he’s no more devout than any Christmas-and-Easter-only churchgoer. Like the people who pray in public, he wants to make sure you know how super-duper pious he is.

And look, it’s not like he’s ever made any secret of his support of “sanctuary cities” legislation. If you thought otherwise, you probably also thought Donald Trump wasn’t going to take away your health insurance. All I can say now is I hope you’ve finally figured it out.

Bathroom bills and business interests

Texas Monthly’s Dave Mann reviews the Republican schism over the bathroom bill and comes to the same conclusion as I have.

At the moment, the Legislature—and the Republican party, for that matter—has settled into an uneasy stalemate between Patrick’s right-leaning Senate and Straus’s more moderate coalition in the House. But, as they say, stalemates are made to be broken, and right now, Patrick’s faction seems likely to prevail eventually. It has the support of the most-devoted Republican primary voters, many of whom view moderation or compromise as surrender.

So business leaders and their Republican allies are in a precarious position. They still have a power base in the House, because Straus and his leadership team have fended off several challenges from the right, but he won’t be speaker forever. This session is his fifth leading the House, tying the record for longest-serving speaker with Pete Laney and Gib Lewis. Whenever he departs, Straus could well be replaced by a more conservative figure. So the talk among business Republicans in Austin’s bars and restaurants these days is about how they can reverse their losses and reclaim their party.

Well, good luck with that. The Republican grass roots aren’t going to moderate themselves, and it seems likely that business-friendly Republicans will continue to lose primaries, especially in statewide races. As long as that dynamic remains, the Republican party won’t be tilting back toward the middle anytime soon.

But there is another political party. Remember that one? It’s been stripped down and left to rust for the past two decades. But the Texas Democratic party is still there, waiting for someone to gas it up and take it for a spin.

That’s just what big-business interests should do. The TAB and any number of influential corporations could easily take over the party by recruiting and funding candidates to run as Democrats. It would be a homecoming of sorts; after all, years ago, before the state flipped to the GOP, business-friendly Republicans were conservative Democrats.

The problem with this idea is that Democrats can’t win in Texas at the moment. Sure, big business could take over the Democratic party, but what good would it do? Except the goal here isn’t to suddenly flip the state back to the Democrats. No, the goal would simply be to make Democrats somewhat more competitive, especially in statewide races. They don’t necessarily have to win, just get close enough to scare Republicans and perhaps nudge the GOP back toward moderation.

Republican primaries might turn out differently if there was the threat of a tight race in the general election—and that threat could be more credible in 2018 than it has been in years, with many pundits expecting the national mood to favor Democrats by then. Would Abbott strike a more moderate tone if he knew a well-funded pro-business Democrat was waiting for him in the 2018 general? Part of the business lobby’s problem with Patrick is that it has no way to threaten him. He’s untouchable in a Republican primary, and his general election campaigns have been cakewalks. But if, say, a conservative Democrat, backed by big-business money, opposed him in 2018, that might lead Patrick to moderate just a bit. Similarly, if the GOP once again nominated social conservatives with questionable credentials—like Attorney General Ken Paxton, currently under indictment, or Sid Miller, the agriculture commissioner famous for traveling out of state for his “Jesus shot”—for statewide offices, they’d at least have a challenging race in the fall. And just maybe the specter of a formidable Democratic opponent would lead to a more robust debate within the Republican party, rather than simply a mass rush to the right.

While I agree with Mann in the aggregate, there are several places where I disagree. For one thing, I don’t know what he means by a “conservative” Democrat, but I do know that Democratic primary voters aren’t going to be interested in that. Discussions like this often get bogged down in semantics and everyone’s personal definitions of words like “liberal” and “conservative”, but I think we can all agree that a Democratic candidate who is “conservative” (or just relatively “conservative” for a Democrat) in the social issues sense is going to be extremely controversial. It’s not like Democrats haven’t tried the approach of soft-pedaling such items in recent elections – see, for example, Wendy Davis’ muteness on abortion and her flipflop on open carry in 2014 – it’s just that there’s little to no evidence that it has helped them any. Maybe nothing could have helped them in those elections, but in the Trump era where everyone is fired up with the spirit of resistance, it’s really hard to see how this approach would do anything but piss people off.

I also dispute the assertion that the threat of a close race will make Republicans more likely to choose the less-extreme, more “electable” candidate in their primaries. For Exhibit A, see Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Surely Bill White was a credible threat to them that year, but Rick Perry’s successful strategy was the exact opposite of striking a more “moderate” tone. The only thing that might convince Republican primary voters to try something different will be sustained electoral failure. To say the least, we are not there yet.

