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Bee Moorhead

This is not how you put the interests of the child first

It’s the opposite of that, honestly.

Rep. James Frank

Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, vice chairman of the House Human Services Committee, has authored House Bill 3859, which would protect faith-based providers from retaliation if they assert their “sincerely held religious beliefs” while caring for abused and neglected children.

The bill would include allowing faith-based groups to deny a placement if it’s against their religious beliefs; place a child in a religion-based school; deny referrals for abortion-related contraceptives, drugs or devices; and refusing to contract with other organizations that go against their religious beliefs.

Frank said the his bill is meant to give “reasonable accommodations” for faith-based groups and not meant to be exclusionary. He said the ultimate goal is to help find the right home for kids.

Faith-based organizations are closing their doors to foster children “because they can’t afford to stay in business when they’re getting sued on stuff,” Frank said. “They’re basically being told to conform or get out on stuff that’s important but it’s not core to taking care of foster homes.”


Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, an LGBT rights group, said he was scared of HB 3859 after watching similar legislation become law in Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia. He said Frank’s bill allows the possibility of children being denied services because of what a provider believes and that would not fly if it were any other state contractor.

“Any piece of legislation that would allow the personal or religious beliefs of a provider to override the best interest of the child is misplaced and I would suggest is a gross change in what religious liberty actually means,” Smith said.


Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, said it’s all about the most effective group getting the contract and following the state’s rules. However, she said if legislators are keen to give more protections, there needs to be a sit-down meeting with lawmakers and all of the faith-based groups. She said not all groups have the same needs and many feel current religious protections are enough. Texas Impact has not taken a position on HB 3859.

“This isn’t a topic that lends itself well to sound bites,” Moorhead said. “It’s too easy for politicians and advocates to short change the policy in favor of a glib soundbite and not realize the politics are too complicated and the stakes are too high.”

Not to mention “the devil is in the details” with HB 3859, said Joshua Houston, director of government affairs for Texas Impact. He pointed out allowing groups protection if they have “sincerely held religious beliefs” can apply to views on physical discipline, diets, medical care, blood transfusions, vaccinations and how boys and girls are treated. He said that kind of ambiguity is what made Roloff untouchable for decades.

“When you say ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ you’re opening the door wide,” Houston said. “There’s all kind of weird religious beliefs that are out there.”

I can’t put the objections to this bill any better than Chuck Smith and Joshua Houston did. The article opens with the story of Lester Roloff, who was once the poster child for why “sincerely held religious beliefs” are not a sufficient reason for something to be sanctioned by the state. Like SB6, this bill may not make it to the floor for a vote but could get attached to another bill as an amendment by those who are determined to push this boundary. Let’s please not create a new (and almost certainly worse) Lester Roloff for this generation.

Texas threatens to sue religious groups over refugees


Texas officials are escalating their opposition to Syrian refugees with a new order aimed specifically at resettlement groups that have indicated they will accept people fleeing the war-torn country: change your mind or risk getting sued by the state.

Texas health commissioner Chris Traylor issued the first lawsuit threat over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in a letter to the Dallas branch of the International Rescue Committee, which said earlier this month that it supports accepting Syrian refugees.

“We have been unable to achieve cooperation with your agency,” Traylor wrote in the letter, which was released to the Houston Chronicle, adding that, “Failure by your organization to cooperate with the State of Texas as required by federal law may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action.”

Similar letters are expected to be sent to any refugee resettlement group that takes a similar position against Gov. Greg Abbott.


Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, a faith-based organization that has ties to refugee groups and has expressed concern about Abbott’s position, decried the letter in an interview with the Chronicle.

“This letter should raise serious concerns for refugees currently receiving assistance in Texas, and also for legislators – who should be asking what fiscal impact the Texas Health and Human Services Commission could be bringing down on the state through its increasingly contentious communications,” Moorhead said. “The health commission interacts collegially and effectively every day with multiple federal agencies, so it’s astonishing to see these kinds of communications coming from the agency.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and see the Chron story for a copy of the letter. I continue to be utterly gobsmacked by this. Again, these are faith-based organizations that Abbott is blithely threatening to sue. We all know how this would play out if the federal government were doing something like this, right? I mean, we’re all familiar with the apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding the contraception mandate. At what point does the Catholic Church in Texas quit pussyfooting around and condemn Abbott for this in no uncertain terms? That might loosen things up a bit. Beyond that, I still have no idea how this ends. Trail Blazers, the Press, and the Current have more.

Now who’s messing with religious freedom?

What is Greg Abbott’s beef with faith organizations?

