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Anti-gay marriage
Kelsey Jukam
"Biblical marriage" supporters rally at the Capitol.

Judges don’t typically speak publicly on issues like same-sex marriage.

But Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore says if he didn’t speak out against it, he’d consider himself guilty of treason.

At a rally against same-sex marriage on the south steps of the Texas Capitol on Monday, Moore invoked Col. William Barret Travis, the namesake of Travis County, an Alabama native who came to Texas “to draw a line in the sand at the Alamo.”

“He took a stand in the face of an enemy that was far more numerous,” Moore told a crowd of hundreds, including dozens of Republican state lawmakers. “But he knew that he had to make a statement for the people of Texas, and that he would give his life. I hope I don’t give my life, but I’m going to tell you this is a very serious matter. … If we fail to stand up today, we will dishonor the memory, not only of Col. Travis, but all those who’ve died in the history of this great state.”

Moore, famous for once being kicked out of office for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the Alabama Supreme Court building, recently ordered probate judges not to issue licenses to same-sex couples despite a federal judge ruling the state’s marriage amendment unconstitutional. Reading from several court opinions, Moore told the crowd at the “Defense of Texas Marriage Amendment” rally that federal judges don’t have authority over domestic policy related to family and marriage in the states.

Counter-protesters at an anti-gay marriage rally
Kelsey Jukam
Counter-protesters at an anti-gay marriage rally

“No court has any authority to redefine what God proposed in Genesis,” Moore said. “The definition of marriage, you want it by man, it doesn’t come by man, it comes from God.”

Also speaking at the rally—the second anti-gay marriage event at the Capitol in as many months—were GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, as well as Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) and Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock).

Patrick said the rally, organized by the Conservative Republicans of Texas, was about two issues: supporting “traditional marriage” and defending states’ rights.

“It’s not about being anti-anyone,” Patrick said. “It’s about being for marriage between a man and a woman.”

Secondly, Patrick said, “It’s not the federal government’s business to tell Texans what to do in Texas on any issue.”

Paxton noted that during his first week in office in January, he defended Texas’ marriage amendment at the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, after a federal judge struck it down last year.

Last week, the AG’s office filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Labor over a rule that would extend benefits to same-sex couples in Texas under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“We’re challenging the Obama administration once again, and we’re going to win this case for Texas,” Paxton said to cheers. “So please continue to pray for us, and I will pray that God blesses this great state of Texas. My office will continue to fight.”

Ken Paxton
Kelsey Jukam
Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at an anti-gay marriage rally at the Capitol.

Sen. Perry, who along with Rep. Bell has filed legislation seeking to prevent Texas clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, introduced his pastor, Rev. David Wilson of Southcrest Baptist Church in Lubbock. Perry said the nation needs a revival that starts from the pulpits, and Wilson backed that up with a fiery speech.

“If humans invented marriage, then polygamy, the taking of several wives, polyandry, the sharing of a wife by several husbands, same-sex marriage, marriage between an adult and a child, marriage between relatives, might seem normal and acceptable,” Wilson said. “But if man created marriage, then monogamy, the lifelong union of one man to one woman, would have no more intrinsic value than any other type of marriage. But marriage is not human invention, it is God’s design.”

However, one counter-protester carried a sign noting that Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington)—who filed an ethics complaint against one of the judges who struck down the marriage ban—has been married five times.

“I’m just wondering what gay marriage destroyed his previous four marriages,” said Gary Campbell of Austin.

Another counter-protester, Joseph George, carried a sign saying, “Keep Your Theocracy Off Our Democracy.”

Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) speaks during a press conference hosted by the Coalition of African-American Pastors at the Capitol on Monday morning.
John Wright
Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) speaks during a press conference hosted by the Coalition of African-American Pastors at the Capitol on Monday morning.

“I’m tired of the right trying to push their religion on everyone,” George said. “These people live in insular bubbles, and they have a very narrow world-view, and they need to be exposed to other ideas.”

Earlier, the Coalition of African-American Pastors hosted a press conference in a Capitol conference room to call on U.S. Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to recuse themselves from hearing lawsuits challenging state marriage bans. However, the press conference, like the rally, focused largely on defending Texas’ ban.

“We are not going to let this erosion, death by a thousand cuts, tear down and destroy what’s left of the family in the state of Texas,” said Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council.

Welch pointed to legislation seeking to allow same-sex couples to have both names on the birth certificates of adopted children, as well as city ordinances “criminalizing Christian business owners for practicing their faith” and “allowing men into women’s restrooms.”