What I would recommend for Democrats like Mike Collier and Beto O’Rourke and whoever might emerge to challenge Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton is to approach the business community by reminding them that we already broadly agree on a number of core matters – quality public and higher education, better infrastructure, sanity on immigration, non-discrimination – and where we may disagree on things like taxes and regulations, the Lege will still be Republican. What you get with, say, a Democratic Lt. Governor is a hedge against self-inflicted stupidity of the SB6 and “sanctuary cities” variety. You will get someone who will listen to reason and who will be persuaded by evidence. From the business community’s perspective, this is a better deal than what they have now, and a better deal than any they’re likely to get in the near future. For there to be a chance for that to happen, it will take Democratic candidates that a fired-up base can and will support, plus the willingness of the business community to recognize the hand they’ve been dealt. The ball is in their court.

Winning the battles but losing the war

That’s the story of reproductive rights, and access to reproductive health care in general, in Texas.

Right there with them

“We have made tremendous gains,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life. He hopes that someday, perhaps under Trump, the Supreme Court will overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling upholding abortion rights. In the meantime, when he surveys abortion trends in Texas, he sees “huge progress.”

Abortion rights advocates ruefully agree they have lost ground.

“What makes Texas unique is that the clinic system was undercut so quickly,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group. “Texas has taken what might have happened in a decade or more in another state and collapsed it into a year.”

Texas has “eroded the fabric of care once in place to serve women and make the current landscape extremely difficult to navigate,” Whole Women’s Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller wrote in an email. “As a result of these laws, there are fewer abortion providers in the state and many women have to travel hundreds of miles to receive care.”

Whole Woman’s Health had five clinics in the state a few years ago. After Texas imposed new restrictions, the group shuttered two and decided to challenge the law in court. One clinic is finally set to reopen in Austin in the next couple of weeks. The other, in Beaumont on the Gulf Coast, will remain closed

[…]

More than half the clinics and abortion facilities in the state had already shut down. Just 17 abortion facilities remained in six counties — down from 41 centers in 17 counties in 2012, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a university group that tracks legislation’s impact on reproductive rights.

About half of the Planned Parenthood clinics in the state are among those that have closed. The clinics that are still open face new restrictions and onerous administrative requirements for them and their patients. Women seeking abortion services face travel distances that have increased by four times over the past few years, according to the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.

A few abortion providers are making plans to re-open: Northpark Medical Group in Dallas started performing abortions again in February after a three-year hiatus. Planned Parenthood will reopen its clinic in Waco by the summer. And Whole Woman’s Health, the Supreme Court plaintiff, will reopen soon in Austin.

But access is unlikely to get back to where it was. Planned Parenthood has no plans to re-open its six shuttered clinics, though it has also resumed services at its San Antonio clinic in 2015. That’s the closest clinic for a woman in the Lower Rio Grande Valley — 250 miles away.

Read the whole depressing thing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, nothing will change until we change who gets elected. There’s a bottomless appetite for bills to restrict abortion in any number of crazy ways, and while they can sometimes be defeated in court, they do a lot of damage in the meantime and cost a bunch of money to litigate away. The only way to stop this is going to be to have a Legislature that doesn’t pass these bills and/or a Governor who will veto them. Nothing will change until that happens.

House passes its budget

Mostly shenanigan-free, with a nice little side order of shade for a few people who deserve it.

After 15 and a half hours of debate on hundreds of amendments to the Texas House budget, lawmakers in the lower chamber passed the two-year, $218 billion document, with 131 votes in favor and 16 votes against.

The House vote included using $2.5 billion from the state’s savings account, colloquially known as the Rainy Day Fund. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, thanked lawmakers for exhibiting “true leadership” with their willingness to tap the fund, “instead of electing to use an unconstitutional transfer from the transportation funding.”

That was a jab at the Senate, which last week approved its version of the two-year budget using a $2.5 billion accounting trick to free up funds dedicated to highway spending. The House must now work with the Senate, which is under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who vehemently opposes using the Rainy Day Fund, to reconcile their budget differences.

House lawmakers, debating the budget late into Thursday night, took several jabs at Patrick and other statewide elected officials throughout the evening.

Included in the fray were Gov. Greg Abbott, who saw one of his prized economic development programs defunded; Patrick, who heard a resounding “no” when his favored proposal to subsidize private school tuition with public funds was put to a vote; and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who lost more than $20 million from his agency’s budget for lawsuits.

On the winning side of the House budget debate were child welfare advocates, who saw funding for foster care and Child Protective Services tentatively boosted; social conservatives, who scored $20 million for the Alternatives to Abortion program; and the lieutenants of House Speaker Joe Straus’ leadership team who, in a display of unity, easily brushed aside most challenges from far-right Republicans.

