San Antonio Express-News. May 30, 2021.
Editorial: Let’s honor all our fallen: soldiers and virus victims
After a year in which we all seemed at war with an invisible enemy, we might have a firmer grasp of what Memorial Day means.
For more than a year, Americans have experienced hardship and sacrifice and deprivation, some of the same burdens our fighting men and women have shouldered since the birth of this country.
When the pandemic emerged in 2020, its insidious impact grew day by day, week by week.
Coronavirus cases topped 60,000 by April of that year, surpassing the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War
Many of the Americans who fought in that war were part of the demographic most cruelly hit by the virus; 90 percent of the victims were 50 or older.
By December, the death toll hit 300,000 in the U.S., exceeding heart disease as the leading cause of death in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These were our friends and loved ones, and from a distance, we saw them wither and die in isolation, their bodies and minds wracked by a force that seemed almost militaristic.
We should remember that today, Memorial Day. We should remember the hardships we faced — and continue to face — because these are the hardships our brave men and women have faced for centuries.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be how to empathize for people we have never met and are never likely to meet.
This includes our soldiers, people who face death to save us from facing death.
With millions of Americans fully vaccinated, the daily average of COVID-19 cases has steadily fallen.
The decline has been dramatic, but it has not faded, not yet, and the tragedy it has wrought should remind us of the tragedies our brave fighting men and women have faced since 1776.
“Americans are scared, and I lived with that myself,” Coleen Bowman, whose husband died of cancer after serving in Iraq in 2013, told CNN last year.
Bowman was referring to COVID-19, and to the parallel she saw between the pandemic and war. The similarities, she said, were striking, because she had experienced the impact of both — an impact so stark and dramatic that she knew people, in both instances, who mourned before a friend or loved one had died. It was if they were trying to pre-empt the sorrow they knew was coming.
“There’s a constant fear that the worst is inevitable, and this anticipatory grief, well, that’s what I felt when my husband went off to war,” she said, “and that’s what I’m seeing in my neighbors today.”
So, on this Memorial Day, let us salute the men and women who have saluted us through their courage and sacrifice — our brave soldiers.
And as we do that, let us salute them with extra love and vigor, because the pandemic has given us a window into what they have faced.
Remember, Memorial Day is about us, all of us, those who have died and those who live because of the sacrifice our heroes have made.
“Without memory, there is no culture,” Elie Wiesel, the great Nobel Prize laureate, once said. “Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
More than 1 million Americans have died in battle throughout our history, and roughly 600,000 have died during the pandemic, almost 4,000 of them health care workers.
In war, and in this pandemic, each loss is incalculable. So let us honor both today, our soldiers and our health care workers; we are here because they are not.
Houston Chronicle. May 27, 2021.
Editorial: Texas, Mississippi threaten 50 years of compromise by seeking to erode Roe v. Wade
Given all the effort lawmakers in Texas and other red states are pouring into making abortion illegal, you’d never know that the procedure, legal in this country for nearly 50 years, is becoming increasingly rare.
In Texas, two recently passed bills exemplify the extreme efforts. After 14 years of trying, the Legislature finally passed a so-called trigger law, which outlaws abortion immediately if the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverses itself and rules that the Constitution doesn’t guarantee women the right to abortion after all. Interestingly, a similar bill failed in 2007 after a fiscal note was added asserting that outlawing abortion could cost the state and federal governments $1 billion for all the new Medicaid births that would result over five years. Texas apparently got new accountants since then. This year’s fiscal note declares: “No significant fiscal implication to the State is anticipated.”
The other bill would keep abortion technically legal, but is aimed at preventing abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at around six weeks — before many women know they’re pregnant.
Courts have blocked similar “heartbeat” bills in other states, but supporters hope Texas’ version might avoid a similar fate due to a novel twist: the law empowers anyone to bring a suit against a provider or anyone else who enables someone to get an abortion, a threat the law’s supporters hope will act as a deterrent. Although the law seems to ignore a basic concept of jurisprudence — that a person can’t sue unless he or she has suffered some direct harm — it poses a formidable obstacle even if judges dismiss every lawsuit. The mere threat of litigation creates a chilling effect and the law itself may be hard for women’s rights groups to overturn because it’s not clear who they’d sue since the state of Texas isn’t actually carrying out the law.
The other encouraging development for abortion opponents lies outside Texas: They’re hoping that the Supreme Court’s decision to consider a case over Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law indicates a willingness of the court’s new conservative super-majority to upset the constitutional underpinnings of Roe v. Wade. The landmark 1973 case has been tweaked through the years but never substantially changed. Mississippi’s law, already declared flatly unconstitutional in federal court, would bar almost all abortions after 15 weeks.