A prominent Texas faith organization signaled Friday that refugee resettlement agencies in the state may not comply with Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to turn away Syrian refugees, writing a letter “to express shock and dismay” with the directive.

The governor’s order “constitutes an unprecedented attempt on the part of a state agency to pressure private, nonprofit organizations to violate federal law and their federal contractual obligations,” wrote Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, which works closely with resettlement agencies affiliated with religious institutions.

The letter asked the state to convene a meeting with resettlement agencies and federal authorities to clarify whether Abbott has the authority to issue such a directive.

Moorhead told the Houston Chronicle that among resettlement groups, “there seems to be some energy developing around convening them as a coalition to work on this issue.”

Moorhead’s letter came hours after the state’s top health official wrote refugee resettlement agencies in the state to say Texas was invoking its legal right to “require that you provide immediate and ongoing consultation with the Health and Human Services Commission Office of Immigration and Refugee Affairs (OIRA) regarding any plans that may exist to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas.”

“If you currently have plans to participate in the resettlement of any Syrian refugee in Texas, please notify us immediately, but not later than 4:00 p.m. Friday, November 20, 2015,” executive health Commissioner Chris Traylor wrote, adding the agencies should discontinue those plans and “further, please notify us immediately if, in the future, you learn that a Syrian refugee is proposed for resettlement with your organization.”

See here for some background, and here for a copy of the letter. The Statesman adds on.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s office appears headed toward a legal showdown with refugee resettlement agencies and their sponsoring faith organizations over Abbott’s efforts to keep any Syrian refugees from resettling in Texas in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Following Abbott’s directive, Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Chris Traylor on Thursday sent a toughly worded letter to 19 refugee resettlement agencies in Texas — including Caritas and the Refugee Services of Texas in Austin — asking that they scrap any plans to resettle Syrian refugees in Texas and that they notify his office by 4 p.m. Friday if they had any plans to resettle Syrians in the state.

Refugee resettlement is generally a federal matter done in cooperation with national and local nonprofit, often church-based, resettlement agencies. The states play a supportive role and pass federal money onto the local agencies.

However, in his effort to make good on his pledge to keep Syrian refugees from coming to Texas, Abbott, a former state attorney general, is relying on a section of the 1997 legislation authorizing the refugee resettlement program. It states that it is the intent of Congress that “local voluntary agency activities should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with state and local governments.”

Traylor cites that provision in his letter, and warns, “We reserve the right to refuse to cooperate on any resettlement on any grounds and, until further notice, will refuse to cooperate with resettlement of any Syrian refugees in Texas.”

“It’s a very disturbing effort by the state to coerce nonprofit organizations into ceasing the important services that they normally provide to vulnerable refugees to allow them to integrate into our community,” said Denise Gilman, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law.

“The agency is seeking to force nonprofits to join the governor’s misguided policies that discriminate on the basis of national origin,” Gilman said. “Most disappointing of all is that those harmed will be families who have fled unspeakable violence in Syria, who have undergone a lengthy and cumbersome process to ensure that they present no threat, and who desperately need protection and support to recover some stability in their lives here in the United States.”

That’s religious nonprofits that Abbott is trying to coerce. At a time when for-profit corporations have been granted the right to impose the religious beliefs of their owners on their employees and when plaintiffs in a lawsuit who happen to be pastors getting subpoenaed is taken as an assault on freedom on religion. Again, this is Greg Abbott exerting government power to influence what religious organizations can do. I’m at a loss for words here. Thankfully, Lisa Falkenberg was able to find a few.

On issues like birth control, abortion and gay marriage, conservative politicians routinely charge into the fray like moral warriors, vowing to protect the sacred constitutional right to religious liberty.

Hobby Lobby. Kim Davis. They got your back.

But when it comes to a basic tenet of Christianity – caring for the stranger – the warriors have turned their swords against Scripture.

What would Jesus do, Greg? Feel free to ask a bishop if you need help with that.

As if you needed another reason to support Medicaid expansion

Even more data on why Medicaid expansion makes sense from Texas Impact.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

The study, by former Texas deputy comptroller Billy Hamilton, says Texas shouldn’t pass up the chance to insure up to 2 million of its more than 6 million uninsured people.

Hamilton cited other benefits. Expansion of the Medicaid rolls would “provide relief to local taxpayers and increase the financial stability of the health care infrastructure on which all Texans depend,” he wrote.

Texas Impact, a statewide interfaith group with a progressive bent, and San Antonio-based Methodist Healthcare Ministries, which owns half of the largest hospital and health care system in South Texas, commissioned Hamilton’s study. It was released last month but on Monday, the sponsoring groups issued this update, which breaks out the financial effects and numbers of newly covered persons by county and by legislative district.

