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Republican attorneys general file briefs in support of Texas’ voter ID law

Birds of a feather.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Fifteen Republican-controlled states are wading into the contentious court fight over Texas’ voter ID law, arguing in a legal brief that similar laws around the country have already been upheld by the courts.

[…]

Ahead of oral arguments [this] month, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is leading a coalition of GOP states supporting Texas’ controversial measure. In a recent court filing with, Zoeller’s office argues that a ruling against Texas’ measure could create “uncertainty for States attempting to enforce or enact voter ID laws.”

“This, in turn, would leave State voter ID laws in a constant state of flux,” Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher writes in an amicus brief.

Aside from Indiana, the states included on the amicus are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Indiana’s voter ID measure was upheld in 2008 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected arguments that the law imposed burdens on minority groups less likely to have photo identification required to vote. In the amicus filing, Indiana argues “there are no meaningful differences between” its voter ID measure and the one passed by Texas lawmakers in 2011.

Wisconsin and Georgia have also had their respective measures upheld in court. Earlier this week, a federal judge upheld North Carolina’s voter ID law.

In its filing, the coalition of GOP states noted that a federal appeals court used the Supreme Court ruling in Indiana’s case to uphold Wisconsin’s law, which had been found by a lower court to have disenfranchised up to 300,000 voters.

See here and here for some background. This brief was filed before SCOTUS issued its ruling on the motion before it to decide whether or not to allow enforcement of voter ID for the 2016 election in Texas. It was originally enjoined by the district court, but the Fifth Circuit lifted the stay for the 2014 election, and SCOTUS declined to get involved at the time, saying it was too late in the process. As for the other cases cited, the North Carolina verdict was in district court; there is some optimism that the Fourth Circuit may overrule it, but we’re at the very beginning of that process, and the first step is to try to get an injunction for this November. The Wisconsin voter ID law is still the subject of a lot of conflict. One of the federal appeals court judges that upheld the Indiana law has since thoroughly recanted his opinion on voter ID. Perhaps SCOTUS will do the same when it inevitably gets another crack at it. Having Merrick Garland or a President Clinton appointee on the bench when that case gets heard would sure be nice. You know, in case you needed another reason to vote this fall.

Hey, how about another lawsuit against Obamacare?

Sure, why not?

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Six states filed a new lawsuit Wednesday against the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act.

The complaint that Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas, Louisiana, Indiana and Nebraska filed in the Northern District of Texas takes issue with the Health Insurance Providers Fee assessed to health insurers to cover federal subsidies.

The lawsuit says nothing in the Affordable Care Act’s language provided clear notice that states would also have to pay the fee.

“This notice was not even provided by rule but was ultimately provided by a private entity wielding legislative authority,” the suit says.

The suit seeks an injunction against the federal rules that say states are responsible for the fee. It also asks that states be refunded for what they’ve already paid.

The story says that the total cost of these subsidies is “$13 billion and $15 billion from states over the next decade”, so we’re not talking budget-busting numbers. It’s more the principle of it, or at least I assume so given the characters in this drama. Maybe by the time this one reaches the Supreme Court, the Senate will have finally gotten around to confirming a ninth Justice. Maybe. Trail Blazers has more.

Get ready for more “religious freedom” bills

Gird your loins.

Sen. Joan Huffman

The next Texas legislative session is almost a year away, but Senate Republicans are already zeroing in on proposals to bolster legal protections for religious opponents of same-sex marriage after its legalization by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

At a hearing of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, some Republicans appeared to endorse a piecemeal approach to passing legislation shielding religious objectors to same-sex marriage instead of pushing for more comprehensive state constitutional amendments like Indiana’s embattled “religious freedom” law.

Republican state Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston appeared to support prioritizing “targeted pieces of legislation” like last session’s Pastor Protection Act, which codified protections for clergy members who refuse to conduct same-sex marriages, “rather than to try to redefine anything.”

“I think that was an approach that would be a path for the Legislature, for this committee to examine,” said Huffman, who chairs the committee. “I don’t think we really took that push in the last Legislature.”

Piecemeal measures could include protections for faith-based adoption agencies that refuse to place children with same-sex couples, tax accommodations for religious organizations and housing policies at religious schools.

LGBT rights activists have described some of those proposals as “license to discriminate” laws. At Wednesday’s hearing, they reiterated that state lawmakers are still required to strike a balance between religious rights and equal rights, particularly when it comes to behavior by government employees.

There is nothing in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage that “deprives someone of their right to religious liberty,” Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told the committee. But “people who are acting on the behalf of the government are not free to impose their religious beliefs,” she added.

