Obama cut women's health money in Texas for targeting Planned Parenthood. Trump just restored it.

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

From left, Gov. Greg Abbott reacts as President Donald Trump speaks at a church relief center during a visit with flood survivors and volunteers of Hurricane Harvey in Houston on Sept. 2, 2017.
From left, Gov. Greg Abbott reacts as President Donald Trump speaks at a church relief center during a visit with flood survivors and volunteers of Hurricane Harvey in Houston on Sept. 2, 2017.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The federal government is restoring funding for Texas’ publicly funded women’s health programs, bringing as much as $350 million into state coffers and sending a clear message to conservative states: It’s OK to defund providers affiliated with abortion.

The Wednesday announcement from the Trump administration reverses an Obama-era decision in 2012 to cut federal women’s health funding to Texas. That came as punishment after the Texas Legislature in 2011 excluded Planned Parenthood from the Healthy Texas Women program because of the organization’s affiliation with abortion providers, though the women’s health program does not fund abortion.

“The Lone Star State is once again in partnership with the federal government to provide meaningful family planning and health services while fostering a culture of life,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a Wednesday statement.

The decision was long-awaited; Texas first asked the federal government — perceived under Trump as more sympathetic to Texas’ anti-abortion crusade — to help pay for its women’s health programs in 2017.

Healthy Texas Women offers family planning and health services such as pregnancy and STD testing to low- and middle-income women. In 2018, it served approximately 173,000 people, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. State officials said the restored federal funding, approved through 2024, would allow the program to reach more than 200,000 clients per year.

The federal government will pay 90% of costs for family-planning services and a little more than half of the costs for other women’s health services. State funds will cover the rest.

“With Governor Abbott’s strong leadership, we continue making significant strides in improving access to women’s health and family planning services in Texas,” said Courtney Phillips, executive commissioner of Texas’ health and human services agency.

Women’s health advocates, who have long condemned the state’s defunding of Planned Parenthood, criticized the decision.

“This waiver is a sham process meant to condone the targeting of Planned Parenthood and other women’s health care providers without actually improving services for women,” said Stacey Pogue, a women’s health expert from the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities think tank.

Pogue said the federal funds will merely supplant money the state already spends and will not actually improve services for Texas women.

Governor Abbott Applauds Trump Administration’s Approval Of Texas Women’s Health Program

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott today issued the following statement regarding the Trump administration’s approval of the 1115 Waiver for Healthy Texas Women.

Governor Greg Abbott today issued the following statement regarding the Trump administration’s approval of the 1115 Waiver for Healthy Texas Women, reestablishing the federal partnership for Texas’ women’s health program:

“The Lone Star State is once again in partnership with the federal government to provide meaningful family planning and health services while fostering a culture of life,” said Governor Abbott. “This collaboration is a symbol of our commitment to championing the lives of Texas women. I am grateful to President Trump and his administration for approving this waiver, and for his commitment to protecting the unborn while providing much-needed health resources to Texas women.”

Healthy Texas Women (HTW) offers family planning and women’s health services to Texas women who earn less than 200% of the Federal Poverty Limit. In 2018, HTW served approximately 173,000 Texans. While this program is currently funded with state General Revenue, Texas submitted a Medicaid 1115 waiver application after President Trump took office, requesting federal matching funds for the HTW program. The 1115 Waiver had previously not been renewed under the Obama administration because Texas refused to fund abortion providers or their affiliates.

Texas will receive a 90/10 match for family planning services and will receive Texas’ current  Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) for other women’s health services. The demonstration waiver was approved through December 2024, and will allow Texas to serve more than 200,000 clients a year. The HTW program is a part of Texas’ approach to address maternal mortality and morbidity concerns, and offers basic health care screenings and treatment for cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and postpartum depression.

Announcing The Governor’s Committee On People With Disabilities Quarterly Meeting In Waco

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

The Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) will hold their quarterly business meeting on January 28th and 29th, 2020 at the Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco, Texas.

The Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) will hold their quarterly business meeting on January 28th and 29th, 2020 at the Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco, Texas.

GCPD welcomes public comments pertaining to topics of importance for Texans with disabilities. Meeting locations change every quarter in an effort to gather community input from individuals with disabilities, their families, and stakeholder groups throughout the state. Members of the public are encouraged to participate in this process by giving public comment in person at the beginning of each meeting or providing written testimony to GCPD in advance by emailing gcpd@gov.texas.gov.

WHO: Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities

WHAT: Quarterly business meeting

WHEN: January 28th from 12:00PM-5:00PM CST

January 29th from 8:30AM-12:30PM CST

WHERE: Education Service Center Region 12

2101 West Loop 340

Waco, TX 76712

In accordance with the Open Meetings Act, the GCPD meeting agenda is posted on the Secretary of State’s website. The meeting will be live-streamed via Zoom. Public comment may only be received in person or via email. 

Created in 1950, GCPD’s mission is to further opportunities for persons with disabilities to enjoy full and equal access to lives marked by independence, productivity, and self-determination. GCPD recommends changes in disability policies and programs in the areas of accessibility, communication, education, emergency preparedness, health, housing, recreation, transportation, veterans, and workforce. 

Notice of Assistance at Public Meetings.

Persons with disabilities who plan to attend this meeting and who may need assistance, such as an American Sign Language interpreter, Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART) or materials in an alternate format, may contact the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities at least seven (7) working days prior to the meeting. Call 512-463-5739 using the Relay Option of Your Choice, or email: gcpd@gov.texas.gov

ICYMI: Governor Abbott Discusses Booming Texas Economy On Fox & Friends

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott joined Fox & Friends from Davos, Switzerland this morning to discuss the World Economic Forum, the booming Texas economy, and the state’s thriving business climate.

Governor Greg Abbott joined Fox & Friends from Davos, Switzerland this morning to discuss the World Economic Forum, the booming Texas economy, and the state’s thriving business climate. 

“Texas is the fastest growing economy in the United States. We have the number one gross domestic product among all the states because like the President, we truly embrace the value of capitalism,” said Governor Abbott following President Donald Trump’s keynote address at the World Economic Forum. “We want businesses to come to the state of Texas. We want fewer regulations, lower taxes. We want to make it easy for businesses to be able to succeed, because we understand something in Texas that it seems like some other states do not. That is, when your business succeeds in Texas, we, as a state, succeed.”

The Governor also discussed why thousands continue to flee liberal states like California for more economically prosperous states like Texas. 

“Last year, 700,000 people fled California. When you consider the beautiful climate out there, it is hard to imagine 700,000 people fleeing. You also have people fleeing Illinois, New Jersey, and other states because they’re trying to get away from the things that hamstring capitalism and hamstring the ability to start and grow a business. We as a nation and we as a state have record low unemployment and wages are rising. As the President pointed out what is true there, is true in Texas. That is, the top 10% of the people benefiting the most from all of this are the bottom 10% of wage earners. Wages are going up more than anybody else.”

Watch Governor Abbott’s full appearance on Fox & Friends. 