Again, these assaults on abortion rights come even as fewer and fewer abortions are performed each year. In 2018, for instance, there were 55,000 abortions recorded in Texas, compared with a high of 110,000 in 1981. Nationwide, the share of all pregnancies that end in abortion fell from about 21 percent in 2011 to about 18 percent in 2017, and have continued to fall.
There are competing theories as to why. Some argue that increased restrictions on abortion providers in places such as Texas, where the number of clinics has fallen significantly, have helped drive that number down, but others note that pregnancies themselves have dropped nearly as much as abortions, and that basic attitudes about abortion have remained remarkably steady across the years.
We’d add a further fact: Texas abortions have plummeted, despite the state’s willful refusal to adopt a truly pro-life policy, one that would help low-income women avoid unintended pregnancies in the first place with consistent access to health care, and one that would support the born children so they aren’t routinely kicked off Medicaid or forced to face abuse and neglect in foster care.
Texas continues to tolerate the highest rate of uninsured children and adults in America. Lawmakers also seem to accept that more teenage girls become pregnant in Texas than any other state by far.
Those two dismal statistics should prompt outrage and compassion, respectively, but instead conservative leaders in Texas have sought time and again to erect new limits on the fundamental rights of women to make decisions about their bodies and childbearing, while leaving the babies who are born to endure a porous and unforgiving safety net.
Of course, even dwindling numbers of abortions are too many for activists who demand zero — an impossible outcome made even more impossible by an outright abortion ban that would only drive women back to the back alley.
Anti-abortion efforts in Texas and elsewhere have been largely blunted by federal courts, which have ruled repeatedly at all levels — in red states and blue — that women retain the legal right to decide for themselves, particularly up to the point of viability, whether to carry an embryo to term.
Under Roe, and its legal progeny, courts have sought to balance the rights of women with the state’s obligations to protect the unborn. That’s why, following the enduring framework established in Roe, current law allows few restrictions to abortions performed in the first trimester — roughly the first 12 weeks, when around 92 percent of abortions happen in Texas — and very strict rules for abortions performed later. .
In 2016, the court struck down two restrictions Texas lawmakers had passed under the pretext of concern for mothers’ health. Balancing lawmakers’ stated aims against the burdens those changes would impose, the court again sided with women’s right to choose.
That should have put Texas and other red states on notice about the futility of unreasonable restrictions on abortion. But the opposite has happened. Of the five justices who ruled against Texas in 2016, two have been replaced by arch-conservatives and a third has been added to replace Antonin Scalia, who had died before the court issued its opinion.
The changing personnel has fueled a frenzy of cases seeking to overturn Roe outright or eviscerate it.
It’s impossible to know how the new court will rule in the Mississippi case. But one thing is sure: it will resolve nothing. The political battles will continue and so will those borne of religion and philosophy. That’s why the best outcome we can hope for from this current court is what we already have. Roe and its related cases — imperfect as they are — have allowed America to compromise on an issue that at first glance seems to brook none. That makes it worth preserving and worth fighting for.
Austin American-Statesman. May 26, 2021.
Editorial: Texas lawmakers wrong to meddle in local law enforcement budgets
Pop quiz: When is it a bad idea for the Texas Legislature to take action on an issue?
A. When the matter involves local spending decisions made by locally elected officials, who answer directly to local voters
B. When the proposed remedy targets certain communities instead of applying even-handedly to the entire state
C. When there is no data to justify the action
D. When the so-called solution ties the hands of community leaders who need flexibility to address complex challenges
We’ve hit all of the above with the Legislature’s bills to prevent efforts to “defund the police” — bills that, in reality, block cities and counties from making prudent cuts to law enforcement spending so they can invest in other public safety priorities.
House Bill 1900, passed by the Senate this week, unloads a heap of penalties on larger cities that reduce police funding. The bill would freeze a city’s tax rates and utility rates indefinitely, steer a slice of sales tax revenue back to the state and allow areas annexed within the past 30 years to vote on whether they’d like to leave the city. Another measure, SB 23, requires large counties to hold an election before cutting law enforcement funding or staffing.
The message is unmistakable: Lawmakers don’t want local police budgets to be cut.
But it’s not their call to make. At least, it shouldn’t be.
As we first noted last summer, decisions over policing levels and city spending are municipal calls, made by local officials who will have to answer directly to voters. It is insulting and absurd for lawmakers from other parts of the state to substitute their judgment for that of local officials crafting a city or county budget.
But what if local leaders stray from the will of the people? Elections are the proper avenue for course correction. Voters can always send officials packing. As illustrated by the recent passage of Proposition B, which reinstated the homeless camping ban the Austin City Council lifted in 2019, voters can also overrule City Hall on specific policies. Save Austin Now, the group that got Prop B on the ballot, launched a new campaign Wednesday to address police staffing and training in Austin.
