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Texas Impact

Religious groups get into the SB4 fight

Good.

For the first time, religious groups have filed court briefs against the so-called sanctuary cities ban in Senate Bill 4, entering the fray in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent the implementation of the law, which they say will harm their faith communities.

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, numerous individual religious leaders and a state interfaith organization asked the federal court in San Antonio on Sunday to consider their opposition to SB 4 when deciding on a request for an injunction that would prevent the law from being enforced beginning Sept. 1.

“SB 4 is contrary to the moral imperative that we love our neighbor, welcome the immigrant and care for the most vulnerable among us,” Bishop C. Andrew Doyle of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas said in a news release. “This law represents an anti-immigrant agenda that is born out of fear and promoted out of a sense of privilege, jeopardizing justice for everyone.”

[…]

Leading up to SB 4’s passage, more than 200 religious leaders, including Doyle, participated in protests and legislative hearings that culminated in the passage of SB 4. However, the court filings Sunday marked the first time religious groups had joined the court battle.

Six bishops from the Episcopal Diocese along with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and Texas Impact filed a friend of the court brief against SB 4.In total, they represent at least 142,000 parishioners and 461 congregations in Texas, according to the filing.

Locally, Austin City Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria has said he has seen attendance at his church drop sharply since ICE conducted enforcement raids this year in Texas and lawmakers passed SB 4.

The filing states that it would hamper religious groups’ efforts to help new immigrants seek assistance, citing a United Nations study that found 64 percent of female immigrants who enter the country illegally are fleeing violence, the suit said.

It also states that the law would allow “rogue” officers to commit wanton racial and ethnic profiling.

The amicus brief was filed in the San Antonio court case, which this story suggests will be the primary one over the pre-emptive lawsuit filed by Ken Paxton in Austin. Bravo to these religious leaders for their courage and compassion. May many more follow their example.

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

It’s the opposite of that, honestly.

Rep. James Frank

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Texas threatens to sue religious groups over refugees

Amazing.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Feds say No to Abbott on refugees

What now, Greg?

The federal government on Wednesday informed refugee resettlement agencies in Texas and across the country that states do not have the authority to refuse to accept Syrians.

The statement, made in a letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle, appears to mark the first time federal refugee program officials formally have rejected statements by governors, including Greg Abbott of Texas, that their states will not accept any Syrian refugees.

It also may signal that federal officials will place Syrians here and elsewhere regardless of governors’ wishes.

“States may not deny (Office of Refugee Resettlement)-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin or religious affiliation. Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees,” wrote Robert Carey, director of the office, adding that states and agencies that do not comply would be violating the law and “could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination.”

Carey’s two-page letter also emphasized that refugees seeking to come to the United States undergo heavy scrutiny over an average of two years of waiting, a point that President Barack Obama and other federal officials have been trying to make in recent days.

[…]

Carey’s letter came the same day that Obama made a special statement at the White House to reassure Americans that there is no specific and credible threat to the country right now. It also came the same day that the Texas Catholic Conference announced that its refugee resettlement agencies would continue to accept Syrian refugees and would work with agencies to ensure safety is upheld.

“The Texas Catholic Bishops encourage all parties – including governmental leaders, political officials, and advocates – to avoid impulsive judgments in setting public policies regarding the placement of Syrian refugees, the organization said in a statement. “The horrors of modern terrorism are frightening, but they demand from us a strong renewal of our faith and our commitment to Christian teachings and the common good.”

Another faith-based group, Texas Impact, has said it believes there is momentum toward finding a way to accept the refugees.

See here and here for some background. On the one hand, I can’t see Abbott caving in to the feds. His whole career is built on this kind of obstinate petulance. On the other hand, I doubt he wants to get into a pissing contest with religious groups, even if they’re mostly of the do-gooder variety and not suburban megachurches, who care about refugees about as much as he does. I still can’t quite see Abbott bringing down the hammer on faith-based organizations, but if that’s his line in the sand, it’s his bluff that’s getting called. I have no idea how this one ends.

Now who’s messing with religious freedom?

What is Greg Abbott’s beef with faith organizations?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hobby Lobby. Kim Davis. They got your back.

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

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

I repeat, no one will be forced to perform a same sex wedding

This really is a huge waste of time.

RedEquality

For some gay rights advocates, a bill in the Texas Legislature that would allow clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples would be acceptable if it just included four more words.

