We approached the start of the 84th biennial Texas Legislative session with a mix of fear and giddy anticipation. There were a few things we knew going in -- mainly that open carry and anti-gay marriage stuff would be big -- but as for the rest of the political show, we just couldn't be sure what was coming. Well, we are now well into the best political reality show this side of Washington D.C., and the lawmakers that the people of Texas have unleashed to legislate have really been paying off with some entertaining bill filings. (In this parlance, "entertaining" means "we have to laugh or our blood pressure and the screaming will become a real issue.") There are many bills to choose from, but we've singled out some of our, ahem, favorites to highlight this time around:
5. The one where only people from Texas will be able to get public information. HB 1118, filed by state Rep. Mike Schofield, a Republican from Katy, would give governmental bodies the right to decide whether or not to comply with open records requests filed by those who don't actually live in the state of Texas. This one is ridiculous on a few counts. For one thing, Texas, surprisingly, has some of the best open records laws on the books. (We're right up there with Florida, in fact).
This would essentially make it possible for any representative of any governmental body to eye an open records request and then drag his or her feet on actually complying with the law based on the "you-ain't-from-around-here" defense. This is Texas and implying that the rest of the world shouldn't be obsessed with what goes on within the borders of our fascinating state -- a.k.a. the center of the universe -- is just silly. To cut off access to open records to inquiring minds from Ohio would just be wrong. Besides, if they can't know everything there is to know about Texas, education-wise, how will they ever get to realize that we really are better than every other state around?
4. The one with the Ten Commandments. We're talking about HB 138, filed by state Rep. Dan Flynn. Apparently, Texas schools are not quite Old Testament-focused enough these days, but Flynn is hoping to remedy that with a quick fix of a bill that will allow the trustees of independent school districts to "not prohibit the posting of a copy of the Ten Commandments in a prominent location in a district classroom." Yes, you teachers who have been hoarding those Ten Commandment posters, the ones that tell students not to covet neighbors' wives or take the Lord's name in vain, will now have state legislation backing up your right to ticky-tack that thing onto your classroom wall.
We can't say we're against this thing, but honestly we feel that Flynn isn't really going for it with this one. Why stop with the Ten Commandments? We think, and are strongly considering writing him a strongly worded note to the effect, that Flynn should amend this bill so that teachers will also have the right -- in defiance of school boards across the Lone Star State -- to have copies of the Koran, the Torah and the entire Bible right there in the classroom. Also, we think they should get to have large Buddha statues, the bigger the better. Make it so, Flynn. If a little religion will do Texas school children good, then a lot of different religions can't help but do them better, right?
3. The one where teachers will be allowed to shoot students. HB 868, another winner filed by state Rep. Dan Flynn, has been filed as a potential solution to the whole violence in schools problem. Flynn's proposed solution? Well, he seems to think that the crux of the problem comes down to teachers who are afraid to, you know, take out (in the military sense, not the dating sense, but we can see where you would assume that based on the state's track record of late) a student.
Texas teachers are already allowed to have firearms in the classroom, but Flynn's bill will up the ante. The bill, known as the Teacher's Protection Act, will allow teachers to use "force or deadly force on school property, on a school bus, or at a school-sponsored event in defense of the educator's person or in defense of students of the school that employs the educator." Yep, teachers will have some kind of legislated, justifiable right to shoot students they perceive as threats. Can't even imagine how this one could go wrong.
2. The one where women can't have abortions based on gender. HB 113, filed by state Rep. Allen Fletcher. This bill proposes to make it so that "a person may not knowingly perform or attempt to perform an abortion that is based on the sex of a pregnant woman's child." Because it seems that in Fletcher's world, this is an actual problem with women lining up around the block at the state's few remaining abortion clinics chattering to the abortion providers about how they just can't wait to get this fetus aborted because they really had their heart set on a boy this time. Because that is the main reason that women in the United States make the difficult, and still Constitutionally protected, decision to end a pregnancy. Over gender. Sure. That's how it works.
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While he's at it, Fletcher should just go ahead and slap a sonogram test or some implied Pappa-knows-best hoops for women to jump through in order to make any choices about their own uteri. And then the whole legislature should get together and pass a law that will effectively make it almost impossible for most of the women in Texas to exercise their right to an abortion within the state.
Oh wait, they already did that last session.
1. The one where people on welfare will have to take mandatory drug tests. SB 54 and HB 352. Texas lawmakers have been trying to require some Texans to undergo mandatory drug testing before receiving some state benefits for years with little success -- the last attempt died during the 2013 legislative session -- but there are still lawmakers out there ready to make another effort to slam this sort of measure into law. This time two bills have been filed by state Sen. Jane Nelson and state Rep. Ken King. The bills, if passed, will force those who need cash assistance from the state's welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to take drug tests if their answers on a screening questionnaire about drug use imply there could be drugs.
Because obviously the best way to help someone with a potential addiction problem who is already in such a state of need that they are going to the state government for help is to deny them and their family financial assistance while also not providing any form of, you know, treatment or aid. Keep in mind that Florida has already tried this approach. They dumped a bunch of money and effort into mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients and found that the whole program was a bust and that Florida couldn't even prove that the drug users they suspected in the welfare system were more prevalent than the ones outside of welfare. A federal appeals court already struck the Florida version down back in December, and yet Texas legislators are still eager to try it out here.