HEADS UP: TFN warns that CPS reform bills could include anti-LGBT discrimination

 

The Texas Freedom Network today warned that conservatives in the Texas House of Representatives are likely to try to amend bills aimed at reforming the states Child Protective Services agency to allow discrimination against LGBT foster and adoptive parents.

Ali Gorczynski, outreach and field coordinator for TFN, said that there is “a concerted effort behind the scenes to amend legislation reforming CPS with language that would permit discrimination against LGBT individuals in the state’s child welfare system,” and that HB 4 and HB 5, both scheduled for debate today, are being targeted.

According to a warning posted on the TFN website, “We understand there may be an effort to amend the bills to allow child welfare providers contracting with the state to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against LGBT families wishing to adopt or offer a foster home to a child in need.”

HB 4, authored by Mesquite Republican Rep. Cindy Burkett, would allow the Department of Family and Protective Services, “subject to the availability of funds, [to] enter into a caregiver assistance agreement with each relative or other designated caregiver to provide monetary assistance and additional support services to the caregiver,” based on the family’s need.

HB 5, authored by Wichita Falls Republican Rep. James Frank, would, in part, amend the Texas Family Code so that rules governing adoption decisions would fall under the purview of the Family and Protective Services commissioner, rather than the executive commissioner of the Health and Human Services Commission.

TFN urged Texans to “call your state representative and tell them to oppose any amendments permitting discrimination” as soon as possible.

“This effort is being masked as ‘religious freedom.’ But no matter what they call it, allowing faith-based child welfare providers that receive taxpayer funds to refuse to serve same-sex couples is discrimination. Let’s stop this before it goes any further,” Gorczynski wrote.

If you aren’t sure exactly who represents you in Austin, check here for names and contact information.

—  Tammye Nash

Tony Tinderholt wants to jail women for having abortions

Arlington Republican state Rep. Tony Tinderholt has filed legislation that would make abortion a felony in Texas, allowing for health care professionals who perform abortions and women who get abortions to be charged with murder.

As Texas Observer reports, Tinderholt’s bill, HB 948, orders state officials to ignore “any conflicting federal laws,” classifies a fetus as “a living human child” from the moment of conception, with the same rights and privileges as “any other human child,” and makes no exception for cases of rape or fetal abnormalities. It also removes the exception for abortion in the state’s penal code for criminal homicide.

It does allow an exception for cases in which the mother’s life is at risk due to complications from the pregnancy.

Tinderholt defended his bill by claiming that it would “force” women to be “more personally responsible” with sex, Texas Observer reports. He told the Observer: “Right now, they don’t make it important to be personally responsible because they know that they have a backup of ‘oh, I can just go get an abortion.’”

Neither Tinderholt nor any of the other self-righteous dicks in the Texas Legislature have filed legislation to jail men who get a woman pregnant and then abandon her.

HB 948 is, of course, patently unconstitutional. But Tinderholt and his ilk don’t give a rat’s ass about that because they are white men, and they get to tell everybody else what to do and how to live because they are better and more important than the rest of us.

Tinderholt, elected in 2014, is 46 years old, Roman Catholic and a military veteran, having served in both the Air Force and the U.S. Army. He went in to his first term in the Legislature, in 2015, with guns a’blazin, declaring himself to be a defender of traditional family values. He’s so Christian and family values oriented that in 2015 he filed a complaint against a Texas probate judge after a lesbian couple was allowed to marry in Austin in February that year (before Obergefell). As it turned out, Tinderholt’s hand-written complaint was filed against the wrong judge. In his first term in office, he passed no legislation.

Bethany Tyler-Tinderholt, promoting family values — and condoms — at a Playboy party in 2015.

It also turns out that he believes so strongly in the sanctity of  “traditional” marriage (between one man and one woman only), that he’s been married five times. As Dallas Voice Senior Staff Writer David Taffet noted in 2015:

“Wife No. 5, Bethany, was also wife No. 2. On her Twitter account, Bethany Tinderholt says she is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, adding, ‘I believe in God, family and conservative values.’ 

“Apparently, going by these photos that were sent to Dallas Voice Wednesday, March 4, believing in ‘God, family and conservative values’ includes going to Playboy parties wearing cleavage-baring dresses and posing with similarly-dressed women and a Playboy Bunny or two, while waving around condoms.

“We think the pictures were taken last year at the Aloft Hotel in downtown Dallas when the hotel became the Bud Light Hotel for Final Four weekend — at a time that Tony and Bethany Tinderholt were already proclaiming their Christian faith and conservative values to prove he was qualified to serve in the Texas Legislature.”

If you wanted to send a message to this God-appointed protector of purity, here’s his contact info. And here’s his campaign website. And here’s his Facebook page.