[…]

At Wednesday’s hearing, Bill Hammond, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, warned lawmakers against picking up that mantle in the next legislative session. He recalled Indiana’s religious freedom law, which opponents have claimed enables discrimination against the LGBT community, and the economic fallout that state faced when that law came under scrutiny.

Huffman retorted that the committee’s charge was to focus on religious protections and “not to discriminate.”

“Perception is probably greater than the facts, and that would be the perception around the country that Texas is no longer a welcoming state,” Hammond responded.

Etymological question: If their genders had been reversed, we’d call what Sen. Huffman did with Bill Hammond “mansplaining”. What is the correct technical term for her condescending insistence that she knows better than he does – that in effect, she knows his business better than he does? I’m thinking no such word exists, so what should we call it? Senatorsplaining? There’s an essence to that exchange that I can’t quite isolate, and with it lies the key to identifying the trope. Any suggestions here would be appreciated.

Such questions aside, it’s clear we’re going to get a lot more of that next session. Dan Patrick and his acolytes know what they were elected to do, and “govern” isn’t really on their list. And in case Bill Hammond needs someone else pointing out his business to him, that exchange was with one of his group’s supposed friends. If only your enemies cared so little about your group’s goals and values, Bill.

Two anti-gay bills advance

Look out.

RedEquality

Gay rights advocates began sounding the alarm Wednesday after two anti-LGBT bills cleared House committees and another received a favorable hearing.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said if LGBT groups and their corporate allies don’t work quickly to generate the type of backlash seen over a religious freedom bill in Indiana last month, it could soon be too late.

Miller made the statement on a day when separate House panels advanced bills that would bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses and allow state-funded adoption agencies to turn away gay couples based on religious beliefs. The two bills, which breached a dam that had kept a record number of anti-LGBT measures at bay for the first 100 days of the session, now head to the Calendars Committee.

“My fear is that if the Indiana-style outrage doesn’t happen now, before these bills make it to the floor of the House, it will be too late, because the membership of the House will pass these bills, and then the Senate will fly them through, and Gov. [Greg] Abbott will have no choice but to sign them in his mind,” Miller said.

Miller and others said with the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage Tuesday, moderate Republicans in the Legislature are feeling the heat from social conservatives.

“I feel like the Republican base is desperately afraid of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage this summer,” Miller said. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the leadership in the House to pass anti-LGBT legislation. I think some of Speaker [Joe] Straus’ lieutenants are more likely to cave in to that pressure than others.”

[…]

The House Committee on State Affairs voted 7-3 along party lines to advance House Bill 4105, which would prohibit state or local funds from being used to license or recognize same-sex marriages.

Among those voting in favor of the bill was Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), a moderate who chairs the committee and has come out in support of one pro-LGBT bill.

“For me, I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, so that’s why I voted for it,” Cook said.

All due respect, and I do respect Rep. Cook for his support of the birth certificate bill, but he’s not a moderate. As I noted before, he received an F on the 2013 Equality Texas report card. His support of Rep. Anchia’s bill is great and appreciated, but it doesn’t change who he is.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, has come out against two proposed religious freedom amendments that critics say would enshrine a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people in the Texas Constitution. But the TAB has remained silent on the bills that cleared committee Wednesday.

“We have not taken a position and doubtful (with timing of the session) that we will be able to,” TAB President Chris Wallace said in an email. “We will continue to monitor the business-related implications.”

Late Wednesday, the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Affairs voted 6-1 to advance House Bill 3864, by Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), which would allow state-funded child welfare providers to discriminate based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, dozens of pastors gave hours of testimony in support of House Bill 3567, also by Sanford, which he said is designed to prevent clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages. Critics of HB 3567 say it’s so broadly written that it could allow any religiously affiliated organization—from hospitals to universities and homeless shelters—to discriminate against LGBT people.

None of this is good, so now would be an excellent time to call your State Rep and ask him or her to vote against these bills. It would also be nice if the TAB and its other corporate allies would remember that not only are these bills bad for business, they will inevitably lead to expensive litigation (that the state will lose) because they’re clearly unconstitutional. The cheaper and safer route is to keep them bottled up in the House.

It’s hard to overstate just how out of step with public opinion all of this is. I can only conclude that the GOP is more in thrall to its zealot wing than it is to the business lobby. Maybe this will finally help cause a bit of a schism. As far as those “Christians” that were there to lobby for these bills, they don’t represent all people of faith. Not by a longshot. And finally, if Indiana and Arkansas weren’t object lessons enough for Republicans, just keep an eye on Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal has decided that the best strategy is to double down. Imitating Arkansas is bad enough – do we have to do what Louisiana does, too? The Trib has more.

