Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Judge Blocks Texas Plan To Cut Planned Parenthood Medicaid Funds

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A U.S. judge in Austin issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday halting Texas’ plan to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, saying the state did not present evidence of a program violation that would warrant termination.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks said state health officials “likely acted to disenroll qualified health care providers from Medicaid without cause.” He said the preliminary injunction will preserve the court’s ability to render a meaningful decision on the case’s merits.

“Such action would deprive Medicaid patients of their statutory right to obtain health care from their chosen qualified provider,” wrote the judge who was appointed by Republican former President George H.W. Bush.

The reproductive healthcare group has said the threatened funding cut, by terminating Planned Parenthood’s enrollment in the state-funded healthcare system for the poor, could affect nearly 11,000 patients across Texas as they try to access services such as HIV and cancer screenings.

Texas and several other Republican-controlled states have pushed to cut the organization’s funding since an anti-abortion group released videos it said showed Planned Parenthood officials negotiating prices for fetal tissue collected from abortions.

Texas investigated Planned Parenthood over the videos and a grand jury last January cleared it of any wrongdoing. The grand jury indicted two anti-abortion activists who made the videos for document fraud but the charges were dismissed.

The state took no further criminal action against Planned Parenthood after that but has repeated its accusations that the abortion provider may have violated state law.

Planned Parenthood has denied any wrongdoing and sued the anti-abortion activists who made the videos.

Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton said his office would appeal.

“Today’s decision is disappointing and flies in the face of basic human decency,” he said in a statement.

In fiscal 2015, Planned Parenthood affiliates across Texas received about $4.2 million in Medicaid funding, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission said. Planned Parenthood said the amount for 2016 was estimated at around $3 million.

None of the money that the group received went for abortions, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Texas and the Medicaid defunding plan have said.

Planned Parenthood has 34 health centers in Texas, serving more than 120,000 patients, 11,000 of whom are Medicaid patients, it said.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Grant McCool and James Dalgleish)

IMAGE: Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is seen in Austin, Texas, U.S. on June 27, 2016.   REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman/File Photo

Super Bowl Glare Fixes Attention On Texas ‘Bathroom Bill’

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – As Houston readies to host the Super Bowl, a push by lawmakers in Texas to restrict bathroom access for transgender people is raising fears the state may be unable to score future major sporting events and could lose championships on its books.

The proposed measure is similar to one enacted last year in North Carolina that prompted the National Basketball Association to pull its showcase 2017 All Star game from Charlotte, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association moved seven championship events amid economic boycotts estimated to have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The financial hit in Texas, whose economy is bigger than Russia’s and boasts one of the nation’s largest travel and tourism industries, is forecast to be much bigger.

Influential business officials and activists say the legislation could also hurt the state’s ability to attract investment and is at odds with the progressive tradition of its biggest cities.

The cost of the so-called “bathroom bill,” which bars transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity, could run as high as $8.5 billion and result in a loss of 185,000 jobs in the first year alone, according to the Texas Association of Business, a conservative group that is the state’s leading employer organization.

“It would be a blot on the reputation of the state of Texas, which many of us have been working to change,” said Annise Parker, who as Houston’s mayor from 2010 to 2016 was the first openly lesbian candidate elected to lead a major U.S. city.

Parker, who served as mayor when Houston won hosting duties for Super Bowl LI to be played on Feb. 5, said by just filing the measure, which opponents decry as discriminatory, there has been damage to the image of the state that serves as headquarters for more than 50 Fortune 500 companies ranging from Exxon Mobil to grocer Whole Foods.

Texas has several upcoming marquee sporting events that could be at risk if the bathroom bill, known as the “Privacy Protection Act” or Senate Bill 6, is approved.

The legislation’s outcome is unlikely to be decided before the NCAA women’s Final Four basketball championship is held in Dallas this spring, but it could affect the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball championship in San Antonio next year. The NCAA declined to comment.

That event’s economic impact in the San Antonio area is estimated to be $135 million, according to economist Steve Nivin at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. Other estimates run as high as $234 million. The Super Bowl is expected to bring the Houston area a net economic benefit of around $350 million, according to the Host Committee.

ECONOMIC DOOM

Visit San Antonio, the city’s independent convention and visitors organization, said the bill is bad for business.

“Visit San Antonio is actively working with our state and regional travel and industry partners to oppose SB 6 and any other legislation that could cause San Antonio and Texas to be less competitive and welcoming,” Casandra Matej, the group’s executive director, told Reuters.

