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Texas Lawmakers Discuss Foster Care As Foster Child Deaths Rise

by: Katie Singh

Fri Jul 11, 2014 at 00:00 PM CDT

Last week, the newly-formed House Select Committee on Child Protection convened for the first time to discuss how to improve the state's foster care system. The committee was created in the spring by Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, and is chaired by Austin Democrat Dawnna Dukes.

The House Select committee is working to examine how to improve Child Protective Services in light of a recent spike in foster care abuse and deaths. In 2013, the number of foster child deaths rose to 10, which is five times more than the previous year. Just days after the committee meeting, the need for foster care oversight was tragically reinforced as two foster children in Georgetown drowned. Georgetown police are investigating the incident, and Providence Kids, the Austin-based child-placing agency responsible for placing the two children, has had its placements suspended.

It's important to note that these deaths are not just deaths from child abuse, which are of course tragic. These are foster children, who were removed from their parents to keep them safe, and then died in these new homes. The deaths highlight the severe problems with the state's chronically underfunded Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and the foster care system.

Read more about the challenges facing the state's foster care system after the jump.

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"Cold Beer and Titties": Sexism at Texas Boys State Conference

by: jess_stoner

Fri Jun 27, 2014 at 09:49 AM CDT

(This is an embarrassment to our state. A program that trains future leaders should do more to eradicate this sexist behavior. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)

At this year's Texas Boys State conference, 920 high school students, or statesmen as they're referred to, gathered at the University of Texas at Austin to form municipalities, run for office, and pass legislation.

During their hectic week learning the "rights, privileges, and responsibilities of franchised citizens," they debated the legalization of marijuana and drafted strategies for water conservation and education and immigration reform.

They also gave speeches touting "Cold Beer and Titties," designed campaign logos showing women in bikinis, and created a party platform shaming teenage mothers.

Read more below the jump.

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Perry: Texas Won't Work With Feds To Prevent Prison Rape

by: Nick Hudson

Mon Mar 31, 2014 at 02:57 PM CDT

Citing what he calls a "counterproductive and unnecessarily cumbersome and costly regulatory mess," Texas Governor Rick Perry on Friday sent a three-page letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder declaring that Texas would not comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA).

The Prison Rape Elimination Act was signed by President George W. Bush in 2003 with unanimous support from both parties in Congress. The purpose of the act was to "provide for the analysts of the incidence and effects of prison rape in Federal, State, and local institutions and to provide information, resources, recommendations and funding to protect individuals from prison rape."

Scott over at Grits for Breakfast has acquired Perry's letter to Holder and excerpted it copiously.

Read more below the jump!

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Moderates vs. Conservatives: Which Republican PACs Came Out On Top in the 2014 Primary?

by: Katie Singh

Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 01:00 PM CDT

After John Cornyn's and Greg Abbott's victories in the Texas Republican primary on March 4, the New York Times proclaimed that here in Texas, the Republican establishment had soundly beat back the Tea Party.

While that may have been true in Cornyn's and Abbott's specific races, the reality of the election was much more complex. Social conservatives prevailed over moderates in many legislative primary races. Several moderate Republican legislative incumbents lost, as extreme social conservatives took the lead in most races for statewide offices.

The Texas Legislature was the main battleground for social conservatives battling moderate Republicans. Several large Republican PACs, both moderate and conservative, had stakes in legislative races. BOR examined the endorsement records of four of them--the moderate, education-focused Texas Parent PAC, the more conservative Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and two extremely conservative PACS, the Young Conservatives of Texas and Michael Quinn Sullivan's Empower Texans PAC.

We looked at which candidates each PAC endorsed and how those candidates fared in the primary.

See which Republican PACs were winners and losers after the jump.

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Greg Abbott Intervenes In Suit Involving "Sociopathic Neurosurgeon"

by: Nick Hudson

Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 09:00 AM CDT

If Greg Abbott has his way, there will be no justice for victims of a Dallas neurosurgeon that killed two patients and paralyzed four in a series of botched surgeries.