Joining together for equality

Good to see.

RedEquality

Standing alongside Democrats, a representative for the state’s powerful business lobby Tuesday denounced two proposed amendments to the state constitution aimed at bolstering protection for people acting on religious beliefs, which detractors say would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians.

“These amendments are bad for business,” said Bill Hammond, chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, at a press conference. “They would devastate economic development, tourism and the convention business.”

It’s part of a larger debate taking place around the country, most notably in Indiana where public backlash over a similar law forced the state’s governor to sign an amended version that included protections for gays and lesbians. The question Texas lawmakers face is how they should balance their obligation to protect minority groups with a commitment to religious liberty.

[…]

“We’ve all seen the uproar in Indiana,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, at the press conference. “There’s absolutely no doubt that passing these amendments would bring the same uproar and condemnation to Texas.”

Yes, Indiana is an object lesson, though whether or not we heed it remains to be seen. Hammond and TAB are good allies to have in this fight, and as we’ve already seen they can move some votes on this, but it’s important to maintain some perspective.

The two amendments are among more than 20 anti-LGBT proposals in the 84th Legislature, including statutory bills that would similarly allow businesses to discriminate based on religious beliefs. But Hammond said the TAB board hasn’t voted whether to come out against those measures.

TAB President Chris Wallace told the Observer on Monday that he and Hammond plan to recommend that the board oppose bills making it illegal for transgender people to use restrooms according to how they identify.

“Business owners are going to have to be enforcers of this legislation, and we certainly do not want to place any more burdens on business than there already are,” Wallace said.

Wallace said other proposals to bar cities from enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances may present a quandary for TAB. At least one of the bills, Senate Bill 343 by Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), would also bar cities from regulating fracking, plastic bags and ride-sharing—a concept TAB supports.

Hammond said TAB likely will wait until other anti-LGBT legislation is scheduled for committee hearings to take an official position. None of the so-called religious freedom measures or bills targeting local LGBT protections has been scheduled for hearings as the session approaches its final 45 days.

“I think what happened in Indiana is hopefully a turning point,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “Every day that goes by without a negative bill having a hearing is a good thing.”

So yeah, just because they’re on our side on this issue – and to be fair, they’re on our side on some other key issues, such as supporting the DREAM Act and opposing “sanctuary cities” – doesn’t mean they’re on our side. It’s a marriage of convenience, and as long as we keep that in mind we can team up when it makes sense. There’s more than enough crazy to fight against this session, and Hammond is the kind of old school, business-first conservative that isn’t into that sort of thing. But he’ll align with it when it suits his purpose, and he and his group are a bunch of wusses when it comes to enforcing consequences against politicians they support who then go on to work against their interests. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity, let’s just keep our eyes open as we do. Trail Blazers has more.

Let Indiana be our guide

Chron business columnist Chris Tomlinson has a warning for us.

PetitionsInvalid

Watching Indiana Gov. Mike Pence call for a revision to a week-old religious freedom law this morning should be required viewing for every Houston politician and business person.

After refusing to denounce discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals for days out of fear of alienating his political base, Pence did what all politicians who see their careers slipping away do. He flip-flopped, called it a clarification and denied there was a problem.

Why did this conservative Republican suddenly speak out against LGBT discrimination? Because American consumers and businesses made it clear that they would not accept bigotry in any form, even when disguised as religiosity. Corporations announced they would not subject their LGBT employees to the chance they may face legally-sanctioned discrimination. Angie’s List announced it would not expand in Indiana and numerous other groups began canceling conventions in the state.

What happened to Pence could happen to Houston and Texas.

[…]

Can you imagine what would happen if the small number of Houston voters who actually show up to the polls approved a repeal of the law? Houston would be labeled a city of bigots and the firestorm over Indiana would look like a campfire.

I know business people don’t like to think about social issues, most are concentrating on running the best business they can. But the business community needs to pay attention to what’s happening to Houston’s civil rights ordinance in court and what could happen at the ballot box. If the repeal passes, those new hotels and the updated convention center may have a hard time finding customers.

We should know soon whether or not there were enough valid signatures after the recount. In the meantime, as Tomlinson noted, there are bills in the Legislature that would do to Texas what Mike Pence did to Indiana; Arkansas was also going down that path before their Governor had a dose of sanity. Maybe all that WalMart lobbying against it made a difference. In any event, you might think that organized opposition from the business community here might help sway some opposition, but 1) the type of person that supports this kind of law doesn’t believe any of the bad things that everyone tells them will happen will actually happen, even with the evidence of it happening now, and 2) I don’t believe the business community will follow up by actually opposing any of the supporters of those bills in the next election.

