Civil Affairs: Facts

CIVIL AFFAIRS

When is a lie a lie and when is it a political conviction made in good faith? Recent flare ups in Washington and the Texas gubernatorial election show that sometimes the two are interchangeable. Unfortunately, our political system has grown to accept its participants’ fibs, sometimes with strange results.

For example, about two weeks ago, the popular crafts chain store Hobby Lobby was in the news after its suit against the federal government reached the Supreme Court. The store was arguing against a provision in the Affordable Care Act, known by some as Obamacare, that requires employers to provide free or reduced-cost contraception to their employees. Citing religious liberty, the owners of the privately held corporation refused to do this, which triggered the lawsuit.

At first glance, a suit such as this, about corporate personhood and religious liberty, would appear to be a good-faith dispute made over legitimate political convictions. The problem with this is that Hobby Lobby does not actually cite categorical opposition to contraception as the basis for its lawsuit. Instead, it cites a belief that many forms of contraception, including some pills and intrauterine devices, are tantamount to abortion. Scientifically speaking, this is simply not true, as no evidence exists that indicates these methods end a pregnancy after fertilization. In fact, most evidence decisively shows that IUDs — or the other birth control methods Hobby Lobby cited, such as Plan B — are contraceptives and not abortifacients.

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF THIS COLUMN AT THE DAILY TEXAN!

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Civil Affairs: Abbott

CIVIL AFFAIRS

Prevailing wisdom on political campaigns dictates that candidates should run to the fringes of their political party in order to appease their base in the primary election. Then, candidates should sway back toward the middle of the road for the general election in an attempt to court independents and undecided voters.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for President, most notably used this strategy, admittedly to an absurd extreme.

However, most candidates vying in a competitive election, be it a presidential or state contest, employ this method.

One notable exception is Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and Republican candidate for governor this November. Abbott does not look to be realigning toward the center in preparation for the general election, in a high-stakes gamble that could either prove disastrous for him or devastating for Democrats.

On March 4, Abbott won the Republican primary for Governor with more than 90 percent of the vote. During the eight-month lead-up to his primary victory, Abbott took increasingly extreme political positions in an effort to both woo Tea Party voters and drive Texas Workforce Commissioner Tom Pauken — a prospective candidate — out of the primary.

PLEASE SEE THE REST OF THIS COLUMN AT THE DAILY TEXAN!

Abbott and Equal Pay

In case this was not already clear, Attorney General Greg Abbott would veto the equal pay bill that Governor Rick Perry notoriously vetoed last summer. In a report published this morning by the Associated Press, Abbott –the Republican nominee for Governor– unequivocally noted he would not sign a bill that would open State courts to women wronged by unequal wages on account of their gender. He has been avoiding the subject for months on end, equivocating as to the question at hand as recently as one week ago. The issue at the heart of this is how women wronged by a system that pays them, on average, 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, can sue their employers for discrimination. Since 2009, women have been able to sue in Federal Court. However, this is a rather costly alternative to State courts, which is why the State bills have seen much attention in recent years.

The Dallas Morning News is now noting that Abbott has fired back against his Democratic opponent for Governor, State Senator Wendy Davis. Specifically, Abbott’s campaign has accused Davis of hypocrisy when it comes to support over the equal pay bill. Because Davis used to be of counsel to the Tarrant Regional Water District, Abbott argues, she is complicit in the same argument he has been criticized for, on account of the fact that the Water District has employed similar maneuvers in defending against women suing for unequal wages. The trouble with this is that the Water District hired a law firm other than Davis’ when defending against this claim, and Davis was not a part of the defense.

Click here to read more, including an allegation against the Attorney General’s office itself!

Abbott and Davis on equal pay

The San Antonio Express-News reports that the gubernatorial campaigns have begun fighting a war of words over the Equal Pay for Equal Work act and how each candidate would handle the issue. As some may recall, back in June, Governor Rick Perry vetoed a new equal pay for women bill that would have mirrored Texas law to newly implemented Federal standards. The controversy specifically revolves around the statute of limitations for such suits, which has previously been defined as 180 days from the date the allegedly discriminatory pay was set. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act into law, which shifted the statute of limitations to 18o days following the last allegedly discriminatory paycheck received.

