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Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton Jr., from left, addresses the media as his clients, Deborah Leliaert and Paula Woolworth, look on Friday morning outisde the federal courthouse in Austin.
Allison Rubenak
Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton Jr., from left, addresses the media as his clients, Deborah Leliaert and Paula Woolworth, look on Friday morning outside the federal courthouse in Austin.

Sensing that state officials will be reluctant to comply with a potential U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, an LGBT civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit Thursday seeking to force Texas to provide equal benefits to the same-sex spouses of public employees.

Lambda Legal filed the suit on behalf of Deborah Leliaert and Paula Woolworth against the board and executive director of the Employee Retirement System of Texas, in U.S. district court in Austin.

Leliaert and Woolworth, who live in Denton County and have been together 14 years, were married in California in 2008. Leliaert serves as vice president for university relations and planning at the University of North Texas.

After Woolworth retired, Leliaert sought to enroll her in spousal insurance benefits at UNT in 2014, but was denied by ERS, which told her that “spouse and participant cannot have the same gender.” The lawsuit alleges Texas’ same-sex marriage bans violate the guarantees of due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. But Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton Jr. indicated that with the high court expected to decide that issue later this month, the suit is designed to serve as an enforcement action.

“Many officials across the state, in various capacities, have signaled they will be in no hurry to comply with the [Supreme Court] decision,” Upton said, adding that some will undoubtedly look to Attorney General Ken Paxton for guidance. “A pending lawsuit against the board of trustees and the executive director of the ERS will give us the ability to get relief for all the public employees and their dependents immediately, instead of waiting for the AG.”

Upton said in addition to state employees, the lawsuit could bring equal benefits to public school teachers, since the Teacher Retirement System of Texas operates under the same laws.

“We asked, if we could bring one enforcement action that would have the greatest effect, what would it look like?” Upton said. “Texas is a large state. Denying employment benefits to public employees is the biggest bang for the buck we could think of in one lawsuit.”

Representatives from ERS and the attorney general’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Deborah Leliaert, right, and Paula Woolworth
Allison Rubenak
Deborah Leliaert, right, and Paula Woolworth

Upton was joined by his clients for a news conference Friday morning outside the federal courthouse in Austin.

“The HR office was very apologetic and my colleagues at UNT are very supportive of me, but their hands are tied,” Leliaert said. “It’s distressing that the state I work for treats me as a second-class citizen. It’s hurtful and unfair.”

Leliaert said although same-sex benefits have been an ongoing conversation, the recent legislative session is one factor that motivated the lawsuit.

“There was a lot of rhetoric about not complying with the Supreme Court decision and attempts to further ban gay marriage in this state, and we felt as a couple that it was important to file this case and try to get ERS to do what’s right, prior to the Supreme Court ruling,” she said.

As tears welled up in Leliaert’s eyes, Woolworth gently placed her hand on her wife’s back. Woolworth retired from a Fortune 500 company several years ago so she could devote her life to volunteer work.

“I’m proud of her, I’m very proud of her for being willing to be that lead person that is a change agent for what needs to happen for the case for equality in Texas, and I would absolutely agree that increased rhetoric we hear in Texas causes us angst,” Woolworth said. “We think that we’re a perfect couple, we’re a strong couple, and we’re a secure couple [and] that somebody needs to take this on, so it’s a case for equality.”

Read the full complaint below.

Allison Rubenak contributed to this report. 

Jonathan Stickland
Courtesy of Kelsey Jukam
Although Rep. Jonathan Stickland received an "F-," he did not make the Equality Texas' 10-worst list.

 

Two of the House’s most right-wing members took to Facebook to celebrate their poor grades for the 84th Legislature from the LGBT group Equality Texas.

“Proud to receive an ‘F-‘ from Equality Texas again! Sometimes failing is #‎winning‬,” Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) wrote after the group released its scorecard last week.

“I am very happy to represent the pro-family values in my District,” Rep. Molly White (R-Belton) wrote above a link to the scorecard on Thursday.

Equality Texas named White the worst member of the House on LGBT issues. Although Stickland received an “F-,” he did not make the group’s 10-worst list.

