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Donna Howard

What should the Senate do about Schwertner?

There are two basic choices.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The circumstances surrounding the latest allegation are thorny: They involve a Republican state senator, Charles Schwertner, who is accused of texting a sexually explicit image and message to a graduate student. Reportedly, Schwertner and the student met at an event on the University of Texas at Austin campus — and not around the Capitol, as was the case in previous allegations against other senators — but the lewd messages that Schwertner allegedly sent came after the student indicated she was interested in working at the Capitol.

In the week since the Austin American-Statesman first reported that UT-Austin was investigating the allegation, Senate leaders have indicated they won’t touch the allegation, which Schwertner has firmly denied, until that inquiry wraps up.

“The Texas Senate is awaiting the conclusion of the investigation and expects a full report on this matter,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who presides over the chamber, said in a statement.

It’s a wait-and-see approach that comes about four months after the Senate took steps to bolster the processes in place for addressing claims of sexual misconduct. Despite those changes and a stated commitment to zero tolerance when it comes to sexual misconduct, the allegation against Schwertner has further highlighted the complexity — and seeming hesitance by lawmakers to act — that still looms over the Capitol when it comes to responding to such wrongdoing by elected officials, who ultimately answer to voters back home.

“Many employers are concerned about their employees’ behavior outside the workplace,” said Malinda Gaul, president of the Texas Employment Lawyers Association. “But he’s not an employee. So basically you wonder why the Legislature wouldn’t feel obligated to look at it since we’re talking about a senator and constituent.”

[…]

The Senate’s anti-sexual harassment policy doesn’t appear to explicitly cover this situation — between a student and a senator at an on-campus event. Though the policy indicates that the Senate’s sexual harassment prohibition may apply outside the workplace, it is largely focused on interactions between senators, staffers and individuals, such as lobbyists and reporters, whose work requires them to regularly visit the Capitol.

And Senate leaders who have said they’ll await the results of the UT-Austin investigation have offered virtually no insight into what the Senate would do with the results of that investigation. Neither Patrick nor state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who oversaw the revisions to the chamber’s policy, responded to questions about what the Senate’s next steps could be or whether the chamber could initiate its own investigation into wrongdoing related to sexual harassment without a formal complaint.

Nothing precludes an investigation or inquiry of a senator without a formal complaint, but there appears to be little policy guidance for lawmakers at the Capitol on the “exact response here,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who co-chairs a House workgroup that is working on recommendations to address sexual harassment at the Capitol beyond the revisions members made to the chamber’s policy in December.

“That being said, we’ve already had three senators now mentioned by the media as having engaged in inappropriate behavior, and as far as I know no kind of inquiry has been done for any of them,” Howard said. “I would suggest it’s time that we start taking action.”

See here and here for the background. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the Senate to await the outcome of the UT investigation. The question is what will they do with it, if it shows clear evidence of wrongdoing on Sen. Schwertner’s part? I doubt they know, either, and that’s the problem. And while there’s nothing wrong with waiting for the UT report and using it as a base for whatever followup action may be needed (if any), there’s also no reason why the Senate couldn’t do its own asking around, as there will likely be questions it will be interested in that may or may not be addressed in the UT report. Basically, is there a plan, other than hope it all turns out to be nothing? It’s not clear to me that there is, and that needs to be fixed, if not for this time then for the inevitable next time. And in the meantime, get to know Meg Walsh.

“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.

State House remembers it was going to do something about sexual harassment

It’s something.

Rep. Joe Straus

Months after reports detailed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday announced another measure to address the issue.

Straus, a Republican who will retire early next year, created a work group to recommend additional steps to “prevent and eradicate” misconduct in the Legislature. The appointment of the group comes months after the House updated its sexual harassment policy following reports from The Texas Tribune detailing flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

“This is the next step in our effort to make sure that sexual harassment is not tolerated at the Texas Capitol,” Straus said in a news release.

In a news release, Straus said the group will review existing policies and research best practices from other states to ensure a safe environment. The co-chairs of the new group are state Reps. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Donna Howard, D-Austin. Other members are: state Reps. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson; Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Lina Ortega, D-El Paso; Abel Herrero, D-Robstown; Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston; and Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The House revised its policy in December to require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. House leaders cannot require lawmakers to complete the training, but all current lawmakers took the online course this year.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, the House has still done more than the Senate has done. Putting this group together to do something is good. Having that group actually do something, something constructive, will be better. The Chron has more.

Still grappling with how to handle sexual harassment claims

I like the idea of putting the authority to investigate harassment claims in the Legislature into an independent body.

Calls for independence between sexual misconduct investigations and those in power have grown in recent months, and experts and several lawmakers agree that impartiality is crucial for building trust in a reporting system at the Capitol, where repercussions for elected officials are virtually nonexistent. But efforts to establish that independence — which could require officeholders to give up their current oversight over investigations — will likely face political challenges in persuading lawmakers to hand over power to a third party.

Any independent entity investigating sexual misconduct at the Capitol would need the power to truly hold elected officials accountable, several lawmakers and legal experts said. That could mean sanctions against officeholders that their colleagues may be unlikely to pursue.

“It cannot be officeholders policing officeholders,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is among those calling for an independent investigative agency.

[…]

But to alleviate concerns with existing reporting procedures that leave investigations in the hands of elected officials, lawmakers have proposed several ways to establish what they say is needed independence in investigations. Those proposals range from a review panel that doesn’t include lawmakers to a new state entity comparable to the Texas Ethics Commission, which regulates political activities and spending.

The creation of an independent investigative body “is a necessary immediate step” for the Legislature to address skepticism in the current reporting system set up for sexual harassment victims, said Chris Kaiser, director of public policy and general counsel for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

“I don’t think that you have to impugn the work that any investigators are doing currently to accept the fact that that skepticism itself is preventing people from coming forward,” Kaiser said. “It’s really clear the Legislature has a lot of work to do to build trust.”

See here and here for some background. I will just say, if there is an independent body to handle these complaints, it has to be truly independent, by which I mean free from any legislative authority or meddling. I mean, the Texas Ethics Commission is an independent body, but it’s hardly a good role model for this sort of thing. I have a hard time imagining that happening, but if there’s enough of a shakeup in the composition of the Lege, there might be a chance. First and foremost, it needs to be an issue in the campaigns. I’m asking every candidate I interview about harassment and the institutional policies that deal with it. The more we talk about it, the better.

Lege updates sexual harassment policy

Good, and about time.

Rep. Donna Howard

Members of the Texas House approved a new sexual harassment policy Friday with significant changes, including language strengthening protections against retaliation and specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The revised policy, which was adopted during a Friday hearing of the House Administration Committee, offers more details on the actions that could constitute sexual harassment and describes various ways victims can get help, particularly how they may pursue an internal complaint.

It comes about two weeks after The Texas Tribune detailed flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

Following the news reports, several Texas lawmakers called for reviews of sexual harassment policies at the Capitol. State Rep. Donna Howard was among a group of female lawmakers in the House who had a conference call with House officials to discuss changes to the policy.

“One of the things the women were particularly concerned about is making sure this is a policy that shows the respect that this situation deserves,” Howard, D-Austin, said at Friday’s hearing. “That it gives enough information that a person feels comfortable in knowing that if they do find themselves the subject of harassment, that they have a policy that gives them clear guidance and also gives them some certainty that there will be action taken.”

House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said the new policy would require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training by January 2018. The training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune. But Geren said House leaders would keep records of who attended the trainings — and that those records would be subject to public information laws.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the policy. It lays out what is harassment and gives examples, because in the year of our Lord twenty-freaking-seventeen some people are too dense to figure it out for themselves, and it outlines the process for how to report it. Doesn’t look like it’s all that much, but what was there before was basically nothing, so it should be a step forward. Let’s hope it helps. The Observer and the Chron have more.

Signings and vetoes

Greg Abbott does his thing.

Gov. Greg Abbott has vetoed 50 bills that were passed during the regular legislative session, his office announced Thursday.

That’s several more than he vetoed following the last session and the most a governor has doled out since 2007.

Abbott offered a number of common explanations for his vetoes, calling the bills unnecessary, too costly or too burdensome. He vetoed at least five bills for the same reason: The House bill’s author asked for a veto because he prefers the Senate companion.

[…]

Another measure he vetoed Thursday was Senate Bill 790, which would have kept in operation an advisory group that makes recommendations to the state on its women’s health services.

Abbott said in his veto statement that SB 790 “does nothing more than extend the expiration date of a governmental committee that has already successfully completed its mission.”

“Rather than prolong government committees beyond their expiration date, the state should focus on programs that address more clearly identifiable needs, like my call for action to address the maternal mortality rate during the special session,” Abbott said.

Janet Realini, vice chair of the women’s health advisory committee, said wrapping up the group was premature.

“There’s 1.8 million women who need publicly subsidized services, family planning in particular, and right now we’re serving less than a quarter of those, so I think we have a long way to go,” she said.

You can see a full list of the vetoed bills at the story. A couple of bills relating to topics that will be on the special session agenda were among the casualties. SB790 was probably the bill whose rejection drew the strongest reaction; Sen. Borris Miles and Rep. Donna Howard vented their frustration, with Howard noting that “at no point during the past six months had the governor’s office expressed any concerns to me over the legislation”. We knew going in that Greg Abbott was a weak leader. Everything that isn’t on the veto list will be enacted (a few will become law without Abbott’s autograph), including the Sandra Bland Act and the driverless car bill. Click over and see if anything you liked got the ax.

Making vaccination information public

I support this.

While most parents in Texas vaccinate their children, the number of parents opting out of immunizations for non-medical reasons is on the rise. Since Texas changed its laws to allow parents to opt out citing a conscientious objection, the number of unvaccinated children has shot up more than 1,700 percent in 13 years, to 45,000 from 2,300. In response, parents and health advocates are backing an effort to increase public reporting on how many students who have skipped vaccines attend each school.

Currently, that data is housed at the state level and available via an open-records request. County and school district-level data also is available online.

House Bill 2249 would require the Texas Department of State Health Services to publish school-by-school data that would indicate the total number of students who forgo vaccinations, including those who opt out by choice, such as a religious objection. No names or identifying information would be listed.

Advocates for publishing the data say the information would offer parents insight into their child’s school and help them weigh whether to switch, particularly for parents of medically fragile children like Riki Graves’ daughter, Juliana. Now 3, she received a new heart at 18 days old, and doctors say she will need to attend a school where least 95 percent of the students are immunized.

“My job as a transplant mom is to protect that organ,” said Graves as she drove from her home in Sugar Land to Austin where she plans to testify before the House Public Health Committee on Tuesday. “We have the data … there’s no reason not to publish it.”

Opponents say there are plenty of reasons, including children’s medical privacy.

“If this is truly about keeping children safe, we have to have that honest conversation about keeping all people safe. It puts a target on the backs of children whose parents have chosen to opt out for various different reasons,” said Jackie Schlegel, a mother of three and executive director of Texans for Vaccine Choice, a grass-roots parent group that has ballooned in recent years as the movement against vaccinating children has gained traction. The group is planning a rally at the Capitol on Thursday, dubbed the “freedom fight.”

“At schools where you do have a high number of opt-out, we are creating a witch hunt against families, and that’s just unacceptable,” Schlegel said.

We clearly have a different definition of “unacceptable”. I think knowing that a given school has a high rate of unvaccinated children is something any parent would want to know. HB 2249 has four co-authors, two of whom )JD Sheffield and John Zerwas) are medical doctors, which ought to tell you something. As the story notes, an identical bill passed the House in 2015 but never got a hearing in the Senate. Let’s hope this year’s version meets a better fate. The Trib has more.

Still talking vaccines and measles

Because it keeps needing to be talked about.

Earlier this month, Dr. Peter J. Hotez, a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine and director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, detailed a disturbing prediction for 2017 in an op-ed for the New York Times: the country could be facing a measles outbreak, and the Lone Star State could among the earliest casualties. “Texas, where I live and work,” Hotez wrote, “may be the first state to once again experience serious measles outbreaks.”

[…]

The spread of measles—one of the most contagious and deadliest diseases—could be stopped by the Eighty-fifth Texas Legislature, where there are currently pending bills that take aim at correcting the anti-vaccination trend. In December, State Representative Donna Howard, a Democrat representing Austin, filed a bill that would require parents and students who choose not to be vaccinated to indicate that they will “opt-out,” as opposed to the current system in which people must “opt-in” in order to be vaccinated. The bill would also require education for parents and students before they choose to opt-out. A similar bill filed by Representative Sarah Davis, a Republican from Houston, would require parents to complete an online educational course to inform them about the dangers of opting out of vaccination.