Statewide GOP leaders took some of the heftiest blows in the House chamber. Lawmakers there voted to strip $43 million from the governor’s Texas Enterprise Fund, the “deal-closing” fund the state uses to lure businesses from elsewhere, and divide it into two equal pots: one for Child Protective Services and foster care funding, the other for a program that pays for disabled children’s physical, occupational and speech therapy services. Both are hot-button issues that have dominated the House’s budget negotiations during this legislative session.

[…]

Private school subsidies, a pet issue of Patrick and his Senate, also suffered a perhaps fatal wound on Thursday. House lawmakers voted 103-44 to prevent state money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition in the form of vouchers, education savings accounts or tuition scholarships. The proposal’s author, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said it was “in support of our public schools and our neighborhood schools.”

[…]

Paxton’s attorney general’s office also saw funding gutted by House lawmakers who opted to instead fund programs that serve vulnerable children. Foster care funding would receive $21.5 million that was previously intended to pay for Paxton’s legal services budget under a proposal by state Rep. Ina Minjarez, D-San Antonio, that passed 82 to 61.

See here for more on the Enterprise Fund de-funding, which made me smile. Despite promises of shenanigans and roughly a gazillion amendments filed, there was more good done to the budget than bad. Which is not to say it’s a good budget, but it’s far from the worst we’ve ever seen. Take your positives where you can.

Especially when they involve Dan Patrick getting pwned.

In late March, lobbying group Texans for Education Opportunity used an online campaign to generate thousands of letters to 29 state representatives lobbying them to back education savings accounts, one of the subsidy programs in SB 3. Though the group claimed the letters were credible, the letters stirred up suspicion after no representative could find a constituent who remembered adding their name to that correspondence.

Of the 29 representatives targeted in the campaign, 26 voted Thursday to block money from funding “private school choice” programs.

RG Ratcliffe called it a “mugging”. As former Houston Rockets radio announcer Gene Peterson used to say, how sweet it is. Also, too, going back to the first story, there’s this:

Stickland had filed an amendment defund a state program for the abatement of feral hogs, which he’s become known for championing at the Legislature each session. Stickland railed predictably against the program, calling it “ridiculous” and a waste of money.

“It has not worked, and it never will work,” Stickland said, his voice rising.

That apparently offended rural lawmakers, notably state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. In response, Springer attached an amendment to Stickland’s proposal that would cut the same amount of funding for the Texas Department of Transportation, but only for roads and highways in Stickland’s hometown of Bedford.

Stickland took to the back microphone to cry foul.

“Someone else has chosen to make a mockery of this system and play gotcha politics,” he said before being interrupted. Laughter had erupted in the gallery.

“It’s funny until it happens to you,” he continued.

Springer and Stickland then confronted each other on the middle of the House floor and had to be separated by colleagues. Springer’s amendment ultimately passed, 99 to 26, forcing Stickland to withdraw his own proposal to which it had been attached.

What is best in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of Jonathan Stickland. And Briscoe Cain, too, the Chester to Stickland’s Spike, except without the victorious denouement for Chester. Look, just because the House passed a budget doesn’t mean this is the budget we’ll get. The Senate passed a budget, too, and there are lots of differences to be worked out between the two. The final version will be different, and some of the things we are cheering now may be undone in that. But that’s no reason not to cheer for the things that deserve it now. The Observer and the Press have more.

Video fraudsters in trouble again

In California this time.

Right there with them

California prosecutors on Tuesday charged two anti-abortion activists who made undercover videos of themselves trying to buy fetal tissue from Planned Parenthood with 15 felonies, saying they invaded the privacy of medical providers by filming without consent.

The charges against David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress come eight months after similar charges were dropped in Texas.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a longtime Congressional Democrat who took over the investigation in January, said in a statement that the state “will not tolerate the criminal recording of conversations.”

Prosecutors say Daleiden, of Davis, California, and Merritt, of San Jose, filmed 14 people without permission between October 2013 and July 2015 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and El Dorado counties. One felony count was filed for each person. The 15th was for criminal conspiracy to invade privacy.

[…]

Daleiden and Merritt had previously been indicted in Texas on similar charges in January of 2016, but all of the charges were eventually dropped by July as prosecutors said a grand jury had overstepped its authority. The grand jury had originally been convened to investigate Planned Parenthood, but after finding no wrongdoing turned around and indicted Daleiden and Merritt instead.

The California charges stem from recording people without their knowledge, which is a crime in some states but not in others. The charges here were the result of creating phony drivers licenses to back up the aliases they used. The circumstances under which the Harris County indictments were dropped remain somewhat fishy, but I suppose it was just a matter of time before these two clowns got into trouble again. It’s what happens when everything you do is based on a lie. Think Progress, the Current, and Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who has a thorough and nuanced look at the California law in question, have more.