The group singled out White for filing a bill aimed at undermining a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, as well as an anti-LGBT religious freedom measure that would have made one that passed in Indiana “look like a Sunday School picnic.”

Equality Texas also accused White of refusing to meet with a gay constituent who was lobbying at the Capitol. White had previously refused to allow Muslims into her office unless they first denounced terrorist groups and pledged allegiance to America.

 

I am very happy to represent the pro-family values in my District: http://tinyurl.com/oom4gnd.

Posted by Molly White on Thursday, June 11, 2015

 

“It’s difficult to understand why someone seeks an office charged with representing the people if that person is unwilling to–you know–meet with the people–but Molly White must have some method to her indecipherable madness,” Equality Texas wrote.

“Unfortunately for the constituents of White’s District 55, not only was she too busy to meet with them, she was too busy filing blatantly unconstitutional bills to actually pass any legislation. White’s lack of attention to the actual business of the legislature and her preference for controversy over substantial legislation meant that her Bell County constituents were effectively robbed of any representation in the Texas House this session.”

Equality Texas named Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), the author of a failed religious freedom constitutional amendment, the worst senator on LGBT issues.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) was named the best senator on LGBT issues, and Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) was named the best member of the House.

View Equality Texas’ full rankings here.

 

Sacred Heart Cemetery
Jen Reel
The Sacred Heart Cemetery in Brooks County is where many of the unidentified remains of migrants are buried.

In the past seven years, the bodies of hundreds of migrants have been recovered in the Texas borderlands, but only a fraction of the remains have been identified or returned to families. Local officials are ill-equipped to deal with the death toll, and the state and federal governments have done little to bolster an underfunded and patchwork system.

But human rights activists and scientists are hopeful that things may soon improve. In early June, advocates gathered at the Texas Capitol to highlight new funding for identifying remains as well as legislation that will make death records available to the public more quickly. The advocates also unveiled a new manual to guide local governments in identifying and recovering remains along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the recently completed legislative session, lawmakers quietly approved $2.3 million in new funding for the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the Texas Missing Persons and Human Identification Program. The funding boost will help identify remains and offer some relief to rural, cash-strapped counties like Brooks County, the epicenter of migrant deaths in South Texas.

“We can help our local law enforcement agencies and those down in the Brooks County area with being able to have better assistance at the scene, laboratory analysis, reports, depositions and expert testimony,” said Luis Moreno, chief of staff to Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen).

Forensic scientists involved in the difficult task of collecting DNA and helping families find lost loved ones said the current system is in desperate need of reform.

“In scientific terms, it’s a mess,” said Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith, a forensic investigator with the Binational Migration Institute, an immigration study center at the University of Arizona. “We can’t go to Congress and say X number of people are dying because we don’t really know. If we want to make informed public policy, we need to have those numbers.”

Kate Spradley, a forensic anthropologist at Texas State University, works to identify remains found in Texas border counties. Spradley said many counties lack medical examiners or can’t afford to send remains to a county with one. As a result, when an unidentified body is found, many are buried without autopsies or DNA testing, which is required by law.

Eddie Canales, director of the Brooks County-based South Texas Human Rights Center, said 28 bodies and remains have been recovered so far this year in the rural South Texas county. Most undocumented border crossers die while hiking through the hot and rugged ranchland in an attempt to circumvent a Border Patrol checkpoint 70 miles from the border.

Advocates also praised Senate Bill 1485 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). It will make the death records of unidentified persons publicly available one year after their death. Spradley and others at the press conference said the previous waiting period of 25 years makes the identifications of deceased undocumented border crossers extremely difficult.

At the Capitol, Rubio-Goldsmith also announced a new best-practices manual that county officials can use to streamline the recovery and identification process. The manual includes guidelines for what to do when law enforcement and others find bodies and the best methods for collecting DNA, clothing and other evidence found in the field.

Canales is hopeful that the new efforts will help bring closure to families with missing loved ones.

“Human beings shouldn’t be dying at the border,” Canales said. “And human beings need to be identified and they need to be found.”

