Editorial Roundup: Texas

San Antonio Express-News. July 22, 2021.

Editorial: State leaders join bullying of trans kids

When considering who should be off-limits from harm done by lawmakers, children should rise to the top of the list, yet Gov. Greg Abbott and the GOP’s policies are persistently hurtful, especially to children who are transgender.

Abbott and many Republican lawmakers are doing all they can to move forward with anti-transgender policies. In an interview Monday, Abbott told Mark Davis, a conservative radio talk-show host, that since anti-transgender legislation can’t pass the House, he’s found another way to stop transgender children from receiving gender-affirming health care, which he will share soon.

Targeting transgender people has become a Texas tradition.

On July 14 along party lines, the Senate passed Senate Bill 2, which would require students in public schools and public institutions of higher education to compete in interscholastic athletic competitions based on biological sex. Also passed was Senate Bill 32, identical to SB 29 passed during regular session, which requires public school students to compete in interscholastic athletic competitions based on biological sex.

The legislation is opposed by not only Democrats and civil rights advocates but the NCAA and major corporations, which threatened to take their business elsewhere if lawmakers moved forward with this pursuit.

Children who are transgender are already among the most vulnerable, facing bullying and harassment from their peers. If these students need gender-affirming care, they should be able to get it. If they want to play sports according to their gender identity, they should be able to play. Transgender children have rights and deserve support.

Equality Texas, the largest statewide organization of LGBTQ+ Texans, denounced the Legislature’s “unprecedented attack,” which includes more than 30 anti-LGBTQ+ bills during the regular session and an additional 16 anti-trans bills in the special session.

This was done, it said, “despite unequivocal evidence of documented harm to our children caused by political leaders debating whether trans kids should be treated like every other child in this state,” said Ricardo Martinez, chief executive officer of Equality Texas.

Social workers, educators, health care workers, civil rights advocates and children who are transgender have advocated against these anti-trans bills.

Clara Carnes of Houston spoke in opposition of both bills. “Here’s what it is like to be transgender. Every day you wake up and you see an impostor in the mirror. You are trapped and you cannot get out. Children should not be the victims of this widespread transgender paranoia. We are not dangerous. ... I just want the ability to exist and be treated like everyone else.”

We don’t have to guess or imagine what these measures would do to this vulnerable population because it’s already happening. In a July 12 hearing, parents told senators that anti-trans bills have already had a negative impact on their children — Texas youth who have lost significant weight due to anxiety and worry about these bills and who are self-harming. Calls from Texas to Transgender Lifeline, a crisis hotline, increased 72 percent in May, during the peak of the debate in the regular session on similar bills.

Alison Mohr Boleware, government relations director of the National Association of Social Workers Texas Chapter, testified against the bill July 12, saying students who are transgender are worried, scared and don’t want to be excluded from sports. “The rhetoric around this bill is really hard to hear,” she said.

Thankfully, there wasn’t a vote in the House because of a lack of quorum due to Democrats having left the state to protest anti-voting legislation. But there will be a vote, eventually.

There is something downright mean about twisting sports — which at its best is inclusive and builds confidence — into something exclusive and potentially ostracizing. But perhaps that doesn’t play well in a GOP primary.

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Dallas Morning News. July 22, 2021.

Editorial: Texas women deserve control over pelvic exams. At long last, their consent will be required

Women understand that pelvic exams are medically necessary and a normal part of wellness checkups. But too often in this country, they are performed unnecessarily and without a woman’s consent, frequently while she is under anesthesia for an unrelated procedure.

This practice, done for years to help educate medical students, needs to end, and we are glad to say it has in Texas.

The Legislature passed and the governor signed House Bill 1434 this session, requiring hospital staff to get informed consent from a patient prior to surgery in order to do the procedure. This decision has been a long time coming, especially after the viral hashtag #MeTooPelvic spurred conversations about a practice that many didn’t know existed.

It started in 2019 with a New York Times article in which a woman told her story about finding out she’d been given a pelvic exam that she had not consented to during a surgical procedure. As a sexual assault survivor, she found this triggering, and she went on to tell her story and warn other women that the same thing could happen to them.

After the story broke, the hashtag popped up, and women all over the country began sharing similar stories of waking up sore and confused after undergoing surgeries where their sexual organs weren’t relevant.

This practice is surprisingly common. A 2019 study by ELLE magazine showed that 92% of medical students surveyed from seven major American medical schools had performed a pelvic exam on an anesthetized female patient, at least 61% of those without consent.

While patients sign a form allowing a medical student to participate in their care, the wording is vague and doesn’t discuss students performing unnecessary procedures on unconscious patients, especially on sexual organs.

After legislation failed to advance in a prior session, this bill deserves only one word: finally.

Effective Sept. 1, doctors must obtain informed consent from patients by including a checkbox on the consent form with “CONSENT FOR EXAMINATION OF PELVIC REGION” in 18-point font and bold lettering. The bill subjects those who fail to get informed consent to disciplinary action or denial of license.

