TCDRS: More Texas compliance with marriage ruling

Screen shot 2015-07-02 at 1.46.04 PMWith all this compliance with the Texas marriage rulings, our governor’s head must be spinning. Here’s the latest from Texas County and District Retirement System:

 

 

TCDRS Compliant With Same-Sex Marriage Decision


At the Texas County & District Retirement System, members can designate their legal spouse as their beneficiary regardless of gender.

This means our systems, website and processes are in compliance with the IRS ruling on recognizing same-sex spouses and the June 26 Supreme Court decision.

If you are a TCDRS member who needs assistance designating your beneficiary, please call TCDRS Member Services at 800-823-7782.

—  David Taffet

Texas Retirement System has no problem complying with Obergefell

Screen shot 2015-07-02 at 11.02.21 AMFor all the bitching and moaning from Texas’ top elected officials, Texas is having no problem complying with the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage-equality decision when it comes to benefits and rights that flow from marriage.

Resource Center has been in touch with Texas Municipal Retirement System about pension issues faced by its LGBT retirees. Here’s an email Rafael McDonnell received in response to a message he left explaining they’re in full compliance with Obergefell v. Hodge, the marriage equality decision:

Dear Mr. McDonnell,

In response to your voicemail message on July 1, 2015, this is to advise you that TMRS is aware of, and intends to comply with, the recent US Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.  As stated in my April 10th letter to Ms. Cox, CEO of the Resource Center, TMRS has been in compliance with applicable IRS requirements regarding same-sex spouses and the TMRS Act allows a member to name any person, spouse or non-spouse, as a beneficiary.

Following the Obergefell decision, TMRS will now recognize the spousal relationship of members in same-sex marriages.  The primary change for TMRS members in a same-sex marriage will be that, since the marriage is now recognized, the member’s benefits and beneficiary designations are now subject to the same restrictions as currently apply to a member in an opposite-sex marriage.  For example, a vested married member must obtain their spouse’s consent to designate a beneficiary other than their spouse or to select a benefit payment option other than a joint and survivor annuity that names the spouse as the survivor.

Sincerely,
Christine M. Sweeney
General Counsel
Texas Municipal Retirement System

—  David Taffet

Attorney General Ken Paxton should resign

James Russell columnIn the seven months that Ken Paxton has served as Texas’ top law enforcement officer, he has slammed the federal government for its immigration policies, the Environmental Protection Agency for its environmental regulations, the Supreme Court for its rulings upholding the Affordable Care Act and legalizing marriage equality nationwide, defended the state’s stringent anti-abortion law and praised in broad terms further deregulation of the Second Amendment.

To be fair, as Texas Attorney General, Paxton’s office must defend the state court lawsuits, including those filed by his predecessor, now-Gov. Greg Abbott. Just like his predecessor he also has ambitions for higher office. Also like Abbott, his statements read like a fundraising letter. While it is clear he inherited a politicized office from Abbott, Paxton has recently done the office nor taxpayers NO additional favors.

Paxton is already under investigation by a Collin County grand jury for violating state securities law, an admission he made freely and then paid a $1,000 fine for. Under state law, it is illegal for an attorney to accept client commissions without registering first with the state securities board. Paxton not only broke the law but also broke a law he helped pass a state legislator.

Despite this revelation on the campaign trail he defeated two Republican challengers, former Rep. Dan Branch and former Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman. In the general election he defeated Democrat opponent Sam Houston, a Houston-area attorney, in a landslide. Of course, in both instances he was boosted by an energized grassroots and the support of wealthy Tea Party backers. They encouraged, or, more likely were encouraged by, his hard-line rhetoric on any number of issues. (Who wrote the talking points remains the question.)

Regardless of what he may actually believe, when looking for a quick political ascendency, look no further then the Texas GOP grassroots and their wealthy backers for advice. From state representative to one-term state senator to the state’s top law enforcement office,he got what he wanted.

Sadly Paxton’s carelessness, irresponsibility and smugness did not end with an admission or a fine, much less at the door of his private practice. He has also taken those traits to his taxpayer-funded office.

Following Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, his office issued the requisite statement denouncing the decision. He also predictably, following April’s arguments, released a statement defending the state’s marriage ban.

Despite it being out of his responsibility, he then issued an opinion permitting county clerks and other government officials to decline to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if it violates their religious beliefs. While responsibly acknowledging clerks may be held liable, he sealed the fundraising envelope when he offered pro bono legal defense to any clerk mired in litigation for the decision. Religious liberty is an inherent right extended to all individuals, including those who genuinely oppose or support same-sex marriage for those reasons.

Even if you disagree politically or morally, issuing a marriage license does not mean you are sanctioning it. You cannot flout federal law.

Sadly that’s not what he told county clerks and potential donors across the state.

Between his politicization of his office and clear disregard for the law as represented by the pending criminal probe and irresponsible opinion on marriage equality, it has become clear Paxton is unfit for office. But in using Paxton’s logic, I can only conclude two things: breaking the law doesn’t violate his religious convictions, but resigning does. Whether or not a criminal indictment decides his professional fate in spite of any religious convictions, however, is an entirely different matter.

—  James Russell

Sen. Rodney Ellis asks DOJ to monitor Texas marriage equality

EllisTexas state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston,  wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and asked her to monitor implementation of marriage equality in the state.

Ellis cited state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s guidance to county clerks, justices of the peace and judges “advising them that they can refuse to follow the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodge.”

He requested the Department of Justice prevent civil rights violations to “ensure loving, committed couples are able to formally celebrate their union.”

He said religion must not be used as an excuse to discriminate.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Paxton allows clerks to refuse marriage licenses on religious grounds

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton

Following Friday’s historic Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, the state’s top law enforcement officer said county clerks and other officials may refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds.

