Patrick cre­ates civil rights is­sue in bath­room bill frenzy

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS -

It was an old rit­ual of the high school rebels: light up our cig­a­rettes in the bath­room. That’ll show the teach­ers and the prin­ci­pals who’s re­ally in charge!

In our rit­ual con­form­ity, we rebels were a rather sad spec­ta­cle, but we can put the be­hav­ior off to ado­les­cent con­fu­sions. The same ex­cuse can’t be made for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has turned the 2017 Leg­is­la­ture into an ex­tended bath­room protest of his own.

The 85th Leg­is­la­ture’s reg­u­lar ses­sion has slipped past the half­way point and — so far — most of the de­bate has been about who can use which bath­room in schools and other pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties. Patrick seems ob­sessed with his own dark fan­tasies of bath­room dan­gers brought upon us by trans­gen­der folks.

Patrick presents him­self as a rebel cham­pion stand­ing up to the cul­tural lib­ertines in the prin­ci­pal’s of­fice — but he’s re­ally the vice prin­ci­pal! In any case, he’s pushed a bill through the Se­nate that would force trans­gen­der peo­ple to use the bath­room of their birth gen­der. It is un­clear who will be the un­zip­per­ing gen­der-check­ers to en­force the law.

Where did all the trans­gen­der peo­ple go to the re­stroom lo these many decades, you ask? With you — and you didn’t even no­tice. Patrick and a few oth­ers cre­ated this bogus emer­gency overnight. They needed some­one new to de­mo­nize — and this is who they picked.

In his frenzy, Patrick has cre­ated a se­ri­ous civil rights is­sue. For in­stance, it wasn’t that long ago that bath­rooms and water foun­tains were seg­re­gated by race. This new dis­crim­i­na­tion can­not stand — or sit, as the case might be.

Mean­while, there are real and sig­nif­i­cant is­sues at hand, like the fu­ture of pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. Patrick wants to take your school tax dol­lars and give them to pri­vate schools. First, they starve the pub­lic schools; then they com­plain about their de­cline; then they try to steal the re­main­ing money for their cronies in the pri­vate school busi­ness. It’s been a long con, but even many Repub­li­can law­mak­ers have seen through it by now. It stands lit­tle chance of pas­sage.

Speaker Joe Straus’ House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives wants to put close to $2 bil­lion more in pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. Think of it as an in­vest­ment in the fu­ture while Patrick, and to some de­gree Gov. Greg Ab­bott, are all about in­vest­ing in an ugly past.

What else are we to say as they try to craft Jim Crow-like re­stric­tions on vot­ing that could pass ju­di­cial scru­tiny?

How else do we char­ac­ter­ize their ef­forts to re­turn women to the health care night­mares of ear­lier decades by di­min­ish­ing their ac­cess to qual­ity care? Women, GOP leg­is­la­tors seem to be say­ing, should shut up and do what the men­folk tell them to do.

An­other item des­ig­nated an “emer­gency” by the gov­er­nor — the only sort that the Leg­is­la­ture can con­sider un­til af­ter its reg­u­lar ses­sion half­way point — in­volves re­forms of the state’s Child Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices. In an in­de­scrib­ably tragic scan­dal, hun­dreds of Texas kids died of abuse and ne­glect in part be­cause of the agency’s fail­ings. Credit where credit is due — and fin­gers crossed that we’re not too early with the praise — but both the House and Se­nate have ad­vanced re­form bills.

Pend­ing are sev­eral ef­forts aimed at strip­ping the power of lo­cal vot­ers to make their own de­ci­sions about their neigh­bor­hoods and cities. These in­clude state over­rides of ride-hail­ing or­di­nances and, most im­por­tantly, pro­pos­als to limit lo­cal rev­enues that could cope with, well, every­thing from traf­fic to schools to lo­cal hos­pi­tal dis­trict fi­nan­cial woes.

The cap on lo­cal tax ap­praisals, a pet project of Patrick and state Sen. Paul Bet­ten­court, R-Hous­ton, is in the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee.

Speak­ing of smoke, con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans this ses­sion want to limit lo­cal of­fi­cials’ abil­i­ties to re­move trees from pri­vate prop­erty even if they’re found to in­crease fire risks. This is real-world “can’t-see-the-for­est-fire­for-the-tree” blind­ness. Back­ers would see their cities burn be­fore giv­ing up a tree.

And they call en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists “tree hug­gers.”

Ethics re­form: It was au­thored by State Sen. Van Tay­lor, R-Plano, passed the Se­nate unan­i­mously and now rests in the hands of State Rep. Char­lie Geren, R-Fort Worth. It ap­pears that ethics re­form will hap­pen this ses­sion, with the lead­er­ship of Tay­lor, Ab­bott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Sanc­tu­ary cities: Leg­is­la­tion to crack down on ju­ris­dic­tions that ig­nore fed­eral Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment de­tain­ers au­thored by State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lub­bock, passed the Se­nate on a party line vote. The House heard its own bill in the State Af­fairs Com­mit­tee last Wed­nes­day. I ex­pect the House to also move its own ver­sion of the bill and a con­fer­ence com­mit­tee to re­solve the dif­fer­ences.

Con­ven­tion of States: Ab­bott’s fi­nal emer­gency item, pass­ing a res­o­lu­tion that would en­dorse a Con­sti­tu­tional Con­ven­tion, has also passed the Se­nate. I sus­pect the House will also pass it.

The Se­nate passed these four emer­gency items early — in some cases be­fore the House even ap­pointed com­mit­tees. But many im­por­tant is­sues re­main:

The bud­get: The House and the Se­nate are quite far apart in their re­spec­tive bi­en­nial bud­gets, with the ini­tial Se­nate bud­get of $103.6 bil­lion in state gen­eral rev­enue and the House bud­get at $108.9 bil­lion.

One fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence: The House re­lies more heav­ily on tap­ping the state’s Rainy Day Fund, while the Se­nate bud­get, House al­lies say, makes deep cuts in state spend­ing that uni­ver­si­ties

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