Rev. Bill Owens, founder and president of the Coalition of African-American Pastors, accused the gay community of stealing and hijacking the civil rights movement.

“They were never beaten. They were never hung from trees. They were never fired for nothing. They were never treated like we were treated,” Owens said, becoming animated in response to a reporter’s question. “You don’t have a clue how we were treated in the South. You don’t have a clue. … This is not a civil rights movement. It’s a civil wrong movement.”

Here’s Moore’s speech at the rally:

Here’s Patrick’s speech:

Here’s Paxton’s speech:

And here’s an exclusive interview with Moore prior to the rally:

Ted Cruz at a wildly popular event in the convention's exhibition hall.
Timothy Faust
Ted Cruz experiences a moment of self-satisfaction at the 2014 Texas Republican convention.

Now he belongs to the ages. Today Ted Cruz, one of the foremost representatives of the state’s persecuted Texan-Canadian community and the junior Senator from the North Texas tea parties, ascended from this state’s low mortal plane and affixed himself to the celestial realm of presidential politics, where he’s always thought he truly belonged. The announcement wasn’t a surprise, but when it happened (earlier than his competitors) and where it happened (at the evangelical Liberty University) was.

What to make of it? Is this the beginning of a long, slow grassroots groundswell of the kind that Cruz harnessed to trample David Dewhurst in 2012? Could 2015 be the year of national #Cruzmentum?

No and no.

Some conservatives—and the Democratic Party fundraising apparatus—would have you believe otherwise, but a bet against Cruz winning the Republican nomination for president would be among the safest possible uses of your money. Cruz isn’t in the same category as the Ben Carsons and Carly Fiorinas of the world—people who are running only to up their future speaking fees and maybe land a Fox News gig—but he has a roughly similar chance of winning the GOP nomination, much less the presidency.

There are political reasons and policy reasons this is the case, as well as personal ones—are Americans really going to cheer for an Ivy League snob with an affinity for paisley bathrobes and Jesse Helms who hung a giant oil painting of himself arguing in front of the Supreme Court in his office?

But there’s a simpler reason to doubt Cruz: In almost every presidential election since FDR’s last re-election, Republicans have nominated the more moderate, business-minded candidate over an ideologue, with 1964 being the only real exception. (There’s 1980, too, but that’s something of a special case.) The conservatives who love Cruz are right: The donor class—the people who care a lot about estate taxes and not all that much about the gays—run the national party, more or less. Cruz is a Barry Goldwater in an era that’s not looking for one.

In his address this morning at Liberty, he posited the existence of what we might start calling the “Silent Plurality”—evangelical and other voters who would come out to support the party if it had real leadership. He has, certainly, an almost fanatic appeal to a part of the Republican base, and especially so in Texas.

But winning a Republican primary in this state provides a very particular kind of political experience, one that is not easily translatable elsewhere. For years, he’s been deploying the same one-liners at rallies—his speeches to friendly crowds, who’ve surely heard his zingers many times before, sometimes have the feel of a stand-up comedian’s routine.

But when he puts himself in front of crowds that won’t give him the easy laughs, he often looks lost. He’s more comfortable provoking people than finding commonalities with them. And despite his lauded oratorical skills, he’s never really proved adept at using the politician’s most basic tool: Tailoring his speech to different audiences as the need arises. His base loves him for that, of course.

Cruz’s most significant contribution to the race—apart from the inherent entertainment value—might be his ability to scramble the GOP primary here in Texas, thanks in part to a set of weird new rules adopted for the contest.

Next year, Texas’ primary will be on March 1, much earlier on the calendar than previous years. After the early states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, it will have been the biggest state to vote, and it’ll be rich with delegates. Because the GOP field could easily still be crowded at that early date, the state might play an important role in determining the winner.

Why does that matter for Cruz? The event next year is going to be a bit more complicated than it used to be. The state’s many delegates will be allocated three ways: There will be a pool of delegates that represent the statewide vote, a pool of delegates that represent the vote of each congressional district, and a pool of delegates whose allegiance will be determined at a later date.

If one candidate takes a majority of the vote in Texas next year, or a majority of the vote in one of the state’s congressional districts, they’ll take all of those delegates. But if no one takes a clear majority statewide or in certain congressional districts, the candidates who win more than 20 percent of the vote split those delegates proportionally. Then, a quarter of the pot will be awarded to one candidate at the state Republican convention later in the summer.

This is Cruz country, and if he’s still in the race by the Texas primary—you can bet he’ll stay in till at least then—he’s likely to take a big share of the vote, if not win it outright. If he does, it’ll have the effect of hurting other candidates who might do well here—candidates with Texas connections such as Rick Perry, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul.