Warren reveals more endorsements from former Castro, O’Rourke supporters

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts, takes the stage at a campaign town hall meeting in Grimes, Iowa on Monday.
Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts, takes the stage at a campaign town hall meeting in Grimes, Iowa on Monday.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The battle for former supporters of Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke is continuing apace as Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren unveils a fresh round of endorsements from Texas lawmakers.

In announcement first shared with The Texas Tribune, Warren’s campaign unveiled the support of four legislators who represent O’Rourke’s native El Paso: Sen. José Rodríguez; Reps. Art Fierro and Mary González; and House Speaker Pro Tem Joe Moody. All four previously supported Castro or O’Rourke, and some, like Moody, were initial O’Rourke supporters who switched over to Castro after O’Rourke ended his campaign in November.

“I’m proud to endorse Elizabeth Warren for President because she has a proven track record as a fighter for working families and a champion for LGBTQ+ equality,” González, who chairs the House LGBT Caucus, said in statement. “I know she’ll make big, structural change to deliver real progress to people in Texas and across the country.”

The latest announcement comes as Warren keeps increasing her focus on the state ahead of Super Tuesday, or March 3. The rush for support within the state opened up after the departures of both Texans in the race — and Castro’s decision to back Warren shortly after he dropped out earlier this month. Since then, Warren and Joe Biden have been trading endorsement rollouts. In one case, the former vice president released a list of new Texas endorsements the day after Castro endorsed Warren.

While the former vice president has easily maintained the most congressional endorsements in Texas, Warren is catching up to him among state lawmakers. She now has the support of seven members of the Legislature to his 11.

Biden has been the poll leader ahead of the Texas primary, though Warren’s campaign was the earliest to build a formal organization here. Former New York City Michael Bloomberg is also making a serious push for the state, recently announcing a presence here larger than that of any other Democratic contender.

Meet the Texas-based church security business training worshippers to fight back in mass shootings

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

A member of a church security team fires at a target at a shooting range in Krugerville. Various church security teams are training for active shooter situations with the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management.
A member of a church security team fires at a target at a shooting range in Krugerville. Various church security teams are training for active shooter situations with the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

KRUGERVILLE — Liberty Hill resident T.J. Wagner yelled commands at his friend James Johnson in an empty classroom at a building in North Texas earlier this month: “Face the wall! Feet apart! Hands behind your back!”

Within seconds, Wagner handcuffed Johnson, leading him out of the room with one hand gripping the metal cuffs and the other squeezing his right bicep to guide him out. Then, the two switched places and it was Johnson’s turn to detain his buddy.

The pair were among a group of several men from across the state who enrolled in a training program this month where they practiced combat moves, learned how to apprehend suspects and shot firearms.

But they weren’t training for law enforcement.They’re just men who are worried about their churches.

They’re preparing for the worst-case scenario, one where their congregations are the target of a mass shooting — something that was almost unthinkable a few years ago but has happened twice in Texas in the past three years.

In November 2017, a gunman opened fire inside First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and injuring 20 more. And last month, days after Christmas, a shooter attacked the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, killing two people and injuring one before being fatally shot by Jack Wilson, an Army veteran and head of the church’s volunteer security team.

A few days before he left for the training seminar, Wagner said a few friends asked him, “Do you think you need security at church?”

A couple days later, the shooting at White Settlement church happened, and one of those friends later told him he was right to attend.

“We’re seeing lots of other churches that had not thought about this are putting together security teams,” said Wagner, a member of Life Church in Leander, an interdenominational house of worship. “It’s a terrible thing that we have to do that, that you have to think about it, but it’s been proven over and over again, that it’s possible it could happen. So be proactive.”

Security training

Chuck Chadwick, the founder and president of the National Organization for Church Security and Safety Management, has been in the church security business for about 18 years, encouraging parishioners and worshippers to take their safety into their own hands. He’s experienced a spike in interest in recent weeks, following the White Settlement shooting, that mirrors the same interest his business got after Sutherland Springs.

In a one-story building in Krugerville, a city about an hour and a half north of Dallas, located next to a State Farm office and gun shop, attendees go through the same state-certification training as private security guards. Except at the end, instead of being paid to protect an office building, the participants will be volunteers protecting their flocks.

Members of church security teams from across Texas gathered in Krugerville, near Denton, to get certified in church security and trained for an active shooter situation by the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management Jan. 11, 2020.
Members of church security teams from across Texas gathered in Krugerville, near Denton, to get certified in church security and trained for an active shooter situation by the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management Jan. 11, 2020.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson

Members of church security teams from across Texas gathered in Krugerville, near Denton, to get certified in church security and trained for an active shooter situation by the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management Jan. 11, 2020.
Members of church security teams from across Texas gathered in Krugerville, near Denton, to get certified in church security and trained for an active shooter situation by the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management Jan. 11, 2020.
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson

Leslie Borham-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

Churches pay about $800 to fully certify and train each person through Chadwick’s school. The Chadwicks’ full program costs $620 and state licensing runs about $180.

In the classroom, Will Chadwick, Chuck’s son and the class instructor, described attack scenarios to a group of participants who attended in early January. He gave advice on what to do — but also, legally, what not to do.

Draw the assailant away from where children might be, he said.

Use words as your first line of defense.

Don’t handcuff an attacker to something and just walk away.

Throughout the training, Will Chadwick peppered the men with verbal pop quizzes to prepare them for the 100-question state exam that would come at the end of the program.

The second half of the training was more hands on. Will Chadwick, who typically spoke in a calm voice, barked his commands at the men.

He demonstrated hand-to-hand combat techniques and the proper way to strike a police baton.

Members of churches from across Texas gathered in Krugerville, near Denton, to get certified in church security and trained for an active shooter situation by the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management. | by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune
Members of churches from across Texas gathered in Krugerville, near Denton, to get certified in church security and trained for an active shooter situation by the National Organization of Church Security and Safety Management. | by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune
Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

Participants also shot a variety of handguns and shotguns as part of their certification at the company’s outdoor gun range.

The Chadwicks’ training prepares participants for violent attacks, but they said it would also come in handy for more common situations, like church parking lot thefts.

Many of the participants in the January class had enrolled before the shooting at White Settlement.

“It’s surreal that you’re coming in here and you’re training for what you hope never happens. And then the very next day, it happens,” said Jimmy Bills, a former Marine who lives in East Texas and attends Oasis Church of Round Rock. Bills was dressed in all black with a “Don’t tread on me” hat.

The average participant who attended the training was a man with former military or law enforcement experience.

“I’d rather have me doing it than somebody I don’t know,” said Larry Graves, a 65-year-old father of eight kids and Army veteran who traveled from Arlington.

A new calling

Chuck Chadwick, 65, got his start in private security, working about 20 years at a high-end auction house based in Dallas, protecting fine art, gold coins and luxury goods.

But after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, he felt a calling.

In 2002, he went on to develop a security program for two megachurches in Texas and became their director of security.