After years of prompting and failed bills, this law is an important step for the discussions of informed consent in the medical community and for the women whom this abusive practice has harmed.

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Houston Chronicle. July 19, 2021.

Editorial: Voting mistake arrest is Paxton’s lowest blow in championing the Big Lie

They finally found the voter fraud.

Our long, national nightmare is over. Order is restored. Democracy is saved. President Biden, call up a moving company and start packing your bags. Donald Trump, start measuring the drapes in the Oval Office.

Texans, we finally got our money’s worth out of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s beefed-up voter fraud unit that spent more than 22,000 hours sniffing out cases and, as of March, had prosecuted just 16.

Just when Republicans had started to hedge a bit on their claims of widespread fraud, and stress that even one case was worth a slew of new voting restrictions, the heavens opened and delivered exactly one case. Miracle, thy name is Hervis Rogers.

His crime? The 62-year-old Black man from Houston voted in the March 2020 Democratic primary just a few months shy of completing felony parole and getting his voting rights restored.

The horror.

The true horror is how desperately the apostles of the Big Lie are trying to keep the voter fraud myth alive despite any evidence that it’s a real problem in our society in need of legislative remedy.

Over the past year, the Big Lie that began with Trump claiming widespread voter fraud cost him the popular vote has become more than a nefarious attempt to undermine the peaceful transfer of power. It has created pressure on Republicans to substantiate the false narrative and to show their primary voters that they did something to deliver our elections from imagined evil.

Of course, instances of actual voter fraud do exist, although the chances of it occurring are slimmer than getting struck by lightning. But at this point, the stakes are so high to prove the alleged danger it poses to our democracy that the term “voter fraud” has been stretched beyond recognition. In Texas, it now encompasses just about any nontraditional attempt to vote for someone who likely will not vote to protect GOP hegemony.

Twenty-four-hour voting? Fraud. Mail-in ballots? Fraud. Secure drop-boxes? Fraud. Early voting on Sunday morning? Fraud. Red state turning blue? Fraud.

And yes, “fraud” includes one man’s mistaken belief that his voting rights had been restored before they actually were.

Before he became known as the face of voter fraud in Texas, Hervis Rogers was known as a patriot. He had become something of a national sensation after waiting in line to vote at Texas Southern University for six hours until 1 a.m. on Super Tuesday 2020.

“I figured like it was my duty to vote I wanted to get my vote in to voice my opinion. And I wasn’t going to let nothing stop me. So I waited it out,” Rogers told CNN.

Now, thanks to Paxton, Rogers’ seven minutes of fame could send him back to prison for the rest of his life. Paxton charged Rogers in Montgomery County earlier this month with two counts of casting his ballot illegally, where he was held in custody on a $100,000 bond before The Bail Project bailed him out.

Rogers was still on parole for a 1995 burglary conviction — for which he served nine years of a 25-year sentence — when he voted in the 2020 primary and November 2018 general election. His vote in the March elections came less than four months before his parole was set to expire, and his voting rights set to be fully restored. In Texas, convicted felons are barred from “knowingly” voting until their sentence is complete, including probation and parole.

Violating that law is a second-degree felony — on par with far more dangerous crimes such as aggravated assault or aggravated kidnapping — and carries a maximum penalty of 40 years in prison, possibly longer for Rogers since he has a prior conviction.

“I prosecute voter fraud everywhere we find it!” Paxton gleefully tweeted after Rogers’ arrest.

Clearly, Rogers is nothing more than lighter fluid for the fading embers of the Big Lie, of which Paxton is a true believer having filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn the general election.

Consider that Paxton brought these charges against Rogers more than a year after the Harris County Attorney’s Office informed the voter registrar’s office of the allegations against him. Rogers’ face was plastered on TV and circulated on social media for days. If he intended to vote illegally, he did a poor job of covering his tracks. This was hardly a complex case that required tedious sleuthing by Paxton. Since 2015, at least 72 percent of election fraud cases brought by Paxton have been against Black and Latino defendants.

So why indict Rogers now? Easy: The Texas Legislature is back in session to consider new restrictions on voting access and they need a poster boy.

But Rogers’ prosecution is hardly symbolic. Paxton intends to win this case, as evidenced by his forum shopping — charging him in mostly white, conservative Montgomery County, as opposed to Harris County where Rogers lives and voted. It wouldn’t be the first time Paxton pulled this stunt, as he tried last year to indict a Harris County Democratic election official in Montgomery County on charges that he had obstructed a poll watcher.

The tragedy of Rogers’ predicament is he clearly thought he was doing the right thing. He served his time, registered to vote, and performed his civic duty with aplomb.

Indeed, even Texas lawmakers recently acknowledged the unfairness of such a circumstance when the House agreed to include a provision in last session’s voting bill to make sure those with felony convictions are notified about temporary restrictions on their voting eligibility in Texas. The inspiration for the reform was Crystal Mason, a Tarrant County woman who is appealing her voter fraud conviction for casting a provisional ballot in 2016 while on federal supervised release because she didn’t know the rules.