Gov. Rick Perry and other state GOP leaders oppose the Medicaid expansion, saying the state-federal program is a mess and a budget-buster.

Hamilton’s study, though, says if Texas agrees to the expansion, the state would reap $27.5 billion in new federal health care spending from 2014-2017. That would generate an estimated 231,000 jobs by 2016, and just under $68 billion of new economic activity in the state over the four-year period, he found. Hamilton said the additional economic jolt would throw off $2.5 billion in new local tax collections statewide in 2014-2017.

Under his “moderate enrollment growth” scenario, in which about 1 million adults statewide would gain Medicaid coverage, Dallas County would attract $612 million annually in federal Medicaid match by 2016 and Collin County, $132 million. Those figures compare with combined county, hospital district and/or private hospital charity care costs of $691 million in Dallas County, and $9 million in Collin County, for the most recent year for which data were available.

“As if saving local taxpayers millions on low-income care isn’t enough, lawmakers can actually bring new revenues to their districts without raising taxes — and make their constituents healthier in the process,” said Bee Moorhead, an ordained Presbyterian clergy woman who is Texas Impact’s executive director.

See here for the initial Texas Impact report, and click on the “this update” link in the story to see what’s new. Basically, they broke out the numbers by House and Senate district, so if you want to contact your legislators and let them know why they should be behind this effort (hint, hint) you can have some facts at your fingertips. You might also contact your County Commissioner about it, since the numbers are based on county figures. Speaking of counties and Commissioners Courts, Travis County has passed a resolution calling on the Lege to take action on expanding Medicaid, following the lead of Dallas County. Bexar County will vote on this on February 26. What is your county doing? Whatever it is, keep up the pressure. You can’t be heard if you’re not making noise. And the more Rick Perry feels the need to defend himself, the better.

Here’s more from the Chron:

Hospital districts, county health care services, jails and charities in Harris County spent $920 million providing services to the uninsured for which they were not reimbursed, according to 2011 figures. If the Texas Legislature approves Medicaid expansion, at least $645 million and as much as $1.4 billion in federal funding would reach Harris County in 2016 to provide services for many of the currently uninsured, depending on how state leaders would structure the expanded coverage, according to estimates.

Using data from hospitals, the census and current legislative proposals, the report also estimated increases to local tax revenue from expanding services to an additional one million adults, which in Harris County could be as high as $411.5 million over four years starting in 2014.


Elena Marks, a health policy expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said federally funded Medicaid expansion is too good to pass up, citing a 2012 study by The Perryman Group titled, “Only One Rational Choice.”

Rather than looking at the flow of federal, state and local tax dollars in health care, that study looked at the overall economic impact of reducing uncompensated care, enhanced productivity from healthier Texans and other multiplier effects. It concluded that every dollar spent by the state on Medicaid would return $1.29 in revenue over the first 10 years of the expansion.

Marks warns, however, that expanding Medicaid would not be enough, hoping that local funds freed by federal and state dollars could go toward improving care.

She points to a federal grant program operated through Regional Healthcare Partnerships that funds innovative improvements to providing primary care, serving at-risk populations and targeting particular diseases.

El Paso and Dallas counties have passed resolutions urging legislative approval, and a network of state non-profits, including Houston’s The Metropolitan Organization, are encouraging others to follow suit.

“American taxpayers already have funded the increased health insurance coverage, but it’s the governor’s decision whether eligible Texans will be allowed access to it,” said Kevin Collins, TMO co-chairman and a Catholic pastor, in a press release about a rally at the state capitol Wednesday. “Access to affordable, quality health care is a fundamental right for all.”

Yes, let’s not forget the Perryman report or the Legislative Budget Board recommendation, either. The usual nattering nabobs are quoted in both stories fretting about the Medicaid match maybe someday being reduced by the Feds (at which point Texas could choose to back out if it wanted to) or Medicaid not being perfect but not addressing any of the points about the economic boon that Medicaid expansion would be or the lives that it would save, and surely not having any viable alternatives because they don’t care about that sort of thing. Oh, they also express concern about there not being enough doctors to handle the influx of new Medicaid recipients, which while valid on its face is deeply ironic coming from the kind of people that crammed tort “reform” down our throats partly on the premise that drastically limiting liability on doctors would lead to a flood of new MDs in our state. So yeah, I don’t really take any of their whining seriously. Even Florida Governor Rick Scott, who was one of the lead plaintiffs in the suit against Obamacare, has agreed to expand Medicaid for at least the first three years, when the feds are picking up 100% of the cost. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, writing in the Trib, has more.