Four years later, he started the National Organization for Church Security and Safety Management which has turned into a family business. Chuck Chadwick serves as president; his wife Marian is vice president and over logistics; and his son Will is the primary instructor and trainer.

“I saw there was a real need for a low-cost alternative to private security for churches,” Chuck Chadwick said.

His organization is one of a handful of Texas-based organizations that do security training specifically for churches. The Chadwick family business only works with “Judeo-Christian” organizations, Chuck Chadwick said.

At the time Chuck Chadwick started his church security business, there had been at least two mass shootings of churches in Texas. In 1980, a gunman killed five people at The First Baptist Church in Daingerfield. In 1999, a gunman killed eight people, including himself, at the Wedgwood Baptist Church in Forth Worth.

Chuck Chadwick estimates that his business has certified about 500 licensed church security guards at almost 100 churches, mostly in Texas.

Though inquiries about the training program surge following news of mass shootings, only a fraction of people actually follow through, Chuck Chadwick said.

“We call it emotional inertia. Everybody gets all excited about it, you know, ‘We gotta do something, we gotta do something,” Chadwick said, “but then nothing happens at their church and they figure, ‘I guess we’re okay.'”

This time could be different, Chadwick said. Because there was video of the shooting, the visual may stick with them much longer, he said.

State law

A video of the shooting in White Settlement shows a number of congregants drew their gun at the shooter, but it was Wilson, head of the church’s volunteer security team, who killed the shooter with one shot. Regarded as a hero by many, Wilson was awarded the first Governor’s Medal of Courage last week.

Had Wilson not intervened, the shooting “could have been so much worse,” said Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of the Sutherland Springs church and a state Senate candidate.

Pomeroy’s 14-year-old daughter was killed during the 2017 shooting, but the pastor stands firmly against increasing gun restrictions.

“We are God’s protectors, and to do so we need to be trained and we need to be armed with the capability to protect our sheep,” Pomeroy said.

Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, said people celebrating Wilson were diminishing a tragedy where lives were lost.

“The system has failed when we’ve got guns and churches and when some people are celebrating [there were only] three dead people,” Switzer said. “How is three dead people not a failure?”

For years, Texas churches were hindered from organizing volunteer security. They either had to pay for private security guards, or seek special permission from the state, an exemption that came with a $400 price tag.

That changed when a new law went in effect in September 2017.

Former state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, said he was inspired to submit a bill to the Legislature after discovering that though existing law had allowed congregants with licenses to carry firearms into churches, they weren’t allowed to organize into a volunteer security teams without paying the state.

Rinaldi’s bill went into affect a month before the mass shooting of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.

“There’s no doubt that what the law did was legalize what was done at White Settlement Church in forming a security team. Without the bill that passed in 2017, those individuals would not have been able to form a security team and then who knows what could have happened,” Rinaldi said.

Analysis: Voters elect Texas' judges. The state might take that power — but it's risky.

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

The Texas Supreme Court.
The Texas Supreme Court.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.

There are any number of ways to pick good judges, bad judges and those not-quite-rare-enough WTF judges, and none of those selection methods is foolproof.

Texas elects judges, relying on voters to sort through pages and pages of ballot undergrowth, figuring out which candidates are fit to put on the judicial robes. The record is mixed. In a normal election, candidates in the races at the top — for president, for governor and the like — are usually well known to voters. That recognition doesn’t often travel far down the ballot, and judges are elected largely on the basis of political party and whether they have melodious names. It’s a grab bag, evidenced whenever a party sweep clears a courthouse full of incumbents, as happened in Harris County in 2018. That was a party rout, replacing the best and the worst Republican judges with the best and the worst Democratic challengers.

The federal government uses appointment, relying on presidents to pick judges and on the U.S. Senate to confirm the qualified ones, sorting legal wizards from rotten eggs. The voters in this case have more information about the candidates, but the partisan nature of the exercise is obvious to anyone who has followed a U.S. Supreme Court appointment and confirmation.

Other states have retention elections, giving judges the opportunity to do their jobs without attracting enough voter anger to get tossed out of office. As in states like Texas, where judges are elected like everyone else, that’s subject to outside influence by political donors and interest groups hoping to influence the direction of the courts, if not the outcomes of specific cases. Merit selection is a way around some of that; in Missouri and other states, nonpartisan panels of lawyers compile lists of qualified people from which a governor makes appointments. Voters then have periodic chances to vote judges they don’t like out of office.

Good judges support all of these systems, and good judges hate all of them. Judicial selection by any method is subjective, and someone who looks like a good pick might turn out to be a terror in a black robe.

And putting judges on the ballot is popular with voters, even though some judges think it’s unseemly to join political parties, to raise money from people who might have interests before the courts or from lawyers who practice before those judges, and to stump for votes and support like other politicians. That voter support is what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick recently cited when expressing doubts about calls for reform. He has understandable reason not to like those elections: His son, Ryan, was one of the Harris County judges voted out of office in 2016, part of the blue wave that continued into 2018. Across the state, that 2018 election put 400 new judges into office.

Meanwhile, an appointed state panel is talking about judicial selection again — this happens from time to time in Texas — trying to find a better way. It has some support from Gov. Greg Abbott, a former judge who moved over to the executive branch years ago, and is trying to find an alternative to the partisan elections Texas employs to pick its jurists.

Judges aren’t supposed to pre-judge cases; they’re supposed to hear the facts, read the law and rule accordingly, and without infusing their personal ideas and biases. At the very least, they’re supposed to appear to be acting that way. It’s laudable, but it keeps voters and senators from knowing exactly what’s going to happen when they make someone a judge.

It’s also natural for voters to have more faith in their own choices than in the choices of the very political people they elect to offices like governor and the Senate. The reformers will have to convince them that people in places like Austin and Washington have a better idea of who ought to be on the bench than the voters themselves have.

That’s a hard sale to make. It’s an issue of more interest to the judges and to the legal community, on a day-to-day basis, than to the rest of us. What’s more, it’s potentially risky for a legislator to cross the voters that way without some very clear signal that the voters want to make the change, to give up the power to choose judges. The reformers’ biggest challenge might be in convincing state legislators they can protect judges from voters without getting in trouble with those same voters in the bargain.

Governor’s Committee On People With Disabilities Seeks Nominations For The 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

The Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) is now accepting nominations for the 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards.

The Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) is now accepting nominations for the 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards. Nominations are open for media professionals and students in Texas who have produced media covering the lived experience of people with disabilities. These awards seek to spotlight journalists who portray people with disabilities through a positive, person-centered lens.

“It is important to recognize the experiences and contributions of Texans with disabilities,” said Governor Greg Abbott. “We are committed to ensuring Texas remains a state that provides unmatched opportunity for all, and these awards are an important aspect of honoring the value that people with disabilities bring to the Lone Star State.”

Awards are presented in several different categories, including Broadcast, Photojournalism, Print, Book, and College or High School Student. Winners are selected by a panel of professional journalists, people with disabilities, and disability services professionals. Self-nominations are welcome and encouraged in all categories. To be eligible, entries must have been produced and offered to the public between January 1 and December 31, 2019.