Busy day in the Senate

They got stuff done, I’ll give them that. Whether it was stuff worth doing or not, I’ll leave to you.

1. Senate bill would let Houston voters weigh in on fix to pension crisis.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 21-10 to give preliminary approval of a bill that would require voters to sign off before cities issue pension obligation bonds, a kind of public debt that infuses retirement funds with lump-sum payments. Issuing $1 billion in those bonds is a linchpin of Houston officials’ proposal to decrease the city’s unfunded pension liabilities that are estimated to be at least $8 billion.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told The Texas Tribune earlier this month that if the bill becomes law and voters reject the $1 billion bond proposition, a delicate and hard-fought plan to curb a growing pension crisis would be shrouded in uncertainty. He also argued that the debt already exists because the city will have to pay it at some point to make good on promises to pension members.

But lawmakers said voters should get to weigh in when cities take on such large amounts of bond debt.

“Of course the voters themselves should be the ultimate decider,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who authored the bill.

[…]

State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said at a hearing on several pension bills last week that Houston voters would likely approve the pension bonds – and that she would publicly support the measure. Nonetheless, holding an election on the issue is worthwhile, she maintained.

“The voters want to have a say when the city takes on debt in this way,” she said.

See here and here for the background. The referendum that the Senate bill would require is not a sure thing as the House bill lacks such a provision. We’ll see which chamber prevails. As you know, I’m basically agnostic about this, but let’s please skip the fiction that the pension bonds – which the city has floated in the past with no vote – represents “taking on debt”. The city already owes this money. The bonds are merely a refinancing of existing debt. Vote if we must, but anyone who opposes this referendum is someone who wants to see the pension deal fail. Speaking of voting…

2. Senate OKs measure requiring public vote on Astrodome project.

In a move that could block Harris County’s plans to redevelop the Astrodome, the Texas Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would require a public vote on using tax funds on the project.

Senate Bill 884 by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, would require a public vote before Harris County can spend any taxpayer money to improve or redevelop the Astrodome. “Elections are supposed to matter … and this is an example of how a governing body is trying to ignore an election and go contrary to a popular vote,” Whitmire said.

[…]

The proposal has drawn opposition from Houston lawmakers who said that move violates the 2013 decision by voters.

Sens. Paul Bettencourt and Joan Huffman, both Houston Republicans, said voters should be given the opportunity to determine whether the new project goes forward because they earlier rejected spending tax money on the restoration.

“The taxpayers of Harris County would be on the hook for this project, and they should be allowed to have a say in whether they want to pay for it,” Huffman said.

Added Whitmire, “After the voters have said no, you don’t go back with your special interests and spend tax money on the Astrodome anyway.”

See here, here, and here for the background. You now where I stand on this. Commissioners Court has to take some of the blame for this bill’s existence, as the consequences of failure for that 2013 referendum were never specified, but this is still a dumb idea and an unprecedented requirement for a non-financed expenditure.

3. Fetal tissue disposal bill gets initial OK in Texas Senate.

Legislation that would require medical centers to bury or create the remains of aborted fetuses won initial approval in the Texas Senate Wednesday.

Because Senate Bill 258 by Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, did not have enough votes to be finally approved, a follow-up vote will be needed before it goes to the House.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, where anti-abortion fervor runs strong, that step is all but assured.

[…]

After lengthy debate on Wednesday, the measure passed 22-9. Final passage in the Senate could come as soon as Thursday, after which it will go to the House for consideration.

It is one of several abortion-related measures that have passed the Senate this legislative session. Republican lawmakers supported Senate Bill 8 that would ban abortion providers from donating fetal tissue from abortions for medical research, and Senate Bill 415, which targets an abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation.”

Bills also have been filed by Democrats to reverse the 24-hour period a woman must wait to get an abortion and to cover contraceptives for Texans under age 18. The likelihood of those being approved in the GOP-controlled Legislature is considered almost nil.

I have no idea what that second paragraph means; all bills are voted on three times. Whatever. That sound you hear in the background are the lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights loosening up in the bullpen.

4. Texas Senate approves ban on government collecting union dues.

A controversial bill to prohibit state and local governments from deducting union dues from employees’ paychecks was tentatively approved Wednesday by the Texas Senate after a divisive, partisan debate.

The Republican author, Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, denied the measure was anti-union or was designed to target a historical source of support for Democrats, even though she acknowledged that Republican primary voters overwhelmingly support the change.

Police, firefighter and emergency medics’ organizations are exempted from the ban, after those groups had threatened to kill the bill if they were covered the same as teacher groups, labor unions and other employee associations.