But anti-vaxxers make up a strong political bloc, and they’ve successfully thwarted pro-vaccination efforts in the Lege before. In 2015, state Representative Jason Villalba of Dallas tried to pass a law that would have entirely removed the exemption protection for parents who claimed to have a “conscientious objection” to vaccinations. His proposal was promptly torn to pieces by a few thousand members of a Facebook group for Texas anti-vaxxers, which formed a PAC, Texans for Vaccine Choice, that ultimately killed Villalba’s bill.  “These people, they literally said it to my face—they hate me,” Villalba told the Texas Tribune in April 2016, after his bill flopped. “This is a group that is very dedicated, very organized; this issue is very important to them.” Even after the bill failed, the PAC kept on Villalba. Jackie Schlegel, the PAC’s creator, told KUT in January that PAC members “knocked on nearly 10,000 doors for his challenger.” Villalba narrowly avoided defeat. Villalba told KUT that he supports Representative Davis’s bill, but it seems unlikely he’ll try to revive his own. “I’m not interested in a suicide mission on this issue,” Villalba told the Tribune last April.

Texas remains one of only seventeen states that allow parents to exempt their children from receiving vaccinations due to philosophical objections. None of the currently pending bills in the Lege would change that. Still, the Texans for Vaccine Choice PAC has already started to push back against the pro-vaccine billse. The anti-vax crowd is active on social media, and let Davis know that they were upset about her bill. In several exchanges with these folks on Twitter in late January, Davis shot down claims that vaccines cause autism by calling such assertions “alternative facts.

See here and here for some background, then go read Rep. Davis’ Twitter battle with the anti-vaxxers. I’ve never been a big fan of hers, but my respect for her is higher than ever after seeing that. Despite the fact that the anti-vaxxers have a friend in the White House, I do believe we can get one or both of Rep. Davis and Rep. Howard’s bills passed. The anti-vaxxers are as we know an organized and vocal minority, but in the end they are still a minority. We do have them outnumbered, and we need to remember that. If you’ve gotten yourself in the habit of calling your legislators about this and that these days, please add these two bills to your list of things you ask them to support.

Who is paying for public education

The state is paying less, while local districts are paying more.

The state of Texas will spend a projected $40.5 billion on public education during the current 2016-17 budget period, and when state officials tell you they’re spending more on education, they’re telling the truth.

Not all of the truth, but some of it. Their spending increases haven’t kept up with the burgeoning number of students. In the 2017 fiscal year, the state is planning to spend $19.6 billion, according to the Legislative Budget Board, up 7.4 percent from the amount they spent 10 years earlier.

The average daily attendance in 2017, one way to measure the number of students in public schools, will reach 5.04 million, an increase of 16.8 percent over the 4.3 million in Texas classrooms 10 years earlier.

This isn’t a brainteaser: The population has been rising faster than state spending. Texas is spending more, but not keeping pace.

Local and federal spending increases have covered the difference. Public school districts are on track to spend $26.2 billion in 2017, up 44.2 percent from 2008. Federal spending rose 22.2 percent to $5.1 billion.

On a per-student basis, local spending rose $990.21 over those 10 years, state spending fell $339 and federal spending rose $45.06.

The state is spending more than it was overall, but it’s spending less per pupil.

[…]

Try this exercise. Don’t fool with the overall cost of public education in each of those 10 years — leave that number alone — but keep the state’s overall share of 44.9 percent in place the whole time. State government would have spent $18.6 billion more than it did on public education over the past 10 years. Local school districts paid 44.8 percent of the total in 2008 and are on track to carry 51.5 percent in 2017. Had the burdens remained constant, local school districts would have spent $11.6 billion less over that decade.

For the second session in a row, state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has pre-filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would require the state to keep its share of public school spending at 50 percent or higher.

Pinch yourself — that would cut $10.3 billion from what the school districts and their property taxpayers are spending in the current budget, but it would cost the state government — fueled by sales and other taxes — the same amount. That’s back-of-the-envelope math, but you get the idea.

If the state agreed, as Howard has proposed, to cover even more of the cost of public education local schools could spend less. They’d be able to lower property taxes by a sizeable, politically significant amount. Legislators would be on the hook for education support they have been foisting off on local school boards.

Wouldn’t that be something? I’m sure you can guess what its odds of passage are, but it’s still worth the effort. This highlights perhaps the main reason why so many people called for the defeat of the recapture referendum last month. The money HISD will have to send to the state won’t go towards education elsewhere, which at least would be a good moral reason for supporting it. It’s an accounting maneuver that gives the state credit for spending on education when it really isn’t doing anything more. And remember, the Supreme Court said this was all fine. Meanwhile, Dan Patrick wants to divert money away from public education to the private school vouchers that he doesn’t want you to call vouchers because that’s an unpopular name. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nothing will change until we have different people in charge of these things. In the meantime, spare a bit of pity for your school board trustee, and tell your Rep and your Senator to support Rep. Howard’s bill.

More on the cost of a bathroom bill

Whatever one thinks of the Texas Association of Business, you have to hand it to them for their lobbying focus on the great potty issue.

With the legislative session just weeks ahead, the Texas business community is digging in its heels in opposition to Texas Republicans’ anti-LGBT proposals, warning they could have dire consequences on the state’s economy.

Representatives for the Texas Association of Business said Tuesday that Republican efforts to pass a bill to keep transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and another that would shield religious objectors to same-sex marriage could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs. Those figures are part of a new report from the prominent business group.

“The message from the Texas business community is loud and clear,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, said at a press conference at the Texas Capitol during which he was joined by representatives for ad agency GSD&M, IT company TechNet and SXSW. “Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”

Those figures — based on an economic impact study conducted by St. Edward’s University and commissioned by the business group — depict the possible economic fallout in Texas if lawmakers move forward with legislation similar to North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill and Indiana’s so-called religious freedom law.

[…]

Though the Texas Association of Business and Republicans are regularly legislative comrades, the business group has long warned lawmakers against moving forward with anti-LGBT efforts and it has picked up its lobbying against those proposals as Republican leaders, namely Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have vowed to push more extreme measures.

A copy of the report is here. We first heard about it a month ago. Here’s the bullet-point summary from the intro:

In summary, the studies demonstrate that discriminatory legislation could:

  • Result in significant economic losses in Texas’ GDP, with estimates ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion
  • Result in significant job losses with estimates as high as 185,000 jobs
  • Substantially hamper the state’s ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, especially among Millennials
  • Drastically impact convention and tourism industry, which has a direct economic impact of $69 billion, generates more than $6 billion in state and local tax revenues, and directly and indirectly supports more than 1.1 million Texas jobs (Economic Development and Tourism, Texas Governor’s Office, 2015)
  • Serve as a catalyst for domestic and global companies to choose other states over Texas to start or expand their business.
  • Alienate large, globally recognized businesses, including Apple, Google, Starbucks, British Petroleum, Marriott, IBM, PayPal and the National Football League, which have opposed this amendment and similar ones
  • Allow for an expansion in discrimination, which is counter to prevailing public opinion and conflicts with corporate policies that prioritize diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

As we know, Dan Patrick does not believe that passing a bathroom bill, which is one of his top priorities for this session, will have any negative effect on Texas. He finds it “ridiculous” and “more than offensive” that anyone would boycott Texas (as they have done in North Carolina) over it, and he says he’d consider losing the 2018 election over passing this bill to be an acceptable risk. He can believe what he wants, but the evidence is right there.

Patrick has shrugged off suggestions that major sporting events would stay away from Texas if his proposal became law. But those fears have been heightened in San Antonio, which is set to host the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

After North Carolina passed its version of a restroom law, the NCAA moved seven college basketball championship games out of the Tar Hell State, the NBA canceled its All Star Game and the Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew its college football championship and woman’s college basketball tournament, along with other events. Large companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank also dropped expansion plans in the state.

“I think the evidence is crystal clear that the NCAA will not host anymore championships in Texas if we were to pass a law similar to North Carolina,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. “I don’t need anymore proof than seeing what they did in North Carolina. Why would they treat Texas differently? Whey would they give us a special pass?”

I don’t think it’s possible for them to make it any clearer that they wouldn’t. And by the way, there are a lot more events than just the Final Four – the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship finals will be right here in Houston, at BBVA Compass Stadium, this Friday and Sunday, possibly for the last time if Patrick gets his way. Which gets me back to the question I keep asking, which is at what point does the TAB take him up on that and work to make Dan Patrick the next Pat McCrory? Because losing an election is the only language Dan Patrick will understand, and the lesson he will learn if TAB rolls over and endorses him as usual in 2018 is that he is not accountable to them, or to anyone. Your windup is great, TAB. Now let’s see your follow-through. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Recount in HD105

Still not decided yet.

Terry Meza

Terry Meza

The tight Texas House District 105 race between Republican state Rep. Rodney Anderson and Democratic challenger Terry Meza is headed for a recount. Meza trails Anderson by 69 votes, according to the latest Dallas County elections office tally.

The Secretary of State’s office today approved Meza’s request for the recount, which is scheduled for Nov. 28.

“I’m cautiously optimistic and just feel like we owe it to the voters when we say, ‘Every vote counts,'” Meza said Monday.

[…]

The current vote difference is less than one-fifth of a percent of the 47,369 ballots cast. But this eastern Dallas County district that covers parts of Irving and Grand Prairie is no stranger to close contests.

Former State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown famously held on to the seat in 2008, when she beat a Democrat by a mere 19 votes. That race also went to a recount and prompted a series of lawsuits that stretched the contest into December. But the race had higher stakes eight years ago: Harper-Brown’s eventual victory gave Republicans a narrow 76-74 majority in the lower chamber. Now, Republicans hold a comfortable majority in the 150-seat chamber regardless of who wins this seat.

See here for the background. Meza actually made up about half of her initial deficit with the overseas and provisional ballots, which is impressive in and of itself. I seriously doubt the recount will change the current margin, however. Since I started blogging, there have been three legislative races closer than this one that went to a recount (and in two cases to an election contest heard in the House) without the result changing: Hubert Vo in 2004, Donna Howard in 2010, and the aforementioned Linda Harper-Brown in 2008. I strongly suspect that Rodney Anderson will prevail, and will face an even stronger challenge in 2018.

Maybe we just shouldn’t have nativity scenes on government property

Seems like the obvious answer to me.

A “winter solstice” display by the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been ordered removed from the Texas Capitol after Gov. Greg Abbott called it a “juvenile parody.”

The display had been approved by the State Preservation Board, of which Abbott is chairman, after it was sponsored by state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin.

Howard said she never saw it, but said it was described to her as a poster showing the nation’s founding fathers gathered around a manger with the U.S. Constitution inside. It was hung in the Capitol basement rotunda on Friday, she said.

On Tuesday, Abbott wrote a letter to the executive director of the Preservation Board asking that it be removed. The board’s staff had approved it, but Abbott said the display is offensive, doesn’t serve a public purpose and doesn’t educate viewers.

“Far from promoting morals and the general welfare, the exhibit deliberately mocks Christians and Christianity,” said Abbott’s letter, which also called it a “juvenile parody.”

[…]

Howard said she was frustrated by the decision. The Capitol has a Nativity scene display outside and multiple Christmas trees. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has a right to express its beliefs, too, she said.

“In light of all of the rhetoric around the First Amendment, it appears to me that this is going in the exact opposite direction,” she said.

The Madison, Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation describes itself on its website as a non-profit that seeks to “promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.”

Earlier this week, Abbott released a statement expressing support for a Nativity scene outside the municipal building in the city of Orange. He said in that statement that Orange had a Constitutional right to display the religious image.

He cited the Constitution again in his letter Tuesday.

“The Constitution does not require Texas to allow displays in its Capitol that violate general standards of decency and intentionally disrespect the beliefs and values of many of our fellow Texans,” he wrote.

Well, there’s one way to settle this, and that’s in the courts. I mean, if it wasn’t the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s plan all along to file a lawsuit once their display was predictably removed, then it really was no more than a juvenile parody. So come on, FFRF. Be like the Baphomet supporters and follow through. There’s a principle here that Greg Abbott is either willfully denying or just not able to see, and he needs to be made to understand it. The Statesman, the Current, and the Press have more.

Here comes the school finance bill

It’s a big deal.

Jimmie Don Aycock

The House education chairman on Tuesday unveiled a $3 billion proposal he hopes will overhaul the way Texas funds public schools and derail a looming lawsuit in the process.

“My objective when I began this was to simplify the situation that we’re in,” Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said before providing details of his proposal to the House Public Education Committee he chairs. “Please, before you take a shot at it, take a look at it.”

House Bill 1759 would make 13 changes to the way Texas funds public schools. It would provide $3 billion more than what’s needed to fund enrollment growth and would redistribute some existing funding to ensure each school district receives a more equitable amount.

Nearly all of Texas’ 5.4 million schoolchildren would receive more funding under the proposal. No district would see its per-student funding amount drop, according to data released Tuesday, but some would not see any gains.

Houston ISD, for example, would see its per-student funding increase by $213 in 2016 and $269 to $5,747 in 2017. If current funding mechanisms are continued, by contrast, HISD’s per-student funding level would drop. This is because HISD faces what’s called a “recapture cliff” in 2018, when it will be required to give an estimated $101 million back to the state to prop up poorer school districts.