The 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards will be presented April 23, 2020 at Texas A&M University. The ceremony is hosted by the Texas A&M Department of Communication, which administers the University Studies Liberal Arts (USLA) Journalism Studies Degree, Texas A&M Athletics, and the Texas A&M Center on Disability and Development.

Submission can be made online through the GCPD website or through the nomination form. Nominations must be submitted by Monday, February 17, 2020.

Submit a nomination for the 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards. 

Governor Abbott Lays Wreath At Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Tours City of David Pilgrimage Road

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott began his second day in Israel by visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, and touring the excavation site of the City of David Pilgrimage Road.

Governor Greg Abbott began his second day in Israel by visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, and touring the excavation site of the City of David Pilgrimage Road. During their visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the Governor and First Lady Cecilia Abbott laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance to honor the victims of the Holocaust. This is the second time the Governor and First Lady have participated in the wreath laying ceremony, having previously visited the museum in 2016.

Following his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, Governor Abbott toured the 2,000-year-old Pilgrimage Road excavation site and visited the Pool of Siloam. 

These visits are part of Governor Abbott’s economic development trip to Israel and Switzerland. 

“Cecilia and I are blessed to return to these important historical sites and pay tribute to those who suffered or lost their lives during the Holocaust,” said Governor Abbott. “The culture of Israel is enriched by its spirit of tradition, history, and unwavering courage in the face of tremendous adversity. We must never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust, and the Lone Star State stands with the people of Israel as we continue to fight for human dignity and freedom throughout the world.”

Yad Vashem is Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. The museum, established in 1953, is located on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. The name “Yad Vashem” is take from a verse in the Book of Isaiah: “Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 56:5). Naming the Holocaust memorial “yad vashem” conveys the idea of establishing a national depository for the names of Jewish victims who have no one to carry their name after death. After the Western Wall, Yad Vashem is the second most-visited Israeli tourist site and welcomes approximately one million visitors a year. 

The City of David reveals some of the most exciting archaeological finds of the ancient world. The story of the City of David began over 3,000 years ago, when King David left the city of Hebron for a small hilltop city known as Jerusalem, establishing it as the unified capital of the tribes of Israel. The city is a vibrant center of activity, welcoming visitors for an exciting tour to the site where much of the Bible was written. The tour of the city includes an observation point overlooking Biblical Jerusalem, sending visitors 3,800 years back in time the days of Abraham when the first foundations of the city were laid. 

Analysis: A seasonal change in Texas politics, as November trumps March

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

A voting sign outside Austin City Hall on Election Day in 2019.
A voting sign outside Austin City Hall on Election Day in 2019.
Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.

Whatever happens in politics this year, however red or blue or purple Texas turns out to be, the state’s longtime emphasis on primary elections has shifted to general elections.

The trend was underway before the last election, but 2018 proved that it was possible for the Democrats, who’ve been the minority party for so long, to compete in November. Republicans can no longer regard their March primaries as the uphill part of the ride and November general elections as the downhill coast to office.

Through a parade of Democrats running for governor — Garry Mauro, Tony Sanchez Jr., Chris Bell, Bill White, Wendy Davis and Lupe Valdez — the political question in Texas so far this century has been whether even a well-financed Democrat could crack Republicans’ hold on the state. And the answer — in many cases, well before any votes had been cast — was a persistent no.

The results, at least at the top of the ballot, haven’t changed. Republicans won every single statewide race in the 2018 election. Many were closer than they’ve been in years, enough to inspire speculation among donors, activists and voters. And the down-ballot effects were pronounced, with Democrats winning two seats from the Republicans in Congress, two in the state Senate (though they lost one to the Republicans in a special election) and a dozen in the Texas House. Local Republican candidates were shellacked in the state’s most populous county (Harris) and elsewhere.

It raised the real possibility that Democrats could succeed in the November elections, where they have come up short for so long. And it moved the emphasis of both the government and its elected officials to a different constituency.

In 2019, a Texas Legislature previously attuned to the wishes of conservative Republicans on issues like “sanctuary cities,” gender and public restrooms, school choice, and various other state GOP platform planks turned its attention to public education, property taxes, and other bread-and-butter issues. That was a reflection of the 2018 election, driven by rising activism around public schools, voter frustration over some of the highest property taxes in the U.S., and widespread complaints that lawmakers had frittered away too much time and energy on 2017’s bickering about bathrooms.

Voting in the 2020 primaries starts in a month, on Feb. 18, and there are competitive contests sprinkled across the Democratic and Republican ballots. And there’s a noisy Democratic primary for president, too. But the strategic conversations in Texas — and about Texas, outside of the state — are all about November.

Strategists are serious, too, raising money on both sides, one for attack, the other for defense. The presidential race gets most of the headlines, but that’s a spectator sport in some ways. The political tribes are working on races for Congress and the Texas Legislature. The state’s congressional delegation has a Republican majority and will still have one after the elections are over. But every seat counts, and Republicans would like to reverse their 2018 losses in Dallas and Houston. Democrats are working a list of five to seven seats now held by Republicans that, in a good year, might flip.

Both parties are thinking — and talking and raising money — about the composition of the Texas Legislature that will redraw the state’s political maps after this year’s national census. In a Texas with Republicans in control of all statewide offices, the Senate and the House, those maps will favor Republicans. But if Democrats win the House — Republicans had an 83-67 majority last session — the Republicans won’t have the same advantage over congressional maps. If the Legislature can’t agree on congressional maps that the governor also likes, that issue would go to federal judges for resolution.

A Democratic majority in the House would also change the state’s leadership, replacing a Republican speaker with a Democratic one for the first time since the 2001 session.

Winning primaries is important, the only way to advance to the next round. But for the first time in years, the second — harder — race is coming in November.

Governor Abbott Meets With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu In Jerusalem

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott concluded his first day in Israel by meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Governor Greg Abbott concluded his first day in Israel by meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. The Governor and the Prime Minister discussed the long-standing economic and cultural bond between Israel and Texas, as well as ways to strengthen this relationship in the future. This is Governor Abbott’s second time to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu — the two leaders met in 2016 when Governor Abbott visited Israel for a previous economic development mission. 

“The unwavering bond between Texas and Israel is marked by our shared commitment to freedom and economic opportunity,” said Governor Abbott. “I am grateful to Prime Minister Netanyahu for his warm hospitality and for his enduring friendship. In Texas, we have worked hard to reaffirm our steadfast support of Israel, and I am confident that this relationship will continue to prosper in the years to come.”

Governor Abbott Visits U.S. Embassy, Western Wall In Jerusalem

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott continued his first day in Israel by visiting the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, where he met with Ambassador David Friedman.

Governor Greg Abbott continued his first day in Israel by visiting the United States Embassy in Jerusalem, where he met with Ambassador David Friedman. The two leaders discussed the enduring friendship between Israel and Texas, and the Governor reaffirmed the Lone Star State’s unwavering support for the Israeli people. The discussion concluded with an update on Texas’ cornerstone plaque, made for display in the U.S. Embassy, that was unveiled in 2018. Complete with the Texas seal, the plaque reiterates the Texas-Israel connection and serves as another reminder of this historic relationship.