As the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony Monday morning on Senate Bill 2065 by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, Chuck Smith, the executive director of Equality Texas, asked for the legislation to include language making it clear that the bill only applies to marriage ceremonies. Smith wanted to ensure that the legislation would not prohibit the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses by officials in a secular context.

But Estes told committee that he did not intend to accept that amendment after pastors testified against the bill for several hours.

Smith requested that language in the bill saying that “a clergy or minister may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services” be changed to “a clergy or minister acting in that capacity may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services.”

“We are fully supportive of religious liberties,” Smith told the committee in the morning.

[…]

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the committee’s chairwoman, said she hoped a consensus would be reached.

The legislation faced heat from Democrats at Monday’s committee hearing.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, criticized the bill because it did not define “solemnize” or “religious organization.” Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked if clergy could use the legislation to refuse to marry interracial couples.

“If it’s a discriminatory act, then I don’t think they should be able to hide behind the First Amendment or hide behind their faith,” Ellis said.

See here for the background. Honestly, given some of the things the Senate could be debating, I don’t mind them wasting a few hours on this, but I just don’t see what this bill will accomplish that the First Amendment doesn’t already provide. There was some testimony in favor of the bill from the crowd that thinks same sex marriage is a monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot to sap and impurify all of their precious bodily fluids, but despite the support of the Estes bill by liberal groups if the language gets tweaked and of the companion House bill that has already been modified, there was some opposition from both sides as well.

But socially conservative lawyers for the Plano-based Liberty Institute and Austin-based Texas Values Action opposed Huffman’s push to include the bill opponents’ language. They and an aide to Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke of the issue raised by Scalia, about how ministers officiating at a wedding act in dual capacities. They represent a church but also use state power to seal a marriage. That could lead to legal complexities, they warned.

Even if Estes accepted the change, which appeared unlikely, at least one ecumenical group said it would remain opposed to his bill.

Texas Impact, a progressive coalition of Christian churches and Jewish entities, said it could inspire lawsuits by ministers and employees in certain Protestant denominations with a hierarchical structure over their disagreements with the denomination’s church laws.

“We do not want ministers sued, we do not want churches sued,” said Joshua Houston, Texas Impact’s general counsel. “But we also do not want ministers able to sue denominations when their sincerely held religious beliefs are in conflict. Attorneys representing the Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist churches tell us that the way the bill is written will increase those lawsuits.”

Clearly, the simplest thing to do is to leave well enough alone. In the end the bill was voted out of committee without the modification that Equality texas and the ACLU were asking for, because we always have to do things the hard way. Unfair Park has more.

Division over the payday loan bill

Quite a heated little fight in the Senate yesterday.

An ugly scene erupted in the Texas Senate today, with Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas) suggesting that some of his Republican colleagues were “shills” for the payday loan industry and worrying that the GOP would be seen as “the party that is backed and bankrolled by payday lenders.”

After intense negotiations this week, Carona told lawmakers he had struck a deal to pass legislation to reform payday and auto-title lending in Texas. Most of the consumer groups, the cities, Senate Democrats and even the payday loan industry were on board with the “hard-fought compromise,” he said.

“There have been great concessions on both sides,” Carona said. “We can leave this chamber at the end of May and honestly say we made a significant incremental step forward on protecting consumers.”

However, as Carona moved toward a suspension of the rule to bring the bill up for debate, which requires two-thirds of the Senate, he complained that payday-loan lobbyists were calling senators on the Senate floor and asking them to change their votes. He even hinted that two GOP senators were acting as agents for the industry.

“If we don’t do it this time, you won’t be able to regulate this industry two years from now,” he said. “This industry will be so much wealthier, so much more politically powerful that you won’t be able to say no and you won’t be able to draw the line. I know the lobbyists are just in a frenzy right now to try to stir up some action on the floor and get one or two of my colleagues who seem to be working the floor to change their vote.”

Sen. Carona wound up pulling the bill down. The Trib adds some details.

Carona, who said the bill had been “negotiated literally through the night,” brought with him to the floor six amendments that were intended to address the concerns of some consumer advocates who said the bill didn’t go far enough in limiting the abilities of short-term lenders.

Ultimately, the bill was pulled before debate on the amendments began, but Carona said they mostly contained ways to strengthen consumer protections, including limiting the types of loans that short-term lenders could offer, mandating that lenders accept partial payments, and limiting the maximum duration of multiple-payment loans — a major sticking point for consumer advocates.