Rather than trust local voters to pick their leaders and hold them accountable, however, state lawmakers want to assert their own priorities — but only on certain communities. HB 1900 applies only to cities with more than 250,000 people — meaning, just 11 of the roughly 1,200 cities in Texas. SB 23 applies only to counties with more than 1 million people — meaning, just six of Texas’ 254 counties.
If these bills are such great ideas, if “backing the blue” is important enough to demand legislative intervention, why wouldn’t lawmakers want to protect police budgets statewide? Instead, legislators from Conroe, Friendswood and Richardson want to tell officials in Austin, Houston and San Antonio how to run their cities — all the while ensuring their own hometowns keep the budgeting flexibility to trim police funding if needed.
Public safety typically accounts for the largest chunk of a city’s budget. It’s a sign of good governance for cities to evaluate the effectiveness of that spending and realign dollars as needed — especially since lawmakers two years ago imposed even tighter tax revenue caps on local governments, forcing officials to make even tougher spending decisions.
Anyone who’s ever dialed 911 knows how critically important a law enforcement agency is to any community. But policing is only one piece of an effective public safety strategy. Officials need the flexibility to invest in other programs as well — items like a domestic violence shelter, mental health services, and programs to address family violence and prevent violence in the community, all of which got additional funding this year when Austin reduced its police budget.
Such interventions can keep some people out of jail and keep others from becoming victims. Local communities have every right to adjust the dollar amounts on various public safety priorities without meddling from the state.
Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, noted as much during debate on HB 1900, and he pressed supporters of the bill on whether any city has seen an uptick in crime after cutting police spending to put more funding toward social needs. Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said she had seen no such data.
In the absence of that data, in the absence of a legitimate state interest, and in the absence of a proposal that would be fairly applied statewide, lawmakers proceeded anyway. Once again the Capitol has tightened its leash on cities, and once again it won’t make anyone any safer.
Amarillo Globe-News. May 25, 2021.
Editorial: House makes progress on power grid reforms
With time winding down on the Texas Legislature’s regular session, several meaningful steps have recently been taken in response to the February winter storm that left much of the state shivering in the dark for days.
Over the weekend, the House approved proposals intended to make the electricity grid stronger through weatherization, a process in which the state’s energy infrastructure would be better equipped to handle weather extremes such as prolonged stretches of freezing temperatures like Texas endured as the result of mid-February winter storms.
The brutal weather conditions, some of the most intense experienced by Texas in decades, effectively paralyzed the state with snow, ice and dangerous wind chills. As electricity demand surged, the power grid that serves approximately 90% of the state failed, leaving millions of Texans without power and water.
Many state officials reacted with outrage and promised reforms for a system that critics say is long overdue. Gov. Greg Abbott said the issue was a priority, but despite hearings, resignations and terminations associated with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the entity responsible for overseeing the power grid, there had been little public progress made toward keeping a similar catastrophe from happening.
Until now. With lawmakers scheduled to gavel out on the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, the House State Affairs Committee moved to strengthen the previously passed Senate Bill 3, according to a recent report from the Texas Tribune. The House, which approved the bill Monday, wants natural gas facilities properly weatherized as well as other reforms implemented.
As of now, the legislation does not spell out who is responsible for weatherization costs nor does it include the means of ensuring the process takes place. As a result, it will probably be up to a conference committee to work through policy differences, although the Senate could accept the House’s version.
The House version includes other notable steps as well, according to the Tribune, such as requiring the state’s regulatory authorities ensure natural gas facilities do not lose electricity during an emergency. During the February crisis, there was a domino effect in which numerous parts of the infrastructure went offline, making a bad situation worse.
As SB3 now stands, oversight of natural gas facilities would fall to the Public Utilities Commission and the Railroad Commission, which is responsible for regulation of the state’s oil and gas industry. Likewise, the House version assigns the Railroad Commission with the responsibility of making sure natural gas pipeline facilities maintain service during extreme weather “if the pipeline serves a natural gas powered generation plant providing power to the grid,” reported the Tribune.
Just as important, the House retained language from the Senate version creating an emergency statewide alert system. Communication failures prior to and during the winter storm crisis also played a part in people being unprepared for the possibility that they might be without power in the freezing conditions that, according to reports, resulted in more than 100 people across the state dying.
So far, the only winter storm-related legislation to be sent to Abbott is House Bill 16, which will keep residential and small businesses from signing up for electricity plans where wholesale power prices are passed along to customers, reported the Tribune.
There was bipartisan agreement in both chambers that the power grid failure had to be addressed. The House’s efforts represent progress, there remains work to be done, and time is running out.