Following the visit to the U.S. Embassy, Governor Abbott traveled to the Western Wall where he prayed for the blessings of peace and prosperity among the people of both Israel and Texas. The Governor was accompanied by Ambassador Friedman, as well as Consul General of Israel to the Southwest Gilad Katz. 

Ambassador David Friedman was nominated by President Trump on January 20, 2017 and sworn in as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the State of Israel on March 29, 2017. He was the first bilateral ambassador to be confirmed in the Trump Administration. Prior to his appointment as Ambassador, Friedman was a nationally top-ranked attorney and a founding partner of a leading law firm in New York City. Since assuming his post, Ambassador Friedman has actively engaged in the development and execution of President Trump’s Israel-related policies, including those with respect to the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May 2018 and the recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. He also plays a lead role in the Administration’s ongoing efforts to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. Friedman earned a B.A. from Columbia University in New York City in 1978 and a J.D. from New York University School of Law in New York City in 1981. 

Gilad Katz, Consul General of Israel to the Southwest was appointed as Head of Post on August of 2017 to lead the Consulate General of Israel to the Southwest United States, which is responsible for the six-state region of Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Consulate’s departments include Academic, Cultural, Hispanic, Press, Political, and Strategic Affairs. Prior to assuming the post of Consul General to the Southwest United States, Consul General Katz held the title of Advisor to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During his tenure in the Office of the Prime Minister, he was Head of the Hebrew Correspondence Department and the Public Affairs Department. Consul General Katz has a background in policy, communications, and education. He served as a correspondent for Makor Rishon Newspaper in Israel, and earned a promotion as the Political and Diplomatic correspondent for the newspaper. Katz spent a decade in education including as a Public Representative in the Directorate of the Education Corporation for the Shoham Local Council in Shoham, Israel Katz proudly served in Israel’s military, as a part of the elite unit of “Zanhanim” paratroopers. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Communications from Bar-Ilan University. Additionally, he has his bachelor’s degrees in Political Science, Communications, and History from Bar-Ilan University.

Advocates have long tried to change judicial selection in Texas. Is Dan Patrick their newest obstacle?

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

The Texas Supreme Court on Jan. 15, 2020.
The Texas Supreme Court on Jan. 15, 2020.
Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

The fact that a new commission to study judicial selection in Texas even met last week was an achievement in itself.

The last time the Legislature created a commission to study the way Texas judges are picked, in 2013, it didn’t convene a single time. The last time a bill to overhaul the system made it through either chamber of the Legislature was a decade before that.

“We have one difference today,” David Beck, the commission’s chair and a former president of the state bar association, said on Thursday as he kicked off the inaugural meeting. “We’ve got a governor that is very supportive of these efforts.”

But shortly after that hopeful first meeting, advocates learned that there may be a similarly powerful Republican state leader on the other side of the issue: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Texas is one of just six states that elects all of its judges on a partisan ballot — a system rife with potential conflicts of interest, as lawyers write campaign contribution checks to judges they may appear in front of weeks later, and voters select between partisan candidates who promise to serve impartially once seated on the bench. The system has also triggered perennial “sweeps,” when an entire party slate wins election with little differentiation among candidates with varying experience levels and qualifications, most recently in 2018, when Democrats overtook courts in the state’s urban areas, and some 400 new judges were swept into office.

Good government advocates, attorneys and many judges themselves have long agitated for a new way, but the issue has proved intractable at the Capitol — in part because voters are loath to give up their voice in the process (even though few know anything about the candidates they are selecting between) and in part because the party in power has little incentive to alter a system that’s working to its advantage.

In a Friday afternoon press statement, Patrick showed major skepticism of the group’s efforts. That position could doom the proposal, which cannot become law without major buy-in from the Senate he leads.

“Texans feel strongly about voting for their judges,” Patrick said. “The commission will need to make a compelling argument to the people and legislators to change the current system. I do not believe that support exists today.”

A major revamp of the judicial selection system would require a constitutional amendment, meaning a bipartisan two-thirds majority would be necessary in each chamber of the Legislature. That would be a hard hurdle to clear if Patrick were merely apathetic toward the proposal; it will be nearly impossible if he is opposed. If a constitutional amendment made it through the Legislature, it would still require approval from Texas voters.

Patrick’s comments are just the most significant headwinds yet for an effort that was never going to be easy.

Perhaps no one is more aware of the challenges ahead than former state Sen. Robert Duncan, the Lubbock Republican who muscled a reform bill through the Senate in 2003. He sat on the perimeter of the room last week as the commission met for the first time.

Duncan, who said in an interview Tuesday that he had not seen Patrick’s comments, emphasized that “it’s critical to have all three leaders on board” given how difficult the issue is politically. But he said he remains optimistic that the commission will put forward a solution that a majority can rally behind.

“The lieutenant governor is exactly right: It’s not easy,” Duncan said. “The public will need to be educated on the solutions. The solutions are going to need to be very carefully crafted.”

The commission is charged with examining the current system from all sides — Should judicial elections be partisan? Should judges be elected at all? — and presenting a report to the Legislature before it reconvenes next January.

Patrick’s comments apparently referred to a moment about an hour into the committee’s hearing when Beck, the chairman, took an informal, initial survey.

“Let me ask this question of the group, and I’m not trying to commit people to a position, I’m just trying to get a sense of where I think we are in the process,” Beck said. “Is there anybody who believes that partisan elections are the way to go?”

No hands went up during a brief silence. Then state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican who once served on the bench in Houston, chimed in.

“I’m not convinced they’re not,” she said. “I have an open mind, but I feel like I have to speak for a lot of people.”

“And we haven’t even had the hearings yet,” cautioned state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

Patrick said in his statement that he was “surprised by news reports today indicating there may be support for abandoning the long-time democratic practice of partisan election of judges.”

“I expect the members to have an open mind on every issue,” he said.

Sen. Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican who missed the commission’s first meeting to attend a funeral, also telegraphed that he would hesitate to take judicial selection out of voters’ hands.

“There is no greater principle than the consent of the governed – including the ability of citizens to vote for their judges,” Birdwell said.

Beck told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday that the commission “did not make any judicial selection decisions” at its organizational meeting.

“I firmly believe the commissioners will keep an open mind as we discuss the various alternatives the Legislature instructed us to consider,” Beck said.

Opposition on the Republican side is all the more significant given Democratic opposition is likely, too. Many Democrats are skeptical of any Republican efforts to alter the judicial elections system so soon after the system proved highly successful for Democratic judges in the 2018 elections.

In 2019, Democrats killed a proposal that would have allowed the governor to appoint judges in big cities that lean toward Democrats, and left the partisan election system in place in the more rural counties that trend more Republican. Abbott had quietly backed the proposal — which critics said would have centralized power in his office and allowed him to appoint conservative judges whose terms might well outlast his time in the Governor’s Mansion — but it died for want of bipartisan support.