Greg Abbott and Joe Straus
Kelsey Jukam
Gov. Greg Abbott and House Speaker Joe Straus at the State of the State Address.

Ten years ago, then-Gov. Rick Perry held an unnecessary, ceremonial signing of Texas’ anti-gay marriage amendment at a Fort Worth church.

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, with the marriage amendment likely to be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court later this month, Gov. Greg Abbott will stage a ceremonial signing of the so-called “Pastor Protection Act.”

“Governor Greg Abbott will sign legislation to strengthen religious liberties and pastor protections in the state of Texas at the Governor’s Mansion,” reads a Tuesday media advisory from the governor’s office.

When Perry signed the resolution putting the same-sex marriage ban amendment on the ballot, gay marriage was already prohibited by statute. Similarly, the Pastor Protection Act merely reaffirms existing protections under state and federal law—protections for clergy and churches against being forced to participate in weddings that violate their religious beliefs.

Equality Texas withdrew its opposition to the Pastor Protection Act, which had been championed by anti-LGBT groups, after it was narrowed to apply only to wedding ceremonies. And it passed the House 141-2, with support from the two openly LGBT representatives. However, after more than 20 anti-LGBT proposals filed in the 84th Legislature all died, Abbott may feel the need to break off some red meat for the GOP base, however lean.

Some members of that base have demanded that Abbott—who vigorously defended the marriage amendment as attorney general—call a special session to revive a bill aimed at undermining the high court’s likely ruling. But Abbott, apparently realizing the potentially harmful economic consequences, says he doesn’t plan to do so.

House Speaker Joe Straus, in what was a rare public mention of LGBT issues for him, alluded to those consequences Tuesday, when asked by The Texas Tribune‘s Evan Smith about the demise of anti-gay marriage legislation.

“On some of the volatile issues that you mention, the fact that we weren’t jumping headlong into that, and to kind of blow up the session with these very emotionally volatile issues, the fact that we didn’t do that I think is a good thing in terms of the perception of Texas, in terms of our ability to attract talent from out of state and around the word,” Straus said. “We’re out there trying to bring the world’s best scholars to Texas, the best researchers, the best doctors, the best businesses. …  I think our record of being thoughtful and deliberate about the most emotional issues was appropriate and a good thing in the long term for our state.”

250x350-john-warren
Dallas County Clerk John Warren

The Dallas County clerk now says he’ll issue licenses to gay and lesbian couples if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage later this month.

Previously, Democratic Clerk John Warren told the Observer he was concerned about modifying marriage license application forms, which are generated by the state and say “male” and “female.” Warren wrote in an email Wednesday that he contacted the Texas Department of State Health Services about the forms last week, but had not heard back, so he came up with an alternative strategy in consultation with the Dallas County DA’s office.

“When the Supreme Court issues its opinion, I will immediately meet with counsel to make sure we understand the opinion,” Warren said. “Since I feel that it will [be] in the positive, I will be ready to issue license[s]. I’ve already sent a briefing over to our commissioner’s court regarding overtime pay for my staff as well as addressed the need to have security not lock the building at its normal 5:00/5:30 scheduled time.”

Warren, who came out in support of same-sex marriage in 2013, added that he’s asked a manager to survey staff on their ability to work extended hours.

“I hope to offer overtime instead of comp time in hopes of getting as many willing participants as possible,” Warren said.

Warren joins Bexar County Clerk Gerard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff and Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir in saying they’ll issue licenses to same-sex couples without waiting for the state to modify the application forms.

Earlier this week, Republican Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart told The Houston Press he would wait for guidance from Attorney General Ken Paxton before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Stanart also said if the high court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, justices will be “destroying an institution.”

Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), the only Republican to vote against the omnibus abortion restrictions last special session, defends her amendment on House Bill 2, excepting rape and incest from the 20-week abortion ban.
Patrick Michels
Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), the only Republican to vote against the omnibus abortion restrictions last special session, defends her amendment on House Bill 2, excepting rape and incest from the 20-week abortion ban.

Update, June 10, 2015, 11:37 a.m.: Attorneys with the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing abortion providers in the case, on Wednesday asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the implementation of House Bill 2 while they seek an appeal from the Supreme Court of the United States.