To be fair, the business community is talking a good game.

“This thing is equally bad or worse than Indiana, and look what’s happening there,” said Bill Hammond, head of the powerful lobbying group the Texas Association of Business. Organizations as disparate as NASCAR, Walmart and Apple have blasted Indiana and Arkansas for their laws, already prompting the governors of both states to backpeddle on their support.

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, one of at least three lawmakers proposing so-called religious freedom legislation this session, said she will narrow her bill in the face of a slew of similar concerns.

Campbell’s Senate Joint Resolution 10 seeks to enshrine the 15-year-old Texas law in the state Constitution, but without the key civil rights and local control protections. Her original proposal also removed the word “substantially,” which critics said would have allowed anyone who thinks the government is infringing upon his free expression, however slightly, to sue the state.

On Wednesday, however, Campbell’s staff confirmed she will re-insert the word “substantially.” Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who has proposed an identical bill in the House, said he is not opposed to amending his legislation the same way.

“That’s an improvement,” Hammond said. “But we have a long list of concerns with the legislation and the issue of ‘substantial burden’ is just one of them.”

Hammond cited the civil rights protections and local control issue, saying not exempting cities and municipalities could put local nondiscrimination ordinances like those in San Antonio and Houston on the chopping block. Enshrining the law in the Texas Constitution would make it much harder to amend or repeal if problems arise, he said. He also noted Campbell’s bill does not include a $10,000 cap on damages included in the existing law, potentially opening the state to unlimited litigation costs.

The impact on the Texas’ economy could be substantial, Hammond and other opponents said. Houston and other cities could lose the opportunity to host valuable sporting events and companies planning to expand their Lone Star State footprint could pull out – like Angie’s List did with its now-canceled expansion in Indianapolis.

“The motivation is to permit discrimination on the basis of religious belief,” said Rebecca Robertson, legislative and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “That’s not the brand we want to be associated with.”

The opposition was heavy enough to lead Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, to drop his religious freedom proposal in early March, after which Krause picked it up. Krause said he would be amenable to tweaking his bill, but he chalked up business opposition to opponents simply not understanding the legislation.

“I think it’s a bunch of overreaction, and not understanding what the law really does or what it means,” Krause said.

Oh, I think we all understand it just fine, but thanks for demonstrating my point. Like I said, people like Bill Hammond talk a good game but they are notoriously short on action. A credible threat of primary opposition might open some eyes. If one is not inclined to do the right thing, one needs to fear the consequences of doing the wrong thing. I don’t think enough legislators do.

Texas same sex marriage plaintiffs want the get oral arguments scheduled

They would like to get on with their lives, if it’s not too much trouble to Greg Abbott and the Fifth Circuit.

RedEquality

Austin lawyer Nicole Dimetman is pregnant and expects to give birth for the first time on March 15, lawyers trying to overturn Texas’ gay-marriage ban announced Sunday.

“The need for justice and equality has always been urgent,” San Antonio lawyer Neel Lane, of the firm Akin Gump Strauss Haurer & Feld, said in a statement. “This development — Nicole’s pregnancy — only underscores that. We hope the [U.S.] 5th Circuit [Court of Appeals] will do what it can to move this case forward expeditiously.”

Dimetman and 13-year partner Cleopatra De Leon, an Air Force veteran, were married in Massachusetts five years ago. They want Texas to recognize their marriage.

After they were married, De Leon gave birth to a boy, now four years old. Dimetman adopted him. But adoption is expensive and time-consuming, and the couple would like to avoid going through the procedure again, Lane said. He noted that while for heterosexual couples, the establishment of parental rights is automatic, De Leon would have to do the adopting this time — to be legally recognized as a parent of the child they’re expecting.

“More importantly, the child will be exposed to great uncertainty and insecurity if, for some reason, Dimetman is rendered incapable of caring for the newborn child,” Lane said. “For instance, if Dimetman did not survive childbirth, the baby could be an orphan without a parent directing the baby’s care.”

The appeals court hasn’t set a date for a hearing in the case. Most of the briefs have been filed, though Abbott is scheduled to respond to the plaintiffs’ latest arguments very soon.

Lane noted that a three-judge panel, yet to be named by the appeals court, will hear the Texas case and one from Louisiana. In the Louisiana case, a federal district judge ruled that state could ban same-sex marriage. Briefs in it are to be completed by Nov. 7, Lane said. So a November oral argument in the Texas case would be ideal, as Dimetman would like to attend, he said. It’s unwise for women to travel late in their pregnancies if that can be avoided, and as of next month, Dimetman won’t have entered her pregnancy’s third trimester, he said.

