Texas Capital Highlights — May 22, 2017

May 23, 2017

AUSTIN (AP) — Each morning, Joanna Smith’s 7-year-old son pulls on a T-shirt and shorts, boasts how fast he can tie his sneakers and heads to school. An honor-roll student who loves science and spelling, he often stays after class to run on the playground with his large group of friends.

But teachers may soon have to disrupt his routine by revealing a secret: This energetic boy was born a girl. Legislation headed for passage in the Texas Legislature this month could forbid him from using the boys’ bathroom and effectively divulge his transgender identity to classmates.

“He would be very embarrassed and ashamed to be outed,” said Smith, who plans to pull her child out of school if the measure is adopted. “I worry so much that it would just ruin his life.” She spoke on the condition that her son’s name would not be used.

The measure poses an excruciating dilemma for Texas schools that have quietly agreed at parents’ requests to keep secret the birth genders of some students.

To comply with state law, teachers might have to send transgender students to the bathroom of their birth gender or to a single-occupancy bathroom, shocking their peers.

The legislation “really boxes in school systems,” said Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a spokeswoman for the national transgender rights organization Trans Equality.

A broad bill requiring transgender individuals to use the restroom of their birth-certificate gender passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Supporters revived it late Sunday, advancing a proposal applying only to the state’s public schools, which educate about 5.3 million students. That’s the second-largest number in the U.S. after California.

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AS TEXAS ADVANCES KEY LEGISLATION, COURT FIGHTS LOOM

Texas Republicans have been pushing an aggressive agenda despite promised court challenges, including legislation that would let police ask drivers whether they’re in the U.S. legally, restrict what school bathrooms transgender students can use, ban most second-trimester abortions and let adoption agencies reject gay couples over religious objections.

The lawsuits have already begun: El Paso County on Monday asked a federal court to block a “sanctuary cities” crackdown signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that opponents say invites racial profiling by police and will push immigrant crime victims further into the shadows.

Abortion rights groups, civil rights lawyers and LGBT organizations have also renewed pledges to take the state to court this summer following a whirlwind weekend in which the Republican-controlled Legislature pushed new anti-abortion bills, a religious objections bill and a so-called “bathroom bill” closer to Abbott’s desk before lawmakers adjourn May 29.

“I would think it’s unprecedented that this many actions by the Legislature will be contested in court,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, the Democratic leader in the Texas House of Representatives.

Texas is used to getting dragged into federal courts, which have weakened or dismantled some of the state’s most prominent Republican efforts in recent years. Federal judges this spring found intentional discrimination in the state’s voter ID law and Republican-drawn voting maps, and last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a sweeping Texas anti-abortion law that prompted more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to close.

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SENATE RE VIVES VOUCHERS VIA SCHOOL FINANCE FIX

The Texas Senate voted Monday to attach a modest voucher plan to a sweeping, bipartisan school finance bill that already cleared the House — potentially dooming an effort to pump an extra $1.6 billion into classrooms and begin overhauling the troubled way the state pays for public education.

Republicans control both chambers of the Texas Legislature but the Senate has for years advanced voucher plans seeking to offer public money to students attending private and religious schools, only to have such proposals repeatedly and resoundingly defeated in the House.

Another such showdown is likely looming, and the end result could be Texas getting neither vouchers nor important fixes to Texas’ “Robin Hood” system, under which school districts in wealthy areas share local property tax revenue they collect with those in poorer parts of the state.

The original House plan sought to increase annual, per-student funding about $210 to $5,350, while raising funding for school district transportation and educating dyslexic students — increasing total spending by $1.6 billion.

The version the Senate approved after midnight increases classroom funding by only about $500 million, scraps the $210 per-student increase and adds a plan offering taxpayer funds that would go into education savings accounts that some special education students could use to attend private schools.

“This is only for those situations where parents really are unhappy with what’s going on with their special-needs child,” said its sponsor, Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican.

Taylor said only about 6,000 students maximum would likely qualify to start. But critics note that voucher plans that begin modestly in other states often grew at break-neck speed.

“This is like the camel with its nose under the tent,” said Dallas Democratic Sen. Royce West, who called the education savings account plan “the voucher, that’s what it’s commonly referred to.”

“Call it what you will” Taylor replied.

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‘SECOND-CHANCE’ BILL

The Texas Legislature is moving closer to approving a bipartisan law letting some first-time, low-level offenders seal their criminal records — keeping them from being made public when doing things like applying for jobs.

The so-called “second-chance” bill previously cleared the House and was passed Monday by the Senate, which included an amendment ensuring that Texans convicted of some crimes involving sex or violence wouldn’t be eligible.

It now heads back to the House, which can send it to Gov. Greg Abbott if the chamber accepts the Senate changes. Abbott can sign or veto the measure, or let it become law automatically.

People convicted of some felonies involving small amounts of marijuana, and some drunk-driving offenses, are among those who can petition to keep their records secret.

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MATERNAL MORTALITY GUIDELINES

Texas — where the rate of maternal mortality has spiked in recent years for reasons not fully understood — is poised to take an initial step toward examining the problem.

The state could soon be required to post guidelines for reporting pregnancy-related deaths. There’s currently no uniform method of investigating maternal mortality, meaning some women’s deaths might not have been properly referred to the medical examiner.

The proposal passed the state House on Monday, after already clearing the Senate. Under it, Texas’ health department must prepare online guidelines about when maternal deaths should be investigated, how to complete death certificates, and when to perform toxicology screenings.

A study last year found that 600-plus Texas women died between 2010 and 2014 either while pregnant or within six weeks after giving birth.

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ON DECK

Both chambers were working late into the night on Monday after long weekends, and were expected to put in long days all week. Final adjournment on Memorial Day is now less than seven days away and while there’s still time to wrap up the biggest, and hottest-button issues, time for a lot of other things is running very short.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“I had not seen the language on the ‘Paddie Amendment’ on Senate Bill 2078 before it was voted on last night. I also have concerns about its ambiguous language, which doesn’t appear to do much” — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, saying Monday that the House bathroom bill amendment, which was sponsored by Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, doesn’t go far enough.

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Category: Politics, State/National