Original post:

In an opinion largely upholding Texas’ strict 2013 abortion law, three federal appeals judges disagreed that poor women face significant barriers to abortion as the number of clinics dwindles.

The long-awaited ruling, issued Tuesday by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, is expected to lead to the closure of all but eight abortion clinics in Texas, forcing some women to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest facility. Abortion providers have vowed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The panel upheld provisions of House Bill 2 that require Texas abortion clinics to meet surgical center standards and obtain hospital admitting privileges for physicians. The judges carved out one exception: the Whole Woman’s Health facility in McAllen, the last clinic in the Rio Grande Valley. In their ruling, the judges found that requiring women in McAllen to travel 235 miles to the nearest clinic in San Antonio was too burdensome. In a previous decision on House Bill 2, the Fifth Circuit established 150 miles as the standard for an undue burden. The judges did not grant the same exception to the remaining abortion provider in El Paso, arguing that women in West Texas can travel to New Mexico. (Notably, there are parts of West Texas—Presidio, for example—that are more than 150 miles from the nearest clinic, including ones in New Mexico.)

So far, House Bill 2 has forced more than half of the state’s abortion clinics to close. Currently, fewer than 20 abortion clinics are operating in Texas. Tuesday’s ruling is expected to leave just eight—in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

The three-judge panel dismissed a lower court finding that poor women face not only additional travel expenses, but also practical barriers such as lack of child care, the inability to take time off work and internal immigration checkpoints.

“We do not doubt that women in poverty face greater difficulties,” the opinion reads, quoting a previous Fifth Circuit decision on House Bill 2. It goes on to say that in arguing their case, providers didn’t successfully prove that the law has an impact “on at least a large fraction of women.”

Further, the judges pointed to a 1980 Supreme Court case that downplays economic barriers:

“‘The financial constraints that restrict an indigent woman’s ability to enjoy the full range of constitutionally protected freedom of choice are the product not of governmental restrictions on access to abortions, but rather of her indigency.’”

The panel also agreed that the Legislature’s intent was “to protect the health and safety of women,” not to erode abortion access, as plaintiffs argued.

Attorneys for abortion providers are interpreting the McAllen exception cautiously. While the decision keeps the McAllen clinic open temporarily, it also seems to add a significant caveat. If another clinic were to open in, say, Corpus Christi, the McAllen clinic may then have to meet the ambulatory surgical center standards.

“The ruling is so narrow that we’re not sure yet whether it’s going to be of any practical issue to the clinics or its patients,” said Stephanie Toti with the Center for Reproductive Rights on a press call Tuesday afternoon. “We’re trying to figure out if [Whole Woman’s Health] will be able to provide services under the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.”

Abortion providers and their attorneys have 22 days to respond to Tuesday’s ruling, and Toti said the group plans to immediately ask the Fifth Circuit to halt the panel’s decision. If it’s not granted, they plan to turn to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“If this decision is permitted to take effect, the impact will be devastating to women seeking abortion access in Texas,” Toti said.

Republican elected officials and anti-abortion organizations celebrated the decision. Attorney General Ken Paxton called it a “victory for life and women’s health” in a statement, and his sentiments were echoed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Heather Busby, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, however, called it a “travesty.”

“The [Fifth] Circuit has once again put their political ideology above the law and failed to recognize that HB 2 is an undue burden on Texans’ access to safe, legal and timely abortion,” she said in a statement. “Many Texans will not be able to end their pregnancies safely because they do not have the time or resources it takes to travel long distances to abortion clinics.”

Sadie Hernandez
Spencer Selvidge
Sadie Hernandez and other protesters have vowed to camp outside the governor's mansion until Gov. Greg Abbott takes action on a budget measure that would exclude Planned Parenthood from a state cancer program.

In May 2013, Dayna Farris-Fisher breathed a sigh of relief after her annual mammogram came back clean. But six months later, she found a lump in her breast that alarmed her. Her fears were compounded by the fact that her husband had lost his sales job, and with it, their health insurance. With no coverage, Farris-Fisher, who lives in Plano, found that clinics weren’t interested in scheduling an appointment any time soon.