The commission is set to reconvene in February. Beck also created three subcommittees to study judicial selection methods. One group will focus on elections, vetting the advantages of non-partisan and partisan ballots, as well as the usefulness of retention elections. A second will examine the pros and cons of selecting judges by appointment and confirmation. A third will explore what role citizen panels might play in an appointment system, and also mull changing the current qualification requirements for Texas judges.

“I’ve been down this road — it’s not easy,” Duncan said. “But I don’t think anybody can disagree that what’s happening now is not good, and what’s happening now is not in the best interest of our state’s economy or even liberty… We need to make sure we have a process for ensuring that we have the best and most qualified people on the bench.”

Federal judge blocks policy that allowed Gov. Greg Abbott to ban refugees in Texas

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

A Syrian refugee boy sits on a bike at a camp in Bar Elias, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon on Jan. 13, 2020.
A Syrian refugee boy sits on a bike at a camp in Bar Elias, in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon on Jan. 13, 2020.
REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

A federal judge temporarily blocked a Trump administration policy that would have allowed governors, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and other local leaders to prevent refugees from resettling in those areas.

The Wednesday decision from Maryland-based Judge Peter J. Messitte comes just days after Abbott became the first and only state leader to opt out of the program. Officials had until Jan. 21 to inform the State Department whether they would participate in the program after the Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order. At least 42 governors, including Republicans, have said they would accept refugees.

In November, The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Church World Service sued the Trump administration alleging the executive order violates federal law.

Messittee said in his ruling the Trump administration policy “flies in the face of clear Congressional intent, as expressed in the legislative history of the statute.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, who is traveling overseas for an economic develop trip, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, praised the ruling and said it provides critical relief.

“Those who have been waiting for years to reunite with their families and friends will no longer have to choose between their loved ones and the resettlement services that are so critical in their first months as new Americans,” she said in a statement. “This is an important first step, but this fight is far from over. We do not expect the Administration to back down from using these vulnerable people as political pawns.”

Texas has been one of the leading states for resettlement in recent years. Resettlement reached a high of about 8,212 people in 2009. Though levels dropped off in 2011 and 2012, the increased to around 7,500 for the next four years, according to State Department data.

Abbott’s move drew the ire of the state’s Catholic bishops, who called it “discouraging and disheartening.”

“It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans,” the group said last week in a statement.

But a spokesman in the governor’s office has defended the move and said Abbott’s decision would not deny any refugee entry to the United States.

“Equally important, the Texas decision doesn’t stop refugees from moving to Texas after initially settling in another state,” spokesperson John Wittman previously told The Texas Tribune.

Round two of fight over online voter registration for Texas drivers reaches federal court

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

Voting signs at the Travis County Granger Building election site on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019.
Voting signs at the Travis County Granger Building election site on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2019.
Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

The first time former English professor Jarrod Stringer was told he couldn’t vote in a Texas election, he sued. A federal appeals court tossed his case on a technicality, but one of the judges ended up admonishing state officials to not let it happen again.

Yet it did, and now Stringer and other frustrated Texans are taking the state back to federal court.

In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in San Antonio, they are arguing anew that the state continues to disenfranchise an unknown number of voters by violating the motor voter law, a federal requirement that people be allowed to complete voter registration when they get a driver’s license. Stringer is the lead plaintiff in the second legal chapter of a fight over Texas’ resistance to online voter registration.

The state allows driver’s licenses applicants to complete their voter registration when they physically appear at a Texas Department of Public Safety office, but does not allow the same result when residents update or renew licenses online. At least 1.5 million Texans use the state’s online driver’s license portal a year, according to Stringer’s lawyers, though it’s unclear how many also attempt to re-register.

Stringer first encountered the prohibition after moving back to his hometown of San Antonio in 2014. He updated his driver’s license and mistakenly thought he had re-registered to vote at the same time. But after standing in line at an early voting polling place set up on the University of Texas at San Antonio campus, he discovered he was not on the voter roll.

“Having the option to vote was something that I have taken seriously,” Stringer said in an interview. “Voting is just a fundamental act of expression of citizenship.”

In the first iteration of the legal battle, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in 2018 found the state was violating both the federal National Voter Registration Act and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause by not allowing online registration through the driver’s license process. Garcia took issue with the difference in the state’s treatment of voters who used its online system and those who dealt with their licenses in person.

He ordered the state to implement a fix ahead of that year’s general election, which would have forced Texas to introduce its first form of online voter registration. But Texas leaders long opposed to expanding registration in that way were defiant and appealed Garcia’s order. The 5th Circuit intervened, blocking Garcia’s mandate. The appellate court ultimately overturned Garcia’s ruling based on what Mimi Marziani, president of the Texas Civil Rights Project, calls a catch-22 scenario that made for “fundamental unfairness” in the system.

By the time the first lawsuit made it into federal court, Stringer and the other voters had successfully re-registered. Because they had recovered their right to vote, the court decided, the plaintiffs did not have legal standing to sue over losing it to begin with. A panel of three judges concluded the voters had not met the burden of showing they were still harmed by the state’s system, or ran a substantial risk of being harmed in the future. The judges made a point of noting that none of the plaintiffs had indicated they had any intention of moving in the future.

His lost vote was a right Stringer, like the two other voters who sued the state, “will never be able to recover,” Judge James Ho wrote in the November 2019 decision.

“As citizens, we can hope it is a deprivation they will not experience again,” Ho said.

But just 10 days later, Stringer again was unable to update his voter registration along with his driver’s license after a move to Houston.

Stringer and his lawyers object to what they characterize as a misleading process on the state’s website, which allows users to check “yes” in response to a prompt that says “I want to register to vote.” That directs them to a registration form they must print out and send to their county registrar. Though the website specifies that checking yes “does not register you to vote,” that language has caused confusion among Texans like Stringer and his co-plaintiffs who incorrectly thought their voting registration had been updated.

In their new lawsuit, Stringer, two other voters, along with two nonprofits that work to register Texans to vote, have revived the arguments from the first lawsuit, pressing virtually the same legal claims that prompted Garcia’s initial favorable ruling.

This time, to avoid the legal pitfall over standing to sue, Stringer and the other voters in the case are filing their legal challenge while remaining off the voter rolls in the counties where they now live, and Stringer has noted that he has plans to move in 2020 — a point at which he will again run into the limitations of the online DPS system.

But while they’re working to address the issues found by the 5th Circuit last year, the Texas Civil Rights Project doesn’t plan to ask the plaintiffs to sit out the upcoming election. With the three individual voters in the case expected to reregister before the Feb. 3 deadline for the March primaries, the lawsuit could ultimately serve as a test case of what sacrifices a voter must make at the ballot box to challenge a system that they see as impeding their access to it.

“I do not read the 5th Circuit’s opinion to suggest that someone has to remain unregistered through the course of the lawsuit. It can’t be read to suggest that,” Marziani said. “If the court were to make a rule like that, they would be in effect telling someone that in order to vindicate their most important constitutional right, they would have to sacrifice that right for years and years.”