Their co-plaintiff Mark Phariss wrote an op-ed in support of Dimetman and DeLeon, basically daring the state of Texas to live up to its stated concern about “families”, which our leadership supports far more in the abstract than in reality. The concerns about possible complications with the pregnancy and their consequences are more than theoretical to Dimetman and DeLeon. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, I do not understand the morality of anyone that would work to make the lives of Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra DeLeon and their children more difficult and less secure. I don’t know if the Fifth Circuit is going to abet justice or stand in its way in this litigation, but one way or another we need to get this show on the road.

That takes on an even stronger urgency now that the Supreme Court has denied petitions to hear appeals of the various appellate court decisions striking down state bans on same sex marriage. By doing so, all of the lower court decisions striking down those bans in Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia will go into effect, which is to say same sex couples can legally get married in those states, and shortly thereafter in the other states within those judicial districts. If the Fifth Circuit upholds the lower court’s ruling in this case, it seems safe to assume that SCOTUS will let that ruling stand as well. If they overturn it, or perhaps if the Sixth Circuit beats them to it, then that ought to fast-track review. One way or the other, however, further delays are just foot-dragging in the hope of postponing the inevitable. Daily Kos, Texpatriate, TPM, and Unfair Park have more.

UPDATE: Good luck with that, Ted.

Louisiana breaks the streak

One in every crowd, I guess.

RedEquality

A federal judge [in New Orleans] upheld the state’s ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, going against what had been a unanimous trend of federal court decisions striking down such bans since the Supreme Court ruled on the matter last year.

In his ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of Federal District Court said that the regulation of marriage was left up to the states and the democratic process; that no fundamental right was being violated by the ban; and that Louisiana had a “legitimate interest … whether obsolete in the opinion of some, or not, in the opinion of others … in linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents.”

That this ruling ran counter to a wave of other federal decisions across the country in recent months was immediately noted by opponents of the ban.

“We always anticipated that it would be a difficult challenge,” said J. Dalton Courson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, adding that the ruling would be appealed to the Fifth Circuit. “We certainly are disappointed considering the string of rulings in favor of same-sex marriage.”

Since the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year in the case of United States v. Windsor, there have been 21 consecutive federal court decisions finding that gay marriage bans were unconstitutional, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group.

This tally includes cases that have made it to the appellate level: the 10th Circuit, in Denver, affirmed such rulings in Utah and Oklahoma, and the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., upheld the overturning of Virginia’s ban as well. Other cases are still waiting at the appellate level; a decision striking down Texas’s gay marriage ban has already been appealed to the Fifth Circuit.

With so much activity in the federal courts, legal experts believe that the Supreme Court is likely to rule more definitively on gay marriage during the next term, potentially rendering Wednesday’s decision moot within the next year.

TPM has a copy of the ruling. Judge Feldman apparently bought into the lurid slippery-slope arguments that hapless true-believer AGs have been unsuccessfully peddling elsewhere. The Fifth Circuit already has Texas’ appeal to deal with, once it gets around to putting it on their calendar. And in the time it took me to write this, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ban on same sex marriages in Wisconsin and Indiana, thus starting a new win streak for the forces of equality. One way or another, this question will be decided by SCOTUS. One hope this time they don’t duck the big issue, and that they get it right again.

Lots of same sex marriage appeals about to happen

Busy times in the federal appeals courts.

RedEquality

Federal appeals courts soon will hear arguments in gay marriage fights from nine states, part of a slew of cases putting pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a final verdict.

If the appeals judges continue the unbroken eight-month streak of rulings in favor of gay marriage, that could make it easier for the nation’s highest court to come down on the side of supporters.

If even one ruling goes against them in the four courts taking up the issue in the coming weeks, it would create a divide that the Supreme Court also could find difficult to resist settling.

“We’re going to be racking up more courts of appeals decisions, and every one we get puts more pressure on the Supreme Court to weigh in,” said Douglas NeJaime, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine. “It’s very likely the Supreme Court ultimately settles this question. Given how quickly things have moved, it’s hard for the court to avoid this in the short term.”

[…]

Arguments similar to those [that were] heard Wednesday will take place Aug. 26 in the 7th Circuit in Chicago, for bans in Wisconsin and Indiana, and for Sept. 8 in the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, for bans in Idaho and Nevada. The 5th Circuit in New Orleans is expected to soon set a date to hear arguments on Texas’ ban.

The flurry of arguments means an upcoming spate of rulings, possibly all issued this autumn, that could profoundly alter the nation’s marriage laws.