“There are only two or three amendments that the industry really finds objectionable,” he said, “and in that case, all we’re asking the chamber to do is do what’s right for consumers.”

Early in the debate, state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said many senators’ support for the measure would depend on the inclusion of those six amendments in the final bill.

“I think that there will be an effort to stop 16 people from voting for any conference committee report that strips those out,” he said, referring to the version of the bill that could emerge from a future House vote.

But some senators, who had previously expressed their intent to vote for the bill that emerged from committee, balked at the proposed changes. In an argument about process that turned personal, critics of the bill took issue with the way Carona brought his amendments to the floor.

Leading the criticism was state Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, who charged that Carona hadn’t given the chamber enough time to review the proposed changes. While calling payday lending reform a “difficult issue,” he asked Carona if he had sent the amendments around 24 hours in advance. Carona’s reply was sharp.

“No, sir,” he said. “And, frankly, I haven’t seen you do that with your bills.”

[…]

Fraser was joined in his criticism by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who also argued that the legislative process should be slowed down to give senators time to consider prospective amendments, adding that he had concerns about Houston’s ability to regulate payday lending under the bill.

“What’s the rush?” Whitmire asked Carona.

Because “the industry has hired damn near every lobbyist in town to kill this bill,” Carona replied.

When Carona replied that he had been in constant contact with the city of Houston to determine its position on the bill, Whitmire erupted, telling Carona that he would represent his own constituents. He again criticized Corona for rushing the process.

“When you were negotiating this most recent agreement, I was chairing [Senate] Criminal Justice for four hours,” Whitmire said. “I think this has gotten totally out of control.”

The bill in question is SB 1247. Before this kerfuffle, the main divisions had been among consumer advocates.

Some progressive groups, including the Center for Public Policy Priorities and Texas Impact, have thrown their support behind the bill, arguing that it’s better than the status quo.

“For us, doing nothing is not an option this time around,” said Don Baylor, senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. He points to estimates that limiting the number of times borrowers can “roll over” loans would save consumers at least $132 million.

“You get to a point where you ask yourself the question, Is there any more money [for consumers] left on the table? The folks that have decided to support it have decided there isn’t any more money on the table.”

Bee Moorhead, director of interfaith group Texas Impact, said that it’s important that legislators show the increasingly aggressive and powerful industry who’s boss.

“The thing that’s hard is that first step,” Moorhead said, “saying the state gets to decide under what terms you do business.”

Opposing the bill, however, are most Senate Democrats, the Texas Catholic Conference, Baptist organizations, Texas Appleseed and AARP.

They say that Carona’s approach falls short of meaningful reform and sanctions harmful new loan products.

“Our opposition is that this bill doesn’t do what it purports to do,” said Ann Baddour, with Austin-based group Texas Appleseed.

The pre-emption of local ordinances is the sticking point for many, myself included. It should be noted that there is a decent argument for proceeding anyway, as articulated in the Chron.

The bill has split the community of nonprofits that lobby legislation affecting the poor. Favoring it are the Center for Public Policy Priorities, Goodwill Industries and Texas Impact, whose leaders believe it provides a pragmatic system of statewide regulation.

While it pre-empts the stronger city ordinances, they believe lenders simply are directing borrowers to suburban locations outside the reach of city enforcement.

The industry has launched legal challenges to those ordinances that probably will be resolved by the conservative Texas Supreme Court, said Scott McCown, executive director of the public policy center. “Do we really think that if the ordinances are challenged, the Texas Supreme Court is going to say they are valid and enforceable?” he asked.

McCown also said most cities do not have the “economic wherewithal” to enforce the ordinances. While he would like the bill to be stronger, McCown said, “our assessment is that this was the best we could do.”

[…]

Carona’s bill would limit the number of times lenders could “roll over” a loan and charge new fees. That provision would save Texas consumers at least $132 million a year, according to an analysis by the Texas Consumer Credit Commission.

[Rob] Norcross said [the payday lending group Consumer Service Alliance of Texas] agreed to it in response to the plethora of city ordinances and the burden that dealing with so many different laws creates for business. “If anybody thinks anybody (in the industry) is happy, they are wrong,” he said. “This is a high price to pay.”

I’m a half-a-loaf guy and I get where McCown and Moorhead are coming from. I’m still reluctant to support this thing, though perhaps I’d feel better once I knew what the amendments that never got to be debated are about. The Observer indicated that Carona may bring the bill back on Monday, though the Trib suggested it could be longer than that. I don’t know what to think at this point, other than to marvel once again at how sleazy the payday lending industry is. Trail Blazers has more.