With Cruz in the race, some might struggle to pass the 20 percent barrier. And if Cruz can lay a credible claim to having “won” the messy Texas primary, you can bet his supporters will be pushing hard to award those floating delegates to Cruz at a convention if there’s still a contest to be had.

Still, don’t worry too much about President Cruz. But don’t get too eager if you think a failed presidential campaign will knock him out of the spotlight. He’s up for reelection in 2018. Democrats used to fantasize about running a credible challenger against him—particularly, they talked about convincing one of the Castro brothers—but after the Democrats’ 2014 electoral disaster, that possibility seems remote. So despite the hundreds of thousands of words that will be written today, in most of earth’s languages, about Mr. Cruz’s chances, expect everything to stay the same, more or less.

Mary Gonzalez
Courtesy of Mary Gonzalez
State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint)

This week, the House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on a bill that would allow teenagers who have already had a child to get birth control without their parents’ permission. Under current law, all minors under the age of 18 must get parental consent before receiving contraception from their doctors.

House Bill 468, filed by state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), would apply to teenage mothers ages 15 to 17.

“Teen mothers can consent to the medical treatment of their own children, but cannot consent to their own access to contraception,” Gonzalez told committee members on Wednesday. “If we trust teen mothers with the care of their own children, we must trust them to make their own decisions for their own reproductive health.”

Texas consistently ranks among the top three states for highest teen pregnancy rates, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The Lone Star State teeters between first and second in highest repeat teen births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Approximately 21 percent of babies in Texas born to teen moms in 2013 were repeat births, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. That translates to more than 8,200 births, said Anna Chatillon, a policy coordinator with the Healthy Futures Alliance of Texas, which works to reduce teen pregnancy and unplanned pregnancy.

“Right now we’re withholding the ability for teen mothers to make one of the best and sometimes one of the simplest health care decisions for themselves, and that’s waiting to have additional children until they’re older and ready for them,” she said.

Greg Guggenmos with the Texas Home School Coalition testified against the bill, arguing that giving teenage mothers the ability to decide for themselves if they want contraception compromises a parent’s right to “direct the control, care and upbringing of their children.”

Not every teen has the luxury of a parent who can comfortably talk about sex and birth control. Often, as several witnesses pointed out, teens don’t feel comfortable talking about sexual health with their parents, or they fear disappointing them. Sometimes, parents aren’t around talk to in the first place. Or, they’re uninterested.

“I wish the world were so neat that it was always safe for teens and they had a parent around who they can trust and talk to, but it’s just not like that,” said Susan Hays, a family lawyer who for 15 years has represented teenage girls seeking abortions without parental consent in bypass cases.

Some Texas public schools’ strict adherence to abstinence-only sex education, along with requiring minors get their parents’ permission for birth control, make it tough for teenage girls to make their own health care decisions, Hays said.

“We set teenage girls up to fail in terms of their access to medically and scientifically accurate sex ed and their access to birth control,” she said.

But Cecilia Wood, a family lawyer based in Austin, questioned whether teenage mothers are mature enough to decide whether they need birth control.

“I think if you’ve had one child, and you’re already putting yourself back in that situation, if you’re not mature enough to go to your parents and say, ‘Hey we need to talk about this,’ or go to a grandparent or an older sibling, or find someone who can engage your parents, you’re probably not mature enough to be making this decision in a vacuum for yourself,” Wood told the committee.

Norma Leal, a social work student, gave birth to her son when she was 16. She told the committee that she was lucky to have a supportive family that allowed her and her boyfriend to live in their home to raise the baby. Still, after she delivered, she said her mother didn’t talk to her about her future sexual health.

“I was told to come back with my mom” when she asked her doctor about contraception, she told the committee, adding that she and her mom went back a few weeks later and Leal got the birth control she wanted. “There were several weeks in between in which I could’ve had a second, and unplanned, pregnancy,” she said.

The committee left Gonzalez’s bill pending.

 

Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) confers with Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville)
Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) confers with Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville)

On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee debated strengthening a law that makes it easier for parents to make changes at low-performing schools.

A measure, passed in 2011, lets parents petition the state to turn schools with five consecutive years of poor state ratings into charter schools, to have the staff replaced, or even to close the school—an education reform strategy known as a “parent trigger.”

Senate Bill 14 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would reduce that period to two years, a kind of parental “hair trigger.”

(This session, it’s hard to escape the loaded language of gun debates.)

“This is about parent empowerment,” Taylor said. “[Five years] is too long to have young children stuck in a school and to have people defending that failing school district.”

