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Evie Rodriguez

Evie Rodriguez

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Same-Sex Marriage Benefits Unconstitutional

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:11 Published in May 2013

AUSTIN, Texas (AP)

Local governments and school districts that offer marriage benefits to same-sex partners are violating the state constitution, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott stated in an opinion Monday. The cities of Austin, El Paso and Forth Worth already offer some benefits to domestic partners, while Pflugerville, outside Austin, became the state's first school district to extend similar benefits. Tea party-backed state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston asked Abbott, a fellow Republican, to review the matter in November. Patrick argued that Texas amended its constitution in 2005 to define marriage as between one man and one woman, while prohibiting government entities from recognizing anything similar to marriage. In a six-page opinion, Abbott found that the constitution "prohibits political subdivisions from creating a legal status of domestic partnership and recognizing that status by offering public benefits based upon it." He said city governments and school districts constitute political subdivisions. In a statement, Patrick said the measure, known as the Marriage Amendment, was passed by "an overwhelming majority of the Texas Legislature and ratified by more than 75 percent of Texas voters. "This opinion clearly outlines that cities, counties and school districts cannot subvert the will of Texans," Patrick said. Amanda Brim, a spokesman for Pflugerville Independent School District, said of Monday's opinion, "We're just reviewing it and have no response at this point." Texas Values, a conservative advocacy group, claimed that Austin Independent School District was "attempting to be the second school district in Texas to give legal recognition to domestic partnerships." "General Abbott's opinion now makes it clear, Pflugerville ISD and other local governmental entities in Texas are in clear violation of the Texas Constitution," said the group's president, Jonathan Saenz. "Pflugerville ISD and Austin ISD are teaching their students a terrible lesson about the importance of following the law if these rogue school districts don't immediately end their unconstitutional policy." Saenz's group is backing House Bill 1568, a proposal that states that offering benefits to same-sex domestic partners "is essentially contrary" to the Marriage Amendment. It seeks to revoke accreditation status and even state funding to any school district that violates the constitution. No so fast, said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. "The attorney general's opinion that government employers who offer domestic partner benefits are somehow in conflict with the Texas Constitution's definition of marriage is just that — an opinion — and we strongly disagree with him," Robertson said in a statement Monday. "Contrary to the AG's reasoning, giving an employee the ability to purchase insurance coverage for his or her family does not create a legal relationship even remotely similar to marriage."

Guns on Campus Bill Scheduled for Texas House Vote

Tuesday, 30 April 2013 20:09 Published in May 2013

JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP)

 

One of the top pro-gun bills before Texas lawmakers this session was green-lighted Monday for a House floor vote this weekend, and a top backer predicted approval there for the plan to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry their handguns into college classrooms. The Calendars Committee scheduled the floor vote for Saturday in the House. Getting the bill even that far is a significant development for supporters of an issue that erupted into one of the most contentious of the session two years ago. In 2011, the issue died without a vote in the House despite a majority of member signing on in support. This year, the House version of the bill would eliminate the current ban on concealed weapons at colleges and universities, but it still allows public schools to ban weapons if they first meet with students, faculty and staff to consider their input. Private schools would be allowed to opt in. Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, one of the primary authors of the bill, said the opt-out language has softened opposition from higher education officials who worry that allowing guns on campus will increase campus violence and suicide. He said he expects the House will approve it but declined to discuss its prospects in the Senate. "I think it will pass," in the House, Flynn said Monday. "Texas is a rural state ... Most of the opposition has been in Austin." The Senate version of the bill has not been scheduled for a vote, and its prospects in the final month of the session in that chamber are uncertain. The Senate passed a similar version of the bill in 2011 after a vigorous debate, but only after it was added to another bill as an amendment. Doing that allowed supporters to bypass a Senate rule that requires at least 21 of 31 senators to agree to vote on a bill. University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa earlier this year wrote a letter to Gov. Rick Perry urging a guns on campus bill not pass. Cigarroa's letter said students, parents, faculty and campus police worry that allowing guns into classrooms will create a culture of fear among students and teachers. John Woods, a University of Texas graduate student whose girlfriend Maxine Turner was killed in a 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, called the bill part of "an ideological agenda having nothing to do with campus safety." "The bill authors cite Virginia Tech but refuse to hear the Virginia Tech survivors, all of whom are opposed to guns in classrooms," Woods said. Texas is one of the strongest gun-rights states in the country and has allowed concealed handgun licenses since 1995. License holders must be at least 21 years old and pass a training course. Texas has more than 500,000 concealed handgun license holders and they are allowed to carry their weapons many places, including the state Capitol where simply showing their license to security will allow them to bypass metal detectors.

 

But No Morning Meals for Hundreds of Thousands

 

John Michaelson

AUSTIN, Texas

 

The number of Texans who have trouble feeding their families has been growing for years, and the issue takes center stage at the State Capitol. This is the second biennial Texas Food Policy Day. One focus is legislation (SB 376) that aims to increase the number of students accessing free or reduced-priced breakfast. Right now, that is a huge missed opportunity, according to Texas Food Bank Network CEO Celia Cole. "Right now, about 2.6 million kids in school are low income," Cole said. "About 75 percent of those kids eat lunch at school, but only about 50 percent of those kids are taking advantage of breakfast." Cole said the goal is to get up to 1 million more low-income students across Texas eating breakfast at school, because children who do that have been shown to improve their achievement. "They have better test scores, better attendance, better behavior. So, in addition to being a great tool for fighting hunger and ensuring that kids get the nutrition they need to stay healthy and learn, it's a proven education policy to boost academic achievement," she explained. In all, around 100 pieces of legislation dealing with food policy have been introduced this session. It is one of the most pressing issues in the state today, Cole noted. "One in five families in Texas struggles to afford food on a consistent basis, so it's a big issue. We hope the legislature will tackle it with the same urgency it tackles any other big social problem," she said. The events were organized by the Texas Food Policy Roundtable. The coalition's mission is to develop, coordinate and improve the implementation of food policy to address hunger and promote healthy food. Information on SB376 is available at http://openstates.org/tx/bills/83/SB376. Information from the Texas Food Policy Roundtable is at http://txfoodpolicy.org.