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Edward Garris is a corporate and tax attorney and graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, is active in Austin politics, and loves bicycles, coffee and writing about law and policy.  

Lloyd Doggett Scores Victory for Domestic Abuse Survivors with IRS

by: Edward Garris

Thu Mar 27, 2014 at 03:30 PM CDT

Congressman Lloyd Doggett scored a huge victory yesterday for survivors of domestic violence and for working out kinks in the Affordable Care Act ("ACA").  Last week, Representative Doggett, along with 76 other U.S. representatives, wrote the U.S. Treasury, asking it to carve out an exception to certain tax filing requirements for survivors of domestic violence when they attempt to claim the Premium Tax Credit (PTC) available to lower-income individuals under the ACA.

Today, the IRS granted their request, issued guidance concerning the exception, and promised to promulgate Treasury regulations governing the exception later this spring.

So, why was an exception necessary?  And why for survivors of domestic violence?

The PTC is a tax credit designed to make the mandatory purchase of health care more affordable for those who have lower to moderate incomes and who purchase their health insurance under the ACA through the Health Insurance Marketplace.  However, until today, as a practical matter, the PTC was not available to everyone.  

To see who was restricted from affordable health care, read below the jump.

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 495 words in story)

Court of Criminal Appeals Limits Greg Abbott's Authority

by: Edward Garris

Wed Mar 26, 2014 at 00:00 PM CDT

Reports on Monday indicate that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals took a swipe at Greg Abbott in an opinion denying the relief he sought.  

On Monday, The Texas Observer reported that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott attempted to reinstate a law that the Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) previously had ruled unconstitutional.

The article gives a good background:

"It went like this. In October, the court threw out a 2005 statute banning sexting between adults and minors because the language was too broad. It could criminalize constitutionally-protected speech, the court said, and besides, everything about such exchanges that could be illegal already was: harassment, obscenity, sharing pornography and soliciting sex. The 2005 law made sexually explicit online contact with minors for sexual gratification a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, but the court overturned it 9-0."

To see why the court unanimously rejected Abbott's position, read below the jump.

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Federal Government Required to Assist States with Discriminatory Voter Laws

by: Edward Garris

Mon Mar 24, 2014 at 11:30 AM CDT

In case you missed it, last week, a federal judge in Kansas ordered the federal government to comply with states' requirements concerning voter identification.


Yep.  Last week, a federal court in Kansas held that if states requested the federal government to add state-specific instructions to a federal voter registration form, then the federal government must do so.  That's right.  The states can tell the federal government what to do.

As a practical matter, this means that states wishing to enlist the aid of the federal government in promulgating discriminatory and disenfranchising voter identification laws can do so.  

The decision was the result of a tangled history of laws in Kansas and Arizona as well as a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision.  Kansas and Arizona passed laws requiring proof of citizenship before an individual could register to vote.  Federal voter registration forms require only an attestation or sworn statement by the individual that he or she is, in fact, a citizen.  Kansas and Arizona had asked the federal Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to include instructions concerning their more onerous registration requirements on the federal form; the EAC refused. This case ensued.

To learn how the states won this power, read below the jump.

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Candy Crush Saga Trademarks the English Language; Goes After "The Banner Saga"

by: Edward Garris

Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 01:00 PM CST

Candy Crush Saga.  It's addictive.  It's ubiquitous.  It's apparently also litigious.

According to multiple sources, as well as filings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), King.com, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, is attempting to secure a monopoly on parts of the English language.  

According to online mag Kotaku, Stoic applied to the USPTO for a trademark on "The Banner Saga," a game it produces. No big deal, right?


According to the Kotaku piece, on December 27, 2013, King.com filed a Notice of Opposition with the USPTO to block Stoic from securing a trademark on the name of its game, "The Banner Saga."  The filing by King.com alleges that "The Banner Saga" is "confusingly and deceptively similar" to the use of the word "saga" by King.com in Candy Crush Saga and other games and would create a "likelihood of confusion in the marketplace" and damage to King.com.

To see which words they're fencing off, read below the jump.

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Lloyd Doggett, Marc Veasey, and Other Reps File Supreme Court Brief for Obamacare

by: Edward Garris

Wed Jan 29, 2014 at 00:00 PM CST

Yesterday, 91 members of the U.S. House of Representatives filed an amicus brief in the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in which Hobby Lobby is objecting to various provisions of the Affordable Care Act ("ACA"), or "Obamacare."

The New Yorker did a good backgrounder on the case in November:

"Is the case of Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, which the Supreme Court agreed to hear this week, about health-care mandates or about religion? Hobby Lobby's owners, who are Christian-they buy ads in newspapers on Easter recommending that people get to know Jesus Christ-feel that their right to worship freely is being denied by the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby is a privately held for-profit company, with five hundred stores selling arts-and-crafts supplies and thirteen thousand full-time employees, not all of them Christians. Under the A.C.A., a company like that needs to get its workers insurance that meets minimum standards or else pay a fine. One of those standards is preventive health care for women; that includes contraception. And that, Hobby Lobby's owners say, would make them "morally complicit" in the "death of an embryo." They can't pay for insurance and be good Christians, they say, and the fine would cost them a lot of money."