 

—  Tammye Nash

Rep. Cecil Bell uses big words in statement about Kim Davis

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Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia

Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, and author of numerous bills this past legislative session that would’ve barred Texas from recognizing marriage equality, issued a statement today, Friday, Sept. 4, condemning the arrest of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk for refusing to issue marriage licenses.

Davis, a Democrat who refused to issue licenses on religious grounds and was arrested yesterday, was a victim of the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision legalizing marriage equality nationwide, Bell said.

The text, found below, speaks for itself:

The lawless, unconstitutional edict of the US Supreme Court in Obergefell striking down state constitutional marriage amendments does not place the antithetical into law as the judiciary branch does not hold the authority to make law. SCOTUS, in striking down DOMA, ruled that the lawmaking authority regulating and defining marriage is held by the legislatures of the separate states.

Of the fifty states in our Union…

– eleven have laws enabling the licensing of same sex marriage

– in three of those states, the people voted to enable same sex licensing

– in eight of those states, that was done without a public vote, by legislative action. 

Thirty nine states (78%) have no laws to grant officials the authority to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals and I will continue to stand for our sovereignty and against federal overreach. 

Kim Davis and the other clerks who have stood for their religious freedoms and for state and citizen sovereignty are not guilty of violating any state or federal law. Again the Court’s ruling does not create law or an ability to force conformity to the will of the Court. We are not a krytocracy which is a people governed by Judges. The US Supreme Court’s wanton abandonment of law and constitutional authority in the reprehensible act of “striking down” state marriage amendments where law abiding citizens exercised the sovereign power of the ballot and of the separate states does establish a conundrum. Absent enabling legislation within a state, except as defined under current law, no marriage license, death certificate, birth certificate or other such document can be legally issued. No constitutional authority exists to force the Court’s vile and decrepit will on the people. Conversely, in cases like that of Ms. Davis, the absence of law leaves these overreaching federal judges clearly guilty of legislating from the bench.

The efforts to eliminate state sovereignty are far broader than the moral dilemma of homosexuality.

The quiet acceptance of unconstitutional atrocities across our state and across the separate states of our nation is abominable. I stand for Texas, for Texans and with the citizens of the separate states for the constitutional restoration of state sovereignty. 

GOD BLESS TEXAS! GOD BLESS THE USA!

Cecil Bell, Jr.

Texas State Representative

Bell fueled rumors earlier this year he would mount a challenge to Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican. But he instead rolled out PACT for Constitutional Restoration Of State Sovereignty to keep elected officials accountable to the Constitution.

No word yet if he thinks the 13 bills he passed this session also usurp the law.

—  James Russell

BREAKING: Attorney General Ken Paxton has been booked

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Attorney General Ken Paxton’s mugshot

Attorney General Ken Paxton was booked this morning and released from the Collin County jail following a trio of felony indictments handed down by a Collin County grand jury last week.

The three indictments — including two first-degree felony counts  and a third-degree felony count — stem from a months-long investigation by the Texas Rangers and two special prosecutors who looked into Paxton’s securities practices before he took office.

In 2014, while running for attorney general, he admitted to violating state securities law after failing to register with the State Securities Board before soliciting clients for investors. He paid a $1,000 fine.

First degree felonies carry a prison sentence between 5 to 99 years in prison. A third degree felony carries a $10,000 fine and between two to 10 years in jail.

Tarrant County judge George Gallagher has been appointed to lead the trial.

—  James Russell

Anti-LGBT legislator running for state senate failed to disclose affiliation with conservative non-profit

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State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola

A vocally anti-LGBT Republican state representative failed to disclose his affiliation with a socially conservative non-profit organization.

State Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, failed to disclose his leadership role on the board of the Wilberforce and Lincoln Center, Inc. in his six most recent personal financial statements.

(Those can be found here: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.)

The vocally anti-LGBT Republican who is running for state senate has been affiliated with the Waco-based center since 2008, according to records filed with the secretary of state.

James William Odom, a Baylor University graduate student and former spokesman for the university, founded the Wilberforce Center for Civic Engagement in 2008. An amended filing later added the name Lincoln.

Odom, Hughes, Oklahoma oil and gas executive Jerome Loughridge and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was then a state representative, were all listed as directors of the organization.

It is currently listed at Odom’s home address in Waco.

Paxton recently filed an amended personal financial statement indicating his affiliation with the organization. But personal financial statements filed by Hughes between 2008 and 2014 do not list his role with the organization despite its active non-profit status.

Per state law, elected officials must list all entities, including non-profits, where they serve as members of the board, on their statements said Ian Steusloff, a spokesman with the Texas Ethics Commission.

The commission administers and enforces state election code and oversees the collection of all campaign and personal finance reports filed by legislators.