Groups not exempted will have to collect dues on their own, a move that some have said will be cumbersome and expensive. Those groups include organizations representing correctional officers, CPS workers and teachers, among others.

I’m going to hand this off to Ed Sills and his daily AFL-CIO newsletter:

Huffman, knowing she had the votes, repeatedly fell back on the argument that government should not be in the business of collecting dues for labor organizations. She never offered any justification for that view beyond ideology. Nor did she provide evidence of a problem with using the same voluntary, cost-free payroll deduction system that state and local employees may steer to insurance companies, advocacy organizations and charities.

Huffman tried to make the distinction between First Responders, who are exempt from the bill, and other state and local employees by saying police and firefighter unions are not known to “harass” employers in Texas. But she had no examples in which other unions of public employees had “harassed” employers.

“One person’s harassment is another person’s political activism,” Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said while questioning Huffman about the bill.

Watson noted the main proponents of the bill are business organizations that do not represent public employees.

Huffman was also grilled by Sens. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, José Rodriguez, D-El Paso, John Whitmire, D-Houston, Royce West, D-Dallas, and Borris Miles, D-Houston. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, offered several strong amendments, but they were voted down by the same margin that the bill passed. The senators relayed testimony from a variety of public employees who said SB 13 would be a significant hardship to them and they could not understand why the Legislature would pursue the bill.

At one point, Huffman declared, “This is a fight against unions.” But it was beyond that, even though the measure was first conceived by the rabidly anti-union National Right to Work Foundation and even though the Texas Public Policy Foundation published a report estimating a substantial decline in public union membership if the bill becomes law. It’s a fight against teachers, against correctional officers, against child abuse investigators and against most other stripes of public employees who only want what most working people would consider a routine employer service.

Particularly galling was Huffman’s general assertion that correctional officers, teachers and other dedicated public employees fall short in some way when it comes to meriting payroll deduction, which state and local governments basically provide with a few clicks of a keyboard.

Huffman was under certain misimpressions. In questioning by Whitmire, she repeatedly declared that it would be “easy” for unions to collect dues through some automatic process outside payroll deduction. Whitmire stated, however, that many state employees make little and do not have either checking accounts or credit cards. Huffman was skeptical that some union members essentially operate on a cash-in, cash-out basis.

Despite her assertion that it would be easy to collect dues from public employees outside payroll deduction, Huffman clearly recognized that when other states approved similar bills, union membership dropped.

To use an oft-spoken phrase, it’s a solution in search of a problem. And as with the other bills, further evidence that “busy” is not the same as “productive”. See here for more.

This is why you leave women’s health to the professionals

Because amateurs and zealots do a lousy job.

Right there with them

In pushing a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that cuts off funds for Planned Parenthood, Republicans are out to reassure women who rely on the major health care organization that other clinics will step up to provide their low-cost breast exams, contraception and cancer screenings.

Texas is already trying to prove it. But one big bet is quietly sputtering, and in danger of teaching the opposite lesson conservatives are after.

Last summer, Texas gave $1.6 million to an anti-abortion organization called the Heidi Group to help strengthen small clinics that specialize in women’s health like Planned Parenthood but don’t offer abortions. The goal was to help the clinics boost their patient rolls and show there would be no gap in services if the nation’s largest abortion provider had to scale back.

The effort offered a model other conservative states could follow if Republicans make their long-sought dream of defunding Planned Parenthood a reality under President Donald Trump. Several states are already moving to curtail the organization’s funds.

But eight months later, the Heidi Group has little to show for its work. An Associated Press review found the nonprofit has done little of the outreach it promised, such as helping clinics promote their services on Facebook, or airing public service announcements. It hasn’t made good on plans to establish a 1-800 number to help women find providers or ensure that all clinics have updated websites.

Neither the group nor state officials would say how many patients have been served so far by the private clinics.

The Heidi Group is led by Carol Everett, a prominent anti-abortion activist and influential conservative force in the Texas Legislature.

In a brief interview, Everett said some of the community clinics aren’t cooperating despite her best efforts to attract more clients.

“We worked on one Facebook site for three months and they didn’t want to do it. And we worked on websites and they didn’t want to do it,” Everett said of the clinics. “We can’t force them. We’re not forcing them.”

Everett said that advertising she planned was stalled by delays in a separate $5.1 million family planning contract.

Everett proposed helping two dozen selected clinics serve 50,000 women overall in a year, more than such small facilities would normally handle. Clinic officials contacted by the AP either did not return phone calls or would not speak on the record.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which awarded the funding to the Heidi Group, acknowledged the problems. Spokeswoman Carrie Williams said in an email that the agency had to provide “quite a bit” of technical support for the effort and make many site visits. She disputed that the contract funding has been as slow as Everett alleged.