“The few places that I did find, the wait was about 90 days to get in,” she said. “Finally, somebody said to call Planned Parenthood.”

Farris-Fisher got an appointment with the local Planned Parenthood health center just 48 hours after she first called. The appointment and initial screening she received were covered through the state Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, and nurses at the clinic then referred Farris-Fisher to other providers for more treatment and helped her find ways to cover the costs.

“If I had waited the 90 days, I would be dead,” Farris-Fisher said, “Between the time that I was initially seen and 60 days later when I started treatment, my mass had doubled in size. … If it weren’t for Planned Parenthood, I would be dead.”

Next week, Farris-Fisher will celebrate the one-year anniversary of being cancer-free. She’s elated to be doing so well, but her happiness is tempered by political machinations in Austin. On Monday, the 49-year-old real estate investor arrived in Austin to join a growing group of activists who have set up camp outside the governor’s mansion near the Capitol.

The protesters are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to veto a line in the two-year state budget that boots Planned Parenthood from the Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program. About 34,000 uninsured Texas women, including Farris-Fisher, rely on the program for cancer screenings and rapid enrollment in Medicaid to cover additional treatment.

Budget writers acknowledged early in the legislative session that they wanted to keep state money away from health care providers that also perform abortions, even though no public dollars fund the procedure and Planned Parenthood clinics that offer abortions are independent from the organization’s health centers.

While legislators point out that other providers are still available to treat women, activists argue that the state should be expanding access, not reducing it. For example, Planned Parenthood’s Waco health clinic was the city’s only provider through the breast and cervical cancer program.

“Women need practical access, access that’s available quickly, access that’s local, access that’s affordable,” Farris-Fisher said. “Most women that need Planned Parenthood don’t have the wherewithal to get in their car and drive two hours to a clinic after waiting 90 days for an appointment.”

It’s not just cancer survivors who are demanding action. Sadie Hernandez, a spunky 20-year-old Brownsville native and a Planned Parenthood volunteer, kicked off the protest on her own when she decided to picket the governor’s mansion on June 4th.

Since then, the People’s Veto, as activists are calling it in homage to the People’s Filibuster at the Capitol two years ago, has grown to include a dozen or so people at any given time. What started as a one-woman protest has now attracted national attention and drawn the attention of heavy hitters in the reproductive justice world, including Planned Parenthood head Cecile Richards. Hernandez has pledged to stay at the mansion from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day until Abbott makes a decision.

“Cancer affects you in all aspects of your life, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially,” Hernandez said. “I found out that [Abbott] was the only one that can do anything about this now, so I pledged to stand out here every day so that he can get the message that cancer should not be politicized, and that more women should have access to early breast and cervical screenings, not less.”

On Monday afternoon, the activists also delivered a 15,000-signature petition to the governor’s office asking him to act. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to the Observer’s request for comment.

Cynthia Wilson, who lives in north Dallas and joined the People’s Veto protest on Monday, credits her cancer survival to Planned Parenthood. Wilson, who is a full-time caretaker for her aging parents, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after receiving an initial screening at her nearby Planned Parenthood health center. Like Farris-Fisher, she’d struggled to find a doctor that could see her right away at a price she could afford. The Planned Parenthood staff was able to refer her to specialists for treatment for the fast-growing, aggressive cancer, she said.

“I feel like I got a miracle to live,” Wilson said. “If they couldn’t have seen me right away and gotten me into the system, I know I would not be here. We need all the screening [providers], not just handpicked ones because someone has decided they don’t want to fund Planned Parenthood.”

The deadline for Abbott to veto legislation passed during the regular session is June 21.

Rick Perry
Chris Hooks
Presidential hopeful Rick Perry announces his bid at a sweltering hangar in an airport in Addison.

 

Time is a flat circle: Rick Perry is upon us again.