[…]

Aycock hopes his bill will represent enough of a change to derail Texas’ latest school finance lawsuit, filed against the state by more than 600 school districts after the Legislature in 2011 cut billions in public education funding.

Last August, state District Judge John Dietz struck down the state’s public school funding system, saying it created an illegal, de facto statewide property tax and citing problems of equity, adequacy and efficiency. Then-Attorney General Greg Abbott appealed to the state Supreme Court, which is not expected to rule before the legislative session ends in June.

Aycock said Tuesday that he thinks his bill makes enough changes that, if it passes, Dietz’s ruling would be reversed or the case would be sent back to the lower court. Sheryl Pace, a school finance expert at the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, agreed.

“If this were to pass, I think there’d be a good chance of that,” said Pace. “This is a substantial change.”

See here and here for the background. This is a big step forward, and I agree it would have an effect on the litigation. Keep in mind, however, that funding disparities between districts wasn’t the only issue that was litigated.

Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) has said that Aycock’s proposal would mean new money for schools, but she doubts it would do enough for poor students or English-language learners to make the system truly equitable.

That was a major issue in District Judge John Dietz’s ruling against the state last year, and Aycock said this afternoon that his bill didn’t touch the funding weights that provide money for those students. But he did call his plan “the most equitable statistical sample that’s been proposed for many years,” and said, “I honestly move it helps the state’s position, moves the ball in the right direction.”

It does, and Rep. Aycock deserves a lot of credit for that forward motion. Assuming the House passes his bill – and I think it will – the question is what if anything the Senate will do with it. The prospect of at least scaling back the school finance litigation is sure to be an incentive for them, but the Senate has not shown any inclination to add money to public education – those tax cuts ain’t gonna pay for themselves, if you know what I mean – and has chosen instead to spend its time on bills that won’t actually solve any problems. Remember, Dan Patrick thinks the main problem with the 2011 cuts to education is that they didn’t go far enough. So good luck, Rep. Aycock. You’re going to need it. The Trib has more.

Let the budgetary games begin

The House takes up the budget today, with over 300 amendments and riders queued up for votes. A couple of things to watch for as the debate goes on:

Killing vouchers.

BagOfMoney

Lawmakers in the Texas House will have a chance to draw a line in the sand over private school vouchers during the upcoming battle over the budget Tuesday.

An amendment filed by state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, would ban the use of state dollars to fund private education for students in elementary through high schools, including through so-called tax credit scholarships.

If passed, the measure — one of more than 350 budget amendments covering topics from border security to abortion up for House consideration — would deliver a blow to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

[…]

If Herrero’s amendment fails, it would represent a dramatic change in sentiment for the chamber, which overwhelmingly passed a similar budget amendment during the 2013 legislative session. Patrick, a Houston Republican who served as state senator before taking office as lieutenant governor in January, led that chamber’s education panel at the time.

Rep. Herrero’s amendment from 2013 passed by a 103-43 vote. Neither Speaker Straus nor Public Ed Chair Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock is any more pro-voucher than they were last year, and neither is Dan Patrick any more beloved, so you have to feel pretty good about the chances this time, though it’s best not to count your amendments till they pass. If it does, that won’t fully drive a stake through vouchers’ cold, greedy heart for the session, but it’ll be a solid blow against them.

“Alternatives To Abortion”

As the Texas House prepares for a floor fight Tuesday over its budget, a flurry of amendments filed by Democrats seeks to defund the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program.

A group of Democratic lawmakers filed more than a dozen amendments to either reduce or eliminate funding for the program, which provides “pregnancy and parenting information” to low-income women. Under the program, the state contracts with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit charity organization with a network of crisis pregnancy resource centers that provide counseling and adoption assistance.

Since September 2006, the program has served roughly 110,000 clients. The network features 60 provider locations, including crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said she filed an amendment to defund the entire program because the state is giving more money to “coerce women” into a “political ideology instead of providing information and services” at a time when Texas women’s access to health services is being reduced.

The proposed House budget allocates $9.15 million a year to the program in 2016 and 2017 — up from $5.15 million in the last budget.

“I think it’s troublesome that here we are going to almost double funding for a program that has not proven to be successful in any way,” said Farrar, chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus in the House. An additional amendment by Farrar would require an audit of the program.

Several House Democrats filed similar amendments, including Borris Miles of Houston, Celia Israel of Austin and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, whose amendments would transfer more than $8 million from the Alternatives to Abortion program to family planning services and programs for people with disabilities.

“These facilities have very little regulation, no accountability and no requirement to offer actual medical services,” Turner said, adding that funding could be used for other medical programs. “My amendments are an attempt to address our state’s real priorities and needs.”

Two Republicans, meanwhile, filed measures to boost the program’s funding.

I don’t expect Dems to win this fight, but it’s a fight worth having.

Other women’s health funding issues

The state currently administers three similar women’s health programs that cover things like annual well woman exams, birth control and cancer screenings for low-income women.

The newest program, the Expanded Primary Health Care Program, created in 2013, is slated to get the funding bump, bringing the total for women’s health services in the House version of the budget to about $130 million per year.

Here is the breakdown of funding for each program:

  • Texas Women’s Health Program: $34.9 million in 2016, $35.1 million in 2017
  • Expanded Primary Health Care Program: $73.4 million in 2016, $73.4 million in 2017
  • Family planning program administered by Department of State Health Services: $21.4 million in 2016, $21.4 million in 2017

In 2011, motivated by a never-ending quest to defund Planned Parenthood, the Texas Legislature slashed family planning funding by nearly $70 million, leaving about $40 million for preventive and contraceptive services for low-income women. A recent study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a research group that studies the effects of family planning budget cuts, found that more than 100,000 women lost services after the 2011 cuts and 82 family planning clinics closed. In 2013, the Legislature restored the $70 million and put it into the newly created Expanded Primary Health Care Program, which became a separate item in the state budget. Still, advocates and providers have consistently fought for more money, arguing that the state is only serving one-third of women eligible to receive services.

[…]

Here is a list of other women’s health amendments and riders to watch for:

  • State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) filed an amendment that would allow teenagers who are 15 to 17 years old and already mothers to get contraception without their parents’ consent. Right now, state law requires that all teenagers under the age of 18 get their parent’s permission for birth control. The amendment mirrors Gonzalez’s House Bill 468, which she presented to the House State Affairs Committee in mid-March.
  • State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) has proposed a rider that would ensure sex education programs teach “medically accurate” information to public school students.
  • State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) proposes adding even more money to the Alternatives to Abortion program by taking almost $7 million from the Commission on Environmental Quality.
  • A House budget rider by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) protects the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program that provides breast and cervical cancer screenings for uninsured women, under attack this session by conservative lawmakers hell bent on, you guessed it, defunding Planned Parenthood.

Some possible winners in there – in a decent world, Rep. Gonzalez’s bill would be a no-brainer – but again, fights worth having. Rep. Sarah Davis has received some liberal adulation this session for trying to do good on women’s health issues. That budget rider will be a test of whether she can actually move some of her colleagues or not.

Public education

An amendment by the House’s lead budget writer, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto would allocate $800 million more to certain public schools as part of a plan announced last week to diminish the inequities that exist among districts under the current funding scheme.

[…]

At the news conference Monday, Austin state Rep. Donna Howard said at least 20 percent of public schools still will receive less per-student funding than they did in 2011 under the proposal. That year, state lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from public education, restoring about $3.4 billion two years later.

“We aren’t keeping up as it is,” Howard said.

She also noted the plan also does not include the $130 million that had been earmarked for a bill containing Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to bolster pre-K programs — an amount she described as insufficient considering it does fully restore funding to a pre-K grant program gutted in 2011.

Howard has filed a budget amendment that would allocate $300 million for pre-K.

Pre-K is one of Greg Abbott’s priorities this session, but his proposal is small ball. Rep. Howard’s amendment has a chance, but we’ll see if Abbott’s office gets involved.

And finally, same sex benefits, because of course there is.

Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) is again trying to bar Texas school districts from offering benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

Springer has introduced a budget amendment that would eliminate state funding for districts that violate the Texas Constitution, which prohibits recognition of same-sex partnerships.

The amendment is similar to a bill Springer authored two years ago, which cleared committee but was never considered on the floor. Under Springer’s budget amendment, the education commissioner, in consultation with the attorney general, would decide whether districts have violated the Constitution. Districts would have 60 days to correct the problem.

According to Equality Texas, Springer’s amendment is aimed at the Austin, Pflugerville and San Antonio school districts, which offer “plus-one” benefits that are inclusive of same-sex partners. But the group says those benefits are in line with a 2013 opinion from former Attorney General Greg Abbott, which found that such programs are only illegal if they create or recognize a status similar to marriage.

Yes, as noted, Rep. Springer has tried to meddle in this area before. I admit, I’m more worried about a budget amendment this year than a bill in 2013. Keep a close eye on that one.

House will address school finance

Good.

Jimmie Don Aycock

With a plan that would add $3 billion to the state’s public education budget, the Texas House has decided to take on school finance reform this legislative session.

As he announced a deal Wednesday that would put $800 million on top of the $2.2 billion the chamber had already allocated to public schools, Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, called the decision a “significant change in direction.”

The topic of school finance was largely expected to go unaddressed this legislative session while a massive lawsuit involving more than two-thirds of the state’s school districts awaits a ruling from the Texas Supreme Court.

After months of private discussions and meetings, Aycock said House leaders no longer wanted to wait for a long-needed overhaul of the system. The proposal will be filed as House Bill 1759.

“We had to ask the fundamental question: Do we want to do what’s right for the state of Texas and the children of Texas, or do we want to sit around and try to play lawyer and outguess the courts?” Aycock told reporters at a Capitol news conference.

The Observer fills in some details.

Aycock said his priority is to correct illogical and outdated features in Texas’ school finance formulas, like adjustments for higher salaries in expensive urban districts or the extra cost of educating students with limited English proficiency, which haven’t been updated in more than 25 years. Tinkering with any of those would upset the delicate equilibrium of a system that, despite its flaws, has been in place since 2006.

“The fact is that when you change these complicated formulas, some people win, some people win more than others, some people lose,” Aycock said. “In order to mitigate that pain politically, you can only do this sort of modification when there’s more money going into the system.”

Some, but not all, members of the crowd around Aycock this morning have been meeting since last fall in an informal working group on school finance reform. The group includes Republicans and Democrats from both urban and rural districts.

In an interview, Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) said Aycock’s plan wouldn’t fix what’s wrong with Texas’ school finance system, but to Democrats who’ve been railing against the state’s chronic underfunding of schools, the extra money was welcome. “It was an offer we couldn’t refuse,” she said.

Still, adding more money this session to Aycock’s plan wouldn’t address the system’s basic flaws, or allow for reforms like pre-kindergarten expansion.

“I think it’s a huge step toward addressing what the court said we need to address,” Howard said, but “I take Chairman Aycock at his word that this is not about trying to make the lawsuit go away.”

[…]

David Thompson, an attorney representing one group of school districts suing the state, told the Observer that without a bill to look at yet, it’s impossible to guess how the case might be affected. “I do very much appreciate the House’s willingness to spend some time to address the issue,” Thompson said, adding that the plans Aycock described include “some very positive features.” Thompson said he’s most interested in seeing a proposal that steers more money to districts that educate the state’s neediest children.

Had lawmakers completely punted on school finance reform—or if the House’s plan eventually falls through—a Supreme Court ruling against the state would likely prompt a special session in 2016 dedicated to fixing the system. If nothing else, the new reform effort could serve as a practice run for new members getting to know the arcane system for the first time.

Rep. Aycock had previously filed a different school finance bill, HB654, to simplify the school funding mechanism by grouping the state’s 1,026 regular school districts into at least 30 “school finance districts”. This is something else entirely, and it’s not clear to me what the status of that bill is. Regardless, considering that Rep. Aycock talked about “nibbling around the edges” back in December, it’s quite a step forward. Whether it can survive the tax-cuts-uber-alles mania that is gripping the Senate remains to be seen, but for now this is a hopeful sign.

Don’t stop fighting for choice

That’s the message I take from this.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

They’re pushing a boulder up a hill in the conservative Texas Legislature. But three House Democrats remain laser-focused on repealing the 24-hour waiting period for abortion imposed by the state’s 2011 sonogram law.

“This 24-hour waiting period has proven to be ineffective, unnecessary and cruel,” state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat and the chairwoman of the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus, said at a Thursday press conference. “It does not change a pregnant Texas woman’s decision.”

[…]

Farrar’s House Bill 709, which was filed in January, would not repeal the requirement that a doctor perform a sonogram before an abortion is performed. It would only remove the provision of the law that requires the sonogram to take place 24 hours before an abortion — which abortion rights advocates say is an obstacle for low-income women who struggle with transportation and child care, and face an already dwindling number of clinics.

