This Week: Texans’ Health Under Attack by Republican Lawmakers

From air quality to vaccines, much of this week’s Observer coverage focuses on public health in Texas.

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As GOP leaders in Washington, D.C. push a health care plan to replace Obamacare, reporter Sophie Novack breaks down who really gets government benefits in Texas. The Republican proposal, passed by the House last month, would cut an estimated $15 billion in Medicaid funding, including coverage for the 3.4 million children currently covered by Medicaid in Texas.

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And while public health officials monitor outbreaks of preventable diseases, anti-vaccination activists — with the help of far-right lawmakers — blocked legislation to address the problem at the state Capitol. The Observer looks at how the Legislature reached a dangerous stalemate over vaccines this session.

Novack also reports this week on how the fallout from legislation often move much faster than the courts. House Bill 2, for example, caused the closure of more than half of Texas’ abortion clinics in 2013 before major provisions were found unconstitutional. This session, Republicans passed Senate Bill 8, a sweeping new anti-abortion law likely headed to court. The legislation could significantly erode abortion rights long before the legal battle concludes.

Downwinders at Risk, a North Texas environmental group, has purchased monitors to measure air quality in Wise County.  courtesy Downwinders at Risk

And in DFW, environmental reporter Naveena Sadasivam chronicles Wise County residents, who are fed up with the state’s refusal to respond to their smog concerns. Downwinders at Risk, a local activist group, purchased two hand-held air quality monitors for nearly $10,000 because the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality wouldn’t. The county has been out of compliance with federal ozone standards since 2012.

In political news, a major hearing on Senate Bill 4, the controversial “sanctuary cities” ban, is scheduled for Monday in San Antonio. Top attorneys from national civil rights groups seek a preliminary injunction and we’ve broken down the latest with our comprehensive explainer on SB 4 and the legal case in English and Spanish.

Also this week, Democrat Mike Collier officially announced his bid to unseat one of the state’s most powerful politicians, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. Currently unopposed in the primary election, the mild-mannered accountant hopes to use an appeal of competence to overcome the former shock jock’s far-right supporters. Columnist Chris Hooks explores whether Collier stands a chance in his crusade to “end this partisan hooey.”

And Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Ben Sargent takes on the Texas GOP’s recent history of gerrymandering districts beyond recognition in the June issue. A potential landmark redistricting case out of Wisconsin was accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court this week that could change the rules for how voting maps are drawn in Texas.

Ben Sargent

Managing Editor Rose Cahalan interviews author John T. Edge, whose new Potlikker Papers takes an unflinching look at 60 years of racism and activism in the South. The book and interview offers insights on race, class and food politics in the South from the civil rights era to the present.

And on Juneteenth, the Observer examines the nuanced history behind Emancipation Park in Houston’s Third Ward. The holiday — commemorating the emancipation of slaves throughout the South in 1865 — was chosen as the grand reopening date of one of the nation’s oldest parks after it was transformed by $33.6 million in renovations.

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