Editorial Roundup: Texas

Austin American-Statesman. August 14, 2022.

Editorial: Texas Republicans must extend health care for new mothers after abortion ban

Republican lawmakers who voted to ban abortion in Texas say they’re committed to protecting the health of pregnant women who are now forced to bear children under the state’s extreme and punitive new law.

Count us skeptical, considering that Texas suffers persistently dismal health outcomes for women and children after two full decades of Republican control of the legislature and governor’s office. However, if Gov. Greg Abbott and his abortion-banning allies in the House and Senate truly want to demonstrate that their concern for women is real, they’ll get a chance when the Legislature convenes early next year.

That’s when a federal COVID-related public health emergency that enables low-income women in all 50 states to receive a full year of postpartum care under Medicaid is likely to expire, although it could lapse even sooner. Unless the Texas Legislature acts as soon as possible, some Texas women would see their access to postnatal care cut off after just two, or in the best case scenario, six months. It’s outrageous, but hardly unthinkable, that Texas would force pregnant women to give birth, then refuse to pay for their health care.

Regular health checkups for new moms can detect complications that arise from childbirth, and help prevent serious medical conditions from spiraling out of control. Studies show that low-income mothers are especially susceptible to pregnancy-induced hypertension, hemorrhage and infection. Sadly, the problem is especially acute in Texas, which has the seventh-worst maternal death rate in the nation. That pitiful statistic is inexcusable in a state with a $27 billion budget surplus.

Many health experts expect the Biden administration to extend the federal emergency declaration providing for a year of postpartum care as soon as next week, but it will eventually end, most likely by January. That’s when Texas lawmakers will reconvene in Austin for the 88th Legislature. It’s an opportunity for the Legislature to fix itsfailure in 2021 to provide adequate postpartum health care and prevent potentially deadly repercussions for new mothers.

A bill that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in 2021 only met half of the federal government’s offer to extend health care to poor women after the birth of their children. The Texas House that year approved a full year of care recommended by health experts and the federal government, but the Senate voted to extend it for only six months. The House grudgingly agreed and sent the bill to Abbott. Now, the Department of Health and Human Services is balking at Texas’ extension request because of language in the application that could be interpreted to exclude pregnant women who have abortions, including medically necessary abortions.

Never missing an opportunity to score political points, Abbott accused the Biden administration of “robbing mothers of services” by raising red flags about Texas’ application. The governor’s criticism was all politics, silent on the fact that the Biden administration had offered states a chance to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage to a full year. Had Texas enrolled in the 12-month coverage, as it should have, its application would have sailed through and additional health care would be available for an untold number of mothers who will be forced to carry a fetus to term if they don’t notice that they are pregnant within six weeks of conception.

Whoever wins the Texas governor’s race in November – Abbott or his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke – must call on the Texas Legislature to authorize a new application to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to extend postpartum health care coverage to Texas women. At least 33 states have already done so.

Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who chairs the Texas Women’s Health Caucus, told our editorial board that her Republican colleagues should, at the first opportunity, pass legislation authorizing an application to extend the postpartum care for women for a full year.

“If you’re really pro-life, and you’re wanting all these moms to have babies, let’s make sure that they’re healthy and safe, and that they continue to be healthy after they have this baby so they can take care of them,” Howard said.

If Texas lawmakers are going to force poor pregnant women to bear children, no matter their health status, the least they can do is have the state pick up the tab for their medical care. When Texas mothers are left without resources to protect their health, we all lose. It hurts children, employers, taxpayers and entire communities.

Abbott and Texas Republican lawmakers callously stripped pregnant women of the right to choose an abortion. Now, they must step up and help the most vulnerable new mothers stay healthy.

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Dallas Morning News. August 14, 2022.

Editorial: Texas is purging voters again, and getting it wrong again

State is removing hundreds in name of fraud it can’t prove.

Early this month, a federal judge ordered the Texas secretary of state to release a list of more than 11,000 voters identified as noncitizens, including 1,354 Dallas County residents.

The fact that it took a court to get the state to release this information is worrisome enough given the state’s shaky history of scrubbing voter rolls.

The problem here is the lack of transparency. We understand the need to ensure that the state’s voter roll is up to date and to have mechanisms that prevent fraud.

But after the secretary of state’s botched purge in 2019 ended with a settlement, the need for transparency is that much higher. Releasing information from voter purges was part of this agreement.

Back then, Texas authorities cross-checked voter rolls with driver’s license data from the Department of Public Safety. Close to 100,000 voters were flagged as potential noncitizens. But that conclusion did not take into account that naturalized citizens can take years to renew their driver’s license after their naturalization. So citizens who were voting legally were unfairly treated with suspicion.

The plaintiffs who pushed for the list of names argue there is enough anecdotal evidence to believe that Secretary of State John Scott is using the same strategy to purge voter rolls.