Somewhat improved payday lending bill passes Senate committee

I still don’t think it’s good enough.

Breathing new life into a proposal that was doomed by the opposition of consumer groups only last week, a Texas Senate committee approved strengthened legislation Tuesday that imposes restrictions on the payday loan industry that could save desperate Texas consumers some $220 million a year.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said his proposal would end the cycle of debt that entraps thousands of Texans each year by curtailing the kinds of credit products offered, limiting loan amounts based on a borrower’s income and capping the number of times a loan can be refinanced.

Acknowledging that some consumer groups still opposed the bill as insufficiently restrictive, Carona cautioned that a politically powerful industry would kill legislation that reached too far. “In the eyes of none of you is this a perfect bill,” he said at a Senate Business and Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday. “But this is the only version that will pass this session. I am convinced the industry has given as far as it intends to go.”

Carona noted that according to the state’s consumer credit commissioner, the bill’s provisions would limit extensions of loans, saving Texas borrowers as much as $221 million a year. “If that’s not progress, then I am not sure what progress is,” he said.

Only last week the proposal appeared dead when every consumer group involved in negotiations testified against it. On Tuesday, however, representatives of Texas Impact, the Center for Public Policy Priorities and Goodwill Industries gave their blessings. “This will meaningfully benefit more than 300,000 borrowers and will save real money,” said Bee Moorhead of Texas Impact.

See here and here for the background. The bill in question is SB1247. Rep. Mike Villarreal says he is now prepared to move forward with his companion bill after Sen. Carona’s modifications. Others, such as the AARP, Texas Appleseed, and Sen. Letitia Van de Putte, who cast the sole No vote in committee, remain opposed. The modified bill still preempts local ordinances, which to me is a deal-breaker. I believe cities should not be prevented from addressing whatever shortcomings they see in the statewide regulations on these parasites. Until that provision is taken out, I can’t support this bill.

Nine hundred million reasons why expanding Medicaid is a good idea

It’s all about the money.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Expanding Medicaid could make available at least $900 million in state money that otherwise would be slated for health care as lawmakers work to pay for Texas’ priorities, according to an analysis released Tuesday.

“More efficient health spending means there’s more money available for other needs like water and education,” said Bee Moorhead of Texas Impact, a faith-based advocacy group that commissioned the analysis with Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc. Both groups support Medicaid expansion.

[…]

Moorhead said in a statement that moving people out of programs that are funded piecemeal with general revenue and into “prevention-focused managed care” would “give lawmakers more resources to tackle the other big issues on their plate this session.

The analysis was prepared by Billy Hamilton Consulting. Hamilton is a former longtime state deputy comptroller.

His analysis says that under starting-point legislative budget proposals, at least $1.2 billion in general revenue funds would be spent over the next two years on state programs serving people who would potentially be eligible for Medicaid. Additional federal funds under Medicaid expansion would take the place of that state money, according to the analysis.

Hamilton estimated that Medicaid expansion would require about $300 million in general revenue for state-paid administrative costs in Texas for the next two-year budget period. The Legislative Budget Board previously has cited a $50 million estimate for administrative costs over two years.

Using the higher figure for administrative costs, the groups said that would mean $900 million could be spent on as lawmakers would like – whether on health care or other programs – and it would not count against the state spending cap because it is considered current spending.

The Trib has a breakdown of the numbers. I’m not sure if this is a new report, a previously unpublicized section of the original report from January, or a summation of Hamilton’s testimony – there’s no obvious link on the Texas Impact webpage, and there’s no link or download in the Trib story. It’s also not clear how these numbers might change under an “Arkansas solution” scenario. Private insurance costs more than Medicaid, but the feds are picking up the full tab through 2015, which is the time period covered by this report, so it may not vary for the first two years. The point is that every way you look at it, this is the right thing to do, and the only rationale for opposition is ideology and a deep indifference to the suffering of others. Burka has more.

As if you needed another reason to support Medicaid expansion

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

It’s constitutional – deal with it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s more from the Chron:

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then YOU fix it!

Stuff like this really pisses me off.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On Wednesday, the [Senate Finance] committee heard testimony from state officials on the proposed health budget, which grew 2 percent from the current biennium budget to $70 billion. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, expressed the need for fiscal conservancy but said the decisions lawmakers make this session will not be “whether we’re going to serve that population or not — it’s going to be about how they are served.”