The Big 12 Conference, which in December plans to hold its football championship game in Arlington at the stadium used by the Dallas Cowboys, said in a statement it was tracking the legislation and would, “at an appropriate time, discuss its impact with our member institutions.”

Under the measure, local governments would not be able to adopt ordinances dictating bathroom and locker room policies for businesses. Local governments also would be forbidden from considering those policies when awarding contracts.

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a Tea Party Republican, has said the bathroom bill is a common-sense measure that protects against sexual predators and is a top legislative priority. He dismisses concern over any economic fallout.

“You have heard predictions of economic doom if we pass this bill,” he told a news conference in January. “It is just more talk from the opponents who have nothing else to say.”

The bill is likely to pass the Republican-controlled Texas Senate, but its fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain.

Speaker Joe Straus, a Republican who drives the agenda in that body, has shown tepid support, saying there are worries in his San Antonio district about what would happen to the 2018 Final Four if the bill becomes law.

“We should be very careful about doing something that could make Texas less competitive for investments, jobs, and the highly skilled workforce needed to compete,” Straus said in a speech this month.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Jim Forysth in San Antonio; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alan Crosby)

IMAGE: Texas state Republican Senator Dan Patrick speaks during a meeting of the state Senate in Austin, Texas July 12, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Stone/File Photo

Texas Moves To Cut Medicaid Funding For Planned Parenthood

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Texas plans to block about $3 million in Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood operations in the state, according to a legal document obtained on Wednesday, a move the reproductive healthcare group said could affect nearly 11,000 low-income people.

Planned Parenthood said it would seek court help to block the funding halt, which would cut cancer screenings, birth control, HIV testing and other programs.

Planned Parenthood gets about $500 million annually in federal funds, largely in reimbursements through Medicaid, which provides health coverage to millions of low-income Americans.

Texas and several other Republican-controlled states have tried to cut the organization’s funding after an anti-abortion group released videos last year that it said showed officials from Planned Parenthood negotiating prices for fetal tissues from abortions it performs.

Texas sent a final termination notice to Planned Parenthood in the state on Tuesday to alert it of the funding cut, the document showed, saying the basis of the termination was the videos.

Planned Parenthood has denied wrongdoing, saying the videos were heavily edited and that it does not profit from fetal tissue donation. It has challenged similar defunding efforts in other states, calling them politically motivated.

Republican President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, and at least 14 states have tried to pass legislation or taken administration action to prevent the organization from receiving federal Title X funding.

“Texas is a cautionary tale for the rest of the nation,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “With this action, the state is doubling down on reckless policies that have been absolutely devastating for women.”

The Texas governor’s office was not immediately available for comment. The state investigated Planned Parenthood over the videos. A grand jury in January cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing and indicted the anti-abortion activists who made the videos for tampering with government records.

About a year ago, the Texas health department cut funding to a Houston Planned Parenthood affiliate for a nearly three-decade-old HIV prevention program. The contract was federally funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but managed by the state.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

IMAGE: Protesters gather outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Vista, California, August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake 

Federal Judge Grants Injunction To Halt Transgender Bathroom Policy

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – A U.S. judge blocked Obama administration guidance that transgender public school students must be allowed to use bathrooms of their choice, granting a nationwide injunction sought by a group of 13 states led by Texas.

Reed O’Connor, a judge for the Northern District of Texas, said in a decision late on Sunday that the Obama administration did not follow proper procedures for notice and comment in issuing the guidelines. He said the guidelines contradict with existing legislative and regulatory texts.

O’Connor, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, said the guidelines from the defendants, which included the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, were legislative and substantive.

“Although Defendants have characterized the Guidelines as interpretive, post-guidance events and their actual legal effect prove that they are ‘compulsory in nature,'” he wrote.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who frequently sues the Democratic Obama administration, said he was pleased with a decision against “illegal federal overreach.”

At a hearing on the injunction in Fort Worth on Aug. 12, lawyers for Texas said the guidelines usurp the authority of school districts nationwide. They said they were at risk of losing billions of dollars in federal funding for education if they did not comply.

U.S. Department of Justice lawyers sought to dismiss the injunction, saying the federal guidelines issued in May were non-binding with no legal consequences.

The guidance issued by the Justice Department and Education Department said public schools must allow transgender students to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other intimate facilities that correspond with their gender identity, as opposed to their birth gender, or face the loss of federal funds.

