Editorial Roundup: Texas

Dallas Morning News. July 25, 2022.

Editorial: Texas abortion law has made miscarriages more dangerous and more devastating

Our state’s misguided rules show why we need a federal standard that limits but does not prohibit abortions.

Some of us have wrestled with the moral dilemma of abortion as a philosophical exercise. Some of us have confronted it directly after the jolt of two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Most Americans, including this editorial board, reject hard-line stances because we recognize the question of abortion is too complicated for absolute prohibition or total permission.

Our state lawmakers would have been wiser to recognize the deep moral complexity that abortion presents and the reality that there are times when women must have access to abortion. But instead the Legislature passed laws in 2021 that ban abortions after six weeks — even in cases of rape — and created a system that allows anyone to sue people they suspect of having facilitated an abortion.

Those laws may have arisen from a desire to protect more of the unborn. But they have had foreseeable consequences that are morally untenable. This includes scientific and anecdotal evidence that they have worsened medical care for women experiencing miscarriages.

These are women whose own bodies are rejecting their pregnancies, but the Texas laws have sown confusion and fear among medical professionals about how to treat them. That’s because medical interventions for miscarriages mirror treatment for elective abortions.

This extreme outcome is why we need Congress to pass a federal law that limits but does not wholly prohibit abortion, much like countries in western Europe have done.

Women experiencing a miscarriage, no matter where they live, should have access to basic medical care without seeing their lives placed in greater danger because doctors fear prosecution or lawsuits for treating them.

When a woman seeks care for a miscarriage, it is standard practice for her doctor to present her with the option of expelling the pregnancy on her own or receiving medical care that involves labor-inducing medication or surgery.

But now doctors have to navigate new restrictions on abortion medication and a ban on abortion once fetal cardiac activity is detected. The law allows abortions in case of “a medical emergency,” but it’s unclear what counts as one.

One Dallas-area woman told The New York Times that her hospital sent her home bleeding and in pain with instructions to come back only if she filled a diaper with blood more than once an hour. Another woman in Central Texas told NPR that emergency room doctors communicated with her by typing on their phones because they were afraid to be overheard helping her plan a therapeutic abortion.

A recent study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology looked at the outcomes of 28 pregnant patients in Dallas who sought care at Parkland and UT Southwestern Medical Center after the “heartbeat bill” became law in September. They were patients whose water broke, who were bleeding or who experienced other complications before 22 weeks, prior to fetal viability.

Because fetal cardiac activity was detected in every case, the patients had to wait an average of nine days until there was an “immediate threat” to their lives to receive medical intervention. All but one of the 28 patients lost her fetus or baby. The newborn still alive at the end of the study lay in intensive care with respiratory failure, a brain injury and a heart defect.

The study also found that the wait led to 57% of the patients developing serious health complications.

Carrying forward as Texas is now will only hurt the cause of abortion opponents and leave well-intended health care providers in a difficult position. The authors of the law may not have intended for women with miscarriages and their doctors to get caught in the middle, but that is what’s happening. What they have done is prolong the suffering of women going through one of the most harrowing experiences of their lives.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. July 30, 2022.

Editorial: Low pay, high stress: No wonder teachers are quitting. How Texas can fight the shortage

It’s no secret there’s a teacher shortage in Texas and nationwide. The reasons are multi-faceted, and the solutions are just as complex. But teachers are a vital component of education, and a robust education is one of the pillars of a healthy society. We need to fix this — and fast.

The teacher shortage has been acute during the pandemic, with challenges such as remote learning and teachers facing greater risk for contracting the virus than students. But it’s only worsened a shortage that’s likely been in the making for years, if not decades.

Texas Education Agency data shows that around 10% percent of teachers have been leaving the field for about a decade, and that spiked last year to 11.6%. About 1,000 more teachers retired in fiscal year 2021 than in the previous year. Even though Texas employed 370,431 teachers in the 2021-2022 school year, the most it has on record, it’s still not enough for a public school enrollment that had been steadily increasing until the 2019-20 school year.

National Education Association President Becky Pringle has called teachers leaving their jobs a “five-alarm crisis.” The union would know; their polling on teacher shortages is grim but provides insight into the morale issues behind the numbers.