You didn’t think former Gov. James Richard Perry, of the Paint Creek Perrys, was leaving us for good, did you? It has been 30 years since Perry entered public service, almost half of which he spent as a governor whose level of dominance over the state verged on a personality cult. He entered the Texas House the year The Goonies came out; became agriculture commissioner the year of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion;” and won the lieutenant governor’s gavel amid Y2K panic. A child born on the day Rick Perry became governor of Texas would now be behind the wheel with her learner’s permit, and would have known the state under other leadership for just four months.

Perry was never going to go away quietly, oops or no. If you were to make the case for his presidential ambitions, you could point to his survivor’s instinct and his long history of success as a political chameleon—first a Democrat, then a Republican; first a believer in certain parts of the infrastructure of big government, then a tea partier; a Christian conservative, or a Tenther libertarian. What are his actual beliefs? Does he have any, or is he motivated solely by his love of the performance of power? If the latter, it might be the most presidential thing about him.

His task this presidential campaign, which got its official start today at a hangar owned by the Million Air luxury aviation service company at the airport in Addison, north of Dallas, is this: to be taken seriously again. In 2011, his campaign was a last-minute, unfocused mish-mash, launched to exploit a gap in the GOP field. He delivered metric tons of red meat, but was outed as an immigration moderate (for a Republican) by Mitt Romney, and his campaign died long before his excruciating debate moment.

Now, his campaign seems more focused—premised on a couple of core messages. He placed a heavy emphasis on his respect for The Troops, and a coterie of retired Navy SEALs and veterans of wars dating back to World War II accompanied him on stage. Pete Scobell, a SEAL turned country singer, introduced the vets one by one. “Rick Perry has what it takes to lead,” said Scobell.

He was “the man who we need in Washington,” where “for too long, we’ve lacked leadership.” Obama has disgraced veterans. Implied in Perry’s focus on the military and his own service record: Few others in the Republican field have served in the military. Rick and Anita Perry had helped and comforted veterans, including the twin former SEALs Marcus and Morgan Luttrell, Scobell told the crowd. The virile Perry had even given Marcus advice on his “love life.”

When Perry appeared, he did so to the tune of a country-rap remix about himself—a probable first in the history of American political campaigns. As he spoke, he was flanked by the stern and solemn Luttrells as if they were his honor guard. Perry stood in front of an impressive backdrop: a giant C-130A flown in from Arizona for the occasion, at presumably significant expense. The plane was similar to the one he used to fly as an officer in the Air Force. The decision to launch the campaign in an enormous metal airplane hangar in North Dallas in June had its trade-offs: By the end of his long speech, Perry was sweating heavily.

Perry emphasized, at great length, his hardscrabble upbringing in Haskell County—the outhouse, his hand-sewn clothes—his time as a cotton farmer, his service as a rural legislator. Instead of lunging for the rawest, reddest red meat on hand, he preferred to simply reiterate the core values of the conservative base: “Our values come from God, not the government.”

Rick Perry
Chris Hooks
Missing in Perry’s speech: a treatment of the two decades he spent in Austin, entrenching himself as the state’s top political club-wielder and enriching himself and his friends.

He hammered on foreign policy—something he’s been doing more and more of since his last presidential campaign. He compared the pull-out from Iraq to America’s withdrawal from Vietnam. “Cities secured by American blood are now being taken by our enemies,” he told the crowd.

If America becomes confident again, America will vanquish its enemies, somehow. “We don’t have to apologize for American exceptionalism or Western values,” Perry said. On his first day in office he promised to halt “all pending regulations from the Obama Administration,” issue an executive order to build the Keystone XL pipeline and nullify any deal Barry signs with the Iranians.

He dinged big banks, while saying he would unleash the power of the American economy. (He reminded the crowd that “capitalism isn’t corporatism,” which is a little strange to hear from the man who controlled the purse strings of the Texas Enterprise Fund.) He offered a hand to “millennials,” who he called “forgotten Americans.” In sum, the American people’s faith in government had to be restored, and he, who needed a second chance himself, would be the one to do it.

Missing in Perry’s speech: a treatment of the two decades he spent in Austin, entrenching himself as the state’s top political club-wielder and enriching himself and his friends. Also missing—the word “indictment” did not come up. For example, Anita Perry did not say, “Rick Perry, my husband, is currently under felony indictment.”