“The bottom line is that we are holding our contractors accountable, and will do everything we can to help them make themselves successful,” she said.

See here and here for some background on the Heidi Group. I’m thinking that maybe the reason these clinics didn’t want Carol Everett’s help is because she’s incompetent. Nothing in her history suggests she has any of the relevant skills, and clearly promoting women’s health isn’t her main focus. Anti-abortion activists tend to be pretty hostile to things like contraception, and often are quite ignorant of basic biology, so who can blame the clinics for keeping her at arm’s length. But let’s let Carol Everett herself sum this up:

Asked whether the Heidi Group would meet the patient targets in her contract, Everett said her own goal was to serve 70,000 women.

However, “it’s not as easy as it looks because we are not Planned Parenthood. We are working with private physicians and providers,” Everett said after leaving a committee hearing this week at the Texas Capitol. She said the clinics she is working with are busy seeing 40 to 50 women a day. “They don’t have time to go out and do some of the things that we would really like to help them do. But we’re there if they want to. And we’re there when the need it. And we’re in their offices and we’re helping them.”

Emphasis mine. No, you’re not. And you never will be. Link via the Current.

The “Man’s Right To Know” Act

This is some high-quality trolling.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, filed a bill Friday that would penalize men for “unregulated masturbatory emissions.”

The satirical House Bill 4260 would encourage men to remain “fully abstinent” and only allow the “occasional masturbatory emissions inside health care and medical facilities,” which are described in the legislation as the best way to ensure men’s health.

Farrar said she created the bill after feeling fed up with the various legislative bills introduced by men addressing women’s healthcare.

“A lot of people find the bill funny,” Farrar said in a phone interview. “What’s not funny are the obstacles that Texas women face every day, that were placed there by legislatures making it very difficult for them to access healthcare.”

A man would face a $100 penalty for each emission made outside of a vagina or medical facility. Such an emission would be considered “an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life,” according to the legislation.

The money would benefit children in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

A registry would be created of non-profit organizations and hospitals that provide “fully-abstinent encouragement counseling, supervising physicians for masturbatory emissions, and storage for the semen.”

[…]

Her latest bill also seeks to provide men with a safe and healthy environment during vasectomies, Viagra uses and colonoscopies by creating “A Man’s Right to Know” booklet that should “exactly follow the rules and procedures of the informational booklet “A Woman’s Right To Know,” required to be given of women terminating pregnancies.

During the consultation, the physician would verbally review the booklet with men and would be required to “administer a medically-unnecessary digital rectal exam and magnetic resonance imagining of the rectum,” according to the bill.

Farrar said she included this part of the bill to mimic the trans-vaginal ultrasound woman have when they are seeking an abortion. She also described the doctor reading the “Woman’s Right To Know” pamphlet as a “guilt mechanism.”

“It’s to show how invasive this medically unnecessary procedure is,” She said. “When a woman has to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound, it has nothing to do with her healthcare. One of the state’s objectives is to guilt her into changing her mind.”

A doctor would also have the right to “to invoke their personal, moralistic, or religious beliefs” if they refuse to perform a vasectomy or prescribe Viagra.

And then you’d have to wait 24 hours to get it, because obviously. Other bills of this nature have been filed in other states; this as far as I know was a first for Texas, and in true Texas fashion it’s a lot bigger than anything like it. Needless to say, some people don’t get the joke.

Farrar has criticized several anti-women’s health bills that have been filed this session, primarily a measure filed by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, that would require Texas hospitals to bury or cremate fetal remains and another by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would charge both abortion providers and women who receive an abortion with murder.

At a House State Affairs committee hearing Wednesday, Cook was challenged by Farrar and other House Democrats who questioned how his bill would impact women’s mental health and how much it would cost. Cook said his measure would create a registry of organizations that can help pay for burial or cremation of fetal remains. That way, the cost associated with burials would not fall on women, Cook said.

“Let me be clear: this bill has nothing to do with abortion procedures whatsoever. It has everything to do with ensuring the dignity of the deceased,” Cook said Wednesday. “We believe Texas can do better than this.”

Cook did not immediately respond to the Tribune’s request for comment Sunday.

In a statement, Tinderholt said Farrar lacked “a basic understanding of human biology.”

“I’m embarrassed for Representative Farrar,” Tinderholt said. “Her attempt to compare [HB 4260] to the abortion issue shows a lack of a basic understanding of human biology. I would recommend that she consider taking a high school biology class from a local public or charter school before filing another bill on the matter.”