Farrar acknowledged that there isn’t enough support in the Legislature to repeal the measure.

“That doesn’t stop us from continuing to talk about this, because the worst thing that can happen is that we all become silent,” Farrar said. “I think history has shown that because people are vocal over time, eventually you have success.”

The 24-hour waiting period bill is part of a package of women’s health legislation filed by Farrar, state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. Those lawmakers are leading a policy campaign to improve reproductive care in Texas. The other bills include measures allowing more comprehensive sex education in Texas schools and carving out a “professional judgment exception” that would give medical professionals performing abortion-related services room to circumvent some state requirements.

Farrar filed a similar 24-hour waiting period bill during the 2013 legislative session, but it died in committee. She said the waiting period is even more burdensome now than it was last session because of the recent closure of so many clinics.

The Austin Chronicle adds more details.

Austin Rep. Donna Howard’s HB 1210 prevents physicians from being penalized for refusing to comply with certain abortion-related directives, including providing inaccurate or inappropriate information. (Like the medically questionable state-approved “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet that links abortion to breast cancer – given to abortion patients.) “We’ve seen repeated instances of Texas lawmakers inserting themselves into the doctor-patient relationship,” said Howard, a former registered nurse. “… I spoke with numerous doctors who mentioned they were having to choose between their best medical judgment and the directives that were forced onto them by legislators. Politics should never take precedence over medical judgment and certainly not when the health and safety of a mother is at risk.”

[…]

Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, highlighted her House Bill 78 (co-authored by Howard), which seeks to improve sexual education in Texas public schools, an effort to help prevent unintended pregnancies by providing students with medically accurate and evidence-based facts.

Look, I’m well aware of how the last election went, and of what the odds are of any of these bills seeing the light of day. But do you think things are going to get better or worse if we sit on our hands and do nothing over the next few years? It’s one thing to make a strategic retreat and live to fight another day, it’s another thing entirely to give up fighting. If we don’t stand for what we believe in, who will? KUHF has more.

On sexism in the Legislature

Just go read Olivia Messer’s story in The Observer about that great bastion of good-ol-boyism, the Texas Legislature. It’s appalling, but sadly not unexpected, nor unsurprising. I’ve heard way too many stories like it, from way too many women, in way too many contexts, to claim otherwise. I don’t have a good answer other than “we need to elect more women”, but I do want to note one facet of Messer’s story:

OffendedOpinion

At a certain point, after enough of these run-ins—which included male staffers from both chambers, some of whom I knew to be married, hitting on me, making comments about my physical appearance, touching my arm—it finally occurred to me that, when I was at work, I was often fending off advances like I was in a bar.

What surprised me was how many women who work in the Capitol—legislators, staffers, lobbyists, other reporters—felt the same way. Everyone, it seemed, had a story or anecdote about being objectified or patronized.

Even the most powerful women in the Legislature experience it. When I started interviewing women lawmakers, they all—Republican and Democrat, House and Senate, rural and urban—said that being a woman in the statehouse is more difficult than being a man. Some told of senators ogling women on the Senate floor or watching porn on iPads and on state-owned computers, of legislators hitting on female staffers or using them to help them meet women, and of hundreds of little comments in public and private that women had to brush off to go about their day. Some said they often felt marginalized and not listened to—that the sexism in the Legislature made their jobs harder and, at times, produced public policy hostile to women.

Yet, despite their strong feelings, women in the Capitol rarely talk about, except in the most private discussions, the misogyny they see all the time. It’s just the way the Legislature has always been.

[…]

When I asked why other women don’t speak up about the atmosphere, [Rep. Senfronia] Thompson cited political ambition. “Everybody who comes here, they’re looking at, ‘Can I go higher politically?’” she said. “To some degree, political office and winning is so important and imperative to us that we are willing to turn our heads and tolerate things that wouldn’t uphold the dignity of a woman. I’m not sure if we contribute to that. And it bothers me.”

She added, “I’m just not sure right now we have enough women who are willing to [speak up].”

I totally understand why more women don’t want to speak up about this – one need only look at some of the vicious things that have been said about Sen. Wendy Davis since her filibuster to comprehend why – but I wish they would anyway. Not as a first resort – it’s always best to speak to the offender directly, because some people do learn and some people really do mean no offense – but for the frequent flyers, many of whom fly beneath the radar on this. There ought to be some cost to being a pig. Some day, when stuff like this costs someone re-election, maybe that will have a more permanent effect. I sure hope so, anyway.

On a completely unrelated note, the fact that Janet Yellen is a woman is considered a factor in her candidacy to be Chair of the Federal Reserve. Because of course it is. BOR has more.

Special Session 3: Beyond Thunderdome

Beyond ridiculous, if you ask me, not that they did.

Same hair and same amount of crazy as Rick Perry

Standing before mostly empty chairs in the 150-member Texas House on Tuesday, House Speaker Joe Straus adjourned the second special session and announced that Gov. Rick Perry would be calling them all back for a third special session later in the day.

After gaveling in the House at 2:36 p.m., Straus briefly thanked members for their time and hard work during the second special session before acknowledging Perry would probably call a third special session 30 minutes after both chambers had officially adjourned the second special session.

“See you in 30 minutes,” he quipped, telling the few dozen House members in the Capitol to stick around for the opening of the third session.

An aide to Perry confirmed that the governor plans to call a third special session shortly.

Some Republicans would like to blame the Democrats for this fine mess they’re all in.

“I think we need to remember why we are having this extra special session. One state senator, in an effort to capture national attention, forced this special session,” Capriglione told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “I firmly believe that Sen. Wendy Davis should reimburse the taxpayers for the entire cost of the second special session. I am sure that she has raised enough money at her Washington, D.C., fundraiser to cover the cost.”

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prarie, who leads the House Democratic Caucus, said Capriglione calling on Davis to reimburse taxpayers is “absurd.”

“The special sessions have largely been political and just a continuation of decade-old culture wars that do very little to resolve policy and do a lot to continue to divide Texans and in the process wasting a lot money,” Turner said. “The decision to call a special session is the governor’s and governor’s alone, he has to decide if its worth the costs.”

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, tweeted Monday evening that Dewhurst should have passed the transportation bill in the first special session on the night of Davis’ filibuster.

Lt. Gov. is blaming House for TXDOT $. History lesson: he had SJR ready to go in the 1st Special & killed it to score political pts #txlege

— Joe Moody (@moodyforelpaso) July 29, 2013

A resolution to fund transportation had cleared both Houses and members of either party had said publicly the measure had enough support to pass. Dewhurst declined an appeal from Democrat lawmakers to bring up and pass the measure before the abortion filibuster began and the measure – like the abortion restrictions – failed to pass the first special session.

“It seems to me the lieutenant governor’s priority was focusing on partisan issue of abortion and trying to score political points rather than taking care of the business of the state ready to be resolved,” Turner said.

Not to mention, as Texpatriate points out, that Capriglione can’t count votes.

Anyways, the House only voted 84-40 in favor of the bill, sixteen short of the supermajority required for passage. Among the 40 dissenting votes, only 13 were Democrats. This means that even if every Democrat in the room had supported the bill, it would have failed. Make no mistake, the Tea Party killed HJR2.

And as I noted that’s a lot of absentees and/or abstentions. The Republicans only needed six Democratic votes to get to 100 if they were uniformly in favor. They got 27 Yeas, so any shortfall is indeed their fault.

Rumor has it that once again there will be other items on the call. At least one additional item, if there are to be any, would be welcomed by members of both parties.

Despite broad bipartisan support, Texas lawmakers have been unsuccessful this year in their efforts to pass a bill issuing tuition revenue bonds — or TRBs — to fund campus construction around the state. Returning for yet another special session, which Gov. Rick Perry called on Tuesday, may provide them with an opportunity to try again.

“I don’t think any of us have ever given up hope,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said. “We would certainly like to see TRBs on the call.”

At the end of the regular session, the TRB bill was held up by political jockeying as the clock ran out. In the two subsequent special sessions, Perry did not add the issue to the official to-do list. Lawmakers could have tried to move a TRB bill, but when the legislation is not on the governor’s special session call, it’s easy to defeat on a technicality.

Before the second special ended, Perry indicated that he might consider adding TRBs to that call. “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any other issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call,” he said.

But a plan to address the state’s transportation funding needs failed, and so TRBs were never added. Now, Perry has called lawmakers back for a third 30-day special session, and transportation funding remains the only item on the agenda — for now.

“If and when both chambers pass the transportation bill, I believe very strongly that the governor will add TRBs to the call,” state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said.

Zaffirini pushed for a TRB bill for the last three regular sessions and has already filed a bill in the just-called special session. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, are among the 21 co-authors on Zaffirini’s legislation and have also filed TRB bills of their own.

No other items as yet, but it’s early days.

As for the main event, a little leadership might help it finally get passed.

Rep. Joe Pickett, a leading House transportation policy writer, says the Legislature’s infantry is exhausted and it’s time for a meeting of the generals.

“We’ve taken this pretty far a couple of times now,” Pickett said of lawmakers’ efforts this summer to provide a modest boost in state funding of roads and bridges.

But the push got snared by abortion politics in the first special session. In the second, it caught its pants leg in a complex bramble of disagreements that include philosophical clashes over how much money is needed in the state’s rainy day fund; many Democrats’ resentment that public schools play second fiddle to infrastructure in the state budget process; and increasingly petty resentments among Republicans who run the show. The whole thing is playing out as top Republicans figure out their futures, in a game of musical chairs for statewide offices, and lowly Republicans look over their shoulders to see if they’re getting a primary opponent this winter.

“Maybe the Big 3 should meet and see if they have any suggestions on how to get this over the line,” Pickett said, referring to Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Give us some guidance or an outline” Pickett pleaded. He said several lawmakers belonging to both parties have suggested that the top leaders should huddle.

A better funding mechanism wouldn’t hurt, either. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that. BOR and Texpatriate have more.

I do not expect another Ardmore

The AusChron tries to get out the Democrats’ strategy for Special Session 2.

When the Texas House convened last last month to pass, on third reading and onto the Senate for final passage, Senate Bill 5, the omnibus abortion regulations bill, Austin Rep. Elliott Naishtat heard several colleagues discussing whether House Dems would be ready to walk out – to break quorum – in order to stop the measure from moving forward.

Among the questions before Democrats as they face today’s start of a second-called special session, with passage of abortion regulations first on Gov. Rick Perry’s to do list, is whether a mid-summer, out-of-state sojourn may be in the cards. “There was talk about it” on the floor last month, he said, “and there will undoubtedly be talk about it again.”

[…]

With the 30-day special-called session only getting under way today, there is plenty of time for Republicans to maneuver to pass the divisive measures – as one Capitol staffer said last week, not even Davis can talk for 30 days. But there remain other strategies to explore, said Austin Democratic Sen. Kirk Watson – though he declined to offer specifics. “I’m not going to get into strategies,” he said, “but we’re not going to give up the fight.”

[…]

Requiring testimony in each chamber may be one way to moderate the legislation’s forward progress, but it is unlikely to do much to halt the ever-forward movement. So, might a mid-summer trip to a nearby state be the way to go? That’s certainly an option, says [Rep. Donna] Howard. Though, realistically, says Naishtat, he isn’t sure that it would work to derail the measure completely. “I don’t see how House or Senate Democrats could break quorum for the amount of time necessary to defeat the bill – it could be as much as three weeks,” he said. “On the other hand, other people doubted that Sen. Wendy Davis could pull off a filibuster. So what I’m saying is, you never know.” Indeed, Naishtat agrees that at this point, every option is on the table. And it would be “foolish,” he said, for Republicans to “underestimate our power, our intelligence, our mastery of the rules, and our commitment to doing everything legal to prevent the passage of … anti-pro-choice bills.”

I’m not privy to the Dems’ thinking, and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss any feasible possibility out of hand, but I have a hard time seeing how a quorum break would be successful. As with the Davis filibuster, all it can do is delay. It can’t prevent any of this awful legislation from passing, because Rick Perry can just keep calling more sessions, which you know he will. The reason why Ardmore was doable in 2003 was that the Dems only needed to be gone for five days. As with the previous special session, the re-redistricting bill came up late, and it was close enough to the deadline for passing bills out of the House for the Senate to take up that they could bug out on Monday and return on Saturday having accomplished their task. Busting quorum now would be like what the Senate Dems tried to do later that summer. As was the case back then, there was no magic day after which you could say you were in the clear. Maybe they’ve though this through and they know what their endgame is, but I have my doubts. It’s asking an awful lot of a lot of people, and I don’t know how practical it is. I hate to be a wet blanket, and I could be wrong about this, but that’s how I see it.