If the four federal circuit appeals courts rule in favor of gay marriage, then nine states with pending appeals stand to have their bans stricken down altogether or ordered to recognize out-of-state gay marriages: Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Idaho and Nevada, though the decisions likely would be put on hold for a Supreme Court ruling.

Five additional states under those four circuit courts have gay marriage lawsuits awaiting decisions by federal judges: Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana.

Observers say the 6th or 5th circuits could deliver the first victory for gay marriage opponents.

We know about the Sixth Circuit, in which arguments were heard this week. We still don’t know when the Fifth Circuit will hear arguments there, but we do know that 63 Texas legislators have signed a brief in the appeal in which they declare that same sex marriage is icky and they totally have Greg Abbott’s back. Hey, remember when something like that would have been bipartisan? This one was an all-R effort, with the TDP and these troglodytes’ two LGBT colleagues firing back. I’m so glad those days are over, even if there are still a few laggards on the issue. In any event, the national picture will almost certainly be a lot clearer, or a lot more complicated, in the next few months.

A lot more court action on same sex marriage is coming

One way or another, 2014 is going to be a milestone year for marriage equality.

RedEquality

Advocates on both sides of the gay marriage debate predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that overturned part of a federal ban on gay marriage would create a pathway for states to act.

They were right.

In the six months since the decision, the number of states allowing gay marriage has jumped from 12 to 18, a trend that started before the high court ruling that’s been reinforced since. Judges in New Mexico, Ohio and, most surprisingly, conservative, Mormon-heavy Utah all ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in just the past week. Both Utah’s case and another in Nevada will next be heard by federal appeals courts, putting them on the path toward the high court. Ohio’s case, which recognized same-sex death certificates, also will likely be appealed.

The series of court decisions has many asking: When will the Supreme Court step in and settle the issue for good?

[…]

More state rulings in favor of gay marriage could be in the works in 2014. The thinking goes, if it can happen in ultra-conservative Utah, it can happen anywhere. Utah is home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which still teaches its members homosexuality is a sin despite a softening of their rhetoric in recent years.

“The ruling has had a symbolic impact already,” Jon Davidson, director of Lambda Legal, which pursues litigation on LGBT issues nationwide. “It is recognition that the nation’s attitudes, from public to legislative to judicial, are changing very rapidly in all parts of the country.”

“And the opponents, many of them, are moving on,” said William Eskridge, a professor at Yale Law School. “We are not seeing the same kind of Armageddon rhetoric we saw in the 1990s.”

A federal judge in Michigan will hear testimony from experts in February before deciding whether to throw out the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Two federal lawsuits in Virginia, including one being led by the same legal team that challenged California’s ban, are moving forward.

Eskridge disagrees with those who say the Supreme Court won’t act, predicting justices will get involved in the gay marriage dispute in the next year or two.

Different branches of the government are acting, he said — lawmakers, state courts, and federal courts — which could convince the justices to step in.

By “state rulings” they really mean “federal district court rulings”. You can add Texas to the list, though it’s just at the injunction stage, as was Utah. You want to see Armageddon rhetoric, just wait and see what happens if Judge Orlando Garcia puts the kibosh, however temporarily, on Texas’ Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment. I don’t think we’re going to be able to escape that being a campaign issue next year.

Speaking of campaign issues, Indiana may be going old school.

Dominated by Republicans and steeped in traditional values, Indiana seemed among the least likely places to become a battleground in the nation’s debate over same-sex marriage when the legislature overwhelmingly chose in 2011 to push forward a state constitutional amendment barring gay couples from marrying.

But in the two years since, the landscape has shifted as voters, lawmakers and courts began recognizing same-sex marriage in places like Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico and as the United States Supreme Court declared parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. In just the past few days, a federal judge struck down a ban on same-sex marriage in Utah, home of the Mormon Church, and a federal appeals court rejected a request to halt the marriages on Tuesday. A federal judge in Ohio found that same-sex marriages should be recognized on death certificates.

So suddenly Indiana, where lawmakers in the coming weeks are expected to call for the second vote needed to put a ban before voters in the fall elections, is now in a far more tense, unpredictable and closely watched spot than anyone here had imagined — a test case in whether a state will impose new limits on same-sex marriage in this fast-moving political and legal environment.

“What happens in Indiana is critical,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage. He and other opponents hope the outcome here will reveal that shifts in public sentiment over the last few years are not as widespread as some may think.