That would have been a buzzkill. But it’s true. Plane or no, SEALs or no, back-to-basics messaging or no, there’s a serious chance that Perry will be knocked down by legal troubles as his campaign advances. But even if the case drags on indefinitely, or indeed if he’s ultimately acquitted, the indictment will weigh on him. If you’re a GOP-leaning plutocrat and you’re out to back the winning horse, you’d have to really be moved by the spirit to give your millions to a dude who stands a chance of being convicted, even if those chances might only be, say, 10 or 20 percent.

On the other hand, there are reasons to believe Perry will do better this time. Here’s one: The GOP field will likely have enough members by the time things get going in earnest to make up a pretty crummy football team. If Perry can meet a minimal level of Seriousness—in part by vacuuming up enough rich men’s money—he’ll look good by comparison. And recently, he hired Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute as a policy advisor. (Roy is a serious figure in conservative policy circles who helped Mitt Romney in 2012, and his decision to back Perry is interesting at the least.)

But Perry doesn’t need to win the nomination to win—if he just does well enough to wash out the stains he left last time in the American popular imagination, it’s a victory. There are worse gigs to have in this culture than a former semi-successful Republican presidential contender, especially for those who love money and fame. Who knows, though? Maybe he’ll go back to flying.

gay-rights-activists-scott-thomas
Gay rights activists march on Harvey Milk Day in Austin to commemorate the civil rights leader and protest anti-gay policies.

If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage later this month, Austin and San Antonio may be the only places in Texas where gay couples can obtain licenses initially.

Representatives from the Bexar and Travis county clerks’ offices say they’re prepared to physically modify marriage license application forms, which are generated by the state Vital Statistics Unit and currently say “male” and “female.” However, clerks in Dallas and El Paso counties—both Democrats—said they’d be reluctant to do so. Clerks in Harris and Tarrant counties, both Republicans, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

El Paso County Clerk Delia Briones said she reached out to the Vital Statistics Unit about the forms in February, but was told to wait until after the court rules.

“What am I going to do, ask the person who’s the man and who’s the woman? I can’t do that,” Briones said. “You want to be proactive and be prepared, but they’re stalling it at the state level, so my hands are tied.”

Chris Van Deusen, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which includes the Vital Statistics Unit, said that after the Supreme Court rules, officials will consult with the attorney general’s office to determine what changes are needed.

“Until the court rules, [we] won’t be able to know the impact on current operations or forms,” Van Deusen said.

Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Dallas County Clerk John Warren suggested his office won’t issue licenses to same-sex couples until the forms are modified by the Vital Statistics Unit.

“I don’t think Travis and Bexar may have thought it through completely because the marriage license application is a state form that is provided to the county clerks as the ‘local registrar,'” Warren said. “I can assume those two counties will manually strike through the language on the application. … The problem I have with this is that it makes the action of the clerk deliberate with the strike-out. That shows a direct intent to ignore the law.”

The state's marriage license application form, as posted online by Dallas County, says "male" and "female."
Via DallasCounty.org
The state’s marriage license application form, as posted online by Dallas County, says “male” and “female.”

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir announced this week she will offer extended evening and weekend hours to accommodate same-sex couples, including those from other counties, and begin issuing licenses after reviewing the high court’s ruling with the county attorney’s office.

“I’m going to do my very best to be done with this bigotry, but we’ve got to step carefully,” DeBeauvoir told the Observer recently.

Thomas Koenig, chief deputy clerk for Bexar County, said his office would also likely modify the marriage license application forms. Clerk Gerard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff, a Republican, announced last year that he would consider staying open round-the-clock to accommodate gay couples when same-sex marriage becomes legal.

Ken Upton Jr., Dallas-based senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, gay couples could sue the Vital Statistics Unit and quickly get a federal judge to order officials to immediately change the application forms.

“I think there will be some places where this is a problem, but it isn’t going to be a problem for very long,” Upton said. “I think a clerk that hides behind Vital Statistics, when the law clearly states you have to let them get married, risks personal liability.”