Bee Moorhead, the executive director of Texas Impact, an interfaith group that commissioned a recent report on the benefits of expanding Medicaid, said taxpayers deserve to have money they paid returned to their communities through the Medicaid expansion. “I think taxpayers deserve a serious answer from lawmakers on why the state doesn’t want to give them this kind of relief when its so easily available to them,” she said.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, agreed with testimony that even if Texas does not expand Medicaid, there will be continued costs for caring for the uninsured. “The costs would be born usually by local governments,” he said.

But Republican lawmakers challenged the testimony provided by advocates of the Medicaid expansion.

“You’re going to create a new class of uninsured people at higher income levels,” said Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, adding that employers will choose to drop employee health coverage if the state expands Medicaid, causing the pool of private insurance to shrink and premiums to rise. “I want everybody to have health care, but I think there are better ways to do it.”

What are those “better ideas”, Senator Deuell, and why haven’t you implemented them yet? Republicans have been in full control of Texas’ government for ten years now, and in that time they have not done a damn thing to improve access to health care. We lead the nation in uninsured residents, and at no time has any Republican, from Rick Perry on down, made a serious proposal to try and do something about that. What they have done is cut CHIP, cut family planning funds, overseen a spectacular fiasco of outsourcing HHSC functions that never saved a dime, made a complete hash of the Women’s Health Program – for which Sen. Deuell can claim partial credit, since he was the one who asked AG Abbott if the state could bar Planned Parenthood from the WHP – and resisted efforts to make Medicaid enrollment an annual process instead of an every-six-months process. One might reasonably conclude that they just don’t care about caring for the sick and disabled. And then when someone else finally solves this longstanding, intractable problem for them, what do they do? Whine, stomp their feet, file lawsuits, and obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. Thanks for nothing, Sen. Deuell. You know what you can do with those “better ideas” you claim to have.

For more of the same, see this example of excuse-making and responsibility-ducking.

Waco-area legislators said Friday they remain wary of expanding the state’s Medicaid program, in comments highlighting their division with local government leaders on the issue.

Top officials with the city of Waco and McLennan County support the Medicaid expansion envisioned as part of national health care reform, saying it would cut the area’s uninsured rate by more than half and bring $58 million a year in new federal funding to the area.

But those benefits are far from certain because there is no guarantee the federal government — facing rising debt and budget deficits — would sustain its funding, area lawmakers told a crowd of more than 100 people at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s “Waco Day” breakfast.

“It’s smoke and mirrors, folks,” said state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, referring to the $58 million estimate. “It would be nice if we’d get that money and be able to solve some legitimate problems that hospitals and other folks are dealing with, but that’s not dedicated funds. There’s no guarantee that money will be there.”

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, voiced similar concerns. Medicaid continues to grow as a percentage of the state’s budget, and expanding the program could squeeze money from other priorities such as public education, transportation and water, he said.

No answers, no solutions, just complaints about the one option we do have. But of course they’re not interested in a solution, because if they were they would have offered one by now. After all this time with them in charge, there’s no reason to believe otherwise.

Yet another report saying we should expand Medicaid in Texas

It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do, in addition to being the morally correct thing to do.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Expanding Medicaid is a “smart, affordable and fair” decision for Texas, according to a report issued by Billy Hamilton, a non-partisan consultant commissioned by Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas and Texas Impact, a statewide interfaith network.

“If politics are set aside, the right decision is obvious,” wrote Hamilton, a former deputy comptroller of public accounts who was once the state’s chief revenue estimator. He argued that for an investment of $15 billion, Texas could draw down $100 billion in federal funds and expand health care coverage to 2 million low-income Texans over 10 years.

One of the most important decisions facing Texas lawmakers in the 83rd legislative session is whether to expand Medicaid to low-income adults, as directed by the federal Affordable Care Act. Despite proclamations from Texas’ Republican leadership — namely Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — that Texas will not expand Medicaid, local government officials and health care providers across the state are pushing lawmakers to realize the benefits of it.

Hamilton’s report, the most thorough fiscal analysis yet on the impact of the Medicaid expansion on Texas, argues that state spending on the expanded Medicaid program would be offset by dramatic savings and that thousands of jobs would be created to boost the economy. Hamilton also says Texas’ uninsured rate — the highest in the nation — would drop by a quarter. He argues the expansion could save the lives of 5,700 adults and 2,900 children annually.