Staying off the rolls is not even something Stringer said he considered. “That would actually preclude the entire intention for me, which is to participate in the process,” he said.

A spokesperson for the attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new lawsuit. Throughout the case, the state has simultaneously argued it’s in compliance with federal law and that there are technological and security challenges tied to implementing even a narrow version of online registration — a point Ho signaled he took issue with in the 5th Circuit’s November ruling.

“On the plain text of the statute, the rule seems simple enough: If [the system is] good enough for motorist licensing, then it ought to be good enough for voter registration,” Ho said. “If the system is secure enough to ensure the integrity of the former, then it ought to be secure enough to ensure the integrity of the latter.”

Still, Attorney General Ken Paxton in a November statement praised the 5th Circuit’s findings on standing, arguing that “federal judges have no right to alter state voter registration processes on the whim of plaintiffs who are already registered to vote.” Paxton also characterized the ruling as a win for “election integrity” by continuing to require original, physical signatures on voter registration applications.

A related lawsuit was recently filed to challenge that requirement. In that challenge, the state’s legal opponents noted that the state already allows for electronic signatures — those submitted on voter registration applications received through DPS.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at San Antonio has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Governor Abbott Extended The Disaster Declaration In January 2020 For Texas Counties Affected By Hurricane Harvey

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

Governor Greg Abbott extended the State Disaster Declaration for Texas counties affected by Hurricane Harvey.

TO ALL TO WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME:

WHEREAS, I, GREG ABBOTT, Governor of the State of Texas, issued a disaster proclamation on August 23, 2017, certifying that Hurricane Harvey posed a threat of imminent disaster for Aransas, Austin, Bee, Brazoria, Calhoun, Chambers, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Fort Bend, Galveston, Goliad, Gonzales, Harris, Jackson, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Karnes, Kleberg, Lavaca, Liberty, Live Oak, Matagorda, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Victoria, Waller, Wharton, and Wilson counties; and

WHEREAS, the disaster proclamation of August 23, 2017, was subsequently amended on August 26, August 27, August 28, and September 14 to add the following counties to the disaster proclamation: Angelina, Atascosa, Bastrop, Bexar, Brazos, Burleson, Caldwell, Cameron, Comal, Grimes, Guadalupe, Hardin, Jasper, Kerr, Lee, Leon, Madison, Milam, Montgomery, Newton, Orange, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Trinity, Tyler, Walker, Washington, and Willacy; and

WHEREAS, on September 20, 2017, and in each subsequent month effective through today, I issued proclamations renewing the disaster declaration for all counties listed above; and

WHEREAS, due to the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Harvey, a state of disaster continues to exist in those same counties;

NOW, THEREFORE, in accordance with the authority vested in me by Section 418.014 of the Texas Government Code, I do hereby renew the disaster proclamation for the 60 counties listed above.

Pursuant to Section 418.017 of the code, I authorize the use of all available resources of state government and of political subdivisions that are reasonably necessary to cope with this disaster.

Pursuant to Section 418.016 of the code, any regulatory statute prescribing the procedures for conduct of state business or any order or rule of a state agency that would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with this disaster shall be suspended upon written approval of the Office of the Governor. However, to the extent that the enforcement of any state statute or administrative rule regarding contracting or procurement would impede any state agency’s emergency response that is necessary to protect life or property threatened by this declared disaster, I hereby authorize the suspension of such statutes and rules for the duration of this declared disaster.

In accordance with the statutory requirements, copies of this proclamation shall be filed with the applicable authorities.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto signed my name and have officially caused the Seal of State to be affixed at my office in the City of Austin, Texas, this the 14th day of January, 2020. 

Governor Greg Abbott

Read the Proclamation

Governor Abbott Appoints Meyer And Keller To Education Commission Of The States

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

The Education Commission of the States gathers and analyzes data concerning education needs and resources as well as encourages research in all aspects of education.

Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Representative Morgan Meyer and Higher Education Commissioner Harrison Keller to the Education Commission of the States for terms at the pleasure of the Governor. Additionally, Senator Larry Taylor, Senator Pete Flores, Representative Dan Huberty, and Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will continue to serve on the Commission. 

The Education Commission of the States gathers and analyzes data concerning education needs and resources as well as encourages research in all aspects of education. The Commission was established over 50 years ago as an interstate compact on education policy.     

Governor Abbott Names Chair And Appoints Five To Red River Boundary Commission

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

The Commission shall confer and act jointly with representatives appointed on behalf of the State of Oklahoma.

Governor Greg Abbott has reappointed William “Bill” Douglass and appointed Reginald B. “Reggie” Smith, Jr., David Bristol, Anthony Ricciardelli, and William “Willie” Steele to the Red River Boundary Commission for terms at the pleasure of the governor. Additionally, the Governor named Reginald B. “Reggie” Smith, Jr. chair of the commission. The Red River Boundary Commission is established to oversee the redrawing of the boundary between Texas and the State of Oklahoma in the Texoma area. The Commission shall confer and act jointly with representatives appointed on behalf of the State of Oklahoma.

William “Bill” Douglass of Sherman is the chairman of the board of Douglass Distributing a petroleum distribution company. He serves as chairman of the Texoma Medical Center and is a trustee on Austin College Board of Trustees. In addition, he served as former chairman of Sherman Economic Development Corp, the National Association of Convenience Stores, and the Washington Motor Fuel Institute. He served in United States Marine Corp from 1958 to 1962 and the United States Army from 1962 to 1964, at which pointe he received an honorable discharge. Douglass received a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Muhlenberg College in Allenstown, Pennsylvania.

Reginald B. “Reggie” Smith, Jr. of Van Alstyne was elected as the state representative for House District 62 in 2018. He represents Delta, Fannin, and Grayson Counties. He is the founder and owner of Reginald B. Smith, Jr. PLLC, a general practice law firm. He has been active in various local charitable and service organizations, and is an active member of First Baptist Church in Van Alstyne. He has previously served on the board of directors of Big Brother Big Sisters, Friends of Scouting with the Texoma Valley Boy Scouts, and The Rehab Center. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Austin College in Sherman, Texas and a Juris Doctor degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston.

David Bristol of Prosper is the chairman of the Board of Employee Solutions, LP and serves as president and CEO. He is serving as the vice president of the Prosper Economic Development Corporation and serves on the Collin County Business and Industry Council. He was previously elected as an Alderman for the town of Prosper, serving two full terms. Currently, he is serving his third term as vice president of the North Central Texas Workforce Development Board. In addition, he previously served as vice president of the Collin County Planning Board, a member of the Board of Prosper Bank (now Texas Bank), a director of Leadership Frisco, and vice chairman of the Governing Board of Centennial Medical Center in Frisco. Bristol received a Bachelor of Science from the United States Air Force Academy, and served as an active duty fighter pilot from 1988 to 1996. He is a combat veteran with several citations and awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, as well as numerous Air Medals. After his active duty career, Bristol joined the Air Force Reserve until 2007, at which point he received an honorable discharge.

