SB21 Update: Convention of States Senate Vote Tuesday, February 28th

In addition to facilitating mass deportations and terrorizing hard-working immigrant families, another one of the “emergency items” that Governor Greg Abbott has pressured GOP loyalists in the legislature to fast-track to approval is that of adding Texas’ name to the roll call for a “Convention of the States”; recall that Article V Conventions are one of the mechanisms whereby the Constitution may be amended.  And on Tuesday, the upper chamber of the Texas Legislature is expected to approve Senate Joint Resolution 2 and Senate Bill 21 and send them to the House.

38 of the 50 states’ legislatures would be required to call such a Convention, and it’s important to note that in U.S. history, every single state except Hawaii has applied for an Article V Convention at one point or another. There’s no official count, but one private estimate has the count at somewhere around 700 attempts.

The author of the bill is State Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican; that’s US Congressional District 11 for those of you keeping track at home. (There’s no Indivisible chapter for District 11–yet.) In an interview in today’s Houston Chronicle, Birdwell defended the resolution by saying:

“I believe we’re at the precipice of history that we’ve not seen before. For years, we have watched the executive, judicial and legislative branches usurp more and more power from the states, issuing dictates that become de facto law.”

Before the Trump era, Greg Abbott and the Texan far-right used the perception of federal over-reach to rally the far-right against their perceived foe, President Obama. Now that their agenda aligns perfectly with Trump’s, why vote to have the Convention of States? When pressed on the issue, Abbott said it’s because “term limits.” We are extremely skeptical.

In other words, this could give Trump the power to amend the Constitution. That would be very, very bad.

(Editor’s note: Our initial characterization of Article V was inaccurate–if a Convention were called, Trump would have no official say, since 3/4 of the 38 voting members would have to vote for a Constitutional amendment to be made, and it would be the state legislature reps doing the amending. Nevertheless, call your reps anyway. As we’ve pointed out before, Abbott and the Texas Legislature are looking to outdo even the brazen stupidity and ignorance of the Trump administration. A Convention of States would give them that platform.)

In normal times, maybe we would probably just dismiss this as another crackpot scheme to grab headlines and stir up the base. These are not normal times.

Use this tool, call your State Senators and Reps, and just make sure they oppose Senate Bill 21 and Senate Joint Resolution 2.


UPDATE, February 28th: 

The Texas Senate gave its initial approval to a call for a Convention of States to consider amendments to the U.S. Constitution by a 20 to 11 vote on Senate Joint Resolution 2  today and this is now headed to the House.

The Senate also agreed to impose a state jail penalty on a legislator who violates his or her oath as a delegate to a potential national Convention of States to amend the U.S. Constitution.

We’ll keep monitoring it and are working on an automated tool that tracks the status of bills in the Texas legislature.

In the mean time, use this tool, call your State Representatives, and voice your opposition to Senate Bill 21 and Senate Joint Resolution 2.

SB6: Action Item Update for Monday, February 27th

Donate to Help Educate Texans on Trans Issues

Throughout history, one of the ongoing struggles we have always faced is overcoming fear of people who are different from us.

Our Texas lawmakers have a long way to go on that front. So Indivisible is helping to raise funds to buy 185 copies of a book called Becoming Nicole, to distribute to each of our Texas state legislators, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor.

The book tells the story of a family with a transgender child, their journey, and the science behind gender.

The book is outstanding, and we hope that it will educate both our elected officials and that Texans will hear about it and read it for themselves. If people actually understand some of what Trans people experience, they surely will oppose SB 6, the bathroom bill.

Don’t let Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and the members of this legislature hide behind their ignorance. Please help us reach our goal.

Donate & Share: Help Texans Learn About Trans Issues

Show up: The books will be distributed as part of Trans Lobby Day on March 6 in Austin. More info here: Trans Lobby Day 2017

New data on the Trump effect in Texas legislative districts

This morning the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek published a fascinating look at how district-by-district data suggests that Texas State legislative districts that traditionally elect GOP representatives all went to Clinton in the 2016 election, based on some newly available statistics.

District-by-district data suggests Dems might be able to go on the offensive in 2018 legislative races

From the article:

The question in those districts, like so many surrounding Trump’s election across the country, is whether the dramatic swings in 2016 were meaningful shifts that could have implications in future elections. That question is particularly pressing for the 11 Texas Republicans now representing districts that voted for Clinton, all of whom are up for re-election in 2018.