Two more factors to consider. One is that in the aftermath of Ardmore and Albuquerque, there were some rule changes made in each chamber to make future quorum busts more difficult and more punitive to the fleeing party. I don’t remember the details, but I do feel confident that the Rs would be extremely vengeful towards a caucus that skipped town. Two, back in 2003 the Governors of Oklahoma and New Mexico were both Democrats, and thus unwilling to cooperate with the efforts to locate and extradite the Killer Ds. Both Governors are Republicans now, so no such assistance would be in the offing. The only neighboring state now with a Democratic Governor is Arkansas, but I would not want to put my fate in that state’s hands. The nearest state where I’d feel safe, politically speaking at least, is Colorado. Point being, any out of state excursion would need to be done by air, not by bus, which increases the cost, the risk factor, and the likelihood of something going wrong because there’s just too much you can’t control.

Anyway. If it were up to me, I’d do everything I could to drag the proceedings out, while giving the crazier members of the GOP caucus as many opportunities to say something as stupid as Rep. Laubenberg did last session, and I’d lay whatever groundwork I could for litigation to block the law. The name of the game is the 2014 election. Go down fighting, keep everyone engaged, and be ready to pick up where you left off as soon as the session ends. Be sure to read the whole AusChron story, there’s a lot more in there besides quorum breaking.

House debates its budget

As you know, yesterday was Budgetpalooza in the House.

The House budget puts more money into public education and less into health and human services than a Senate proposal that passed the upper chamber last month.

“No one is or will be entirely happy with this bill, but there is something for everyone this year,” House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said two weeks ago after his committee approved its version of Senate Bill 1.

[…]

It will be a strikingly different scene from the Senate, which passed its budget proposal last month after about four hours of discussion. Traditionally, senators do not amend their budget plan from the Senate floor. State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, offered an amendment on the bill related to school finance but then withdrew it.

After the House passes a budget bill, both the House and Senate will appoint conference committees to resolve differences between the two proposals.

Neither budget completely reverses last session’s $5.4 billion in cuts to public schools, a goal many Democrats have said is a priority. Several House members have filed amendments attempting to put more money into schools.

Other legislators hope to amend the budget to put more money for uninsured care or specific types of care.

An amendment from state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, aimed at increasing payments to health care providers serving Medicaid patients could spark a protracted discussion over whether Texas should accept federal dollars made available through the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicaid.

House members could also see themselves drawn into debates on hot-button cultural issues. State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, has several amendments aimed at reducing state funding earmarked for “alternatives to abortion” and putting it toward other women’s health services. An amendment from state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, would block funding for “gender and sexuality centers” at higher-education institutions.

A group of Republican freshmen have filed more than three dozen amendments that would take money away from various state programs and agencies and putting the funds into TRS-Care, the group health insurance program for the Teacher Retirement System, which is projected to have a shortfall by 2016.

TRS-Care has since said that they did not support the freshlings’ effort to de-fund various things on their behalf. A number of those hot-button amendments concerning abortion and women’s health were subsequently withdrawn in a bit of bipartisan detente, which if nothing else should make the whole thing go by a bit more quickly. There are still a lot of other issues to be debated, not all of which get much attention but all of which matter a lot to the people affected by them, and a few messages to be sent. One of the messages sent was about vouchers.

About eight hours into the House’s debate on the state budget Thursday, lawmakers in the lower chamber sent a clear signal about their position on private school vouchers.

An amendment from state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, that would ban the use of public dollars for private schools, passed 103-43 with bipartisan support.

“What this amendment basically does is say that you cannot use public money to support private institutions with vouchers,” said state Rep. John Otto, a Dayton Republican who is the House’s head education budget writer.

As they say, this is a big deal. Even Tom Craddick voted against vouchers, amazingly enough. If you listen carefully, you can hear Dan Patrick grinding his teeth. The Observer, Trail Blazers, and Texas Politics, which notes that despite this vote vouchers aren’t quite most sincerely dead yet, have more.

In the end, the House debated the budget well into the night, until almost 10 PM according to Rep. Gene Wu, who heroically live-tweeted the whole thing; BOR liveblogged it as well. Given the big vote in favor, it’s likely that nothing too horrible happened, but we’ll assess the damage later. It’s on to conference committee from here.

Straus wants someone to do something on Medicaid

Don’t we all, Joe. Don’t we all.

Rep. Joe Straus

Seeking to light a fire under fellow Republicans to provide health care to more uninsured Texans, House Speaker Joe Straus said Wednesday that it is time to “get our heads out of the sand” and find an alternative to Medicaid expansion that would bring billions of federal dollars to the state.

Straus said he and other Republicans have made it clear that they oppose expansion of Medicaid as the program now stands.

“But I think it’s time that we said more than that,” he said. “It’s time that we put forth a good-faith effort to find a Texas solution. We need to move beyond the word ‘no’ to something that the administration might entertain. There are no winners if nothing is agreed to. We have a very large state, a significant population of uninsured people … and I think it could be an opportune time to put some proposals on the table that could be supported by Texas leadership.”

Straus, R-San Antonio, said elements to focus on include subsidies to allow people to obtain private coverage, promoting personal responsibility and cost-sharing, such as co-pays and deductibles.

Straus said there may be a way to tie a plan to a reduction in local taxes, since a key argument for expansion is that it would relieve local taxpayers of some of the burden they now bear to cover the cost of treating uninsured people in public hospitals.

[…]

It is unclear exactly how the conversation will move forward, but Straus said it is important to gear up talks with the aim of building consensus behind a Texas solution.

“We need to make the right business decision for Texas taxpayers,” Straus said. “Local governments have to carry a very heavy burden and look, poor people are going to get sick. They’re going to be treated. And somebody’s going to pay for it.”

Nice talk, if plenty vague. But let’s keep these things in mind:

– Medicaid is going to be cheaper than private insurance. If there’s a problem with doctors not accepting Medicaid, that’s entirely within the Lege’s discretion to fix, since the Lege sets the amount that doctors get paid from Medicaid. But even with more generous reimbursements, Medicaid is going to be less expensive than insurance provided by a profit-seeking enterprise.

– The single biggest obstacle in all this is Rick Perry, with Greg Abbott right behind him. These guys just don’t care about this issue. I can’t state it any more plainly than that.

– Of course, after ten years of complete Republican control of Texas government, the only reason people like Joe Straus are even talking about this is because they have to, thanks to the efforts of President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Texas leads the nation in uninsured people, a situation that has only gotten worse under the Republicans. What little progress there has been has been in spite of the Republicans. It didn’t have to be that way, but it was and is. I’m glad that Straus wants to do something, but I don’t take it as a change of mind, just as a recognition of the lay of the land. He hasn’t exactly been powerless to effect change before now, after all.

Be that as it may, there was a hearing in the House on Friday to talk about just what Texas might do to expand health care access, whether Medicaid or something else.

There are thousands of scenarios that the state could take to expand and reform Medicaid, Kyle Janek, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, told the committee. But “we don’t have something on paper,” he said. Janek said he is awaiting further direction from the Legislature to craft a specific plan.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, referenced a compromise Arkansas’ Republican-led Legislature reached with the federal government, and said if “the people in Arkansas are much more capable of designing a system than the people in the state of Texas, that has taken us to a different level.” He called on his colleagues to stop being critical of the Medicaid expansion presented by the Affordable Care Act and to ask themselves “whether or not Texas has the ability to design something that works for Texas.”

Requiring Medicaid patients to make co-payments for their care — an option that has received support from Perry, Straus and other GOP members — is allowed under the Affordable Care Act, Janek said. He said if Texas took a different route and attempted to subsidize private health plans through an Orbitz-style health insurance exchange like Arkansas, the state would need to set up policies to ensure benefits offered by Medicaid that weren’t covered by private plans didn’t disappear.

“I think the public has a misconception that Medicaid expansion will get us the greatest bang for our buck,” said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, who chairs the House Public Health Committee. “For Texas, the bang for our buck is really in the exchange, the subsidy [for] people going into private insurance.”

Kolkhorst said without expanding Medicaid, other tenets of the Affordable Care Act would reduce Texas’ uninsured rate from 24 percent — the highest in the nation — to 16 percent. Including the Medicaid expansion would drop the uninsured rate slightly more, down to 12 percent.

As noted above it’s actually almost 29 percent. But who’s counting?

In total, unreimbursed charity care creates a $4.3 billion annual tax burden on local government entities and public hospitals, Billy Hamilton, the state’s former chief budget estimator, told the committee. Overall, he said, there is enough local and state spending in the current system to cover the state’s share of Medicaid expansion costs.

“I know this is a controversial issue… but I don’t really think you’re going to see a more overwhelming fiscal opportunity during your service here,” said Hamilton. “I served this Legislature for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The committee also heard testimony from judges from Harris and Dallas counties who spoke in favor of expanding Medicaid, and from John Davidson, a policy analyst from the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, who spoke against Medicaid expansion.

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton and an anesthesiologist, said Texas needs to ensure that any expansion of reform of Medicaid include ways to incentivize more health care providers to accept those patients. If it doesn’t, those patients will end up in the highest-cost environments, emergency rooms. Zerwas pointed out that only 32 percent of doctors are willing to take Medicaid patients in the existing program, under current reimbursement rates.

Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said the Legislature should be held responsible for this lack of Medicaid providers, because lawmakers set those reimbursement rates. “The provider capacity is a real issue for this system, whether we expand or not,” she said.

So that’s Ed Emmett and Clay Jenkins, two guys who live in the real world and have to deal with the real world consequences of having thousands of uninsured people needing medical services their counties provide, versus some pampered, well-paid shill from a right-wing think tank. In a just world, that would be no contest. I’m glad to see Rep. Turner address the Arkansas plan, as that’s the first comment I’ve seen from a Democratic official about it. Again, it’s not my preference but if it’s that or nothing I’ll grab it with both hands.

In the end, as the updated story from the Trib notes, the Lege punted to the HHSC for now.

Rep. Zerwas filed legislation Friday that would grant the Health and Human Services Commission authority to craft “a Texas solution” to Medicaid reform and negotiate with the Obama administration to draw down billions in federal financing to expand Medicaid services.

As debate in the House Appropriations Committee on Medicaid expansion revealed Friday morning, the House remains divided on how Medicaid should be reformed and whether the program should be expanded. Currently, House Bill 3791 is a shell bill that will be altered as state legislators continue to negotiate how Medicaid should be reformed.

“We felt like it was time to start to get the ball moving on this. We’ve made it pretty clear that we’re not for current Medicaid expansion, but we do need to be for something else,” said Zerwas on Saturday, “because I think its very important for the state that we determine a way to cover this group of people that are currently uninsured.”

HB 3791 directs the HHSC to negotiate with the Obama Administration, so that Texas can draw down Medicaid expansion financing while implementing Medicaid reforms that enhance “personal responsibility” of Medicaid recipients, such as copayments or deductibles. It also includes a severability clause to end the agreement if the federal government reduces it share of Medicaid expansion financing.

As it stands, the HHSC does not “have a legislative directive or mandate to go forward on this, and that’s what this is intended to be,” said Zerwas, explaining the bill gives state lawmakers the opportunity to weigh in on how Texas should tailor a Medicaid expansion agreement with the federal government. The bill prompts the HHSC “to move forward on something that the Legislature, the [state] leadership is comfortable with that is in the best interest of Texans and allows us to pull down those dollars, which ultimately are our dollars,” he said.

In other words, they still don’t know what they want, but some of them at least have decided that doing nothing isn’t the best idea. I’m confident the Obama administration will be flexible in the negotiations given what we’ve seen them allow so far. It remains to be seen how flexible the state of Texas will be.

Finally, Sara Kliff provides some useful information about what the Arkansas plan really means, via an interview with George Washington University’s Sara Rosenbaum, an expert on Medicaid policy.

Sarah Kliff: Right now, you have a number of governors looking at the idea of using Medicaid expansion funding to buy private health insurance for enrollees. How novel of an idea is that?

Sara Rosenbaum: It’s been treated as this brand, new thing, but I don’t actually think it’s completely revolutionary. Keep in mind that states have been using Medicaid to buy managed care plans since the beginning of Medicaid. The whole notion of this as a conceptual breakthrough for Medicaid feels a bit off for me.

It does happen though that this is in Arkansas, which traditionally has not been a buyer of managed care, not a place like Arkansas, and not somewhere like Texas which has been buying managed care.

One of the good things about it, from my perspective, is that it gives you more stability of coverage, or gives you the chance at stability. You’re brought into a plan to stay.

SK: So the idea is, if your Medicaid expansion population is in private insurance, they won’t have to bounce back and forth between private and public plans.

SR: It does address a problem of churn. Four years ago I raised this and put this forward to House and Senate committees as a model. It was met with a lot of opposition from Medicaid advocates, which I didn’t totally understand having worked in Medicaid for almost four years now.

The need for stability of coverage is so great. These are the youngest, healthiest and lowest-income workers. All they have to do is churn from different insurance plans two or three times, and they’re going to say I’m through with this. And these are the exact people we want to enroll.