Anthony Ricciardelli of Plano is principal attorney at Ricciardelli Law Firm. He currently serves as Deputy Mayor Pro Tem on the Plano City Council, is on the regional board of advisors for Joni and Friends, and is the former vice chair of the Plano Heritage Commission. In addition, he is a member of the State Bar of Texas and former member of the Dallas Bar Association and Dallas Association of Young Lawyers. Ricciardelli received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Government from The University of Texas at Austin and a Juris Doctor degree from The University of Texas School of Law.

William “Willie” Steele of Sherman is vice president of AmeriState Bank in Sherman, as well as Deputy Mayor on the Sherman City Council. In addition, he is the board president of Boys & Girls Club of Sherman, member and past president of the Sherman Kiwanis Club, and past board chair of the Sherman Economic Development Corporation. Additionally, he is past board chair of Sherman Planning and Zoning and past board president of The Rehabilitation Center. Steele received a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from Texas Tech University.

Analysis: A bad day for Planned Parenthood, a good one for Ken Paxton

Texas Tribune Blue Government News

The question posed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was whether Planned Parenthood can continue to be one of the beneficiaries of the State Employee Charitable Campaign.
The question posed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was whether Planned Parenthood can continue to be one of the beneficiaries of the State Employee Charitable Campaign.
REUTERS/Bill Clark

Editor’s note: If you’d like an email notice whenever we publish Ross Ramsey’s column, click here.

Ken Paxton is one lucky duck. The Texas attorney general was asked the kind of friendly, easy question that allowed him to twist the nose of an organization he doesn’t like under cover of state law.

It’s not a secret that Paxton is opposed to abortion. That opposition has long been a centerpiece of his campaigns as he rose from the Texas House to the Senate to his current position. It’s hard to imagine that he wants Planned Parenthood to have more resources.

And given a chance to say that a new state law creates an obstacle to some of that organization’s funding, he grabbed it.

The question posed to the state’s top lawyer was whether Planned Parenthood can continue to be one of the beneficiaries of the State Employee Charitable Campaign. State workers who sign up for the voluntary campaign give a little bit of money from each paycheck to the program, which then distributes the money to charities chosen from an approved list.

Planned Parenthood is one of those.

But there’s a new law — this is all detailed by The Texas Tribune’s Emma Platoff — that prohibits state and local governments in Texas from doing business with abortion providers or their affiliates. And because the employee campaign uses state resources and employee time, Paxton said the law prevents groups like Planned Parenthood from benefiting from it.

Paxton didn’t say state employees can’t give to Planned Parenthood — just that they can’t use the charitable campaign to do it. And it’s not an official ruling. The head of the employee campaign — an aide to Gov. Greg Abbott, Paxton’s predecessor in the AG’s office — asked for Paxton’s advice. Paxton replied with a “letter opinion,” a nonbinding position on the law in question.

This particular question let Paxton weigh in from an official perch without ever saying a word about that organization or about whether state employees can give money to it. Instead, he simply concluded that abortion providers are — by state law — out of bounds. He did it in just three sentences, saying the law prevents a “taxpayer resource transaction” with abortion providers and their affiliates, that having state employees approve those providers is that kind of transaction, and that the new law prohibits including them in the campaign.

That’s a political win for the guy, and not very hard work. It was, after all, a friendly question.

But even if that’s what the law says, Paxton wasn’t asked for his nonbinding legal opinion about the law itself — and whether it’s legal to adjust state law to prevent state workers from using their own money, collected through a payroll deduction, to support the nonprofit organizations of their choosing.

Attorneys general are the first line of defense when a state law is challenged, and it would be interesting to see whether and how Paxton defended the new law against a challenge on First Amendment grounds.

He said the law as written blocks the State Employee Charitable Campaign, which uses state resources and all of that, from giving money to abortion providers. But does he think the state should be able to get between the contributors and the charities they favor? Should legislators be allowed to micromanage the charitable preferences of state employees?

That’s where Paxton was lucky. He got asked a question he wanted to answer, one that allowed him both to play lawyer and get a little publicity for a position central to his politics. It’s not as if his regard for the law put him in a tight spot. This particular question and answer pleased his friends and aggravated his foes.

Planned Parenthood was incensed. The liberal Texas Progress Council was peeved. The Texas Freedom Network said he was misreading the law.

Nothing better than having the enemies of your friends shouting and calling you names. That’s good politics.

Disclosure: Planned Parenthood and the Texas Freedom Network have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Governor Abbott Pardons Human Trafficking Survivor Robbie Ann Hamilton

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Communication

The announcement comes on Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day in America. Human and sex trafficking is a heinous crime that preys on and exploits the vulnerable—especially women and children. Human trafficking often leads its victims down a path of petty offenses that then entraps them in a vicious cycle of abuse and crime associated with that abuse.

Texas has been at the forefront of educating the public about trafficking, punishing the traffickers, and guiding the victims back onto a path toward productive participation in society.

One of the surest signals of our commitment to helping victims of human trafficking is to show there is a true path to redemption for those victims. A way to demonstrate that is a gubernatorial pardon, for those who have truly escaped trafficking, for the crimes they may have committed while under the grips of traffickers.

That is the case with Robbie Ann Hamilton. She was lured into sex and human trafficking around the age of 15. From there, her life took a downward spiral that included some petty crimes—none of which involved harming or endangering the life or safety of another person.

Robbie eventually had a come to Jesus moment—literally. She begged God to help her quit drugs and the sex industry. She was baptized in jail and spent rehab getting to know the Bible and Jesus. She participated with groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and New Friends New Life, a human and sex trafficking victim relief organization. She reoriented her life toward helping homeless addicts in street ministries and doing other rehabilitation efforts.

Among other things, Robbie has sponsored women through the 12 Step Program, she speaks on addiction and the perils of the sex industry and sex trafficking, and she has been a member of a church that provides outreach to the homeless, addicted, and marginalized.

 

Eight letters were submitted to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in support of a full pardon. No person or law enforcement agency submitted any letter in opposition to a pardon for Robbie. Staff at New Friends New Life report that Robbie did not just “find religion” in jail and then forget it once she left. Instead, she continues to help guide adolescent girls to make decisions based on Biblical principles and to avoid the pitfalls of drugs and sex. Natalie Nanasi, Assistant Professor and Director of Legal Center for Victims, SMU Dedman School of Law, states, “Hamilton has been a model member of society and has worked tirelessly to help other women.”

“The Texas Board of Pardons and Parole voted unanimously to pardon Robbie. I agree,” said Governor Greg Abbott. “She is a testament to the principle that our lives are not defined by how we are challenged. Rather they are defined by how we respond to those challenges. Robbie demonstrated internal fortitude to turn her life away from being a victim of human and sex trafficking and toward a life of redemption and improving her community. Her example is to be applauded and replicated. As Governor of Texas, I hereby grant Robbie Ann Hamilton a full pardon consistent with the recommendation issued by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.”