TX pastor tells flock how God wants them to vote in school board races

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Steve Washburn

Steve Washburn, senior pastor of Pflugerville’s First Baptist Church, has written a letter to congregants saying God wants them to vote against two school board candidates who supported offering domestic partner benefits to district employees:

In any election, there is only one question we need to answer: “For which candidates does GOD want me to vote?” As followers of Jesus, we vote for HIS priorities, not our priorities. That means we are always, first and foremost – “Christian Moral Values Voters.” We vote for the candidates who best represent and defend the Lord’s moral values as He reveals them in Scripture. …

Although there are a number of issues being discussed by all candidates, our primary concern revolves around the previous decision of the PISD School Board to extend health insurance benefits to “domestic partners.” This provision allows employees of PISD to include immoral sexual partners (heterosexual and homosexual) in their medical insurance benefit plan as though they were legal spouses. We are to vote for the candidates in Place #3 and Place #5 who will oppose this decision. If you are unclear where the various candidates stand on this issue, please call a friend who may be more familiar, or research your decision on-line.

The Texas Freedom Network, which counters the religious right’s influence in Texas schools, notes that Washburn’s letter was written a day after Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion saying DP benefits are illegal under the state’s marriage amendment. TFN has endorsed the two Pflugerville school board incumbents, Mario Acosta and Carol Fletcher, who voted in favor of DP benefits:

As we’ve already said, the Pflugerville election has become a referendum on equality. And the election is important not just for Pflugerville ISD. Its results could influence how other school districts and local governments approach the issue of benefits for employees and their families. The Texas Freedom Network has proudly endorsed Acosta and Fletcher for courageously choosing to treat all of the district’s employees with equality and dignity. Washburn’s letter, on the other hand, is yet another disturbing example of the religious right using faith as a political weapon to divide our communities.

—  John Wright

UPDATE: House committee removes anti-gay education bill for consideration

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UPDATE, 5:15 p.m.: Equality Texas reports that HB 1538 has been removed for consideration from the House Public Education Committee. However, the bill could come back up for discussion or a vote at a later date.

ORIGINAL POST: Equality Texas is asking people to contact lawmakers and urge them to vote against advancing an anti-gay education bill the House Public Education Committee is expected to vote on later today.

HB 1568 by Republican Rep. Drew Springer of Muenster would cut state funding for school districts that offer domestic partner benefits to employees. Pflugerville and Austin ISD are the only school districts in Texas that have decided to offer DP benefits.

Six Republicans and five Democrats sit on the committee, which left the bill pending after a hearing last week.

Jonathan Saenz, president of anti-gay group Texas Values, told Dallas Voice he expects the bill to pass through committee and be signed into law.

Contact info for House Public Education Committee members is below.

Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, 512-463-0684

Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, 512-463-0309

John Davis, R-Houston, 512-463-0734

Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell, 512-463-0468

Dan Huberty, R-Houston, 512-463-0520

Ken King, R-Canadian, 512-463-0736

Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, 512-463-0662

Harold Dutton, D-Houston, 512-463-0510

Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, 512-463-0669

Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, 512-463-0744

Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, 512-463-0532

—  Anna Waugh

Pflugerville school board votes to keep domestic partner benefits

About 40 people spent hours addressing the Pflugerville ISD school board Dec. 13, with fewer than 10 speaking against the benefits in a packed cafeteria.

The Pflugerville school board made history Thursday night, voting 5-1 in favor of offering domestic partner benefits to district employees.

The proposal, recommended by the district employees’ insurance commission, initially passed in October, making the school district the first in Texas to approve DP benefits. But a trustee requested a review of the plan after news that it covered same-sex couples. About 40 people spent hours addressing the board Thursday, with less then 10 speaking out against the benefits in a packed cafeteria, Austin’s KVUE reports.

“I believe that teachers who I work with down the hall from me should be able to get the same benefits that I get for my wife and my child,” said teacher August Plock, a member of the Pflugerville Educators Association that began a Change.org petition in favor of the benefits.

Shortly after Pflugerville ISD — as well as Dallas County — approved DP benefits in October, anti-gay state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, requested an opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott about whether the benefits violate Texas’ constitutional banning same-sex marriage. No word yet from Patrick, but he’s probably not happy about last night’s vote.

Unfortunately, while the issue is decided for now in Pflugerville, Dallas ISD — and most other districts in Texas — won’t be able to offer DP benefits anytime soon.

Watch KVUE’s newscast below.

—  Anna Waugh

Petition calls for Pflugerville ISD board to reinstate domestic partner benefits

Pflugerville ISD recently became the first Texas school district to offer domestic partner benefits to its employees, both gay and straight.

But after vocal support and opposition was brought before the PSID Board of Trustees, the matter was placed on the agenda for reconsideration in December.

The board’s decision to reconsider DP benefits has prompted the Pflugerville Educators Association to launch a Change.org petition to encourage the board to keep the benefits.

The petition entitled, “Pflugerville ISD Board of Trustees: Keep insurance benefits for all PISD employees and their families” mentions that the decision to reconsider the benefits is targeting gay employees unfairly when the recommendation to add DP benefits came from “a group of dedicated district employees who were tasked with evaluating benefits in the best interest of the entire PISD family.”

“Now, a small but vocal group of Pflugerville residents is attempting to turn this decision into something it is not,” the petition reads in part. “They claim PISD is ‘pushing an agenda,’ and they are attempting to equate the benefits change to taking a stand on gay marriage. These political allegations are not true.”

The change was a result from a recommendation from the district employees’ insurance commission to add insurance coverage for opposite- and same-sex couples. PISD’s superintendent later voiced support for the decision.

Supporters and opponents of the decision showed up in force at the October PISD board meeting. Earlier this month, board members said they were unaware of the changes they agreed to in the coverage change because they had always followed previous recommendations. They agreed to reconsider the benefits at the Dec. 13 meeting.

“I want to have our board revisit the insurance issue,” PISD trustee Jimmy Don Havins told Community Impact Newspaper. “I want the board to have an up or down vote. The motion I will make is to revert to the coverage we previously had.”

—  Anna Waugh

Why isn’t DISD offering DP benefits? Because it can’t, spokesman says

The Dallas school district has often been at the forefront in Texas when it comes to LGBT equality.

In the mid-1990s, DISD was the first district in the state to pass a nondiscrimination policy that included sexual orientation. And as recently as 2010, DISD was the first in the state to enact a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that included both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.

So, after it was widely reported earlier this week that Pflugerville ISD had become the first in the state to offer domestic partner benefits to employees, I reached out to spokesman Jon Dahlander to find out why DISD isn’t doing this. Dahlander explained that DISD can’t offer DP benefits because its health insurance is through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ ActiveCare program.

“Because TRS ActiveCare does not recognize same-sex couples, we cannot offer that benefit. They do recognize common law marriage for benefits, however,” Dahlander said.

“The Teacher Retirement System of Texas administers the TRS-ActiveCare benefits program for Dallas ISD.  TRS-ActiveCare covers an employee’s spouse, including a common law spouse,” Dahlander added. “The program does not cover domestic partners, therefore the district cannot offer that benefit. We’ve had TRS-ActiveCare for probably eight years or so now, as do many school districts in Texas, in large part to give employees access to lower rates because of the sheer numbers involved.”

—  John Wright