There’s more about the costs and other aspects of this that are worth your time to read. I still don’t believe the Republicans care enough to actually do something about this – note Kyle Janek’s remark about not having something on paper – but I will be happy to be proven wrong. EoW has more.

The war on women continues apace

Honestly, I’m surprised that it’s taken as long as it has for this to happen.

Right there with them

Abortion clinics in Texas may soon face harsh new state requirements that pro-choice advocates say could greatly reduce access to abortion.

Sens Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) filed a bill this morning that would require abortion clinics to meet the same conditions as ambulatory surgical centers.

The measure, Senate Bill 537, would force abortion clinics to follow the Texas Administrative Code for surgical centers, a 117 page document outlining everything from laboratory, nursing and anaesthesiologist requirements to radiological and construction procedures. Most of this code has little to do with the services provided by abortion clinics.

Filed by three pro-life doctors, legislation like this has been viewed as an underhanded tactic, which, in other states (like Alabama), has been criticized for threatening to close abortion clinics that don’t have the capacity or funding to meet such strict new requirements.

However, Sen. Deuell contends that the legislation is simply a method of increasing safety and health among Texas women. “Just as a medical doctor,” he said, “it came to me that they’re not under the same standards as any other surgical clinics and that we need to put them under that just for the safety of the patients.”

Deuell was adamant that the bill isn’t a pro-life tactic to close abortion clinics or make abortion less accessible. “It has nothing to do with abortions being done or not done.” He continued, “They’re legal, so they’re being done, and it is a surgical procedure, and it needs to be done in a place that has the same standards as a surgical center. Simple as that.”

He also asserted that the legislation would actually improve women’s health and accessibility to abortion providers. “The pro-choice movement talks about wanting to take abortions out of the back alley so they can be done properly. If you’re not certified as a surgical center, then that gets more toward the back alley and not in mainstream medicine, which is where it needs to be,” Deuell said.

Yes, I’m sure this just now came to Sen. Deuell. Of course, by his own reasoning, if he’s so concerned about women’s health, this should have been the very first bill he ever filed in the Senate. I mean, just think about all those poor women, having to get abortions in clinics that don’t measure up to his standards for cleanliness and safety for all these years. It’s scandalous, really. Of course, anyone who is content to let thousands of people die through his or her inaction or out of political spite really has no standing to claim “concern” for anyone’s health. The term “pro-life” is such a travesty these days, Jonathan Swift would be embarrassed to use it.

Not that any of that matters, I suppose. If this passes the Senate it will easily become law, and I have no reason to believe the courts will block it. As such, there are three people in the state that can prevent this from happening: Senators Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini. It was their support of the awful sonogram bill that allowed it to clear the two-thirds bar in the Senate and make its way to Rick Perry’s desk. It took all three of them to enable its passage, since Jeff Wentworth stood with the other nine Democrats to hold this off. Depending on whether this abomination comes to the Senate floor before or after the SD06 special election is resolved, we may need two or all three of them to say no, this is going too far. This would be an excellent time to call their offices and make your voice heard, especially if you live in their district. It’s up to them to decide who they want to stand with.

Somewhat ironically, that news story cam out at the same time as this one.

Doctors, hospitals, clinics, health care groups, faith organizations and family planning associations urged lawmakers Wednesday to restore funding cut from women’s health programs for contraceptives and health screening.

At the forefront of their fight are two women who serve on the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Rep. Sarah Davis, of West University Place, and Democratic Rep. Donna Howard, of Austin. Both appeared at a Capitol news conference hosted by the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition.

Howard cited state estimates that thousands more unplanned births to low-income women as a result of family planning cuts will cost Texas millions more in Medicaid payments.

The state has projected 6,480 more Medicaid births at a cost of $33 million in the current fiscal year due to the reduction in family planning expenses. In the next two-year budget period, an extra 24,000 births are anticipated at a cost of $103 million.

Davis, a breast cancer survivor who is on an Appropriations subcommittee overseeing health and human services, said, “It’s really no longer the time to be playing politics with women’s health.”

In the Statesman, Rep. Davis is quoted saying that some of her Republican colleagues who voted for the cuts “didn’t realize they would hurt other kinds of clinics”, which is a polite way of saying that they’re deeply ignorant. They were told at the time exactly what would happen, they just chose not to believe it. It’s nice to hear that they may be slightly less willfully dumb this time around, but their concern for women’s health remains at best highly selective.

Supplement this!

Time for the Lege to pay a few past-due bills from 2011.

That’s where a supplemental budget comes in. It is literally a second budget added to the original one lawmakers approved in 2011. It’s not an unusual course for lawmakers to take to address lingering IOUs, but this year’s efforts are becoming more complicated and politically fraught than in the past.

For starters, lawmakers are planning at least three bills to address the state’s supplemental needs instead of the usual one. The first measure needs to be signed by Gov. Rick Perry in March so the state can pay billions in upcoming health care bills on time. A second supplemental bill will address the state’s costs from fighting wildfires and providing prisoner health care, but it won’t need to pass so quickly. A third measure, also not a rush item, will reverse $1.75 billion in delayed funds to school districts.

State Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said separate bills were needed to ensure that the emergency item makes it to Perry’s desk quickly.

Texas has $6.8 billion of unmet costs in the current budget, nearly all of it related to Medicaid and public education, according to the Legislative Budget Board. Lawmakers plan to use most of the extra $8.8 billion the Texas comptroller reported collecting from this biennium to pay those costs.

One way of thinking about this is that if Comptroller Combs had given us an accurate revenue estimate in the first place, we we could have dealt with all this in 2011 instead of pretending it didn’t exist for the purposes of “balancing” the budget. This is also a reminder, once again, that the concept of “balancing” the budget as we do in Texas is a fiction imposed by an artificial deadline.

The House Appropriations Committee passed its first supplemental bill on Monday, and Pitts plans to bring it to the House floor for a vote early next week. The bill, House Bill 10, has “emergency” status, a parliamentary designation that allows legislators to vote on the measure during the first 60 days of the session if Pitts can get the support of 120 of the 150 House members.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever had an emergency supplemental,” Pitts said.

The emergency stems from the last Legislature’s decision to fund Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program for only 18 out of 24 months in the budget cycle, a move that allowed lawmakers to delay $4.5 billion in spending from state coffers. HB 10 will fund those programs for the full two years with $4.5 billion in state money, which will automatically trigger an extra $6.6 billion in federal funding.

The bill needs to get to Perry’s desk by early March so that health care workers aren’t left in the lurch, Pitts said.

“If we do not pass House Bill 10 for Medicaid, the doctors, the hospitals, the nursing homes will not be paid after the middle of March. … That is the emergency,” Pitts told his colleagues on the House floor Monday. The bill also includes $630 million owed to schools districts.

The emergency is one part the result of Combs’ inaccurate revenue projection, and one part the Republicans’ fanatical refusal to find new revenue. Most likely, these bills (about which you can learn more here) will pass, but you never know what the bomb-throwers in the GOP caucus might try to do. You may be wondering about the issue of school finance, for which Democrats have tried to get the cuts from 2011 restored. That’s not going to happen, but some kind of partial restoration may be possible.

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said that lawmakers have just under $1 billion available to spend without hitting the constitutional spending limit on the current two-year budget. He and a group of lawmakers, which includes House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, are in talks to add some of that money to a supplemental spending bill expected to reach the full House next month.

“We’re still working on it,” Pitts said Thursday.

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, said the discussions are looking at adding public education money both to the current budget and the next two-year budget cycle.

[…]

During debate over the rule, Pitts told lawmakers the second supplemental bill may include funding for public education. That bill is also expected to address unexpected costs related to recent wildfires and prisoner healthcare.

State Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, urged Pitts to make clear publicly as soon as he could how much more money school districts could expect so they could properly plan to use it before the end of the fiscal year. He said many districts might use some of the funding to hire tutors for students who need to retake the STAAR end-of-course exams.

“There is time for us to make a meaningful difference in the resources available to them,” Strama said.

The rule in question was one that forbade any amendment to HB10 that added to the total cost without any offsetting cut elsewhere. We’ll see what comes of this. EoW has more.

Precinct analysis: Comparing 2012 and 2008

Though the data isn’t yet posted on individual members’ webpages, I have gotten a copy of the 2012 election results by State Rep district, for which there was much rejoicing. The first question of interest is how much the 2008 results resembled the 2012 results in each district. I went by vote percentages as reported – that is, including third-party candidates – and compared Mitt Romney’s 2012 percentage in each district to John McCain’s 2008 percentage, and Obama 2012 to Obama 2008. I did this by taking the ratio of the 2012 percentage to the 2008 percentage. Statewide, Romney was three percent better than McCain – i.e., the ratio of Romney’s percentage (57.16) to McCain’s (55.45) is 1.03 – and 2012 Obama (41.38) was five percent worse than 2008 Obama (43.68), for a ratio of 0.95. If the difference were uniformly distributed around the state, you would expect Romney to have a 1.03 ratio in every district, and 2012 Obama to have a 0.95 ratio. Obviously, that didn’t happen, so I was interested in the places where each candidate did the best compared to 2008. Here’s a look at them:

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama R ratio D ratio ==================================================== 108 53.86 44.88 58.97 39.30 1.09 0.88 047 53.85 44.75 58.03 39.31 1.08 0.88 055 60.67 38.13 65.29 32.99 1.08 0.87 134 52.46 46.48 56.37 41.72 1.07 0.90 017 56.54 41.93 60.56 37.15 1.07 0.89 045 51.66 46.72 55.17 41.82 1.07 0.90 136 51.81 45.92 55.06 41.22 1.06 0.90 023 51.35 47.77 54.56 44.24 1.06 0.93 064 56.98 41.84 60.28 37.32 1.06 0.89 114 52.36 46.57 55.21 43.47 1.05 0.93 048 37.53 60.77 39.55 56.84 1.05 0.94 052 51.93 46.18 54.69 42.40 1.05 0.92 012 59.77 39.38 62.59 36.18 1.05 0.92 093 57.57 41.60 60.19 38.25 1.05 0.92

There were a number of other districts in which Romney ran at least five percent better than McCain – remember, that’s 5%, not five percentage points – but I’m really only interested in the reasonably competitive ones. Rep. Craig Eiland is the only member of the House to win a district that was not carried by his party’s Presidential candidate; I’m pretty sure Sen. Wendy Davis can say the same thing for her chamber, but I don’t have those numbers just yet. The only other Democratic district represented above is Rep. Donna Howard’s HD48, though it wasn’t enough of a difference to be worrisome to her. That chart has a lot of good news for the Republicans, since it contains a number of their least-safe seats. Many of these seats will still be hotly contested in 2014 – where else are Democrats going to go to add to their delegation? – but the GOP starts out with a bigger cushion than they might have expected.

And here are the districts of interest that were more Democratic in 2012:

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama R ratio D ratio ==================================================== 145 41.99 57.13 38.27 60.25 0.91 1.05 144 51.04 47.95 47.86 50.76 0.94 1.06 034 46.63 52.58 44.23 54.62 0.95 1.04 149 43.84 55.52 41.79 57.08 0.95 1.03 119 40.30 58.59 38.51 60.15 0.96 1.03 125 40.69 58.14 39.51 58.99 0.97 1.03 135 60.56 38.71 58.82 39.85 0.97 1.03 132 59.68 39.59 58.90 39.75 0.99 1.00 118 43.86 55.10 43.33 55.22 0.99 1.00 105 52.69 46.14 52.11 46.46 0.99 1.01 113 53.00 46.05 52.51 46.30 0.99 1.01 107 52.25 46.71 51.81 46.87 0.99 1.00

Again, I excluded the non-competitive seats. As above, mostly good news for Dems and their least-safe members, Eiland excluded. In two HDs where Democratic challengers ousted Republican incumbents (HDs 34 and 117), plus the open HD144, Dems had an easier time of it than you would have thought. There’s also some hope for pickups in 2014 or beyond, mostly with the three Dallas County seats.

Looking ahead to 2014, here are your “swing” districts, for some value of the term “swing”.