Supporters of same-sex marriage, however, are pouring money and effort into defeating the measure in Indiana, a possibility that seemed unthinkable not long ago but one that advocates now insist is conceivable. They say victory in a conservative place like Indiana would be a turning point in a fight that has largely been waged in more predictable, left-leaning states or in the courts. “That would send a clear message to opponents of marriage equality that it’s time to be done fighting this battle,” said Sarah Warbelow, state legislative director of the Human Rights Campaign.

As lawmakers prepare to return for a new legislative session in January, it is an especially awkward spot for Republicans, who dominate both chambers of the General Assembly. With an election year ahead and the risk of primaries in May, the issue is pitting socially conservative groups, who are urging a constitutional ban, against sometime allies in the state’s business community, who say a ban could cause Indiana economic harm.

Few Republicans now seem eager to talk about the issue, and some legislative aides said it was not entirely certain who would formally file the legislation in January.

Sure does suck when the wedge issue turns you into the fulcrum, doesn’t it? With all that’s happening you might think that Indiana Republicans would be wise to wait and see where the courts are going before pursuing legislation that may be pre-declared unconstitutional, but that would require their GOP primary voters to behave rationally. Good luck with that.

Poli Sci profs against voter ID

Rice political science professor Mark Jones writes an op-ed in the Chron that does a thorough job of dissecting Texas’ contentious voter ID law.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Nearly one out of every three Texas counties lacks an operational DPS office, and no office is open after 6 p.m. or on weekends. DPS offices in the largest urban counties are limited in number, with the closest location often a substantial distance from the home of many residents. For instance, not one of the DPS offices in Harris County is inside the 610 Loop. Additionally, most DPS offices are poorly served by mass transit, a significant issue given that a large proportion of those in need of an EIC lack a driver’s license. Finally, waits of two to three hours are not uncommon at DPS offices.

The level of access to DPS offices in Texas contrasts markedly with that in Indiana, whose 2005 photo identification law was determined to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. Every Indiana county has at least one Bureau of Motor Vehicles office, and those offices are generally open for four hours on Saturday. Indiana’s most populous county (Marion) has 12 offices for the 911,000 inhabitants residing within its 396 square miles, one office more than Harris County, which has a population (4.181 million) and land area (1,704 square miles) more than four times that of Marion County.

Ironically, SB 14 does not address the most common type of voting malfeasance in Texas: mail-in ballot fraud. While rare, it nonetheless is a problem of equal, if not greater, concern than voter impersonation fraud. And yet, SB 14 does nothing to combat it, neglecting to follow the example of a half -dozen states that mandate a voter’s signature on the mail-in ballot envelope be verified by a notary public or two witnesses. Under SB 14, a photo ID is not required to vote by mail.

When crafting SB 14, lawmakers likely determined that the negligible benefits in fraud prevention obtained by enhancing the integrity of the mail-in ballot process paled in comparison to the negative impact this reform would have on Texans, primarily those 65 and older, by making voting by mail more difficult for some and leading others to refrain from casting a ballot altogether. However, this same logic holds for SB 14’s photo ID requirement, which provides a miniscule enhancement in electoral integrity at the cost of placing even more onerous demands on a larger number of Texans.

Of course, as Jones notes, those who vote by mail are disproportionately Anglo and Republican, so naturally the Lege wasn’t interested in adding any obstacles to them voting. The bit about Indiana and its preponderance of DPS offices is something I didn’t know, and it adds another layer to the disingenuousness of Texas’ claims that voter ID isn’t so bad because of how it has gone in Indiana. I hope the Justice Department made all this plain to the judges. Anyway, also recently on the op-ed pages we had this piece in the Statesman by UT-Pan Am poli sci prof Jessica Lavariega Monforti, who mostly rounds up and recaps research on the deleterious effects of voter ID from the Brennan Center, and this Express News column by Ricardo Pimental making the obvious but insufficiently acknowledged point that voter ID is all about voter suppression. Check ’em out.

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.

Feds may prevent some cuts to Planned Parenthood

Good news, at least potentially.

Stephanie Goodman of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission confirms that the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services sent a bulletin advising state officials that federal rules do not permit states to ban certain health care providers “because they separately provide abortion services.”

The bulletin notes that while federal money cannot be used to pay for abortion services except in extraordinary circumstances like rape or saving the life of the mother, “at the same time, Medicaid programs may not exclude qualified health care provicers — whether an individual provider, a physician group, an outpatient clinic, or a hospital–from providing services under the program because they separately provide abortion services.”