Proponents of the law, which requires half the school’s parents to sign on, say it would help parents to take a lead role in school improvement, while critics call it a coordinated attempt to convert schools to privately run charters that lack oversight.

John Gray spoke against the bill on behalf of the Texas State Teachers Association.

“Our concern on this bill is the profit motive that could be driven by some educational management organizations,” Gray said. “You are calling it a parent empowerment law, but looking at the for-profit motive, once those parents sign the petition they are done.”

California adopted the nation’s first parent trigger law in 2010, and similar laws have been adopted in at least seven states. California is the only state where the law has been used to force changes at a school.

David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas, said he spent time in California interviewing parents and stakeholders in schools where the parent trigger had been used.

California found that paid operatives influenced the parent trigger petition process at Desert Trails Elementary School.

“Even where parent trigger created change, campaigns produced lasting divisions in the community,” Anthony said.

Last year, the Texas Education Agency rated 750 of Texas’ 8,000 schools academically unacceptable. Those school ratings rely mostly on standardized test scores that closely track family income, and low-performing schools are more likely to have high rates of poverty, racial segregation and students with limited English.

Gabe Rose is the chief strategy officer of Parent Revolution, a nonprofit group that has encouraged parent trigger laws nationwide, beginning with the California law passed in 2010.

“I agree that test scores in general correlate with student income,” Rose told the Observer. He said the bill would affect schools serving large percentages of economically disadvantaged students. “Under the proposed move in Texas it’ll only be about 300 schools—I think it’s 290 or so—that are eligible for the law,” Rose said.

Parent-trigger petitions wouldn’t necessarily request conversion to a charter school; parents could also ask to close the school or replace the staff.

Still, the groups pushing parent-trigger laws have roots in the charter community. Parent Revolution was founded by leaders from the charter school network Green Dot, and is funded largely by the Walton Family Foundation, one of the nation’s largest financial backers of charter schools.

Taylor filed a bill similar to SB 14 last session, which the Senate passed but never came up for a vote in the House Public Education Committee. This session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has named parent trigger one of his top education priorities.

DSC_0329_web
Eugenio del Bosque
Omar Garcia and Maria de Jesus Tlatempa Bello

“I am Maria de Jesus of Tlapa, Guerrero, and I am here to ask for your help.” The mother of three stood before state Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) and about 15 legislative staffers in a hearing room early Thursday at the Texas Capitol.

Maria de Jesus Tlatempa Bello had come more than 1,110 miles from her home in Guerrero, Mexico, to tell the story of her son, Jose Eduardo, one of the Ayotzinapa 43. On the night of Sept. 26, police in Iguala, Guerrero, opened fired on the three buses he and other students of the Ayotzinapa Normal School were riding in, and then kidnapped 43 of the students, including Jose Eduardo.

Maria de Jesus has been looking for her 19-year old son ever since. Meanwhile, Mexicans have been searching for answers about the fate of the 43 students. “They were taken alive, we want them back alive” has become a national rallying cry, even though federal prosecutors insist the students were burned to death in a garbage dump.

The truth, like many cases of forced disappearance and violence in Mexico, has been hard to find, obscured by cynical political theater and deliberate misinformation. But it is clear that elected officials were involved in the disappearance of the students.

The mayor of Iguala and his wife are in jail facing allegations they ordered the attack on the Ayotzinapa 43 over fears that the students, with their long tradition of radical politics, would interfere with the wife’s bid for office. The governor of Guerrero has resigned under pressure from the public.

The federal government’s callousness toward the the victims’ families, and its refusal to conduct a transparent investigation, has helped spark a massive protest movement in Mexico and around the globe. The fallout from the Ayotzinapa atrocity has also become a political and public security crisis for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Human Rights Watch has called it the worst human-rights crisis facing Mexico since soldiers massacred unarmed students at Tlatelolco in 1968.

Maria de Jesus and 24-year old Omar Garcia, an Ayotzinapa student who survived the police assault, arrived in Austin Tuesday on the Caravana 43. Organized by a coalition of grassroots organizations in the United States, they are traveling across the U.S. to raise awareness about the growing number of disappearances in Mexico and to put pressure on the Mexican government to find the 43 students.

“We’ve had enough,” Maria de Jesus said. “We’re tired of the kidnappings, the murders and disappearances. The Mexican government doesn’t help, it only abuses its power. We come here to ask for your help because we know the U.S. gives Mexico a lot of funding. Some of that money goes to pay the police, the military to fight the drug cartels. But this money is being used to repress the people, not fight the drug cartels.”