Four-in-five teachers think burnout is a problem. The same percentage say being overworked spurs unhappiness, and nearly as many say being underpaid is cause for considering early retirement, which 55% say they’re doing.

There are also fewer teachers going into the profession at large. In 1975, nearly 22% of college students majored in education. By 2015, 7% opted to study education in college. Fewer women major in education than ever before, from 32% to 11% in the same timeframe, with many migrating to STEM, healthcare, and communications.

Policymakers are aware of the shortage, of course. In March, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the formation of the Teacher Vacancy Task Force to brainstorm solutions, but they’re needed now. What can we do?

One of the main complaints for teachers is pay. According to a University of Houston report, average pay for Texas teachers didn’t improve from 2010 to 2019; in fact, it went down a bit. Granted, they do make slightly more than the average salary in DFW, but for the hours teachers work, and the importance of what they do, they deserve better pay. School districts that are top-heavy with dozens of six-figure administrative salaries should re-evaluate priorities. With inflation rising, stagnant salaries are downright devastating.

Teachers are overworked. Student to teacher ratios are high, often anywhere from 25-30 kids per teacher. That’s too many, especially when you consider the range of learning styles and abilities in any given classroom. If schools can’t afford to give every class an aide, they must find ways to hire more who can “roam” or split time between classrooms. This helps students and teachers with the workload and provides extra support for both under- and higher-performing students.

Political wars over books and lessons are surely exhausting many educators, too. Parents and taxpayers have every right to examine what’s being taught and hold leaders accountable. But too many individual teachers are caught in the crossfire. Few want to “indoctrinate” anyone, and they deserve to be trusted until they prove unworthy.

Administrators also need to work to improve the school experience overall. School should inspire more kids to want to teach, but it won’t if their experience was frustrating, troubling, or unsafe. Allow teachers, especially at the high school level, flexibility with classroom settings and certain rules so learning can be fun and challenging and their students can thrive.

A rewarding school experience would help administrators have more success encouraging students to become teachers and give back to their neighborhoods and communities.

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Houston Chronicle. July 25, 2022.

Editorial: Offshore wind to the rescue! Texas proposal could keep us cool when inland wind farms can’t.

A strong breeze on a hot summer day. Is there anything better? Yes, actually.

A proposal for a new, massive offshore wind energy farm bigger than the city of Houston promises to take that Gulf Coast breeze and put it to work generating electricity for some 2.3 million homes, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Part of a larger proposal from the Biden administration, the 546,645-acre farm 24 miles off the coast of Galveston would be just the latest in a boom of offshore activity along the nation’s coasts. With support from federal and state governments, improving technology and several rounds of offshore wind leases this year, the industry has seen a burst of activity recently. .

The speed has been particularly impressive to Luke Metzger, executive director with research and advocacy group Environment Texas. “Government doesn’t always move quickly,” Metzger told the editorial board in an email, “and I’ve been impressed that BOEM hit the ground running and could start leasing the Gulf for wind as soon as this fall. At the same time, they’ve taken care to weigh in public comments and work to mitigate environmental concerns.”

Offshore wind energy would only strengthen an already growing renewable energy industry here.

Texas leads in onshore wind energy, which has grown to be a staple part of the state’s energy mix. Drive through West Texas and you’ll see endless expanses of turbines. True, there is a mismatch between the high demand for energy on scorching summer afternoons and when onshore wind picks up during the evenings. But ERCOT’s attempt to blame wind for the grid’s tight conditions earlier this summer is just hot air since no one expects wind to blow at the same speed around the clock.

One pleasant exception, as Texas Monthly’s Dan Solomon pointed out: onshore wind farms along the coast tend to do better on those “stultifying summer days.” Offshore wind farms, meanwhile, could potentially do even better still and help fill possible energy production gaps, harvesting the most energy during summer afternoons as well as evening hours when solar’s productivity wanes.

In a state where bracing for grid failures now seems to be the new normal, the power generated from a city-sized offshore wind farm would be a welcome bit of relief indeed.