As the Dallas Morning News reports, Texas' Attorney General Greg Abbott filed motions this week to intervene in three federal lawsuits brought against Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano on behalf of former patients of Dr. Christopher Duntsch. The patients allege that Baylor Plano  knew Dr. Duntsch was a dangerous surgeon and it could have prevented him from killing and maiming patients.

The suits also challenge the constitutionality of a state law that requires plaintiffs to prove that Baylor Plano intended to harm patients. That law is part of the Texas Legislature's 2003 tort reform package. The Legislature removed the term "gross negligence" from the definition of legal malice.

Read more below the jump!

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DNC Project Highlights Republicans are the "Same Old Party" who Refuse to Accept Change

by: Katie Singh

Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 02:00 PM CDT

Yesterday was one-year anniversary of the Republican Party's "autopsy report" that dissected the party's status after Mitt Romney's overwhelming loss to President Obama in 2012. Among the autopsy report's highlights were that the Republican Party was "driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac" and had to pass immigration reform otherwise "our Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only."

Despite these conclusions, one year later, the GOP's attempts to appeal more to young people, immigrants, women, LGBT individuals, and minorities appear to be minimal at best. Nowhere is this more evident than here in Texas, where it seems that each week brings another instance of the Republican Party proving itself out of touch with Texans on many major issues. Whether it's Greg Abbott calling the Rio Grande Valley a "third-world country" or Texas Republican leaders saying that women are bad negotiators who are "too busy" for equal pay, it's clear that today's Republican party is no better at outreach than it was a year ago.

In honor of the one-year anniversary of the GOP autopsy, the DNC has launched a new project highlighting how Republicans are the "Same Old Party" as they were a year ago.  The site shows how Republicans continue to hold antiquated and exclusionary views toward minorities, women, poor people, and many others. And the section focusing on Texas has some of the most egregious offenses of the bunch.

See examples of how Texas Republicans are the "Same Old Party" after the jump.

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Republican Legislators Fall Victim to Ponzi Scheme Run by Man who Claimed to Have Found Noah's Ark

by: Katie Singh

Fri Mar 14, 2014 at 01:00 PM CDT

Attorney General Candidate and Ted Cruz-BFF State Sen. Ken Paxton, one of four legislators who fell victim to a Ponzi scheme targeted at Christian Conservatives
Four Texas legislators have filed suit against a McKinney man named Archer Bonnema, claiming that he scammed them into investing in a fraudulent energy trading company.

Bonnema, "a chiseler who once claimed to have found Noah's Ark," targeted his scheme toward Christian conservatives.

Now, Wayne Christian, Phil King, Ken Paxton and Bill Zedler are suing Bonnema. Two are currently running for statewide office--State Sen. Ken Paxton (R-McKinney) is the favorite in the runoff for Attorney General, while former State Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center) is ahead going into the runoff for Railroad Commissioner.

The scheme began in 2008 when Bonnema and Beaumont businessman Danny Bannister bought an energy trading company called Pirin Electric. Bonnema took control of the company and began to seek out investors, specifically targeting Christian conservatives.

See how a man who claimed to have found Noah's Ark fooled four Texas lawmakers after the jump.

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Burnt Orange Report Issues No Endorsement in HD-79

by: Burnt Orange Report

Fri Feb 14, 2014 at 04:00 PM CST

Burnt Orange Report cannot advocate a vote for Joe Pickett owing to his repeated failures to uphold basic Democratic principles. Challenger Chuck Peartree also does not merit our support.

Here at BOR we are loathe to offer "no endorsement," but in the case of Joe Pickett we feel we have no alternative. Pickett was particularly unhelpful to core Democratic causes in the last session, and as such does not earn our support.

As chair of the Public Safety committee, Pickett had the procedural ability to prevent the "guns on campus" legislation from coming to a vote and proceeding to the floor. Rather than hold the bill in committee, he let it up for a vote, then voted against it. Opposing guns in college campus buildings is a plank of the Democratic party, public safety organizations are against the bill, and it's basic common sense that we should avoid mixing guns with sleep-deprived, stressed-out, often-intoxicated youth.

But wait, there's more, and it's arguably worse!  