Following a 2012 decision of the Texas Supreme Court, renewed attention was placed on State law, which still had the “180 days from first paycheck” limitation placed upon it. Thus, State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County) reintroduced a bill in the State Legislature last session to make Texas law mirror existing Federal regulations. Reasons for this include the fact that the State Court system is significantly cheaper and less cumbersome than the Federal system. The bill, which had State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, as its main co-sponsor in the upper chamber, passed by razor-thin margins before being vetoed by the Governor.

Click here to read more about Abbott & Davis’ positions on the matter!

Kroger’s and Macy’s

The Houston Chronicle reports that Texas retail giants, most notably Kroger’s and Macy’s, lobbied hard against Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s Equal Pay act, which ultimately passed the legislature but died at the hands of a veto by Governor Perry. As the Chronicle reports, this move comes as a shock to many in the community, including Thompson herself:

“I shop at Kroger’s for my groceries,” Thompson said. “I shopped there just last week. I’m going to have to go to HEB now. I am really shocked.”

Ostensibly, these retailers urged a veto because the existing laws were “good enough,” the same argument, of course, made by Governor Perry in his vetoing statement. Immediately, as another Houston Chronicle article explains, calls began being heard throughout the State for boycotts of these stores. Senator Sylvia Garcia, who had been scheduled to give a speech at a Macy’s sponsored event, cancelled the event after learning of the lobbying on behalf of the store. Per the Chronicle article, Garcia made a lengthy statement in solidarity with the boycotts:

“While I strongly support the tax free weekend that allows parents struggling to provide clothing and supplies for their children before they return to school, I was dismayed to learn that Macy’s and Kroger would oppose equal pay for equal work,” Gracia said in a statement. “As a co-sponsor of the legislation and supporter of equal rights, I am supporting the call to boycott until these stores reverse their position and declare their support for equal pay.”

This was soon joined by the sponsor of the original bill, Senfronia Thompson, who soon joined into the boycott herself. The Houston Chronicle report on this fact, and carries a lengthy statement put out by the House Democratic Dean herself:

“Upon learning that Macy’s had pressured Governor Perry to veto the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, I decided to cancel my appearance at today’s press conference,” Thompson said in a press release. “HB 950 passed both chambers with bipartisan support, and until Macy’s and other retailers that oppose common sense legislation get on board with equal pay for equal work, I will not be patronizing any of them. I will not support these retailers until they support Texas women.”

I tend to recall the neanderthal wing of the Republican Party opposing things like the Civil Rights Act (or Equal Pay, for that matter) because the free market would hypothetically solve the problem. Well, people, here is our chance to solve the problem using the free market. It is up to us to vote with our dollars and boycott the misogynistic and outdated viewpoints of Kroger’s and Macy’s. If we can’t stamp out hatred and discrimination at the Capitol, let us do it at the Market.

This is an ongoing issue, and I will be sure to post more when I have it. Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos, Texas Leftist and Burnt Orange Report all have more.

Lege update 6/14

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Quite a lot of stuff happened today, so much that I have been holding off on talking about it until end-of-business. First and foremost, the Governor went on a Veto Spree, killing off 22 pieces of legislation in all, along with a few more line-item cuts. The only significant bill he signed today was SB21, which mandates drug testes for unemployment insurance recipients. In other news, a Senate committee pushed through an omnibus abortion restriction bill and the full Senate voted (along party lines) to rubber stamp the court-drawn maps in the redistricting saga. Last but not least, the Senate also voted to close the loophole for 17 year old offenders charged with Capital Murder.

Friday Night Massacre
Rick Perry line-item vetoed SB1, the budget. Specifically, he vetoed the funding for the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s office, as he promised. Just this morning, an organization, Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint against Perry for the possible action, alleging he committed “coercion of a public servant, abuse of official capacity and official oppression.” The Dallas Morning News has the full story on this lawsuit. I spoke with a friend a few days ago who is heavily involved with Travis County Democratic politics, and he was discussing the more noticeable transgression would be a separation of powers issue. The PIU is what investigates official violations and corruptions from public officeholders in Austin. There are many pending investigations against the Governor’s office, including, most notably, the CPRIT ones. This is where the parallels to the Saturday Night Massacre begin. Just as how Nixon committed a steep transgression by firing the Special Prosecutor who was in the process of investigating his administration, the Governor coercing the director of an independent agency that does the same thing to resign is on very, very iffy grounds.