This is Tony Tinderholt. To steal from Molly Ivins, I’d say that being insulted by Tony Tinderholt is like being gummed by a newt, though in this case I’d say it would be an old, frail newt. I hope that the filing of HB4260 results in a lot of legislators who are suddenly unable to make eye contact with Rep. Farrar. Andrea Greer, who does get the joke, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

House hears “fetal remains” bill

Seriously?

Rep. Byron Cook

[House Bill 35] would create a registry of organizations that can help pay for burial or cremation of fetal remains. That way, the cost associated with burials would not fall on women, [bill author Rep. Byron] Cook said.

The measure would not apply to miscarriages that happen at home.

“Let me be clear: this bill has nothing to do with abortion procedures whatsoever. It has everything to do with ensuring the dignity of the deceased,” Cook said Wednesday. “We believe Texas can do better than this.”

Cook said he’s opposed to a current method of disposal that allows for grinding up fetuses and disposing of them in sanitary landfills.

“What we’re doing is removing a very objectionable method of disposal. The good news is I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks grinding would be an acceptable method [of disposal],” Cook said. “We’re just really taking off the books something that should be objectionable to everybody.”

However, Cook was challenged during the hearing by state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who said the Republican should revise his bill to outlaw the disposal methods he doesn’t like without mandating burial.

“I think if you want to delete that language, you can delete that language without creating a burial requirement,” Farrar said. “I think we can find a way that is, in some people’s minds, more humane without creating burdens for women.”

[…]

Wednesday’s hearing comes weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses.

Sparks wrote in January that a fetal remains burial rule the Texas Department of State Health Services planned to implement was vague and had the potential for irreparable harm.

Yes, that would be the main sticking point, I presume. I also presume that it would be possible to write a bill to address this never-considered-a-problem-before-HB2-was-struck-down issue in a way that complies with Judge Sparks’ order. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say if this bill might do that, but I do know that the lawyers who represent the clinics that would be affected by this law, as they would have been affected by the State Health Services rule that Judge Sparks blocked, will be able to say. And to do, if it comes to that.

Texas cannot bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid

Good.

Right there with them

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks ruled Tuesday afternoon that Texas clinics affiliated with Planned Parenthood can continue to care for patients under the state’s Medicaid program, a phew-worthy victory for reproductive rights advocates and a loss for the state’s GOP leaders.

In a 42-page ruling, Sparks wrote that the state’s arguments in the case were “the building blocks of a best-selling novel rather than a case concerning the interplay of federal and state authority through the Medicaid program.”

“After reviewing the evidence currently in the record, the Court finds the Inspector General, and thus [the Texas Health and Human Services Commission], likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause,” the ruling read. “Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider.”

[…]

In court, Planned Parenthood attorneys argued that not allowing the reproductive health provider to stay in the Medicaid program, which is largely funded by the federal government, would severely curb access to care for poor Texas men and women seeking preventive and sexual health services. The attorneys also argued that the state did not have the capacity to deliver these services in the same way Planned Parenthood does and reiterated that state and federal law already prohibit taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortion services.

State attorneys, meanwhile, leaned heavily on the web video throughout court proceedings, pointing out various clips as part of their evidence. While the video appeared to back up their claims, Planned Parenthood attorneys forced several of the state’s witnesses to concede that no employees were seen committing illegal acts in the undercover video.

Throughout the ruling, the phrase “no evidence” appears multiple times. Sparks said Texas Health and Human Services Commission Inspector General Stuart W. Bowen Jr. “did not have prima facie of evidence, or even a scintilla of evidence” for the termination. He cited that the Center for Medical Progress video, the evidence against Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast and dragging in other Planned Parenthood affiliates were “three overarching bases for termination.”

Sparks said that “for those not blessed with eight free hours to watch” the video, it mostly contained a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast employee and Center for Medical Progress representatives talking in “unclear and ambiguous dialogue” that was open to interpretation. He said the Texas Health and Human Services Commission did not provide evidence that they had authenticated the video before going forward with termination efforts.

While state attorneys tried to show that the reproductive health organization had “a willingness” to profit from procuring fetal tissue, Sparks said he did not find evidence of that.

“The Court is unconvinced mere willingness, without any evidence of attempt, is enough to deprive a Medicaid beneficiary of the right to her otherwise qualified provider,” the ruling read.

See here for the previous update. Shockingly, the fraudulent anti-PP videos made by the lying liars at the Center for Medical Progress turned out to have no evidentiary value for the state. Who’d a thunk it, am I right? I presume the state will appeal from here, and if the Trump scandal machine ever lets up enough to allow legislation to be passed by Congress, a federal bill could be passed to change the law that PP relied on here to get this action overturned. It’s a little premature to celebrate, is what I’m saying. Still, this is a big deal, and it’s always nice to see Ken Paxton lose in court. The Chron, the AusChron, and Trail Blazers have more.