To see why Obamacare doesn't violate the free exercise of religion, read below the jump.

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Gas Utility Uses Railroad Commission to Force Cities to Accept Rate Hikes

by: Edward Garris

Sat Jan 25, 2014 at 00:00 PM CST

The Texas Supreme Court last week gave approval to gas utility rate schedules that adjust automatically.

The case concerned CenterPoint Energy Resources Corp., a gas utility that distributes natural gas to counties east of Austin, including areas surrounding Katy, Houston, and Galveston. In 2008, CenterPoint filed a statement of intent to raise its rates with the Railroad Commission of Texas (the "Commission") and the municipalities that would be affected, and it published the notice in newspapers serving those areas. Thirty-eight municipalities approved the utility rate changes; nine refused.  The utility appealed to the Commission to force the remaining nine cities to accept the rate increases.

CenterPoint sought two things: rate increases that would generate $2.9 million in additional annual revenue (the Commission ultimately approved $1.2 million); and streamlining an additional level of Commission oversight by including a new clause in their rate schedule.

To see how the court sided with utility, read below the jump.  

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Texas Supreme Court OKs Termination of Alleged Prostitute's Parental Rights

by: Edward Garris

Wed Jan 22, 2014 at 01:00 PM CST

The Texas Supreme Court last week held that there was sufficient evidence for an alleged prostitute to lose her parental rights to her daughter.

A trial court had terminated the mother's rights to her daughter; the First Court of Appeals in Houston reversed the termination of her rights, but allowed the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to keep its appointment as sole managing conservator of the daughter.  The appeals court held that the evidence of "abuse or neglect" against the mother was insufficient to justify terminating her parental rights.

In partially siding with the mother, the Houston appeals court noted the lack of evidence suggesting any injury to the child in question as well as the fact that any other concerns related to another child, and not the for whom parental rights were terminated.

The Texas Supreme Court disagreed with the Houston court's approach.

To see how the abuse of the mother herself factored into the termination of her parental rights, read below the jump.  

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Dallas, Texas Isn't a Person, But Private Corporations Are

by: Edward Garris

Wed Jan 15, 2014 at 04:00 PM CST

Dallas is not a person. It's a city.  But a private corporation is a person.  That's what the Third Court of Appeals in Austin held last week, handing a defeat to the City of Dallas in its bid to become a retail electric provider.  The practical result is that Dallas will not be able to buy power directly from power generators.  

But the question remains - was the Third Court handing down a decision showing a bias toward private sector interests over the public sector, or was the court simply irked at a perceived bluff by the city?

Briefly, Dallas had applied to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) to be certified as a retail electric provider; the PUC denied Dallas' application, ruling that, as municipal corporations, cities were not eligible to be retail electric providers. Dallas petitioned district court in Travis County for judicial review and lost; it then filed its appeal.

To see what Dallas was really trying to do, read below the jump.

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Fort Worth Appeals Court Ignores Mental Health History, Orders Grant of CHL

by: Edward Garris

Mon Jan 13, 2014 at 10:40 AM CST

On Thursday, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to renew the concealed handgun license (CHL) of a woman with a history of mental illness, and used federal law to do it.

DPS had previously denied the petitioner's application to renew her CHL because federal law disqualified her from purchasing a firearm and was, therefore, not eligible to have her Texas CHL renewed.

In July 2008, a Howard County, Texas, court had adjudicated the petitioner to be mentally ill and a threat to herself.  She was institutionalized, underwent treatment, and later applied to DPS to renew her CHL. DPS denied her application to renew, and the petitioner sued.  

After losing at the trial court, DPS only presented one issue on appeal - that the evidence was legally insufficient to show that the petitioner was qualified under state and federal law to purchase a firearm.

To see why the Fort Worth court ignored the petitioner's history of mental illness, read below the jump.  

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HB 2 To Federal Appeals Court Monday; Judge Edith Jones Swapped In

by: Edward Garris

Fri Jan 03, 2014 at 02:00 PM CST

Texas' abortion law, HB2, goes to oral arguments Monday on appeal at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.  

The case, No. 13-51008 - Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Services, Et Al. vs. Attorney General Gregory Abbott, Et Al., Appellants, was recently before the appeals court in October 2013.  At that time, the federal appeals court reversed the ruling of Judge Lee Yeakel of the federal district court in Austin, Texas.  Judge Yeakel had ruled that parts of HB2 were unconstitutional, thereby blocking those provisions from going into effect; the Fifth Circuit undid that, writing that Texas would likely defeat Planned Parenthood in a full trial on the merits.

The panel of the court lifting the injunction in October consisted of Judges Priscilla R. Owen, Jennifer Walker Elrod and Catharina Haynes. Interestingly, Monday's panel will consist of Judges Haynes and Elrod, but sitting in place of Judge Owen will be Judge Edith Jones.

To read why this substitution is questionable, read below the jump.

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