The two were invited to the Capitol by Rep. Israel (D-Austin) and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin). Afterward, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) presented a memorial resolution on the Senate floor to the families of the 43 students.

The caravan, which began on March 15 in McAllen, is one of three criss-crossing the United States. All three caravans will converge in Washington, D.C. for meetings with Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, according to Julio Cesar Guerrero, a community organizer from San Antonio and a national coordinator for Caravana 43.

Guerrero says the U.S. coalition brought 15 family members and students from Mexico to participate in the three caravans. “There aren’t just 43 students missing,” he said. “There is at least 23,000 people forcefully disappeared in Mexico. They have become a symbol of thousands of deaths because of the senseless war on drugs.”

In the legislative hearing room at the Capitol Thursday, Omar Garcia told legislative staffers that he is lucky to have survived the brutal attacks in Iguala. “We are very happy that the voice of Ayotzinapa is resounding around the whole world. This case has gotten a lot of attention but it still has not been resolved. Imagine what happens with the other cases that receive less attention. Just in Iguala, 600 families are searching for missing family members. Our task is to not only seek justice for ourselves but others violated in Mexico.”

Rep. Israel said she was thankful for the caravan visit. “Maria de Jesus is taking a big risk being here and being critical of the Mexican government,” she said. “You have incredible strength to have gone through all of that and to be here today.”

Omar Garcia said some parents have been killed in Mexico for refusing to give up the search for their children. “We worry that that could happen to some of the parents of the 43 students,” he said. “But we will continue knocking on doors and urge the Mexican government to do an honest investigation of what happened. We refuse to accept that our classmates are dead.”

Open Carry Texas rally
Kelsey Jukam
Members of Open Carry Texas rally at the Capitol.

The right to bear arms wasn’t one of the five emergency items outlined in Gov. Greg Abbott’s State of the State address in February, but you might think otherwise if you’ve been watching the Senate lately. The Second Amendment took center stage this week as the Senate OK’d bills that would allow licensed gun-owners to carry handguns concealed on college campuses and openly everywhere else in public. Similar legislation has come up in the last three sessions, without much success. But with a fresh crop of senators, and the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the political climate has become ripe for passing gun bills that were once considered outside the political mainstream of the Capitol.

On Monday, Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), the author of the Senate open carry legislation, confidently batted down Democratic opposition as they pitched questions and offered up amendments to Senate Bill 17.

Sens. John Whitmire (D-Houston) and Kirk Watson (D-Austin) clearly did their homework, forcing Estes to consult with his staff numerous times to answer questions that should have been easy to answer (like whether a proposed amendment was germane to the bill—Estes said he didn’t know, but was going to move to table it anyway). But Estes and many of the Democrats acknowledged during the course of the debate that open carry wasn’t going to be stopped in the Senate.

There were numerous last-minute amendments to the bill. Three passed: one postponing implementation of the law until Jan. 1, 2016; another requiring extra training in weapon retention (how to hold onto your gun if it’s grabbed by an attacker); and one that would prohibit open carry on college campuses. The rest died quickly as votes split on party lines, 20-11.

Open carry legislation has never come this far. Last year, two open carry bills were left pending in the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

Sen. John Whitmire
Sen. John Whitmire was one of the most vocal opponents to SB11 and SB17.

C.J. Grisham, founder of Open Carry Texas, told the Observer that groups like his forced legislators to deal with gun bills this session. He says in the past, only a few lobbyists—most for the National Rifle Association and the Texas State Rifle Association—worked on these issues. But this time grassroots activists “mobilizing Texans all around the state” made the difference.

The success of open carry legislation in the Senate this year was more surprising than that of campus carry. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said during a Texas Tribune forum in January that he didn’t think there was enough support in the Legislature for open carry to pass, but the odds were much better for campus carry. Legislation to allow guns on campus has also gained more traction in past sessions than open carry. Last year, the Legislature passed a law to allow concealed handgun license-holders to store their weapons and ammunition in private vehicles on college campuses.

During the debate, Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) said he hoped that the “extended conversation” between senators on the floor would at least lead House colleagues to “taking a deep breath and not feeling the political pressure, and really deliberating” on campus carry.

Many legislators and activists are hoping that campus carry will face a greater challenge in the House this year than it has in the Senate. But in 2013, a campus carry bill passed in the House 102-41. Notably, 78 of the members who voted ‘yes’ on that bill are still in the House.

That legislation, however, included a provision allowing individual universities to decide whether to allow guns on campus. On Wednesday, Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), author of the campus carry legislation SB 11, shot down a proposed amendment to let public universities opt out, though private universities can. Birdwell argues that private property rights must be respected as much as one’s “God-given” right to bear arms.