Is this petty criminalization of democratic participation what Americans want when they cry for election integrity?

Surely not. Most folks simply want their own ballot to be counted — just once — and handled fairly, not tossed out or tampered with or unduly influenced in some way. And they want the same for every other eligible voter.

They want real fraud to be prevented. And Texas has plenty of laws to do that. Unfortunately, we also have laws such as the one used to prosecute Rogers that can be weaponized by irresponsible politicians and prosecutors for reasons that have nothing to do with integrity.

Texas lawmakers should pass the bill preventing malicious prosecutions like the one Paxton is attempting. The target, after all, isn’t just Rogers. It’s anyone who hears the story and begins to associate a sacred civic duty with prison, begins to fear that a simple mistake at the ballot box could cost him the very freedom he is voting to preserve.

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Beaumont Enterprise. July 19, 2021.

Editorial: ‘Dreamers’ ruling shows need for broad reform for immigration, border security

For most Americans, the back-and-forth legal battle over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that provided temporary peace of mind for the so-called “Dreamers” might seem like just another political battle in Washington. For the Dreamers, however, it’s much more serious.

Last week’s ruling by a federal judge that overturned the Obama-era DACA program should be the final straw that motivates Congress to finally get serious about the broader immigration reform that both parties support even though some details inevitably separate them.

Dreamers are the immigrants who were brought into this country illegally by their parents when they were children, but by now most of them have lived in this country for two decades or more. Most are as thoroughly Americanized as many other citizens of their generation. Many of them have gotten college degrees or even served in our military.

Many of them have no memory of the country of their birth, usually Mexico or a nation in Central America, and some don’t even speak their parents’ language well — again, in most cases Spanish. For that reason, the thought of deporting them to their native country just seems unfair.

Even many Republicans in Congress agree. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, as conservative as any Republican in Washington, has been working to legalize the status of Dreamers for year. Many of his GOP colleagues in Washington would support that too in return for better border security and an agreement to deport more illegal border-crossers.

Again, most Democrats have no problems with the broad outlines of that proposal. There is a deal to be made there, if both sides could get past the posturing and bickering — and ignore the edges of their party, which are often unwilling to compromise at all.

President Trump often signaled his support for such an agreement when he was in power, though it never happened. President Biden has often said he wants to lower the temperature in Washington and is open to these sorts of agreements. The tentative agreement on an infrastructure package shows that the two parties can still work together on occasion.

Even though this issue has been kicking around for years, the judge’s ruling last week brought new urgency to it. The Biden administration has said it will appeal the ruling, and most Dreamers are in no immediate danger of being deported. But the uncertainty that surrounds their status has been greatly increased, and this should serve as an impetus for the deal that both parties keep talking about.

With Democrats controlling both chambers of Congress and the presidency, the ball is in their court on this issue. Republicans could be persuaded to legalize the status for Dreamers, but they would want more action on illegal crossings.

As one moderate Democrat put it, “I don’t want to beat up on the administration, but we have to make decisions that are not easy and soft,” said Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, whose district includes the Rio Grande Valley, the area with the most illegal crossings. “We need to be humane and treat people with dignity, but we have to have orderly process on the southern border.”

He’s right, and it’s time for both parties to move to the center on this issue after promising to do that for so many years. The Dreamers have been dreaming about a resolution of this issue for years, and the federal judge’s ruling should be the factor that makes it happen in 2021.

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Victoria Advocate. July 20, 2021.

Editorial: Community should look beyond STAAR scores

As a community, we should look beyond state test scores and instead look at what they mean.

The Texas Education Agency released this year’s State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, scores. The scores showed a staggering regression in key content areas including math and reading.

Though the scores show regression, we need to take that information with a bit of context.

Students were not tested by the state in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These scores are a reflection of the learning gaps the pandemic created in the last year and a half of schooling. The STAAR scores are the first tangible look educators are getting into the learning loss students experienced this year.

Statewide, about four out of 10 Texas public school students failed the standardized state math exams. State data shows that students who learned virtually struggled more than those who learned in a standard classroom setting.

Instead of criticizing schools for the scores our kids received, we should look at ways to improve the learning gaps that were exacerbated from the pandemic.

We learned through the scores that students who learned remotely scored poorer than students who returned to the classroom. This is nuanced and limited to the pandemic because remote learning options are limited in Texas for the 2021-22 school year.

With remote learning students, schools should and will work on catching those students up on information from the previous school year. This can be done in small group tutoring before, during and after school.

We learned that students who come from economically disadvantaged homes scored poorer than students who do not.

As a community, we should not look down on those kids or schools but look to what we can do to help those students and families.

Some ways we can help are offering accessible after school programs, tutoring opportunities and access to technology and resources.

The Victoria school district said they are using the scores to address student needs.

New phonics programs will be implemented for younger students who struggled with reading. Tutoring will be expanded across the district and content areas. Summer school has been extended for credit recovery.

This is a good start but we have to continue to offer programs and be ready to help.

We should change our mindset from “why aren’t these students scoring better” to “why are students struggling and how can we address those needs.”

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