Lege Lines: Sine Done

The dregs from last month’s special session

Joe Straus (Photo by Jana Birchum)

When Gov. Greg Abbott announced the special session back in June, he implied heavily that it would be the only one. Now, even though federal judges have made it clear that they want another session to handle congressional redistricting, Abbott is sticking to his "one and done" mantra.

Earlier this month, a three-judge panel ruled that two districts in the U.S. House of Representatives (Democrat Lloyd Doggett's Congressional District 35 and Republican Blake Farenthold's CD 27) were illegally gerrymandered and must be redrawn. The judges gave Abbott until Aug. 18 to set a date for a redistricting special, or they would take the matter into their own hands, and draw fresh maps themselves. Abbott responded by instructing Attorney General Ken Paxton to appeal this latest ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Considering this is the seventh ruling against Texas for racially motivated gerrymandering since the maps were drawn in 2011, Abbott's decree seems a bold step. Moreover, SCOTUS recently upheld a similar lower court decision in North Carolina, one broadly seen as showing that even the conservative-leaning Supremes are taking a tough line on voter suppression. However, since the first session ended in mixed results for Abbott (including a failure to pass right-wing legislation like the bathroom bill and local government budget restrictions), it seems he is more prepared to incur the wrath of the legal system than to reconvene a highly divided Legislature. – Richard Whittaker

Keeping Racism Alive

Amid the renewed debate over scrubbing our nation of Confederate monuments, Dal­las Rep. Eric Johnson is asking the Texas Preservation Board (headed by the state's top three public officials) to take down a Texas Chapter of the Children of the Con­federacy plaque that hangs near his office, and begin considering the removal of all Confederate iconography on the Capitol grounds. So what do board leaders think? House Speaker Joe Straus supports the review; Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick not so much. "Tearing down monuments won't erase our nation's past, and it doesn't advance our nation's future," said Abbott. Tellingly, Patrick criticized President Greg Fenves' decision to abruptly remove Con­federate statues from the grounds of UT-Austin, saying during a recent conservative talk radio interview that it's overly "politically correct" and "doesn't look good for the university."

"Tearing down our history, what does that accomplish? We have to learn from our past," said Patrick. "What do we do to Get­tys­burg? Just tear it down and build a master planned community?" Immediately following the violence in Charlottesville, Pat­rick notably failed to call out white supremacists directly. Perhaps he doesn't want to hurt his primary base? – Mary Tuma

Piling It on Joe Straus

Speaking of the demagogue-in-chief, Patrick has gone on a bad-mouthing spree of his House counterpart since the special session concluded on Aug. 16, slamming Straus as a "quitter" and – without a hint of irony – a leader who killed bills due to his "personal politics." (Never forget how the regular session ended, Dan.) Patrick griped about the failure of the House to pass an anti-LGBTQ bathroom bill, his regressive version of property tax reform, and a bill to further defund Planned Parenthood. "Thank goodness Travis didn't have the speaker at the Alamo. He might have been the first one over the wall," said Patrick during a press conference. Abbott also took shots at the moderate speaker, but has yet to formally call for a replacement. – M.T.

How Can We Miss You if You Won't Go Away?

It seems the only people left standing with Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Pflugerville, are the ones who can't get away from her. Democratic precinct chairs in her Travis County district have already made it clear they want her to quit, but she won't budge. Now her attorneys, who have tried to resign from the case, have been told they cannot be separated from their client, even though she has hired another attorney, and they have informed the court that she is not communicating with them.

Dawnna Dukes (Photo by John Anderson)

Dukes currently faces 15 charges (including 13 felonies) relating to allegations of abuse of office, and has already rejected two offers from the Travis County District Attorney's Office to drop charges against her if she'll step down from her seat. She parted ways with her original attorney Michael Heiskell in January, and then hired three replacements: Dale Ball, Shaun Clarke, and Matt Shrum. In late July, Ball and Clarke asked the court to hand the entire case over to Shrum, but Shrum told the court he was already off the case. On Aug. 21, Judge Brad Urrutia rejected the efforts of all three to be separated from their client. Therefore Dukes' latest selection as legal counsel, fellow state Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, will not be representing her, meaning there is currently a great deal of confusion about who is giving the embattled Dukes legal advice in the run-up to her hearing date, Oct. 16. – R.W.

Pro-Choice Lawyers Hope for Stopgap in D&E Abortion Ban

Pro-choice attorneys are preparing to fight one of the Texas Legislature's latest bans on abortion in U.S. Judge Lee Yeakel's Austin courtroom on Aug. 29. During the regular legislative session, House lawmakers slipped in a last-minute amendment to anti-choice package law SB 8 that bars D&E, the safest and most common second-trimester abortion procedure. In July, on behalf of Texas abortion providers Planned Parent­hood and the Center for Repro­duct­ive Rights – the legal warriors who won a victory over HB 2 at the U.S. Supreme Court – filed suit to knock the provision down. "This type of unconstitutional restriction is well known and part of a coordinated national strategy by anti-choice politicians trying to ban the procedure, method by method," said Molly Duane, a staff attorney with CRR. "It blocks women's ability to make their own health choices and makes it illegal for doctors to use their best medical judgment. It also disproportionately impacts rural, low-income, young, and minority women, who already face so many barriers to health care access."

Next week's hearing won't be a full case, but rather a plea to Yeakel to place a temporary restraining order on the ban, set to take effect Friday, Sept. 1. That'll buy both sides some time before figuring out the next steps. Duane is optimistic in their chances: CRR has recently succeeded in (at least temporarily) stopping D&E bans in Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, and Yeakel has twice ruled anti-choice package law HB 2 unconstitutional. "He's very familiar with us and the state on this issue," said Duane. – M.T.

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Greg Abbott, Joe Straus, Dan Patrick, Blake Farenthold, Lloyd Doggett, Eric Johnson, Ken Paxton, 85th Lege, Dawnna Dukes, Brad Urrutia, Molly Duane

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