Bad Bills

Protect the Dead, Bury Healthcare

Another Innocent Bill Corrupted Senate Bill 747 Sen. Robert Deuell (R-Greenville) SB 747, authored by Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), creates a Medicaid waiver program that broadens eligibility for preventive health services for an estimated 500,000 low-income women a year. In Texas, only very poor women, those earning less than $3,300 a year, qualify. SB 747 extends those services to women earning up to $34,873 a year for a family of four. The bill also greatly expands family planning services for Texas women, with the goal of reducing unwanted pregnancies. All seemed to be well for SB 747, until Sen. Robert Deuell (R-Greenville), a doctor and former rock-and-roll drummer, entered with an amendment. The original bill, in accordance with federal law, stipulates that abortions would not be funded with tax dollars. But Deuell’s amendment prevents these newly eligible women from receiving any services from health care providers that “perform or promote elective abortion,” or “contract or affiliate with entities” that do. Strong opposition to SB 747 by anti-abortion advocates who feared the Medicaid subsidy would free-up additional non-government funding for Planned Parenthood to expand its abortion services, precipitated Deuell’s maneuver. Stacey Emick, legislative director for Texas Right to Life, says her group counseled Deuell on his amendment. “We just don’t want taxpayers in Texas to have to fund the provision or promotion of abortion,” she says. Heather Paffe, political director of the Texas Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, says the amendment would drastically limit the bill’s effectiveness by reducing the number of locations where women can access health care services. There are 82 Planned Parenthood clinics across Texas that serve an estimated 300,000 patients a year. Even though 98 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are for preventative health care and only seven clinics perform abortions, the amendment prevents waiver program participants from going to any of the clinics. Some of Texas’ largest health care providers for women—particularly low-income women—offer, in addition to abortions, numerous services covered by the waiver including: contraception, screenings for diabetes, breast and cervical cancer, hypertension, sexually transmitted infections, and medical and social service referrals. “You are not going to benefit a lot of women when you exclude one of the largest providers of women’s health services in the state,” says Emily Snooks, director of media relations for Planned Parenthood of North Texas. Furthermore, there are few other clinics that can provide the services throughout Texas that Planned Parenthood does. Sadly, 25 percent of Texans do not have health insurance. Carona’s original bill would have expanded health care to thousands of women. Deuell insists his intentions are noble and meant only to ensure the funding goes to women’s health, and not elective abortions. In reality, he’s used the abortion issue to undo well-intentioned efforts to expand preventive medical services to low-income women without health insurance. At press time, the bill passed the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. It’s currently in the House Committee on Public Health. A Grave Concern? House Bill 1012 Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) Beware, the grave robbers. They creep out on moonless nights from every corner of the state into the weedy or well-cut lawns of old cemeteries to disturb the eternal rest of residents. And from their destructive lust, nothing is safe. Not fences or tombstones or flowers. Not even teeth. “Sometimes you can dig into a grave and take gold out of the corpse’s teeth,” Jim Lovett, Red River County district judge, recently told the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. His ghost stories were meant to persuade the panel to pass HB 1012, which would make desecrating either a grave or a corpse a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to two years in prison. Still, the state isn’t exactly experiencing a wave of grave robbing. The only proof Lovett offered for why this is needed, besides general references to personal experience, was six news clippings on cemetery thefts and vandalism from the Austin and Dallas areas, plus a Texas Historical Commission article. (Lovett, the sole witness testifying in favor of the bill, said he was speaking on behalf of the Texas Historical Commission, where he is a decorated volunteer.) None of the articles he cited recounts any tooth theft. One thing that does have teeth, though, is the bill. Abusing or stealing a corpse presently is a Class A Misdemeanor. Robbing, vandalizing, or marking graffiti on a grave is a state jail felony. Under HB 1012, it could be up to a felony to tear up graveyard shrubbery, break a flowerpot, or leave a beer bottle in the grass. The bill’s enhanced penalty would apply not only to anyone who vandalizes or damages a grave, but also to anyone who “treats in an offensive manner the space in which a human corpse has been interred or otherwise permanently laid to rest.” Exactly what is offensive, and exactly which spaces in a cemetery may not be treated that way, are vague and subjective questions. Interviewed on the House floor, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran (R-Kerrville) wasn’t sure of many of his bill’s details. He seemed surprised that the legislation might lead to enhanced penalties for more than one crime. He said that if there were problems with the bill, there is still time to fix them. (As of press time, HB 1012 was in line to reach the House floor.) Hilderbran didn’t speak at the hearing on the committee’s substitute version of his own bill, which had slight changes from the original. He told the Observer the Texas Historical Commission brought him the bill, and that no one had raised concerns about it. One person did, in fact, testify against it: Scott Henson of the Texas ACLU. Henson told the committee that increased penalties aren’t quite what the state needs during a prison-crowding crisis. “I just feel like this is an enhancement at a time when we have the budget cuts and we have the [prison] population problems we’ve been having,” Henson said. Not that Lovett was unaware of the prison crisis, of course. He just insisted the corpse crisis was direr. “I understand state jails are full of people and this Legislature is trying to consider things concerning probation … to relieve this problem,” Lovett said. “I’ve seen too many kids go into too many cemeteries just tear ’em up and have nothing happen to them.” Like other sentencing-enhancement bills, however, HB 1012 will likely get buried in the Senate.

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