What this ultimately means going forward is that it is up to us. Yes, Texas is traditionally thought of as a deep-Red state. In reality, Texas would be more accurately described as a non-voting state.

If Donald Trump’s historical unpopularity doesn’t drive us to raise awareness of how crucial a role the state legislature and Texas state government is going to play is going to play–in gerrymandering Congressional districts, passing racist voter suppression laws, deporting millions of people and herding them into modern day internment camps, and doing away with basic civil liberties–then this will all have been a moot point. We have got to step up at the state level and fight back.

So my challenge for each visitor to this page is: talk to 3 people a day, in person, about voting for in the Texas state elections in 2018. Talk about where your representative stands on the issues.

Now is the time for Texans to demand that our state government listens to us, not wealthy GOP campaign contributors, not lobbyists, and certainly not the Trump administration.

SB25: “Eliminating the Wrongful Birth Cause of Action”

Quick take: If this is an issue you care deeply about, by all means call your representatives or testify at the hearing. There will be bigger battles ahead.

On Monday, Feb. 27 there is a public hearing at 9 a.m. in the Senate Chamber on Senate Bill 25 “Relating to eliminating the wrongful birth cause of action.” (“Cause of action” is a legal term which basically just means grounds for filing a lawsuit.)

This is an anti-abortion bill, no question. But it’s going to affect a very small percentage of women. The vast majority of abortions take place before information about potential fetal abnormalities would even be available. And SB25 doesn’t prohibit a doctor from providing information, nor does it completely protect one for withholding information.

It does shield a health care provider from one possible cause of action, but there could still be a cause of action for medical malpractice for any consequence other than abortion—like failure to provide proper prenatal care if the woman were at higher risk as a result. (For example, some spinal defects can be treated in utero.)

In other words, this bill is bad but not as bad as lots of them. Also, a woman has a legal right to an abortion with a few limits. A creative lawyer could sue on some version of denial of civil rights.

There is an argument based on fiscal responsibility to made against any bill that is almost guaranteed to lead to litigation. Huge amounts of taxpayer money has been spent on lawsuits because of legislation that is unconstitutional on its face.

Further reading:

Texas Senators Consider Wrongful Birth Law

Should wrongful birth lawsuits be permitted in Texas?

 

Protections for Trans Students Rescinded – Call Your State Reps

On Wednesday the Trump administration announced that it would be rescinding federal rules that simply allowed transgender students to use the bathroom that they choose.

So what does this announcement mean? It means that the issue is pushed back to the states, squarely into the court of Dan Patrick and Texas leaders at the local level, which is where lawsuits will likely begin.

So what are we going to do? There’s an excellent discussion of the brass-tacks way forward at the local-level here, but to summarize, this is going to require a lot of pressure on local and state lawmakers. In Texas, we can start by calling our state reps and demanding that they oppose #SB6. Aside from being needlessly cruel, there’s just no reason for it.

The Texas Tribune has an excellent, plain-English walkthrough of the language of SB6 here.

Find your State rep with this tool, and call them now.

A group called ‘Freedom Rising’ will be handing out “bathroom passes” to members of the Texas Senate today, February 23rd, at 12:30 p.m. to protest SB6.

There are also pro-transgender, anti-Trump rallies today in….

San Antoniohttps://www.facebook.com/events/1812874299035139/

Houstonhttp://www.transformhouston.org/united_against_hate_protecttranskids_rally?utm_campaign=transkids_rally&utm_medium=email&utm_source=houequality

and Dallashttps://www.facebook.com/events/183948632093196/

Also, just in case anyone still needs this to be repeated, there is no evidence whatsoever–ZERO–for the so-called ‘bathroom predator’ myth that Dan Patrick is using to support his argument for this bill. Dan Patrick’s stated goal of “keeping men out of women’s restrooms“, in short, is based on a lie.

The ‘bathroom predator’ myth has been repeatedly debunked–there’s an in-depth discussion on that here.