Texas authorities did send 30-day notices to people whose names were in the process of being removed from the voter rolls, but a majority of those voters never responded.

That’s not good enough. Relying on people to proactively respond to having their rights removed is as unreliable as it is inadequate.

According to public statements from the secretary of state, more than 2,000 voters among the 11,000 or so who were flagged as possible noncitizens had their registration canceled. But some who received the warning letters actually were citizens, the Associated Press reported.

That means hundreds or thousands of legal voters could go to the polls only to discover they were disenfranchised. That is unacceptable.

All of this suggests the secretary of state is using a bazooka to kill a fly in an effort to curb voter fraud, which is simply not widespread in Texas, no matter what fictions and falsehoods people hear and believe.

But don’t take our word for it. Look at the efforts of our attorney general, Ken Paxton, who has embraced the narrative that elections are being stolen.

According to the Texas Attorney General website, 155 individuals have been prosecuted for fraud offenses since 2005. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, also tracks voter fraud and they list only four criminal convictions in 2022, all of them for fraudulent use of absentee ballots.

Meanwhile, Texas authorities are not allowing lawyers to review how they are purging voter rolls. The records were originally sought over a year ago.

The state has until Monday to release the information, but is now seeking a stay to get more time. This lack of transparency only sows more doubts.

If the secretary of state has nothing to hide, they should release this list immediately.

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Fort Worth Star Telegram. August 12, 2022.

Editorial: Measles and polio are threatening to come back. Don’t let them. Get your kids vaccinated

The back to school shopping list always includes classroom supplies, clothes and new shoes. This year, don’t forget to add vaccinations.

The debate over the COVID-19 vaccine may have bled off some support for the tried-and-true inoculations that have driven back once-common diseases. We’re already seeing the effect.

Measles and polio vaccination rates among Texas kids has dipped slightly. About 92.4% of Tarrant County kindergartners were vaccinated against measles at the start of last school year, according to a recent Star-Telegram news report.

In the Fort Worth school district itself, even fewer — about 85% — of kindergartners were vaccinated. Both are below the 95% threshold for herd immunity for measles, which means an outbreak could happen and spread the disease.

Some of the drop-off in childhood vaccination could be because in-person medical appointments all but halted when the pandemic began in 2020. Parents may be slow to get their children back to the doctor, especially if they’re generally well.

But according to the Texas Medical Association, physicians believe vaccination rates have “rebounded to near — but below — pre-pandemic levels” as pediatricians and other medical offices have been seeing patients normally for months now.

Which leaves us with increased skepticism in COVID-19 vaccines for young people spreading to other decades-old vaccines like those for measles and polio. Keller pediatrician Jason Terk calls measles and polio skepticism a “parallel contagion” to COVID.

The reasons that contribute to hesitancy for the COVID-19 vaccine for children — its development was relatively rushed, it’s new, there’s been a handful of adverse reactions among some youth, including myocarditis. And we’re loath to tell other parents how to raise children. But it’s is a community responsibility to keep awful diseases at bay.

Measles is a highly contagious, airborne disease that causes a severe fever and red, blotchy rash that can begin on the face and spread throughout the body. It is the leading cause of childhood mortality that is preventable through a vaccine and which has been nearly wiped out through consistent childhood vaccinations in the U.S.

In the 1960s, before a vaccine was available, measles affected 3,000 people per million. By the year 2000, it had fallen to 1 case per million in the U.S.

In 1991, a measles outbreak occurred at the Faith Tabernacle Congregation in Philadelphia, a church that discouraged members from vaccinating their children. Around 1,400 people were infected with measles, and nine children died.

Polio is awful, too. It is serious and life threatening. The virus that can affect the nervous system, causing muscle weakness, paralysis, or even death. There is no cure. However, it’s preventable through vaccination.

In New York, one positive case was reported August 7 in a young, unvaccinated woman who now has paralysis in her legs. State health officials believe there could be hundreds of infections not yet detected.

Measles and polio have been nearly eradicated in America since campaigns for childhood vaccinations took hold over generations. We have our grandparents to thank for that, and we certainly don’t want new outbreaks due to either laziness or ignorance.

There’s no reason not to vaccinate your child against these dreadful diseases — especially when vaccines have been available for decades and proved to work with only the rarest adverse effects.

Schools tend to require a list of immunizations but do allow exemptions, such as medical or conscience reasons. But otherwise, before you send your child to school with that brand new backpack, make sure they’ve gotten defenses against these ancient diseases, too.

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Houston Chronicle. August 8, 2022.