Hamilton was the chief number-cruncher for former Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn. He joins economist Ray Perryman in pointing out the obvious, for whatever good it will do. Here’s more on his report from Texas Impact, who co-commissioned it.

The report provides funding estimates and Medicaid enrollment scenarios that rely on population and caseload projections by former Texas State Demographer Steve Murdock, and cost estimates from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. The report provides three scenarios-“limited” (based on minimal enrollment), “moderate,” and “enhanced” (based on extremely high enrollment levels). All major findings are based on the “moderate” scenario.

The report compares these funding estimates with spending data from local jurisdictions and charity cost data from mandated, uniform hospital reports. The report explains the interactions between existing low-income health spending at the local level, and state and local fiscal impacts of extending Medicaid under the ACA. Impacts include anticipated increased enrollment by children who are currently eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not enrolled, and who likely would enroll along with their newly eligible parents. The report also uses econometric modeling to estimate employment and economic impacts of adding low-income adults to Medicaid.

The report includes regional breakouts of caseload, spending and fiscal impacts for each of the state’s 20 Regional Health Partnerships (RHPs). The RHPs are multi-county regions coordinating health care spending and delivery under Texas’ new federal Medicaid Transformation waiver.

Key Findings:

  • The state match required for the Medicaid expansion could be met many times over with funds the state, local jurisdictions and hospitals already spend on health care for low-income adults.
  • The $1.8 billion in new state revenue generated by the expansion could offset about half of the state match required from 2014 through 2017.
  • The economic activity from the infusion of federal funds would boost Texas economic output by $67.9 billion, and add $2.5 billion to local revenues during fiscal 2014-17.
  • The economic activity would generate an estimated 231,000 jobs by 2016.
  • Every region and every county in the state would benefit from the additional federal funds.
  • The new coverage would reduce Texas’ uninsured rate by about 25 percent, insuring up to 2 million people.
  • The new coverage would increase efficiency in state and local health programs by moving currently uninsured adults to managed care.
  • The new coverage would save the lives of an estimated 5,700 adults and 2,700 children every year.
  • Other states are also finding that current spending and new revenue would cover their state match requirements and provide savings.
  • Failing to extend Medicaid would not improve the state’s likelihood of getting a block grant and would likely decrease the amount of funding the state would receive if a block grant were ever to occur.
  • Due to provisions in the ACA, failing to extend Medicaid would leave low-income Texas adults with no access to subsidized insurance and no alternative but to use expensive emergency room treatment for routine care.
  • (Key Findings also available in PDF format)

Overall State Fiscal Impact

For the 2014-15 biennium, Texas would receive $7.7 billion in federal funds for adults and $1.4 billion for children for a state match of $297 million for adults and $889 million for children–a total of $9.1 billion in federal funds for $1.2 billion in state match. For the 2016-17 biennium, Texas would receive $15.2 billion in federal funds for adults and $3.1 billion for children for a state match of $989 million for adults and $1.6 billion for children–a total of $18.3 billion in federal funds for $2.6 billion in state match.

The full report is here, and the executive summary is here. Expanding Medicaid is fiscally smart and will save thousands of lives. Millions of people lack access to health care in Texas. Medicaid expansion, especially in conjunction with comprehensive immigration reform, could do a lot to solve that problem. There’s no good argument against it – it’s all political. If there really is a deal to make it happen, we need to do it. But as long as Rick Perry, or someone like him, is Governor, I don’t see how it does happen. Nothing will change in this state until the government changes.

Payday lenders face new regulation

New regulations aimed at curbing the excesses of payday lenders are now in effect, but they will not be the last word on the subject.

Proponents of the new regulations passed by lawmakers during the 2011 session say they’re needed because the practice of offering short-term, high-interest loans to consumers has led thousands of Texans into a cycle of debt and dependency. Lawmakers heard horror stories about consumers being charged interest rates in excess of their initial loans.

Absent these regulations, the number of payday loan businesses in Texas has more than doubled, from 1,279 registered sites in 2006 to more than 3,500 in 2010. Opponents say this industry has flourished because of a 1997 law intended to give organizations flexibility to help people repair bad credit. A loophole allowed payday lenders to qualify, giving them the freedom to operate without limits on interest rates.

Though the new laws took effect on Jan. 1, state regulators have been working for months to finalize the language of the rules, and businesses are in the process of coming into compliance. Eventually, lenders will be required to disclose more information to their customers before a loan is made, including the cost of the transaction, how it compares to other types of loans and interest fees if the payment is not paid in full.