Referencing a recent poll that found most Texans don’t support campus carry, Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) asked Sen. Birdwell, “What are we really doing here?” She echoed the sentiments of a few other senators, saying that local campuses should be allowed to decide whether to allow guns on campus or not. Birdwell said his aim is to advance to the ability of concealed handgun license holders to keep their rights, and though he values the opinions of those in charge of public universities, the “No. 1” opinion is that of “the people who sent us here.”

After four hours and 25 proposed amendments, SB 11 passed to engrossment, with all Republicans voting for it and all Democrats voting against it. The final vote on the bill will take place Thursday.

Correction: The original story stated that Sen. Craig Estes is a Republican from Granbury. In fact, he is a Republican from Wichita Falls. The Observer regrets the error.

Andy Miller (left) and Brian Stephens with their son, Clark
Andy Miller (left), shown with his partner Brian Stephens and their adopted son, Clark, was among those who testified in favor of the bill Wednesday.

A Republican committee chairman smacked down an anti-LGBT witness Wednesday during a hearing on a proposal to allow same-sex parents to have both their names on the birth certificates of adopted children.

Julie Drenner, of Texas Values, claimed the bill would lead to threesomes adopting, affect all birth certificates and require the state to revise more than 20 forms.

But Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs, told Drenner he was “struggling” with those arguments, and suggested that same-sex couples have been more willing to adopt special-needs children than “the traditional community.”

“That’s a terrible indictment on one group, to be honest with you,” Cook told Drenner. “In regards to your issue that you have to change the forms, so what? I really don’t understand that argument at all. Right now in Texas, we are struggling. We do not have enough parents who are willing to adopt. Thank goodness for people that will adopt children and give them loving homes.”

In 1997, the Legislature amended the Texas Health & Safety Code to require supplemental birth certificates issued to adoptive parents to contain the name of one female, the mother, and one male, the father. Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), the author of House Bill 537, said as a result, roughly 9,000 Texas children who are being raised by adoptive same-sex parents don’t have accurate birth certificates. That leads to problems enrolling children in school, adding them to insurance policies, admitting them for medical care and obtaining passports.

“Regardless of what you think about the parents, this state should be about promoting policies that protect children and foster adoption, and that’s what this bill does,” Anchia said.

Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana)
Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana)

Kirsten Edwards choked back tears as she told the committee that in addition to being a legal assistant to an adoption attorney, she’s the same-sex parent of a 2-year-old boy. Edwards, whose name is on her son’s birth certificate, said while the family hasn’t encountered any bureaucratic problems yet, she dreads the day her son asks why the document doesn’t include both mothers.

“I’ve thought about it a lot, and I have no idea what I’m going to tell him,” Edwards said.

Zoe Touchet, 14, said if her biological mom, who isn’t on her birth certificate, were to pass away, she’d be forced to go to court and unseal her adoption records to obtain Social Security benefits.

“I feel like as a child of same-gender parents, I’m not getting the same rights,” Zoe said. “I feel like I’m getting punished for something people shouldn’t be punished for.”

Anchia noted that two years ago, when Texas Values alleged the bill would lead to “mother” and “father” being removed from all birth certificates, PolitiFact said the claim was “mostly false.” Likewise, the bill states that “both” parents could be listed on birth certificates, thereby precluding threesomes.

“They’ve been fact-checked, and their contentions have not held up,” Anchia said of Texas Values. “I would not submit, members, to the politics of fear.”

Cook, who has an adopted child, left the bill pending but indicated he plans to call it back up.

“We owe it to young people like Zoe to give them some peace of mind on this issue and some clarity,” Cook said.

Dennis Bonnen
Dennis Bonnen

After four hours of debate on almost 50 amendments, the House passed, on an initial vote, a comprehensive border security bill by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton).

House Bill 11 passed on a 131-12 vote.

The far-reaching bill would expedite hiring of additional Department of Public Safety troopers to serve in the border region, create a Texas Transnational Crime Intelligence Center in the Rio Grande Valley, enact more serious penalties for human smugglers and commission a study on the creation of checkpoints on southbound roads.

According to the Legislative Budget Board, the price-tag for the bill totals $4.1 billion over the next two years.

Bonnen said that creating a permanent DPS presence on the border would eliminate the need for so-called border surges. Texas’ latest deployment of law enforcement started last summer in response to a wave of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the border. An internal DPS report found that the surge had taken away from crime-fighting elsewhere in the state.