Failure to disclose this information could result in a civil penalty of $500.

On the six most recent statements, Hughes is only listed as a trustee of the Mineola Foundation and between 2010 and 2012 a brief stint as a director of Central America Mining America Group. A September 19, 2014 required periodic report, however, still lists Hughes as a Wilberforce Lincoln director.

Odom’s résumé, obtained from his Baylor University graduate student profile, indicates he founded Wilberforce Lincoln under the name the Leadership Foundation in Oklahoma in 2000. At the time he was a Republican candidate for Congress. The institute was “dedicated to encouraging principled leadership in the political arena for the preservation of a culture that respects life and cherishes liberty.”

It did not operate again until 2008 when it turned to articulating public policy issues of interest to churches and other religious organizations, including “sanctity of life, family law and national indebtedness.”

Odom, who declined to comment for this story, wrote it has remained dormant because he didn’t have “time or resources to develop its programs.”

Cody Terry, Hughes’ chief of staff, said he was unaware of the organization’s existence.

First elected in 2002, Hughes is currently running for state senate to succeed retiring Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler. In 2014, on The Anderson Cooper Show, he defended a plank on the state GOP’s platform affirming reparative therapy.

Among those endorsing his senate campaign are Texas Values’ Jonathan Saenz, Liberty Institute’s Kelly Shackleford and Texas Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams and Attorney General Paxton.

—  James Russell

GOP candidate: ‘Gays… were never banned from marrying… the opposite sex’

Remember Bo French? He’s the Texas House candidate running against Rep. Charlie Geren in Tarrant County. I went to school with his wife and many of her family members. After getting an alarming fundraising email, I wrote an essay urging him to not follow (or take money from) Cathie Adams and the like.

Well, so much for that.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing marriage equality nationwide, French wrote the following:

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After a commenter reminded him that, yes, the U.S. Constitution contains both the 10th Amendment protects states’ rights and the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equality and due process, I guess that was too much. French replied this way:

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French was then asked “you expect to be elected with that logic?”

Well, evidently, he does:

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You can’t say I didn’t try to remind him, because I did. But I guess a West Texas oilman’s money speaks more than an open and honest plea to your wife and her family’s high school classmate to not join the battle of bigotry.

Bring it, 2016.

—  James Russell

The radical wisdom of Rep. David Simpson, the evangelical Christian from Longview

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Rep. David Simpson

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, yesterday (Monday, June 29) called for a special legislative session “in light of the Supreme Court’s lawless and unconstitutional redefinition of marriage,” according to a statement released by his state senate campaign.

“I cannot and I will not sit idly by while unelected judges redefine the sacred institution of marriage and force our county and state officials to violate their most cherished beliefs,” he said. (No matter the decision was 5-4.)

But unlike Texas Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams and other belligerently anti-LGBT crusaders who called for a special session this month barring recognition of same-sex unions, Simpson took a different approach. He wants government out of the equation.

“In its place, the process of issuing a certificate of marriage will be performed by any willing clergy member consistent with their conscience and in respect for our culture and our heritage,” he said, sticking to his deeply held conservative Christian convictions. But your marriage isn’t his issue: because if a couple doesn’t want to have a religious ceremony, a notary just needs to sign a certificate authorizing their marriage.

“Marriage is a divinely instituted tradition as old as humanity. Government marriage is just another government program and a modern failure. Government has cheapened it, redefined it, and parceled it out for profit,” he said. “As a Christian, I call on every Texan to reject this aberration and contact the governor to take swift action to end it.”

(His statement on the ruling itself, however, can be found here.)

I realize many of my colleagues may disagree with me on this, but it’s not that bad of an idea. I recognize Simpson’s ideology – very, very libertarian – and its flaws – libertarian Republicans oppose government regulation, including government-recognized employment protections. (Notice, however, that doesn’t mean opposition to private policies.)

However, I want to strictly speak in terms of marriage here, and the representative’s wisdom.

Of course, with marriage brings benefits (and federal tax incentives). And counties would lose some serious revenue if they no longer issued licenses, which mean a decline in services.

But to me, Simpson seems to be saying this: should the government capitalize upon our unions, or should they be cherished and sacred, free from interference? (Alternatively, and no disrespect to the representative’s faith, he’s saying “this is noneofya damned business!”)

Bucking the trend

You may have heard of Simpson this past session for making a similar argument on a different topic: weed.

“I don’t believe when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix,” he wrote in op-ed in the Texas Tribune in March. “In the name of protecting the public, certain substances have been declared evil and contraband.”

In early May, seemingly out of nowhere, his bill decriminalizing marijuana statewide passed in committee. It was surprising that legislation by Simpson, who has bucked his party’s leadership even before he entered the Capitol in 2011.