In fact, the bill has already been widely derided across the state by business owners, state and local law enforcement, and even the the Speaker of the Texas House himself, as wrong-headed, cruel and, just-plain-unnecessary. But now, with the Trump administration’s announcement that the decision rests with the states, it is not going away.

With an unabashed racist as Attorney General and no federal power to check them, Texas lawmakers have embarked on their own campaign of  brutal ignorance, emptiness, and cruelty, in the hopes of disguising shallow moral crusades they’re hoping to exploit for political and financial gains. By stirring up a far-right base, Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott want to ensure that the GOP is in power for decades to come. It’s time to fight back.

 

Texas Senate Bill 18 Update

The 85th Legislature has pushed a bill through the committee phase that would eliminate “provisions requiring public institutions of higher education to set aside portions of designated tuition for student financial assistance.” Next stop is the Senate floor.

What does this mean?

Currently, universities are required to put a portion of tuition toward scholarships for needy students. This bill would end that requirement.

SB18 will disproportionately harm Hispanic & African-American students. Access to higher education should be expanded, not narrowed in Texas.

The full text of the bill is available here:

https://legiscan.com/TX/bill/SB18/2017

 

Use this tool to call your senators. Tell them you oppose.

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx

Sen. Kirk Watson Introduces Bills to Protect Sexual Assault Victims

In response to the ongoing scandals at Baylor University, State Senator Kirk Watson (District 14) has introduced a suite of bills aimed at strengthening sexual assault laws and protecting victims.

SB 967: Closes several loopholes in the Penal Code’s definition of “consent” for sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault.

SB 970: Requires an affirmative consent standard across all institutions of higher education.

SB 966: Protects minors who report sexual assault to health care providers, law enforcement personnel, or Title IX coordinators from being prosecuted for underage possession or consumption of alcohol.

SB 969: Provides amnesty to students who commit a student conduct code violation ancillary to a sexual assault incident if they are a victim of that sexual assault or a reporting witness.

SB 968: Requires institutions to provide an option to students and employees to electronically report an incident of sexual assault, family violence, or stalking. The electronic option must include the option to report anonymously.

Read Senator Watson’s Statement Here. 

 

ACLU Video on SB6: “I Pee with LGBT”

The ACLU of Texas created this video on SB6, aka the “Bathroom Bill.” Since its introduction, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s office has been deluged with calls. Keep up the great work!

Also read Indivisible Austin’s post on SB6.

And here’s what happened at a Town Hall in Coppell, TX, when a constituent at a Town Hall asked about the economic impact of SB6. (Keep watching – it gets heated.)

An Immigration Attorney and an Activist Scholar Explain Why SB4 is a Terrible Idea and What You Can Do to Stop It.

Reposted with permission from Indivisible Austin

By Mark Kinzler kinzlerimmigration.com and Shaun Glaze, M.S

girl-flag-croppedImage courtesy Flickr user jvoves https://www.flickr.com/photos/jvoves/138556236

Why the “Sanctuary Cities” bill must be opposed and how to do it effectively

Texas Senate Bill No. 4, or “a bill relating to the enforcement by certain governmental entities of state and federal laws governing immigration and to the duties of law enforcement agencies concerning certain arrested persons” was introduced by Texas state senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and seeks to require law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in Texas to assist and participate in the investigation and determination of the legal status of immigrants who come into their custody. Generally, the job of arresting, detaining, and deporting immigrants is carried out by a branch of the Department of Homeland Security called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (commonly referred to as “ICE”). SB4, was born from the current storm of anti-immigrant sentiment, with great support from Governor Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who are commonly known to make factually questionable and often clearly disingenuous statements about immigration problems in Texas. SB4 is misguided for several reasons:

  1. Public Safety – Cooperation agreements between ICE and law enforcement agencies have existed for many years. Nevertheless, the agreements are not mandatory, and different law enforcement agencies have been able to choose their level of involvement with ICE officials. Many LEAs throughout the U.S. have chosen to have minimal cooperation with ICE. Though there are several reasons often cited by the LEAs for the choice to provide minimal cooperation, one very common reason is the fact that the LEA’s cooperation with ICE actually damages the ability of the LEA to properly investigate and prosecute crime. In areas with high populations of immigrants, trust between the immigrant community and the LEA is crucial to the ability of the LEA’s fundamental task of protecting and serving the community as a whole. If the immigrant community is aware that the LEA readily cooperates with ICE, or is legally required to assist ICE in its efforts to apprehend deportable persons (a la SB4), members of that community will be fearful of cooperating with the LEA. When members of the community fear having contact with the police, the policy impedes the LEA’s ability to solve local crimes because the effectiveness of that job relies on information from witnesses and statements from victims and other members of the community.
  2. Resources and training of the law enforcement agencies – Local police agencies have an extremely difficult job as it is, and they are often underfunded. Many LEAs do not support cooperation with ICE because it adds another level of investigatory requirement to their already strained workloads and budgets. In order for local officers to properly and lawfully act in a role as an immigration enforcer, the officers would need extensive training in federal and immigration law and would have to increase work hours to comply with the new requirements.
  3. Federal preemption – Under a constitutional principle called federal preemption, state and local authorities are generally not allowed to enforce federal law, particularly when an enforcement procedure is already in place. This is a long-standing principle that has been addressed by several federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. The policy is also reasonable on a practical level because federal authorities are usually in the best position to enforce federal law. Specialization and extensive training is often required to carry out this enforcement due to the complicated nature of the laws being enforced. Also, federal preemption precludes states from enacting their own laws related to federal matters so that overlapping jurisdictions do not end up with conflicting laws on the same matter. Generally, if that happens, the federal law will supersede the state law and the state law will be invalid.

Governor Abbott’s Cruelty Will Be His Undoing

Reposted with permission from Indivisible Austin

Authoritarian regimes succeed only when there are enough lackeys willing to brutalize their fellow citizens on behalf of the autocracy. These lackeys do it without being told, and they do it with zeal.

One such lackey is Gov. Greg Abbott, whose fealty to Trump is painfully evident in the case of a Tarrant County, Texas, woman named Maria Ortega, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for voter fraud.

Ortega, a mother of four who has lived in Texas since infancy, is a U.S permanent resident. In other words, she is here legally, with a Green Card. Although Green Card-holders are prohibited from voting, Ortega voted (for Mitt Romney) in the 2012 election, and has said that she misunderstood the rules for voter registration and voting as a legal permanent resident. When the Tarrant County election office discovered she was not a citizen, and that she had voted in previous elections, they filed charges.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, for whom Ortega also voted, offered to dismiss the charges. In normal times, the charges would have been dismissed, or at worst Ortega would have been sentenced to probation.

But these are not normal times.

Tarrant County Attorney General Sharen Wilson disregarded Paxton’s offer and took the case to trial. A jury convicted Ortega of felony voter fraud and sentenced her to eight years. (It’s confusing, but in this case the jury, not the judge, determined the sentence. See first paragraph about lackeys.)

This injustice would have gone largely unnoticed had Trump not brought voter fraud into the national spotlight, and had Gov. Abbott not amplified it.

Our governor is gloating about separating a mother from her children for eight years. She will be in prison and then deported. There is no planet on which this punishment fits the crime, and our governor seems delighted about it.

Side note: The voting rights of Green Card-holders are not exactly clear. In fact, these are Google’s “instant results” for “Can you vote with a green card?”

This is clear as mud. Ortega voted in a state election, which this definition from Legal Zoom makes seem legal. But it’s not!

Whether or not Ortega knew she was repeatedly breaking the law by voting, eight years is an insane prison sentence.

So what can we do?

For Ortega: Probably not much, although watch this space for any updates.

But we are Indivisible and you know what that means…

If you live in Tarrant County

Call Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson at (817) 884-1400 and ask why she decided to move this case to trial when Ken Paxton offered to dismiss charges. Ask if eight years seems like a fair sentence. Also: The DA in Tarrant County is an elected office and in 2015 Wilson ran unopposed in the general election. (Please do not call if you are not a Tarrant County resident.)

If you live in Texas

Call Gov. Greg Abbott and ask him whether eight years in prison is a reasonable term for a mother of four who simply…voted when she wasn’t supposed to. Ask him if he’s ever made a mistake, and how he’d feel to have his family torn asunder over something so minor. Rapists and murderers do less than eight years. And when it comes time to for you to vote, remember Maria Ortega’s name.

If you live outside of Texas

Consider donating to the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, which connects incarcerated mothers to their children through literature.