Several states, including Texas, have attempted to restrict funding to Planned Parenthood because legislators suspect that government funds are co-mingled with their abortion services. In the recently-ended regular session of the Texas Legislature, lawmakers considered but failed to adopt a “poison pill” provision banning the state from allowing Planned Parenthood to offer family planning and other women’s health services. But budget writers did include a provision in the state budget prioritizing what types of clinics would receive limited government funds for those services — and listed Planned Parenthood last.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he was inquiring into the bulletin, but believes it could affect the budget rider.

“The argument they make is about (patients having) choice of providers,” he explained. “So I believe one could argue it applies because your choices are limited (under the rider) and that is not what the federal government intended.”

Previously, the feds had informed the state of Indiana that its Medicaid plan, which bans funding to Planned Parenthood, is illegal. I don’t know enough about either state’s bills to be able to make a comparison, but the fact that the Obama administration is taking an aggressive stance in defending Medicaid from state shenanigans is definitely welcome. It also suggests that the Medicaid-related legislation that has been resurrected for the special session is even more likely to be a waste of time. Which, again, is a good thing. In the meantime, be prepared to plug your ears as the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth from the “keep government out of our business while we meddle in women’s business” crowd starts in earnest.

We can learn from Indiana’s example

The state of Indiana decided a couple of years ago that it was paying too much for Medicaid, so they created to create a program called Healthy Indiana that provided vouchers for low income people to use to purchase private insurance. How has it worked out for them? About as you might expect, if you had any common sense.

First, many beneficiaries have to pay a lot more out of pocket than they would if they had traditional Medicaid coverage. Nonpayment has been the No. 1 reason for terminating beneficiaries from Healthy Indiana since the program began in 2008, with up to 35 percent of beneficiaries in certain income levels failing to make their first payment.

Second, providers serving Healthy Indiana beneficiaries have indeed been paid more than they would have if the beneficiaries had been covered under Medicaid. However, Healthy Indiana covers only about 44,000 Indiana residents, while more than 830,000 Indianans are uninsured. And in order to pay for the 44,000 Indianans in the Healthy Indiana Plan, the state took $50 million from funds that it uses to help reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care. In other words, 40 percent of the state’s uncompensated care funds were spent on only 5 percent of Indiana’s uninsured population.

But maybe this was still a much better deal for everyone. Maybe most of Indiana’s uninsured population doesn’t need health care, and those who do got a much better deal through the Healthy Indiana Plan than they would have if they’d been in traditional Medicaid.

Unfortunately, neither premise is correct. Healthy Indiana’s waiting list is longer than the number of enrollees it has. And uninsured Indianans, whether eligible for Healthy Indiana or not, continue to need health care. Meanwhile, for those actually in the program, the state paid $75 more per month in 2009 for the healthiest group of Healthy Indiana enrollees than it did for comparable adult Medicaid beneficiaries, even though Healthy Indiana beneficiaries are ineligible for many expensive services, such as maternity care, that Medicaid beneficiaries receive. That doesn’t include the cost that Healthy Indiana beneficiaries must pay out of their own pockets: up to $1,100 per year.

There is no evidence that Healthy Indiana beneficiaries are getting better care than Medicaid beneficiaries. However, the care they are receiving costs more, and leaves less for reimbursing uncompensated care for the remaining 95 percent of the uninsured.

But other than that, it worked great. This is the Republican way – make poor people pay more to get less so that Dan Patrick can get a property tax cut. The same basic ideas of vouchers for private insurance, in this case as a replacement for Medicare, is a cornerstone of Paul Ryan’s blueprint for cutting the national deficit. One must admit, simply not providing a needed service will allow governments to cut their expenditures. Too bad the need for those services doesn’t go away.

UPDATE: Corrected first sentence based on comments from Hope.

Blaming the nuns

So as we know, today is expert testimony day for the voter ID hearings in the House. It’s still going on as I type this, and is expected to last till about midnight. Vince is liveblogging, Rep. Pena has a report, and the Lone Star Project takes a swipe at Elections Committee Chair Rep. Todd Smith for “bait and switch” tactics.

So remember the nuns in Indiana from last year who were turned away from the ballot box because they didn’t have drivers’ licenses? Well, among the witnesses testifying today was Indiana’s Secretary of State. According to Glenn Smith, that was their own damn fault:

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita also blamed the nuns for the voting debacle that embarrassed Indiana backers of the new identification restrictions. “Those nuns weren’t disenfranchised, they just didn’t want to follow the law.”

Oh, I bet these guys wouldn’t say that to the faces of these spiritual leaders.Rulers, anyone? Back of the knuckles? Ring a bell?

Yeah, we all know what a bunch of miscreants those elderly nuns can be. Gotta show ’em who’s boss.

All I can say is if that’s how today has gone, tomorrow will be even more fun.