More Vetoes
Next, reports The Dallas Morning News, Rick Perry had vetoed HB950, Senfronia Thompson’s Equal Pay for Women act. This is big news, like front page of the Huffington Post big. The veto is not especially surprising, as the act passed with significant Republican opposition in both Houses of the legislature. The Morning News reported that Sen. Davis, the bill’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber, responded saying Perry’s veto “[i]s a statement of his absolute disregard for the challenges that women face.” If anyone was unclear if there is a War on Women occurring in Texas, Davis said, there is not even any opacity left in it. Perry thinks that Equal Pay is not important enough for his signature, but radical anti-abortion legislation is important enough of an emergency for a Special Session.

Next, Perry vetoed a bill to regulate the UT Regents. The Dallas Morning News reports that Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)’s bill that would have required Senate confirmation on UT Regents before they could vote on personnel matters, is dead. Perry is absolutely anathema to the idea of anyone, or anything, limited his authority.

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Then, the Governor vetoed HB217, a bill that would have banned sodas from public elementary and junior high schools. I have been uneasy about the bill in the past, but think that its passage would have been for the best. Perry, as expected, jumped onto the individual-liberties bandwagon. Ostensibly, Perry cited his veto to the fact that 2% milk would be banned under the plan. Well, I read the bill, and I know that could have been solved with a line-item veto. Nice try, Governor…

Perry vetoed SB219, colloquially known as the “Ethics bill.” The bill released a whole new code of transparency and ethics for public servants. Perry found some of this reprehensible, including the resign-to-run requirement for the Railroad Commission. For what it’s worth, I find those sorts of requirements to be troubling as well.

Perry also vetoed HB2836, a Dan Patrick bill which would have changed curriculum standards. Perry also vetoed another Patrick bill, SB17, which would have provided crisis training for public school teachers holding CHLs. The Dallas Morning News reported the chief reason for this was the price tag attached.

Last but certainly not least, the Governor vetoed SB1234, a bill aimed at reforming truancy laws. The bill, sponsored predominantly by Sen. Whitmire, passed the Senate with only three objections. The bill would have reduced the truancy fine to $100 from $500, and required counseling evaluations before school districts refer offenders to courts. Perry detested the “progressive sanctions” passed by the Legislature.

There were some other actions, and I will be sure to link it if someone picks up the story, or if some other blog writes on the topic.

Drug Testing coming
The Texas Tribune  reports that Governor Perry has signed SB21, the bill which would drug test unemployment. As you might remember, the measure to drug test welfare (TANF) failed after it passed the deadline. The bill would subject some applicants to drug tests if they are deemed high risk (a/k/a, in Perry’s eyes, minorities), and would require them first to enroll in a drug counseling program before kicking them off the program. It could be worse, though as I have extensively written in the past, it is a stupid idea that saves absolutely no money.

Senate approves maps
The Texas Tribune also reports that, as expected, the full Senate has approved the court-drawn maps for a permanent basis. This comes just two days after the Senate Select Committee rubber-stamped the maps themselves. In a strictly partisan vote, the upper chamber voted 16-11 to approve. Redistricting Chairman Kel Seliger repeatedly shot down and blocked any and all attempts to do something different than his interim-to-permanent map. At one point, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) even stated that it appeared as if Sen. Seliger was intentionally blocking dissenting views. As I had expected, the hearings did not make a [expletive deleted] difference. The ratio was 10-1 against the maps in Houston, and I have heard it was similar in Dallas and Corpus Christi.  Sen. Garcia even told the Tribune that Seliger was refusing dissenting points, and had privately been told by the Chairman that that was the case. This is getting ugly, though not as ugly as those darn maps are.

Omnibus Abortion bill
The Texas Tribune reports that the Senate Health & Human Services Committee has voted out the session’s SB5, which is also known as the “Omnibus Abortion bill.” The bill would (1) ban abortion after 20 weeks; (2) require abortions to occur in ambulatory centers; (3) require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; and (4) require abortion doctor to administer all drugs in person. These regulations would shut down a majority of the abortion clinics in Texas (basically all of them outside of Austin, Dallas and Houston) and would probably be ruled unconstitutional by a court. The bill passed on party lines, 5-2, and will head to the full Senate on Tuesday.