“Fetal remains” rule blocked

Good.

U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses, delivering another blow to state leaders in the reproductive rights debate.

On Friday afternoon, Sparks wrote in his ruling that Texas Department of State Health Services’ fetal remains burial rule’s vagueness, undue burden and potential for irreparable harm were factors in his decision. He also wrote that the state had proposed the new rule “before the ink on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Whole Woman’s Health was dry.”

“The lack of clarity in the Amendments inviting such interpretation allows DSHS to exercise arbitrary, and potentially discriminatory, enforcement on an issue connected to abortion and therefore sensitive and hotly contested,” Sparks said.

[…]

During two public hearings, department leaders heard stories of abortions, miscarriages, and general grief over losing a baby. While anti-abortion groups argued that the rule was a means to bring human dignity to the fetuses, reproductive rights advocates said the rule was another way for Texas to punish women who chose an abortion, saying the cost of the burials would be passed on to patients, making abortions harder to obtain for low-income Texans.

During multi-day court hearings earlier this month, state attorneys said the rule was designed to provide aborted or miscarried fetuses a better resting place than a landfill. They also argued that there would be no cost for patients to worry about and only miniscule costs for providers. The state also said that there were multiple groups willing to help with costs.

But Center for Reproductive Rights lawyers argued the rule had no public health merits and no clear directions on how it would work for providers. Providers who testified noted it was unclear if they would be on the hook for fines and disciplinary action from Texas if the nonprofit groups mishandled the fetuses. They also said separating fetuses away from other medical waste would likely mean an uptick in costs for transportation and new disposal procedures.

Sparks expressed frustration throughout the court proceedings that neither side could provide a firm estimate of the costs of implementing the rule. He also, one point, agreed with Center for Reproductive Rights attorneys’ argument that there would be no public health benefits.

In his ruling, Sparks wrote that the department’s estimates don’t know “the true impact” of the rule and that their “simple math” is “unsupported by research and relies heavily on assumptions.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the order; the full order is here. Note that this is just an injunction pending the actual lawsuit to overturn the ruling. The injunction strongly suggests that Judge Sparks thinks the plaintiffs will prevail, but that matter has not been decided yet. Now a trial date will be set and we will proceed from there, while the state will pursue an appeal to rescind the injunction and allow the rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on Friday, to be put in place for the duration of the trial.

Republicans like Ken Paxton are predictably gnashing their teeth about this, but if this rule was so important for the sanctity of life and dignity of the mothers and whatever else, then why wasn’t it proposed earlier than last year in the immediate wake of the HB2 ruling? Rick Perry could have proposed this a decade or more ago. Greg Abbott could have proposed it in 2015. If it was so damn important, why did they wait so long? Who had even heard of such a thing before last year? The timing of the rule gives the show away. It deserves the fate it got from Judge Sparks. A press release from the Center for Reproductive Rights is here, and the Chron, the Statesman, the Current, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Planned Parenthood still in Medicaid

For now, pending judgment.

Right there with them

U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks on Thursday delayed Planned Parenthood’s ouster from the state’s Medicaid program until Feb. 21.

[…]

During closing arguments Thursday hearing, attorneys from both sides cited clips from the video. Sparks said he wanted all involved to review the video footage and present their findings to him Jan. 30.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to give an opinion [without further review of the video],” Sparks said.

During the final day of testimony, the state continued to make its case that Medicaid patients would still have access to health services without Planned Parenthood’s help.

Jami Snyder, associate commissioner for Medicaid and CHIP, said on the stand that there were 141,000 providers available in the program, including 29,000 primary care physicians and 3,300 OBGYNs. She said the program has “a very robust network” thanks to strict network adequacy requirements for the managed care organizations that help with Medicaid and patients have a variety of tools to help them find a new doctor. She said the available providers dwarf Planned Parenthood’s presence.

“What we know to be true is that a variety of providers in our network offer family planning services,” Snyder said.

But Planned Parenthood lawyers pressed Snyder on provider availability, forcing her to admit she was unsure if all of the Medicaid providers offer weekend hours or walk-in appointments like the reproductive health organization does. Snyder also admitted Medicaid providers do not necessarily offer the exact same services as Planned Parenthood.

Snyder also elicited gasps in the courtroom when she admitted she did not know about surging maternal mortality rates in Texas.

See here and here for the background. The video in question is of course the bullshit Center for Medical Progress video. Way to be on top of breaking women’s health news there, Jami Snyder! With skills like that I don’t know how you weren’t picked to head up HHS in Washington. Trail Blazers, the Current, Newsdesk, and the Chron have more.