There’s a lot still up in the air, as it were, for the proposal, which also includes a 188,023-acre wind energy farm on the coast of Lake Charles, La. In the public comment period, the plans would need to undergo environmental impact reviews and the actual leasing process, though Metzger said so far he’s been heartened to see that “there’s a good bit of distance between the wind energy areas and the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary,” for example, and that the proposal seems to take into account previous comments from Environment Texas, the National Wildlife Federation and other environmental groups that urged BOEM to consider “hotspots of species abundance” as well as “areas of rare environmental significance” when selecting potential locations.

In the end, whether energy produced at the potential wind farm off the Galveston coastmakes its way to Texas and Houston would be up to developers and state officials, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Shelby Webb. Part of that decision comes to down to the payoff for developers as they weigh the costs of construction with the potential power contracts down the line as well as infrastructure needs to deliver the energy and considerations that come with production on federal lands.

There are also a number of other concerns to work out with the Gulf Coast proposal, including how the development might affect fishing and shrimping outfits. The comment and review process should help all those issues shake out but for now, we’re tantalized by the promise of a good breeze.

State leaders have been shy about praising renewable resources such as solar and wind, even hampering their affordability with imposed “reliability costs” that amount to little but favoritism for coal, natural gas and nuclear after the 2021 winter storm. But the truth is, Texas is a leader. The state leads the natural gas boom that lowered greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the number of coal plants. It leads in onshore wind. Now Texas solar is expanding tremendously, with some clutch grid performances this summer already.

The state should get behind its own success here and tout the climate-friendly, job-growing industry of renewables as part of a multi-pronged and robust energy system.

A summer breeze might be priceless but soon, it could pay off.

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San Antonio Express-News. July 29, 2022.

Editorial: Abbott’s allegiance is with the NRA

The splintered and grieving community of Uvalde, reeling from the May 24 mass shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers, shouldn’t have to ask Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session on gun safety.

Without any urging, Abbott should breathe in the heartache and pain in this small, rural community and call a special session for lawmakers to raise the purchase age of assault weapons from 18 to 21 and consider other commonsense safety reforms.

The Uvalde City Council and the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District recently passed resolutions asking the governor to take such action, knowing very well that he won’t.

In a subsequent interview with Len Cannon of KHOU 11, Abbott said of a special session: “There is no agreement on anything like that whatsoever.”

He then promptly pivoted to the tired talking points of mental health, mental health and mental health.

An aside: Even if one truly believes mental health is the root issue in gun violence, wouldn’t that underscore the need to have tighter gun safety laws? And while Texas should do more to improve mental health care and access to treatment, why would that preclude gun safety laws?

Beginning with his initial inaccurate statements about the Robb Elementary School massacre, Abbott’s response to Uvalde has been a model of failure.

He has not visited the grieving community since June 5, did not attend any funerals, and his office has not intervened in the poor handling of a state-funded resilience center, which has failed to support grieving families. His comments to Cannon were the first since the shooting’s aftermath, besides a tepid guest column in these pages that used many words but said very little.

Abbott has talked big about healing and accountability in Uvalde, but his rhetoric is always incomplete because he will not include gun safety in that conversation.

“We will bind up the wounds of the people of Uvalde and once again restore the luster to a community known for its warmth, its friendship and its values,” he said on May 27 in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

But those comments were made in a prerecorded speech at the National Rifle Association’s conference in Houston, a speech in which he reassured attendees there would be no new gun laws.

Now that Uvalde, grieving and wounded, has called for raising the purchase age of assault weapons, a new gun law, Abbott is delivering for the NRA. So much for binding those wounds.

“You don’t bite the hand that feeds you, unfortunately, in this case,” Uvalde City Councilman Hector Luevano said, citing NRA donations to Texas lawmakers.

What officials in Uvalde have requested is hardly unreasonable or extreme in response to the magnitude of grief there. The shooter was 18. A purchase age of 21 might have prevented tragedy.

A national poll from Quinnipiac in June showed three-quarters of Americans support raising the purchase age for a gun to 21. This includes 59 percent of Republicans.

Other polling done before Uvalde shows most Texans support universal background checks and red flag laws.

Responding to the nation’s second-worst school shooting with an emphasis on gun safety isn’t an extreme position: It’s a moral and humane one.

The extreme view is to deny Uvalde’s humanity and to conclude that gun violence can be addressed without ever considering guns. It’s a bit like promising to help Uvalde heal but then never visiting.

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