[…]

Consumer and faith-based groups say payday lenders have run amok with their promises of providing desperate Texans with quick money. (They started the website Texas Faith for Fair Lending to raise awareness about the problem.) In the midst of the regulation debate in the Texas Legislature, Bishop Joe Vasquez of the Catholic Diocese of Austin testified that nearly 20 percent of the people the diocese was assisting had reported using payday and auto title loans — and that debt was the reason they sought help from the church.

“If payday lenders were not making money from these families to line their own pockets, perhaps these families would not need the charitable and public assistance they receive,” Vasquez said in the February 2011 hearing. “They are generally embarrassed to admit they sought a loan without understanding the fees involved. We are concerned that our charitable dollars are in fact funding the profits of payday lenders rather than helping the poor achieve self sufficiency.”

See here, here, and here for some background. While the legislation passed in 2011 was a baby step in the right direction, I don’t really expect it to have much effect. As the story notes, a bill to cap interest rates on payday loans, which can be 500% or more, failed to pass thanks to a strong lobbying effort by the payday loan industry. There’s already legislative recognition that the job is unfinished, so we can hopefully expect more action in 2013, assuming it doesn’t get squeezed off the calendar by bigger issues like the budget, school finance, and re-redistricting. I don’t expect very much from the laws we actually got, but I am prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

One other factor that may be in play here is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which can start to fulfill its mission now that it has a director. While Richard Cordray did not directly address payday lending in his opening remarks, it’s not hard to imagine the subject coming up, and it’s not hard to imagine the feds taking a more aggressive approach than the state did. Given that one of the main proponents in the Lege for more aggressive action had been Rep. Tom Craddick, it’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out if it comes to pass. Would Republicans like Craddick and State Sen. John Carona hew to the feds-bad, states-good party line even as the feds supported their position, or would there be some fractures in that front? It’ll be worth keeping an eye on this.

Lege gets set to tackle payday lending

The good news is that the Lege is ready to tackle legislation dealing with the scourge of payday lenders. The bad news can be summarized by the following remarks in this Chron story.

This week, State Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, will ask the Texas House to approve a package of three bills written as part of the extraordinary compromise efforts.

Truitt, who chairs the Texas House committee overseeing the issue, summoned mediators from the University of Texas School of Law to craft legislation that would induce lobbyists to drop their opposition.

“The status quo is not acceptable,” Truitt said. “I called the industry people together and told them, if you have to have regulation, this is the Legislature to do it in,” referring to the overwhelmingly conservative membership. “With the makeup of the House, now’s a good time. And I am taking control.”

In other words, this is a legislature that’s dominated by people who don’t really care about the poor and will gladly adopt a minimalist bill that the payday lenders’ lobby can live with so that they can quit having to deal with all these annoying advocates. I never thought I’d say this, but Tom Craddick is showing real leadership on this issue:

Normally suspicious of government regulation, a few years ago, Craddick heard the heartrending tale of a Midland housekeeper who took out a payday loan for a family funeral and fell into a quagmire of debt. Each time she failed to pay her debt in full, it was rolled over into a new loan – with costly fees added each time. In seven months, what started as a $5,000 debt grew to more than $10,000.

The incident outraged Craddick, who tried and failed last session to pass a bill regulating the industry. He does not believe Truitt’s bills go far enough.

Operating as “consumer service organizations,” payday and auto title lenders escape regulations on interest rates by charging exorbitant fees. Until that loophole is closed, Craddick said the industry will continue to make 61 percent of its national profits in Texas, the only state with no regulation.

He also has a personal reason for not trusting industry representatives. After he filed his bill last session, he got an offer from the industry: “If I withdrew the bill, they would fly down and pay off that (the housekeeper’s) loan,” Craddick recalled. When the bill failed, Craddick redoubled his commitment.

“It’s awful,” Craddick told a House committee early in the legislative session. Church money given to the poor ends up in the hands of a payday lender when it “could have been used to buy groceries for a family or a toy for a child at Christmas.”

When a guy like Tom Craddick gets it, you wonder what is holding anyone else back. You’d think the issue of making payday lenders operate under the same basic rules as banks would be a no-brainer, but that’s the power of the lobby and a few million bucks.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said he is sponsoring Truitt’s bills in the Senate. Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is advocating stricter legislation, but Corona said he considers Truitt’s legislation an important first step.

