Point Austin: On the Road to Sine Die
Almost adjourned, the Legislature's toll is still incomplete
The lawmaking dust hasn't settled yet – Allah willing, it's only a few days away – but plenty of dirt has been stirred into the Texas air by the 86th Legislative session. Arguably, the worst of it has been directed at women and LGBTQ people, overlapping groups that by any accounting constitute a majority of Texans. Not content to inflict theocratic blows against reproductive rights – joining the relentless national Republican campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade – the GOP majority added a direct assault on basic women's health care, taking their crusade against Planned Parenthood to the extreme of forbidding cities from supporting its health care clinics, like the one on East Seventh Street. The logic is undeniable: Somebody, somewhere, might be getting an abortion, so we need to prevent as many women as possible from getting cancer screenings and contraception.
Never underestimate the potential cruelty of public sanctimony. Pending the governor's signature, thousands of Austinites and other Texans served by Planned Parenthood clinics will now find it even more difficult to access basic care. On the other hand, thousands of reactionary Republican primary voters can mark the occasion by basking in their moral superiority until 2020, at least.
Nor was it enough for Gov. Greg Abbott to quietly sign the largely redundant Senate Bill 1978, defending the sacred rights of churchgoers to discriminate against gay and trans people; he couldn't resist also tweeting a pic of his Chick-fil-A dinner, a Trumpian gesture of contempt for those House members who urged their colleagues to oppose the bill, not to mention for the LGBTQ Texans the governor nominally represents.
It's nevertheless worth noting that the House LGBTQ Caucus – its public existence a sign of real progress – succeeded in slowing and then weakening the final bill, one of the small but real victories in an otherwise discouraging session.
By the way, what of those major leadership priorities? In these last few days, presumably, House and Senate conferees will deliver passable versions of property tax and school finance "reform." The former will become one more financial and political bludgeon to wield against local governments, made to pay more dearly for the Legislature's unwillingness to fulfill its own constitutional obligation to pay for public schools. The latter will likely be a two-year stopgap measure, foundering for the lack of a serious, permanent funding plan.
Nevertheless, it was gratifying to see the leadership bungle their proposed sales tax "swap" that would have imposed higher taxes on 80% of Texans for the benefit of the top 20%. Wasn't long ago that "regressive taxation" was Greek to most legislators – this time around, progressive pols were joined by the anti-any-tax crowd to scuttle the foolish attempt to tie school funding to volatile sales taxes. That will not solve the school funding problem – this week's priority is reportedly re-burying the long-dead income tax – but at least one bad idea got kicked to the curb.
In another victory for working people, it appears that the eagerness of business owners to block local government support for employees' paid sick leave has run aground amid the same right-wing obsession with abusing LGBTQ folks. Reportedly, efforts to amend the suite of anti-worker rights bills to exempt local nondiscrimination ordinances were opposed by Lite Guv Dan Patrick and his "family values" allies for infringing on their license to discriminate.
We're still waiting for that legislative session in the distant future when progressive energy will be devoted to promoting good bills rather than blocking bad ones. It was gratifying to see the voting-restriction albatross that was SB 9 shot down – although Republicans were quick to find other ways to whittle away voting rights and access. Call them the David "Walking Dead" Whitley bills – every time you think they're buried, they rise again from the graveyard, like the failed secretary of state that won't go away. One thing's certain: Legislation arming teachers and churchgoers (!) in the name of "public safety" won't rid us of these zombies.
Speaking of actual public safety, nearly a dozen bills had been filed to at least take a cursory research look at the question of climate change, made even more urgent by recent Texas and global weather patterns. None received so much as a committee hearing. When your priorities are restricting health care and abusing cultural minorities, saving the planet is way down on the list.