“For the first time in the history of our nation,” Bonnen said, “we’re having a consistent plan to fill the void of the federal government’s constitutional responsibility to secure the border, which for some reason they choose not to do.”

Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) started today’s debate off on a combative note when he objected to the possible creation of southbound checkpoints.

Simpson said he spent a week at the border and never heard any calls for checkpoints going south into Mexico.

Bonnen argued that the checkpoints could be an important tool to catch transnational gangs smuggling money, guns or other weapons.

Democrats put up little resistance.

Most of the several dozen amendments were withdrawn before being voted on.

Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) offered seven amendments to the bill, including one that would have required DPS to put contracts over $5,000 out for a competitive bid—a remedy for the no-bid contracting scandals that have rocked DPS and other agencies. All Walle’s amendments failed.

Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) said that he supported the bill because of increased criminal threats from drug cartels on the border.

“They are very bad people, with very bad intentions,” he said.

Other border lawmakers say crime in border communities has been overstated and have questioned the need for an increased state law enforcement presence.

Walle and Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) voiced concerns over spending more than $4 billion on a border security bill without having a clear definition of what constitutes a secure border. Gonzalez pointed out that El Paso is the safest large city in the country. Both representatives voted against the bill.

More than 70 members of the House co-authored HB 11. An almost identical Senate bill by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) had a committee hearing today.

Vincent Lopez
Kelsey Jukam
Vincent Lopez, is founder of the Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics.

Timothy Dasher’s 12-year-old daughter, Felicity, has epilepsy and suffers from frequent seizures. She usually has to wear a helmet to protect her head from the sudden falls, which have bruised and broken her small body. Today she wore an enormous pink-and-white bow in her hair as she and her father stood with dozens of activists at the Capitol in support of legislation that would allow Texans to legally access medical marijuana.

Dasher and other activists are getting behind House Bill 3785, and its companion Senate Bill 1839, legislation giving patients who have a doctor’s recommendation to acquire and use marijuana. Proponents of the legislation say that medical marijuana has many of the same treatment benefits as prescription medications without as many of the harmful side-effects.

Dasher says his daughter tried 15 different pharmaceutical drugs over 10 years to try to stop the seizures. None of them worked, he said. If anything, they seemed to make the condition worse. But when the family moved to Colorado, and started using medical marijuana. “We found her miracle,” he said. He hopes that medical marijuana will be legalized this session, so they don’t have to leave their Granbury home again.

Rep. Marisa Marquez (D-El Paso), author of HB 3785, said in a press conference this afternoon that Texas needs to take a “scientific and reasoned approach” to medical marijuana, and allow patients and doctors to choose their best treatment plan.

“The support we see here today is a clear indication that the Legislature needs to take the suffering of these Texans seriously,” Marquez said.

She calls her 40-page bill “comprehensive,” and says that it includes safeguards to prevent misuse of the drug. The bill would allow the Department of State Health Services to establish a regulated system of licensed cultivators and dispensaries.

Marquez’s legislation is more detailed and ambitious in scope than other medical marijuana bills filed this session and in previous ones. In 2013, Rep. Elliott Naisthat (D-Austin) carried a bill that would have given patients using medical marijuana an affirmative defense if they were arrested on charges of possession. That bill, HB 594, was left pending in committee.

This session, three Republican legislators filed bills that would legalize access to cannabidiol (CBD), one of the 85 active ingredients in cannabis. CBD has been effective at treating some epilepsy patients, but many patients need other components of marijuana, including THC, to effectively treat their symptoms. HB 3785 and SB 1839 would allow access to whole marijuana and oils that have a more balanced ratio of CBD and THC.

Vincent Lopez, outreach director for the Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, began using medical marijuana in 2009 to treat muscle spasms. For the last 25 years, Lopez has used a wheelchair, while struggling with Becker muscular dystrophy, a condition characterized by slowly worsening muscle weakness. He says marijuana acquired on the black market doesn’t have consistent results. There are multiple strains of cannabis, and some are more effective at treatment for certain medical conditions than others. With the black market product, Lopez says, you never know what strain you’re getting.

Rep. Marisa Marquez
Kelsey Jukam
Rep. Marisa Marquez discusses her bill that would legalize medical marijuana.

Under the proposed legislation, patients who have specific illnesses or disorders listed in the bill—such as cancer or epilepsy—would qualify for access. The bill also includes people who experiences chronic and severe pain, or suffer from a symptom deemed “debilitating” by the Department of State Health Services.