Editorial: Anti-CRT Republican acknowledges ‘systemic racism’ — and other hopeful signs at SBOE

We were expecting the worst when the State Board of Education convened in Austin last week to consider updates to the state’s social studies curriculum standards, known as Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. After all the complaints about our impressionable youngsters being force-fed critical race theory, we would not have been surprised to see Walt Disney’s syrupy, long-vaulted “Song of the South” added to the required curriculum. Perhaps the board would follow Florida and essentially outlaw mention of the word “gay,” except as an adjective describing the capital of France.

We are pleasantly surprised about the proposed curriculum, but we weren’t the only ones concerned about how the board might implement Senate Bill 3, a new law targeting how history and race are taught. Educators not only were confused about what SB 3 allowed them to say, or not say, in the classroom, but they also felt under threat by a generally embattled environment at schools and school boards. They were aware that a Black principal in North Texas was put on paid leave after being accused of teaching critical race theory, which he denied doing. (He resigned after reaching a settlement with the district.) A similar fate recently met Clear Creek ISD Superintendent Eric Williams, who announced his retirement after less than two years following CRT-related accusations of indoctrination that stretched back from his previous post in Virginia.

As we’ve noted on numerous occasions, CRT, as it’s called, is not taught in Texas public schools at any level. Few seem to have a clear grasp of what it means. Republicans around the country have adopted the term as a convenient catch-all label for anything about racism and its lingering effects that might come up in the classroom or might be included in school library offerings. Draft versions of SB 3 gave many Texas educators the impression that they must de-emphasize slavery and racism or any mention of unpleasant historical events that might embarrass students today.

A meddlesome Texas House member from Fort Worth, Matt Krause, called for an investigation into school-library holdings around the state. Krause relied on a list of 850 titles, mostly about race and LGBTQ issues, that had been compiled by a national right-wing group.

During the hearings last week, board member Aicha Davis, a Dallas Democrat, told state Sen. Bryan Hughes, sponsor of SB 3, that his law has already hurt public schools. She questioned whether the Mineola Republican had consulted with teacher groups before writing the bill.

“We always talk about teachers leaving in droves, and this was one of the reasons,” Davis said. “Teachers were literally scared to teach even the TEKS that existed because of this.”

The turn of events during the SBOE hearings last week gave us reason for hope. Among the witnesses, 126 in all, was Hughes himself. He told the board that SB 3 had been misinterpreted.

“That bill is not an attempt to sanitize or to teach our history in any other way than the truth — the good, the bad and the ugly — and those difficult things that we’ve been through and those things we’ve overcome,” Hughes said. “No one is saying that we don’t have systemic racism. But what we’re saying is we’ve made a lot of progress. We have a long way to go. But the way to get there is to come together as Americans.”

Hughes was appearing before the board for the first time since the law took effect last December. He told board members that the intent of SB 3 was to make sure that no student is told to feel guilty about any misdeeds their ancestors might have committed.

“We still teach that really bad things were done by people of particular races, and it may be that in teaching those things, students may feel guilty about that,” the lawmaker added. “What we’re saying is you don’t say, ‘Little Johnny, little Jimmy, you should feel bad because of what your forebears did.’ ”

We appreciate Hughes’ clarification, and we hope board members do their part to offer assurances to Texas educators that they can teach, for example, that the U.S. Constitution counted enslaved people as three-fifths of a person and that the Texas Constitution banned emancipation. We also hope that the board gives thoughtful consideration to the recommendations crafted by advisory groups chosen to guide this once-in-a-decade process. Made up of experts in various fields of the social studies — government/civics, economics, geography and history — the groups have compiled an impressive catalog of recommendations for the state’s social-studies curriculum. (Drafts of the updated curriculum are available online.)

After another set of hearings at the end of the month, the 15-member board — nine Republicans and six Democrats from districts around the state — will begin the tedious process of adopting, rewriting or rejecting the advisory groups’ recommendations. The process will be completed by November — if, that is, politics doesn’t rear its ugly head.

Our optimism depends on all of us to remember our own civics lessons from school. If you can’t remember that far back, that’s another reason to dig into the proposed curriculum as a refresher.

New members elected to the board in November could shift the political tenor of the board even further to the right. The favorite to win the District 7 seat, for example, is Julie Pickren, a former Alvin ISD school board member forced out of office after it was revealed that she was at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. She’s considered so extreme that the departing incumbent, Matt Robinson, a doctor from Friendswood and a Republican, has endorsed Pickren’s Democratic opponent, Dan Hochman, a Galveston teacher.

If the board decides to postpone the adoption process until after new members take office, all kinds of mischief could be the result. Our concern is that Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — if, as expected, they’re still in office themselves — will pressure the board to do just that.

Included under the label “Citizenship” in the voluminous list of recommendations the board must consider is this social studies objective: “The student understands the importance of active individual participation in the democratic process.”

For “little Johnny’s” sake and “little Jimmy’s,” Texans need to do their electoral homework, all the way down the ballot to the State Board of Education. They need to study the issues and the candidates. They need to vote.

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