“Nobody said these bills are perfect, but they absolutely are better,” he said. “It is a modest first step toward regulating this industry.”

No, subjecting them to the same rules about lending money as banks would be a modest first step. What Rep. Truitt is pushing is inadequate. Sen. Davis’ bill passed out of committee three weeks ago and is on the Senate intent calendar, but likely lacks the votes to come to the floor. Unfortunately, something inadequate is the best we’re going to get. We’re going to need a better legislature before we can do a better job of this.

It’s way past time to regulate payday lenders

From the Observer:

As an industry, when you’ve got Tom Craddick, consumer groups, the Midland County District Attorney and Bible-quoting Baptists arrayed against you, most likely you’re facing a serious come-to-Jesus moment. Today, a House committee heard hours of impassioned testimony in favor of legislation that would curb Texas’ Wild West payday and auto-title lending business. As Melissa del Bosque has documented, payday lenders in Texas are virtually unregulated and frequently lock consumers into a cycle of debt. Craddick’s bill, along with three other identical bills, would close a loopholethat allows payday lenders to register as consumer credit organizations (CSOs) and escape regulation.

It was rather incredible to watch former Speaker Tom Craddick, who doesn’t exactly have a reputation as an advocate for the working poor, take the payday lenders to the woodshed. “No longer do I think the Legislature can stand back and watch these businesses take advantage of people in need,” Craddick said today. The impact of rates that can amount to 500 percent APR is “overwhelming – actually it’s awful,” he said.

Under the proposed legislation, payday and auto-title lenders could no longer operate as consumer credit organizations, but instead would be subject to the same laws and regulations as other lenders. A cap of 135 percent – still far above the 36 percent limit imposed by many states – would be imposed on the short-term loans offered by payday lenders.

Craddick’s bill is HB410, and it has a bipartisan plethora of co-authors. Other bills on the subject are HB 656 (Farias), HB 661 (Rodriguez), HB 1323 (Johnson), HB 2594 (Truitt), and HB 2592 (Truitt).

Among the consumer advocates and faith leaders, consensus seemed to be that the best approach would be imposing rate caps, closing the CSO loophole and imposing existing law on the lenders. That’s Craddick’s approach. However, the payday lender industry is basically telling legislators that they will go out of business if that happens and desperate consumers will have nowhere to go for easy credit.

The Craddick approach would “dramatically change the business model as we know it in a detrimental way,” said Rob Norcross, a lobbyist for the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, an industry group.

Asked today if they could survive with ‘just’ 135 percent APR, Norcross said, “The answer is no. … Those rates aren’t sustainable.”

Cry me a river, dude. If your business isn’t sustainable at that APR level, you don’t have a viable business model and deserve to be made extinct. If that’s what happens, it’s a feature, not a bug.

Basically, payday lenders need to be treated like any other loan-making financial institution. As the group Texas Faith for Fair Lending notes, the problem is that’s not how they operate now.

payday and auto title lenders do not operate as lenders governed by the Texas Finance code as one might expect. Instead, they have found a loophole in a law called the Credit Services Organizations (CSO) Act that sets no limits on rates and fees they charge borrowers.

The CSO statute was enacted in 1997 and is designed to govern how credit repair services can help those repair bad credit. In this statute CSOs are given is the authority to “obtain an extension of consumer credit for a consumer.” The intent is clearly to enable CSOs to help Texans with bad credit build up a positive lending history in order to increase credit scores. Instead, over 98% of registered CSOs in this state are payday and auto title lenders that do anything but help people repair credit.

So, in practice, payday and auto title lenders are merely brokers, or arrangers of credit. They partner with banks or other large lenders who charge an interest rate of below the 10% APR constitutional limit, while the payday lender, registered as a CSO, charges an exorbitant fee. This diagram better illustrates the relationship –

The true lender, the financial institution, charges a small interest rate and makes a little money from the short loan. The CSO charges a high fee to arrange, collect and guarantee the loan. This is typically around $20 per $100 borrowed but there is no legal limit on these fees. The borrower never interacts with the actual lender.

They add nothing of value to the equation but reap huge profits by virtue of the loophole they squeeze through. That loophole needs to be closed. You can see videos of the TFFL press conference here, and more about TFFL, which is a Texas Impact project, here. If you’re a churchgoer, the odds are good that your denomination is involved in this effort. Please check it out and make your voice heard as well.