Upton said it would also be illegal for clerks to stop issuing licenses to all couples, because they’d be interfering with the fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution. If clerks or state officials refused to comply with a federal judge’s order, they could face punitive damages into the millions of dollars, he said.

“If the Supreme Court rules in our favor, I think there will be relatively little resistance in most places,” Upton said. “Where there are people resisting and throwing up obstacles, I think it will be a fireworks show worth watching, because the truth is they are going to get their heads handed to them.”

Texas Capitol
The much more commonly expressed sentiment at the Capitol in the last few weeks has been a shrug, and some variation of the sentiment: It could have been worse.

It was the not-so-bad of times; it was the not-that-great of times.

How did the recently laid-to-rest Lege session go? On one side of the analytical spectrum, you have Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who posited that the 84th was “one of the most, if not the most, productive legislative sessions in the history of the Texas Senate,” and added that House Bill 1 was “the best budget the Senate’s ever produced.” On the other, you have Congressman Joaquin Castro, who elected to speak ill of the recently departed by calling the 84th “perhaps the worst legislative session in Texas history,” which is a pretty high bar—there are many other fine candidates.

But the much more commonly expressed sentiment at the Capitol in the last few weeks has been a shrug, and some variation of the sentiment: It could have been worse. None of the three ideological factions that hold power in the Lege—conservative Republicans, establishment Republicans and Democrats—did exceptionally well.

The most fiery impulses of Patrick and the Senate freshman were blunted by the process, and tea partiers know it. Patrick was unable to advance many of the issues he railed on to win his primary, like repealing in-state tuition at state colleges for undocumented residents, and his number one priority, a property tax cut plan, shrank over time. House Republicans helped fix a few substantial issues—pensions, health care for teachers—but lost other fights, including attempts to bolster Medicaid and the state’s crummy school finance system, and did worse than their Senate counterparts in budget negotiations. And effectively powerless Democrats can claim credit for helping to kill some bad bills, but will remain dyspeptic about the state’s general direction.

Where substantial policy disagreements existed, lawmakers often sidestepped the issue entirely rather than hashing things out. A lot of cans got kicked down the road, as Kevin Eltife and Jimmie Don Aycock can tell you. One example of the session’s M.O.: The cost of the Hazlewood program, which discounts tuition at in-state colleges for veterans and their children, has ballooned. Because the state doesn’t fully reimburse colleges for the cost of the law, it amounts to a giant unfunded mandate on overburdened educational institutions.

Lawmakers finally had a debate on Hazlewood this year. They could have fixed the program by cutting the benefits, or they could have used some of the $18 billion dollars in unspent money the state is hoarding to fully fund the mandate lawmakers set. They did neither: In one of the session’s headlining feel-good moments, the House chose to punt the ball. Veterans’ benefits, of course, are laudable. But the cheerful way in which the Lege elected to skip over the hard questions the program poses seemed emblematic of a larger problem.

To be fair, the state had some new players this go-round, Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott among them. There’s a steep learning curve to their new positions. And it’s encouraging that, after what had been a bumpy road, they and Speaker Joe Straus were able to come to agreement on many of the issues facing them, avoiding a potentially disastrous special session on budget issues—even if the results of those deals aren’t particularly laudable. Of the six Legislatures since 2001, five have needed summer special sessions for unfinished work. It seems like we won’t have one. Abbott set reachable goals as his emergency items for the session, and he won enough of them to declare victory.

There are much worse things the 84th Legislature can do than not doing much at all. But there’s also an opportunity cost here: The state’s shaky near-term economic prospects mean the 85th Legislature could face a more difficult set of circumstances than the 84th did. Lawmakers had a hell of a lot of money this go-round, and an opportunity to make more serious, thoughtful changes to the way the state works.

Instead, with tax cuts and other budget ploys, they ensured that future lawmakers will have less money to play with, in a harder economic climate. The longer the state goes without rectifying its systemic underinvestment in education, infrastructure and health care, the more it is going to cost to catch up.

But, you know: It could have been worse! There’s a palpable sense of relief in Austin. School is out, and the state hasn’t burned to the ground. So, lawmakers, enjoy your summer.