Dist McCain Obama Romney Obama Hecht Petty ===================================================== 017 56.54 41.93 60.56 37.15 53.13 40.61 064 56.98 41.84 60.28 37.32 57.23 36.38 094 59.62 39.45 60.27 38.09 57.45 37.73 093 57.57 41.60 60.19 38.25 57.17 37.98 097 57.62 41.41 59.55 38.91 57.30 38.25 138 59.30 39.82 59.16 39.29 57.48 39.00 108 53.86 44.88 58.97 39.30 58.66 36.49 132 59.68 39.59 58.90 39.75 57.32 39.41 135 60.56 38.71 58.82 39.85 57.09 39.77 096 57.97 41.39 58.58 40.20 55.68 40.73 047 53.85 44.75 58.03 39.31 55.30 37.87 065 56.11 43.04 57.51 40.83 55.62 39.89 032 56.40 42.57 56.91 41.43 52.98 42.12 134 52.46 46.48 56.37 41.72 56.41 39.30 115 54.91 43.86 55.37 43.08 53.74 41.67 114 52.36 46.57 55.21 43.47 54.98 41.33 045 51.66 46.72 55.17 41.82 51.11 41.39 136 51.81 45.92 55.06 41.22 51.07 40.33 112 54.89 44.03 55.01 43.48 53.01 42.79 052 51.93 46.18 54.69 42.40 50.70 42.05 023 51.35 47.77 54.56 44.24 49.41 46.77 102 52.18 46.64 53.01 45.31 52.01 43.53 054 51.20 47.93 52.90 45.73 49.92 45.71 113 53.00 46.05 52.51 46.30 50.34 46.10 105 52.69 46.14 52.11 46.46 49.18 46.28 043 51.45 47.94 52.05 46.92 46.72 49.10 107 52.25 46.71 51.81 46.87 49.73 46.29 144 51.04 47.95 47.86 50.76 44.08 52.33 117 46.49 52.52 46.71 51.84 43.46 52.79 034 46.63 52.58 44.23 54.62 40.11 56.07 078 43.64 55.31 44.05 54.29 40.84 53.47 118 43.86 55.10 43.33 55.22 38.76 57.79 041 42.16 57.05 42.28 56.54 38.86 57.22 149 43.84 55.52 41.79 57.08 40.46 56.95 074 41.15 57.91 41.51 56.93 36.18 57.25 148 41.43 57.49 41.07 56.58 38.79 55.59 048 37.53 60.77 39.55 56.84 37.43 54.95 125 40.69 58.14 39.51 58.99 36.03 60.35 050 38.01 60.27 38.78 57.75 36.33 56.25

Again, note that no one but Eiland won in a hostile district. Turncoat Republican JM Lozano gets partial credit for Michelle Petty’s plurality vote in HD43, but that’s at least partly a function of the unusually high Libertarian vote in that race, which generally suppressed Nathan Hecht’s percentages. Note how much more Hecht diverges from Romney than Petty does from Obama to see what I mean. Without factoring possible turnout differences into account, Dems have maybe six viable flip opportunities – Lozano, four Dallas seats, and HD54 – while the GOP has one clear shot and two other good ones. That’s assuming no further changes to the map, which may or may not be a good bet. Beyond that, we’ll have to see what the march of demographic change looks like and whether there’s anything to all this talk about investing in Texas Democratic infrastructure.

Where are the doctors?

The Morning News tries to verify that the Dallas-area providers listed for the new Texas Women’s Health Program are in fact providing health care services to the women in this program as advertised. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

Right there with them

A Dallas Morning News survey of 336 contacts listed online for the program showed that 18 percent of the 55 unrepeated physicians and offices surveyed knew they were a part of the program and are accepting new patients. Two listings point people to businesses with no connection to the program — a sports medicine clinic and a title company.

A spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, which operates the new program, acknowledged that the list has problems.

“It’s not that it’s a list that they shouldn’t be using, it’s that there are addresses on that list that shouldn’t be there, so we’re going to have to do some work to clean that list up,” said Linda Edwards Gockel.

Gockel said the list, which has been available on the program website for more than three months, is not the same list of 3,500 approved providers the state has touted. It represents all the locations a potential provider billed from in the past.

She said the commission hopes to have the list corrected by next week. Gockel could not say why it was not removed sooner, but that women can always call the 1-800 number listed on the website. After The News pointed out the list’s failings, subsequent press releases from the commission avoided mention of the website.

In fact, if you go to the Texas Women’s Health Program website now and click the Find A Doctor link, you will not see any providers listed at all:

According to Trail Blazers, the site “will be fixed sometime this week”, though it looks now like that has been pushed out a few more days. Reps. Donna Howard and Lon Burnam had previously found the same problems that the DMN reports on here in Austin and Fort Worth. Now other Democrats are getting in on the action.

“It is unacceptable that thousands of Texas women may be cut off from access to the program due to the program’s inability to meet demand,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the House Democratic Caucus chairwoman, in a prepared statement. “My main concern is to ensure that women may be given the opportunity to affordable and accessible health care.”

Using the Texas Public Information Act, Farrar requested that the agency release a list of the available providers enrolled in the Texas Women’s Health Program along with the number of patients they anticipate serving, the number of patients served by the former Medicaid Women’s Health Program and the geographical areas in the state where provider enrollment does not meet demand.

Good on you, Rep. Farrar. What all this says to me is that the list that had been given on the website was complete and unadulterated junk and that they have taken it down in a desperate attempt to fix it. Remember that the state has been bragging for months about how they’re all fired up and ready to go without Planned Parenthood and with a list of 3,000 providers all set to step in. Is there any reason now to believe that was anything but a lie? Further, given the obvious problems and the complete disconnect between what the state has been saying and what everyone who has bothered to check has discovered, is there any reason to think the state will get this fixed any time soon? I say no and no.

I also say it’s time to get the people primarily responsible for this mess on the record about it. That includes State Sen. Bob Deuell, who requested the AG opinion that declared the state could sever ties with Planned Parenthood while still receiving federal money for the WHP (and how has that turned out so far?); Kyle Janek, the chair of the Health and Human Services Commission; and of course Rick Perry himself. Good on the DMN and Reps. Howard, Burnam, and Farrar for uncovering this lie, but it’s time for everyone else to get in the game as well. Rick Perry isn’t going to care about this until he’s forced to care about it.

Substitute WHP has problems: Film at 11

No one could have seen this coming.

Right there with them

State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, has been worried about the Women’s Health Program since the state said it would create its own version of the program. That came after the state moved to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers, like Planned Parenthood, from participating — which led the federal government to pull all funding.

Howard was worried when she wrote a letter to the Health and Human Services Commission, or HHSC, asking for information about new providers.

“I was told immediately upon sending this letter, by HHSC, that they were in the process of doing a study on this and would get back with me,” Howard said.

The state-run program’s new website prominently shows how to search for local providers, so Howard had one of her staff members visit the program website to see what might be available.

“One of my staff members actually typed in the ZIP code for 78701 and contacted the first 30 providers on that list,” Howard said, “and only found five of the 30 who actually serve women in the Women’s Health Program.”

KUT called a few of the doctors on that list. Of the first three, two said they were not providers in the program.

I really want this program to work, because if it doesn’t then thousands of women will be denied the health care they need, and that’s a problem for all of us. On the other hand, I fully expect this to be a miserable failure, because what does Rick Perry care about women’s health? What’s in it for him? In any event, the Texas WHP website is here. If you have some time on your hands and a sense of mischief, feel free to look up the providers listed in your area and call them to see if they’re aware that they’re listed as such.

White Ds and non-white Rs

A few points to make about this.

White Democrats are an increasingly vanishing species in the Texas Legislature, where there will be only 10 when the new legislative session starts in early January.

The face of the Legislature has undergone a dramatic transformation in the past 25 years, and the state’s rapidly changing demographics are expected to guarantee even more profound changes over the next quarter century.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature included 83 white Democrats. Today, the white Democratic lawmaker is a rarity in the 181-member Legislature.

Vanishing rural, white Democrats account for most of the changes. There were 56 rural, white Democrats sitting in the 1987-88 Texas Legislature. Today, Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, (Zavala County) is the only rural white Democrat remaining. He did not return phone calls for comment.

The Chron needs to check its math. By my count, there will 11 Anglo Dems sworn in to the Lege in 2013:

Rep. Craig Eiland – HD23
Rep. Donna Howard – HD48
Rep. Elliott Naishtat – HD49
Rep. Mark Strama – HD50
Rep. Joe Pickett – HD79
Rep. Tracy King – HD80
Rep. Lon Burnam – HD90
Rep. Chris Turner – HD101

Sen. Wendy Davis – SD10
Sen. Kirk Watson – SD14
Sen. John Whitmire – SD15

I suspect Rep. Chris Turner, who was elected in 2008 then wiped out in 2010 before coming back in a newly-drawn district this year, is the one they overlooked. Note that in the three biggest counties (Harris, Dallas, Bexar), there are no Anglo Dems in the House and only one in the Senate. After the 2008 election, Harris had Reps. Scott Hochberg, Ellen Cohen, and Kristi Thibaut; Dallas had Reps. Robert Miklos, Carol Kent, Kirk England, and Allen Vaught; and Bexar had Rep. David Leibowitz. All except Hochberg were defeated in the 2010 massacre, and Hochberg retired after the 2011 session.

You really can’t overstate the effect of the 2010 election. As I said before, the loss of all those rural Dems means that the road back to parity for Democrats is that much steeper. It also significantly de-honkified the existing party. The rural Dems were for the most part dead men walking whether they realized it or not, but losing them all at once rather than over the course of several cycles radically changed things. The Dems have a number of possible pickup opportunities for 2014, some of which may elect Anglo Dems, but even in a wildly optimistic scenario, you’re looking at a tough slog to get to 60, and that’s a long way from parity, even farther away than they were after the 2002 election. Beyond that, you’re either waiting for demographic change in some of the suburban districts, or hoping for some kind of external game-changer. It’s not a pretty picture, at least in the short term.

The long term is a different story, even if the writing on the wall is in a six-point font:

For years, Republicans made a high priority of targeting white Democrats for defeat, via election when they could win, or redistricting when they couldn’t, contended former Texas Democratic Party executive director Harold Cook.

“The irony is that in their efforts to limit Democrats to minority real estate through redistricting, they also separated themselves from the fastest growing demography. In 20 years they may well see that they wrote their own political obituary,” Cook said.

Twenty years is an awfully long time, and I think we can all agree that way too many things can affect current trajectories to have any confidence in them. That said, while there are 11 Anglo Dems out of 67 total Dems in the Lege (16 percent of the total), there are all of six non-Anglo Republicans out of 114 total, which is five percent. (The six are, by my count, Reps. JM Lozano, Larry Gonzales, Jason Villalba, James White, Stefani Carter, and Angie Chen Button.) That’s down from eight last session – nine if you count Dee Margo – as Reps. Aliseda, Garza, Pena, and Torres departed but only Villalba and the turncoat Lozano arrived. To Cook’s point, Aliseda, Pena, and Torres were all adversely affected by redistricting – Aliseda and Pena (another turncoat) declined to run because they didn’t have a winnable district, and Torres ran for Senate after being paired with Connie Scott, who wound up losing by 15 points. Only Garza had a shot at re-election, and his district was a major point of contention in the redistricting litigation. Barring a 2010-style election in 2014, the Rs don’t have many obvious targets in Latino-heavy districts. You can’t assume the current trajectory will continue, but as long as it does this is the way it’s going.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, I also overlooked an incoming freshman, Rep. Scott Turner in the new HD33, who is a non-white Republican, thus upping that total to seven. My apologies for the oversight.

From the “Babies and other hazards of sex” department

Rep. Donna Howard has more tact than I do.

Who knew?

When state lawmakers passed a two-year budget in 2011 that moved $73 million from family planning services to other programs, the goal was largely political: halt the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood clinics.

Now they are facing the policy implications — and, in some cases, reconsidering.

The latest Health and Human Services Commission projections being circulated among Texas lawmakers indicate that during the 2014-15 biennium poor women will deliver an estimated 23,760 more babies than they would have as a result of their reduced access to state-subsidized birth control. The additional cost to taxpayers is expected to be as much as $273 million — $103 million to $108 million to the state’s general revenue budget alone — and the bulk of it is the cost of caring for those infants under Medicaid.

Ahead of the next legislative session — where lawmakers will grapple with another tough budget, including an existing Medicaid financing shortfall — a bipartisan coalition is considering ways to restore some or all of those family planning dollars, as a cost-saving initiative if nothing else.

“I know some of my colleagues felt like in retrospect they did not fully grasp the implications of what was done last session,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who said she has been discussing ways to restore financing with several other lawmakers in both parties.

“A lot of us are talking about this,” she said. “I think there is some effort they’ll be willing to take to restore whatever we can.”

In other words, some of Rep. Howard’s colleagues are just now beginning to grasp the idea that more babies are the inevitable result of a public policy to restrict access to birth control. I’d suggest that we add the subject to the STAAR tests, but it’s too late for these august members of the Texas Legislature. Before you ask, this dawning revelation will not lead to any letup in the anti-Planned Parenthood jihad, because providing family planning funds to the leading provider of family planning service is beyond the pale. If we’re lucky, perhaps there will be another great epiphany in two years’ time.

Another reason why math is your friend

The Statesman asks the question whether the newly-drawn HD48 in Travis County might be easier for a Republican challenger to win, then never gets around to providing the simplest answer to that question.

Rep. Donna Howard

Starting in April and carrying on through the dog days of summer, Republican Robert Thomas has worn out the soles of his shoes block-walking in his campaign to represent House District 48 in West and South Austin. Thomas is counting on more than hard work and sweat, though. There’s a wild card in this election that could level the playing field.

Even though incumbent Democrat Donna Howard has a bigger campaign, better name recognition and more legislative experience, redistricting has thrown her a curveball. She has represented District 48 for six years, but most of the residents she now represents have never voted for her.