Pickett also voted FOR HB-2, the draconian back-door abortion ban that riled Texans and progressives nationwide during the special sessions this summer. If Joe Pickett is willing to stand with those who seek to punish poor, rural, and disadvantaged women as opposed to standing up for the rights of the women in his district, then we cannot encourage anyone to vote for him.

Unfortunately we can find little information on Pickett's challenger, Chuck Peartree, and cannot advocate a vote for him either.

Voters in HD-79, a Democratic district, deserve a representative who will stand by core principles and platform planks of our party. We see no reason to endorse a vote for Pickett if he is going to use his seat in the Legislature to allow guns into college classrooms while sending Texas women to back alleys.

Early Voting: February 18-February 28, 2014 | Election Day: Tuesday March 4
Photo Voter ID is required to vote. Click here for a list of acceptable forms of ID.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff with any conflict of interest in a given race abstain from voting on that race.

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Burnt Orange Report Endorses Alma Allen for HD-131

by: Burnt Orange Report

Fri Feb 14, 2014 at 02:00 PM CST

Alma Allen is an experienced legislator with an important background on education issues. We enthusiastically and unanimously endorse her for election in HD 131

Alma Allen served as a public school teacher and administrator with Houston ISD for 39 years, and then went on to serve on the State Board of Education for 10 years. She was first elected to the Texas House in 2004, and has served as Vice Chair of the Public Education committee for the past two sessions. Given all the major ongoing debates and changes to public education (graduation requirements, standardized testing, school finance, etc.), her expertise and seniority make her an important member of the House Democratic delegation.

In addition, Allen played an important role in fighting against the anti-abortion bills last summer. Her efforts in the House helped to delay the bill in the first special session long enough that Wendy Davis could later successfully filibuster the bill in the Texas Senate.

Alma Allen's experience with education is key at a time when public education is changing in Texas. She is the most qualified candidate to represent HD 131, and we unanimously endorse her for re-election.

Early Voting: February 18-February 28, 2014 | Election Day: Tuesday March 4
Photo Voter ID is required to vote. Click here for a list of acceptable forms of ID.

Endorsements are made based on a weighted consensus of the staff, which guides the type and tone of endorsement. Members of the Burnt Orange Report staff with any conflict of interest in a given race abstain from voting on that race.

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Equality Texas Disputes Stickland Claim of Anti-Marriage Voting Record

by: Chuck Smith

Tue Jan 21, 2014 at 02:56 PM CST

(Thanks to Chuck Smith and EQTX for shining a light on Stickland's voting record. - promoted by Katherine Haenschen)

Equality Texas released the following statement today in light of information that Rep. Jonathan Stickland apparently used to support marriage equality.

Equality Texas Disputes Stickland Claim of Anti-Marriage Voting Record

AUSTIN, TEXAS (January 21, 2014) - In recent comments to the Texas Tribune, Luke Macias, spokesperson for State Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), claims that Stickland "is one of the biggest advocates for traditional marriage in Texas. Jonathan believes marriage is between a man and woman and has a voting record to back it up."

Equality Texas, the state's largest organization working on issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the Texas Legislature, disputes Stickland's claims of a voting record on marriage.

"The issue of marriage equality simply did not come up for a vote during Stickland's single term in the Legislature," said Equality Texas Legislative Specialist Daniel Williams. "It's bad enough to actually have an anti-marriage voting record, but to lie and claim to have one when none exists is truly bizarre."

Stickland was a co-author of Rep. Drew Springer's HB 1568 during the legislative session.  Had it passed, as reported by committee, the bill would have enabled the Attorney General to immediately close any school district the AG felt was in violation of the State Constitution without an appeals process or any form of external review. The bill was filed in response to Pflugerville Independent School District's announcement that the district would offer health insurance benefits to the same-gender partners of school employees. Stickland did not vote on HB 1568 as it never reached the House floor.

"Perhaps if Rep. Stickland spent more time focusing on the actual work of the legislature and less time promoting pointless and unpopular personal biases, his staff might have a better understanding of his record," said Williams.

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