“It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights,” Paxton wrote in his opinion. You can read the full statement here.

The opinion released today (Sunday, June 28) comes following a Thursday, June 25 request for an opinion from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Both have stated their opposition to marriage equality and other LGBT issues.

—  James Russell

More from Decision Day in Fort Worth: Celebrating at Celebration Community Church

Photos by Cassie Quinn

—  Tammye Nash

Marriage Equality Decision Day in Fort Worth

Here is a gallery of photos from the Tarrant County Clerk’s office from Friday morning, June 26. Photos by Cassie Quinn.

—  Tammye Nash

Texas Lege ends, now the fun begins; “bought and sold” series returns

Capitol

The Texas Capitol, site of a future “American Horror Story” season.

After staving off the threats of ISIS at the border, struggling with the godlessness of pre-kindergarten education and failing to save the evil Speaker Who Doesn’t Believe in the Messiah, the 84th legislature’s snake charmers finally went back home yesterday.

On the bright side: Per the state’s Constitution, they passed a budget. And their mighty efforts to slash taxes resulted in successfully saving the average homeowner…$200-something in property taxes.

Just as important, they’ve stopped screwing with your lives! Any legislation harmful to the LGBT community was thwarted!

The bad part: They’re now back home. They’re among us.

In the 84th tussle to burn the biggest effigy, LGBT advocates can happily claim a number of wins. The Romeo and Juliet bill made it to the floor for a vote after receiving bipartisan support in committee; religious discrimination language targeting LGBT children and families was defeated; and county clerks will not be barred from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But your valiant warriors worked to assure us they did indeed accomplish something. Enough, in fact, that those accomplishments won’t fit on a post card: the Senate passed a last-ditch resolution re-asserting their support for “traditional marriage” (as in, between a man and a woman, at least in the daylight); they found more ways to regulate uteri; and of course they gutted serious ethics reform legislation.

With such great accomplishments, now it’s time to watch the little substance of this past session turn into campaign fodder — or for many Republican incumbents who’ve earned the tea Party’s ire, liabilities.

I can’t wait to write about upcoming election cycle. I’ll continue to follow the money, reviving my “Bought and sold” series on dark money, campaign finances and right-wing boogeymen.

Bring it, 2016.

Or, if strictly speaking in presidential elections, 1992.

—  James Russell

BREAKING: Bell’s HB 4105 resurrected as an amendment, to be voted on as soon as tomorrow

Bell-Cecil

Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia.

Texas state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, intends to attach an amendment similar to his previous bill barring the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples to a bill protecting clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages during a House floor vote on Thursday, May 21.

Bell filed HB 4105, also known as “The Preservation and Sovereignty of Marriage Act,”  ahead of an anticipated summer Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality. It would have withheld pay from county clerks issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. After its defeat last week, Bell told reporters he wasn’t giving up on it.

Though an amendment must be considered germane to a bill, Equality Texas reports that Bell intends to attach HB 4105 to SB 2065, which passed the Senate last week on a 21-10 vote with all Republicans and one Democrat voting for it.

While HB 4105 died before it could get a vote, it garnered  support from the majority of the House HOP caucus.

During the debate over SB 2065, the ACLU, Equality Texas and Texas Freedom Network advocated for language that a clergy member may only refuse to officiate marriages that violate their conscience “in that official capacity.” Despite their efforts Estes refused in both the State Affairs Committee hearing and on the Senate floor to add the language.

Without the four words, opponents argued, faith leaders may be able to refuse to perform same-sex marriage if they serve in a secular capacity, such as justice of the peace or county clerk.

Proponents, including numerous conservative faith leaders, argued the bill was necessary to protect their right to deny performing a same-sex marriage.

—  James Russell

Rick Perry to New Hampshire audience: Keep on farmin’ in the free world

Untitled design (1)

Freedom fighter and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Do you remember the good old days? When government didn’t get in the way of good ol’ Texas wheat farmers selling their product to Soviet Russia? Before the era of big government was over — unless you were in the banking industry? Before that closeted Communist President Jimmy Carter lead a boycott against the 1980 Moscow Olympics over its invasion of Afghanistan?

No?

The half-dozen young people listening to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry talk yesterday (Thursday, April 16) in rural New Hampshire probably don’t either.

Thankfully for Perry, who is mulling his second presidential bid, most of the attendees at his “youth summit” were geriatric.

At Milford High School, Perry said that former President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Olympics was devastating for business if you were a wheat farmer, like Perry was – and for the kids.

“Remember 1979?” Mr. Perry asked the audience. “Remember where we were in 1979? No. 1, we were at 20 percent interest rates. Our kids were boycotted from going to the Olympics. President Carter made that decision. He didn’t let our wheat to be sold to Russia. I know. I was a wheat farmer.”

But Carter just didn’t kill business. As an advocate for youth around the world, Perry said he’s mad because the 1980 boycott killed so many young athletes’ dreams.

“These are kids who in some cases had spent their entire lives working to go represent America,” he said. “To use them as a tool, I think was in particular bad judgment, and I don’t think it had a bit of influence.”

After addressing the Most Pressing Issue of the Day, Perry bounced back from his 2012 campaign blunder. This time he remembered all three of the government projects he’d abolish: Common Core, No Child Left Behind and, of course, Obama’s ruthless reign of healthcare terror.

Since Texas can’t secede from America, he told the crowd, let’s make America become Texas. Perry touted his economic record in the state, dubbed the “Texas [$7.25 an hour] Miracle.” Watch me make the Texas Miracle into the American Miracle, he declared. Under President Perry, you too will be able to sell your wheat and take your ice skates to Russia.

Evoking a song by that other famous Canadian (the one not running for president), President Perry basically told the crowd: under me, you’ll be farmin’ in the free world.

—  James Russell