First elected in 2010 in an upset over long time Rep. Tommy Merritt, an ally of Speaker Joe Straus, he has vocally opposed the speaker, who is disliked by numerous Tea Party Republicans. Simpson last cycle was one of the “Turner 19” who voted for Rep. Scott Turner, R-Frisco, for speaker over Straus. During the 83rd legislative session, Simpson even ran against Straus, though he ultimately withdrew his candidacy before the vote.

But over time, like some of his other rebellious but conscientious fellow Tea Party, he has gained his colleagues’ respect for being so gosh darn nice.

To be fair, Simpson has never been a LGBT ally. He won’t politically be on the front lines in the battle for legal recognition. He’s consistently been a darling of the religious right restricting women’s reproductive freedoms (which is none too surprising) but he wasn’t the face of the movement this session.

The government may mean different things to us, and Simpson and I likely disagree on the government’s role in addressing various inequities. In his genuine pursuit of individual freedom, the guy also makes a compelling point – even if you don’t agree with it. And that seems to be his point.

—  James Russell

Houston senator to DOJ: assure same-sex couples get marriage licenses

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State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, urged the U.S. Department of Justice today (Monday, June 29) to assure same-sex couples in Texas are not prevented from getting marriage licenses.

His request follows an opinion issued by Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, yesterday allowing county clerks and other government officials to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs.

You can read Ellis’ letter here.

—  James Russell

UT-Austin extending dental and health coverage to same-sex spouses

University-of-Texas-Austin

UT-Austin

The University of Texas–Austin announced today (Monday, June 29) same-sex spouses and dependent children will be eligible for health and dental coverage, according to the Austin-American Statesman.

The changes go into effect July 1. Employees will have 31 days to enroll.

During the last legislative session, Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, introduced HB 2692, which would have allowed universities to extend benefits to same-sex spouses. In turn, Rep. Phil Stephenson, R-Rosenberg, introduced HB 3890, which would have barred retirement benefits to same-sex spouses. Both died in committee.

—  James Russell

Bought and sold: Give me a perfect grade or else

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Sen. Konni Burton

Every two years, members of the Texas Legislature descend upon the state Capitol to pass a budget and amend or repeal state laws. Some bills are noble; other bills are not. Then they go home, back to their districts.

After the lawmakers settle in, groups ranging from Equality Texas to your local chamber of commerce release report cards based on legislators’ votes. They’re valuable for fundraising, used to inform voters – and of course, serve as bait during primary season, too.

Among other groups issuing scorecards are – you betcha! – fringe conservative power brokers Empower Texans, Concerned Women of America and Texas Eagle Forum. Wielding the crowns of liberty, they roll out their scorecards to preserve the sacred relationship between donor and flak.

Already two of the three groups have released their scorecards. Empower Texans’ Fiscal Responsibility Index, loosely defined, focuses on the budget. Concerned Women for America gets down the most pressing issues, like preventing Shariah law and reassuring the assurance guaranteed in the Constitution about a clear separation between church and state.

On the Fiscal Index, minions are graded from A+ to F based on key votes, like moving HIV/AIDS education and awareness funds to the abstinence education fund or for a budget with the empty promise of tax relief. Six senators, all Republicans, received a 90 or above. Among them are North Texas freshmen Sens. Konni Burton, Bob Hall, Van Taylor and Don Huffines.

The better the vote, the more likely they’ll stay on the good side of their buddies in West Texas.

But these scorecards are, for the most part, fraudulent. They’re deceptive. They only feed red meat to primary voters. To some observers, their beef with them lies in their fiscal irresponsibility. To me, it’s their co-opting of the term “liberty” altogether. Liberty is a right, allowing people to live and be free.

But to these legislators, liberty is all about chasing their next campaign donation.

If politics is the art of deception, then these scorecards and Texas legislators who champion them are the ultimate definition of politics.

Willingly deceived

I bring this all up not because reading scorecards is my favorite post-legislative activity, but because freshman Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, complained on Twitter this morning that no one was covering her A+ grade on the Fiscal Index. While I can’t see her Twitter posts, The Texas Observer’s Christopher Hooks managed to get a screen shot. You can see those here.

While her meltdown is unbecoming and unprofessional, if she wants publicity, then here, let me give it to her:

Congratulations, Senator. You got a gold star, another toward your re-election bid. You join  Rep. Molly White, who is probably getting her first gold star. Ever. (For what it’s worth, White has already received a “worst” award from Texas Monthly and Equality Texas.)

But keep in mind, as you race toward a perfect grade, don’t fall along the way. That vote to slash the social safety net didn’t just earn you a re-election check and gold star, but the chance there’ll be nothing to help you back up after you’ve fallen down.

—  James Russell