“Sixty percent of the constituency in this district is brand new. We aren’t taking anything for granted,” Howard said at a campaign house party in late September at the two-story Mount Bonnell home of a longtime supporter. About 50 supporters, including 427th Criminal District Court Judge Jim Coronado and Travis County Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant, dropped by and enjoyed refreshments and hors d’oeuvres.

[…]

Thomas had about $33,000 in political contributions compared with Howard’s $71,000 through June, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. The latest reports are due Tuesday, but both campaigns say their fundraising and spending have ballooned since summer.

Neither the size of Howard’s campaign nor her incumbent status seem to worry Thomas. He points to the district’s history and the latest district maps as reasons to be optimistic.

For the past 20 years, District 48 has been predominantly Democratic. The district has swung into Republican hands once since 1992 when Todd Baxter won by about 7 percentage points 10 years ago. Howard won a special election when Baxter left prematurely before the 2006 general election.

Howard barely won re-election in 2010. In that race, she edged out her Republican challenger by 12 votes out of 51,553 votes cast — or by two-hundredths of a percentage point.

“This district has historically … been a contestable swing district,” Thomas said. “I think it plays in my favor. … This is effectively an open seat. A large number of the new constituents are independent.”

What the story never bothers to mention is simply this: The numbers in HD48 are more favorable now to a Democrat than they were before.

District McCain Obama Wainwright Houston =============================================== Old HD48 45.5% 53.0% 45.7% 48.9% New HD48 37.5% 60.8% 37.5% 56.7%

The 2008 numbers for the new HD48, under the interim map, are here (Excel spreadsheet), and the 2008 numbers for the pre-redistricting HD48 are here. The dropoff in each case comes from a higher level of undervoting on the Democratic side, and a larger share of the vote going to the Libertarian candidate in the Supreme Court race. There is absolutely nothing surprising or mysterious about this. The Republicans quite reasonably wanted to shore up HD47, the district of freshman Rep. Paul Workman – remember, HD47 was won by Democrat Valinda Bolton in 2006 and 2008. All those extra Democratic voters had to go somewhere, and Howard and Rep. Mark Strama were the beneficiaries. So while it is accurate to say that many of the voters in HD48 are new to Rep. Howard, it is also the case that they are mostly Democrats. Which map would you rather have? I grant that Rep. Howard’s newness to the majority of her constituents is a factor, but this is a pretty significant one, too. It needed to be mentioned. Of course, there wouldn’t have been much of a story if it had been, so there you go. More from Rep. Howard herself on her Facebook page.

Health care access continues to shrink in Texas

Who needs family planning services? I mean, every kid is born to people who want and can care for them, am I right?

About 15 percent of Houston-area clinics that received state funding for family planning services closed their doors because of budget cuts last fiscal year, and another 30 percent have reduced service hours, according to a study published this week.

Following a political firestorm in the 2011 legislative session, state family planning funds were cut from $111.5 million to $37.9 million for the biennium, cutting services to as many as 180,000 women in Texas a year, according to state health department officials. The number of clinics funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services has dropped from 300 to 136 since the Legislature slashed funding, state officials said.

“Ostensibly, the purpose of the law was to defund Planned Parenthood in an attempt to limit access to abortion, even though federal and state funding cannot be used for abortion care anyway. Instead, these policies are limiting women’s access to a range of preventive reproductive health services and screenings,” a team of academics from the University of Texas at Austin’s Population Research Center wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine article.

That report can be found here, via this Trib story that notes a total of 53 such clinics closed their doors statewide.

In addition, the report states, many clinics are now charging for services that were previously free, raising prices for other services and restricting access to more effective methods of contraception that are more expensive.

To meet the requirements of the new priority funding system, the Department of State Health Services told the researchers that the state stopped funding 35 of 76 family planning clinics in the 2012-13 biennium. The budgets of family planning clinics that still received funding were reduced by up to 75 percent. As a result, about half of the clinics that closed — 25 — were family planning clinics, according to the report.

Well-woman exams and contraception “remain out of reach for some of the poorest women,” sociologists conclude in the report. “The organizational leaders we spoke to reported that women who can pay the newly instated fees are choosing less-effective methods, purchasing fewer pill packs, and opting out of testing for sexually transmitted infections to save money.”

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said at The Texas Tribune festival on Saturday that many programs took financial hits last session because of the state’s budget shortfall. Funding that was cut from family planning “went to pretty noble places,” such as programs for children with autism. He also said the tiered funding system lawmakers implemented has brought new women’s health providers to his rural district.

But state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, disagreed with Hughes. She said family planning providers in her district have told her that many clients can no longer afford to see them because they have to charge for services that were free before.

“We have the highest uninsured rate in the country,” Howard said at the festival. “If we want people who do not have the means to provide their own health care to be able to be healthy productive citizens, then, absolutely, we need to be looking at supporting family planning.”

And the Republicans, led by Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, are doing everything they can to ensure that Texas maintains that national lead in uninsured population. Again, there is nothing in the Republicans’ decade-long control of the state to indicate that they consider this to be a problem. And you have to love Speaker wannabe Hughes‘ excuse for cutting family planning: It was either that, or we stick it to the autistic kids. Because there were absolutely no other possible options available to them.

Former Trib writer Thanh Tan, now living in Seattle, puts all this into a national context.

And what are the consequences of cutting off family planning funds to women in a state like Texas? The Legislature’s own non-partisan budget team predicts at least 20,000 additional Medicaid births, for one thing. We’ll have to wait and see whether that actually happens. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health has reported higher-than-normal rates of diagnoses and death from cervical cancer along the Texas-Mexico border. It’s worth noting that cervical cancer is treatable if detected early. The greater challenge is convincing women to get screened in the first place.

So why do I care about this issue so much, even though I’m no longer living in Austin?

Overall, the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities points to Census data that shows the U.S. added 2 million kids in the last 10 years– half of that growth came from Texas. One in 11 kids in the U.S. is a Texan. They’re growing up in an education system that lawmakers underfunded this biennium by $5.4 billion. The textbooks they’re learning from are highly controversial. Public schools only teach abstinence, even as the teen pregnancy rate ranks 4th in the nation.

For now, Texas is responsible for all those kids. But someday, they will grow up. Like me, they may even head to the Pacific Northwest. Therefore, I believe we all have an interest in ensuring that Texas women are healthy and become parents when they are ready. I admire those who choose to follow through with an unplanned pregnancy and become parents. But in too many cases, the consequences can be disastrous. I’ll never forget the experience of walking through an emergency shelter in San Antonio that was filled to capacity with abused and neglected children. The executive director told me it was a daily struggle to convince some kids they didn’t have to stuff their pockets with food.

Many opponents of family planning in Texas say they made the tough decision to reduce funding because of budget woes. Others deny birth control works. Most Republicans in the Legislature accuse Planned Parenthood of using the funds to prop up their abortion services. It’s all balderdash — claims based on political ideology over reason and science.

Federal studies have shown that for every dollar the state invests in family planning, more than $3 is saved. Helping women plan and space their pregnancies often means that they and their children will not be born into subsidized health care or have to rely on the state for basic nutrition needs. It’s a way to break the cycle of poverty, promote self-sufficiency and save taxpayers’ money in the long run.

Yeah, too bad we’re not doing any of that. We must love poor people in Texas, we do so much to ensure we have a steady supply of them.

Testifying about the Women’s Health Program

More hearings like this, please.

Right there with them

The Texas Department of State Health Services got an earful today from lawmakers and women’s health advocates at a public meeting in Austin to discuss proposed rules for the Texas Women’s Health Program — specifically, the state’s plan to sacrifice 90 percent of federal funding for the program in order to exclude Planned Parenthood and prevent participating physicians from discussing abortion in any capacity with patients.

“Try to get the politics out of the way and do what’s best for Texas women,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, before an eruption of applause from the audience. She emphasized a point reiterated by others testifying at the hearing: that the Women’s Health Program provides cancer screenings, birth control and wellness exams for 130,000 low-income women but does not provide abortions.

One of the proposed rules for the program states that a participating physician could not “promote elective abortions” by providing “counseling concerning the use of abortion as a method of family planning” — even outside the scope of the Women’s Health Program. Physician groups, including the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians, oppose the proposed rule, arguing it will put a “gag order” on physicians that could interfere with patient-physician relationships.

“We strongly oppose any interference into a physician’s ability to use his or her medical judgment as to the information that is in the best interest of his or her patient,” the groups wrote in a letter to DSHS.

[…]

Although Planned Parenthood clinics account for less than 2 percent of the providers participating in the program, 45 percent of women participating in the program chose to receive care at Planned Parenthood.

Opponents of the state’s decision to knock Planned Parenthood and other providers out of the WHP worry the state will not be able to provide an adequate health network. But the state and proponents of the reformed Texas Women’s Health Program say that won’t be a problem, as Planned Parenthood clinics make up a small portion of the 2,500 providers enrolled in the program.

What a silly argument that is. As we have discussed, the vast majority of existing providers in the WHP served at most ten clients. Claiming that the loss of Planned Parenthood will cause no disruption in service to the WHP patients is like saying there would be no disruption in the smarphone market if Apple were to disappear because hey, they’re just one manufacturer. You can find that letter to the DSHS here, and for more see State Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna’s op-ed in the Chron, and this letter from Senate Democrats to outgoing HHSC Chair Tom Suehs.

Fiscal and health care bills pass

Here’s one less reason for a special session.

One key budget-related bill, Senate Bill 2, won final approval from both chambers this afternoon and is headed to the governor’s desk.

SB 2 is an appropriations bill that goes hand-in-hand with Senate Bill 1, the main revenue and school finance vehicle. SB 1 is expected to come to the floor on both sides of the Capitol tomorrow.

With the passage of both bills, “we will be able to go home,” said Senate Finance Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.

One provision that didn’t make in the final version of SB 2 was an amendment from Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, that called for $2 billion from the rainy day fund for schools if the fund brings in more than expected.

“A choice was made when we had money in the bank to say: ‘No, we’re not going to appropriate any more here to our schools’,” Howard said. “We’re going to leave billions in the bank when we’re asking our schools to cut.”

[…]

Ogden said the Howard amendment had promise with some modifications, but the House members wanted it gone.

“They were for it and then they were against it,” Ogden said.

Yes, after they were reminded by the people who hate public education that they need to hate it, too. That’s the choice they made, and the voters need to be reminded about it every day between now and next November.

Meanwhile, there was more action taken by a group of legislators that clearly wants to get out of town.

The Texas House and Senate agreed today to a final version of an omnibus health bill that seeks to cut spending and makes wide-ranging changes to the state’s health-care system.

The House voted 96-48, along party lines, to agree with conference committee changes to Senate Bill 7. Senators followed with a 22-8 vote, and the bill’s next stop will be Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.

SB 7 includes $468 million in anticipated savings for the 2012-13 budget by expanding Medicaid managed care to South Texas and restructuring the payment system for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The final bill includes language that would cut state funding from Central Health if the Travis County health district continued to finance abortions for low-income women. The measure also excludes Planned Parenthood from receiving about $38 million in state family planning money and from participating in the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, which provides contraceptive care to women who would be covered by Medicaid if they were to become pregnant.

A lot of what was in this bill was in similar legislation from the regular session. As it happens, on the same day this happened, the state of Indiana got swatted down by a federal judge for trying to legislatively de-fund Planned Parenthood. I don’t know enough about what either state has done to know how comparable the two situations are, but earlier this month Texas got some pushback from the feds over this, so there’s clearly some parallel. I feel confident there will be litigation here as well. The Trib has more on the legislation, and Jason Stanford has a righteous rant on what it does.

GOP finally kills Howard amendment

In the end, this was no surprise.

An amendment from Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, that would have directed surplus money from the Rainy Day Fund to pay for enrollment growth in public schools has perished in conference committee.

The House voted to attach the measure, which Howard argued was a practical approach that would allow Republican members to maintain their pledges to protect the savings account while providing what could be an extra $2 billion to public education, to SB 2 — an omnibus appropriations bill critical to balancing the budget.

After outcry from fiscal conservatives, however, the lower chamber passed a resolution to strip the amendment when the bill went to conference committee to resolve key differences between the House and Senate versions.

[…]

“I am disappointed that the conference committee allowed the demands of a few unduly influential activists, as well as the political ambitions of Governor Rick Perry, to eclipse the needs of our schoolchildren,” Howard wrote in an email, “My amendment was a common-sense compromise that would have left existing rainy day funds ‘in the bank’ while still providing the necessary funding to cover a rapidly-growing student population and investing in the future economic prosperity of our state.”

See here and here for the background. There needs to be quotation marks around “fiscal conservatives” in that penultimate paragraph. There are many words that can describe this, but there’s nothing conservative about failing to invest in one’s future. At least the Republicans have made it as clear as they can where their priorities aren’t.