Medical marijuana is legal in 23 states. According to a 2013 poll by the Marijuana Policy Project, 58 percent of Texas voters believe that seriously ill patients should be allowed to use medical marijuana if they have a doctor’s recommendation to do so. A Texas Tribune poll from last year, found that 77 percent of Texans support the legalization of marijuana for at least some uses.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott said in a press conference that marijuana decriminalization is not likely to happen this session. He said that Texas should divert “away from activity that involves drug use and helping people lead more productive lives.”

Many patients argue that medical marijuana is the key to living a productive, pain-free life.

Marquez said in the press conference that the biggest challenge to passing this legislation is education.

“I think many people when they hear marijuana, immediately, there’s an apprehension about what exactly we’re trying to do here,” she said.

She hopes she’ll be able to help her colleagues understand every aspect of the bill, to alleviate those types of concerns. HB 3785 and SB 1839 were both filed last week and neither has been assigned to a committee.

Cecil Bell Jr.
Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. (R-Magnolia) is the author of four anti-LGBT bills, the most of any legislator.

Texas lawmakers have filed at least 20 anti-LGBT proposals this year—likely the most in the history of any state.

It’s the type of onslaught that was widely expected among LGBT advocates, due to backlash over the spread of same-sex marriage.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said the group is “well-positioned” to defeat every piece of anti-LGBT legislation. Williams called it the worst session for LGBT rights since 2005—when the state’s marriage amendment passed and a proposal to ban gay foster parents was defeated on the House floor.

But things have changed since then, he said, pointing to the Texas Association of Business’ decision to oppose one well-publicized anti-LGBT proposal—a “religious freedom” amendment that would protect discrimination—prompting its author to back down.

“What’s different about this Legislature than 2005 is that Texas, like most of the nation, has evolved on LGBT issues, and that mainstream voice is emerging and is being heard in the Texas Legislature,” Williams said. “It damages the Texas brand, and I think that’s why you’re seeing so many business voices get involved. … We also know how this process works better than our opposition does.”

Williams wouldn’t elaborate on strategy, but out lesbian Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) suggested the best one may simply be to run out the clock.

“I feel good about our chances of stopping it, because there are so many major issues out there, that these small hateful and divisive bills will get pushed to the back of the agenda,” Israel said. “We’re going to run out of time, and we will be able to make a statement that there’s no place for that kind of law in the state of Texas.”

If LGBT advocates needs signs of encouragement, they can look north. Oklahoma lawmakers introduced 16 anti-LGBT bills this year, but 15 have already died. Israel noted that many of the anti-LGBT proposals in Texas are similar to those in other states—an indication they’re being shopped by national groups.

“I’m assuming that whatever they’ve seen in Oklahoma, they’ve brought that trash to Texas, and we’re going to clean it up,” Israel said.

Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia), the author of four anti-LGBT bills—the most of any legislator—said he’s “very confident” one or more will pass.

“Unfortunately, I think it gets couched as ‘anti.’ It’s not about ‘anti.’ It’s about being pro-states’ rights. It’s about being pro-traditional values,” Bell said. “We’re seeing the results of a federal court system that doesn’t seem to be respecting the rights, the sovereignty, of the states and of the people. Because of that, you see the state legislatures pushing back.”

Three of Bell’s bills directly target same-sex marriage, while the other would allow business owners to turn away customers on religious grounds. It’s one of several similar religious freedom proposals, including two constitutional amendments, that critics say would establish a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people.

Other bills would bar cities from enacting or enforcing LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, and restrict access to restrooms and similar facilities for transgender people.

“This bill really is trying to establish the students’ rights to privacy,” said Rep. Gilbert Pena (R-Pasadena), who wants to make schools liable for damages if they allow transgender students to use restrooms based on how they identify. “How many girls in our high schools are going to be willing to allow some transgender male into their bathroom? Would you allow that for your daughter? I would not allow it for my daughter.”

Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the nation’s largest LGBT group, the Human Rights Campaign, said Texas has “the largest number of bills we’ve seen in a single state intended to harm the LGBT community at least in a very long time.”

Warbelow said based on what’s happened in other states, she believes bills targeting same-sex marriage have an “extraordinarily low” chance of passage.

“There is not an appetite among moderate Republicans to pass bills that are so blatantly unconstitutional,” she said.

But Warbelow said she’s concerned about proposals that would undermine local nondiscrimination ordinances.

“As we as a movement have greater success at the municipal level in states that are controlled by more conservative legislatures, it is something that we worry about,” she said.

And while some have characterized the current barrage of legislation across the U.S. as the last gasp of the anti-LGBT movement, Warbelow disagreed.

“I think this is likely to continue for some time,” she said. “I anticipate that this will not be the last year that we see a number of these bills move.”

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