Under the injunction, the Obama administration is prohibited from enforcing the guidelines on “against plaintiffs and their respective schools, school boards, and other public, educationally based institutions,” O’Connor wrote.

Following milestone achievements in gay rights including same-sex marriage becoming legal nationwide in 2015, transgender rights have become an increasingly contentious issue in the United States. The use of public bathrooms has been a key element in the controversy.

The administration’s directive enraged conservatives who say federal civil rights protections encompass biological sex, not gender identity.

The other states in the Texas-led suit are Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, Mississippi and Kentucky. Ten other states have also separately sued over the guidelines.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

Photo: A sign protesting a recent North Carolina law restricting transgender bathroom access is seen in the bathroom stalls at the 21C Museum Hotel in Durham, North Carolina May 3, 2016.   REUTERS/Jonathan Drake/File Photo

Texas Professors Ask U.S. Court To Ban Guns In Their Classrooms

Three University of Texas professors asked a U.S. judge on Thursday to give them the option of barring students from bringing guns into their classroom after the state gave some students that right under a law then went into effect this week.

The professors said academic freedom could be chilled under the so-called campus carry law backed by the state’s Republican political leaders that allows concealed handgun license holders 21 and over to bring handguns into classrooms and other university facilities.

“They don’t fear, they know that the presence of guns in their classrooms… would squelch (academic) discussions,” Renea Hicks, a lawyer for the professors told U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel.

The lawsuit is seeking a preliminary injunction to halt guns in the classrooms of professors Jennifer Lynn Glass, Lisa Moore and Mia Carter ahead of the start of classes later this month.

Anna Mackin, an attorney for the university, told the judge that if the professors banned guns in their classroom, they would be violating state law, and could be disciplined or terminated.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican and a defendant in the suit, filed papers to halt the injunction, calling the professors‘ case a “frivolous lawsuit.”

“There is no legal justification to deny licensed, law-abiding citizens on campus the same measure of personal protection they are entitled to elsewhere in Texas,” Paxton said in a statement this week.

Lawyers for the professors said they expect a decision before Aug. 24.

The professors argue they discus emotionally laden subjects such as reproductive rights, and it would be inevitable for them to alter their classroom presentations because of potential gun violence.

The law took effect on Aug. 1 as the University of Texas held a memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of one of the deadliest U.S. gun incidents on a college campus.

On Aug. 1 1966, student Charles Whitman killed 16 people in a rampage, firing from a perch atop the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, the state’s flagship public university.

Republican lawmakers said campus carry could help prevent a mass shooting.

University of Texas professors lobbied unsuccessfully to prevent the campus carry law, arguing the combination of youth, firearms and college life could make for a deadly situation.

Eight states have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state laws.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Photo: Derek Key via Flickr

Abortion Providers Aim To Reopen Some Closed Texas Clinics

Abortion providers in Texas reacted with surprise and elation on Monday to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the state’s restrictive abortion law and said they aimed to reopen some clinics shut down since the measure was passed in 2013.

Since the law was passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed by a Republican governor, the number of abortion clinics in Texas, the second-most-populous U.S. state with about 27 million people, has fallen from 41 to 19.

“I am honestly surprised by the Supreme Court decision,” Rachel Bergstrom-Carlson, health center manager at Planned Parenthood of Austin, said at the clinic that performs about 250 abortions per month in the Texas state capital.

But Bergstrom-Carlson said she does not think the ruling “all of the sudden creates open access” to abortion for Texas women or that it means other legislation intended to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortions will be scrapped.

Abortion providers said the law imposed medically unnecessary regulations that were intended to shut clinics. Texas state officials said the law was aimed at protecting women’s health.

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, who performs abortions at Whole Woman’s Health clinics in Texas, said abortion providers will seek to reopen some of the shuttered clinics but do not expect to be able to return to the number in operation prior to the law.

Negotiating new leases and hiring staff will mean a slow return to operations for those that do re-open, Kumar said.

The Supreme Court ruled that both key provisions of the law – requiring abortion doctors to have difficult-to-obtain “admitting privileges” at a local hospital and requiring clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities – violated a woman’s right to an abortion established in a 1973 landmark ruling.

“I am beyond elated,” Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which operates four abortion clinics in Texas and spearheaded the challenge to the law.

“After years of fighting heartless, anti-abortion Texas politicians who would seemingly stop at nothing to push abortion out of reach, I want everyone to understand: you don’t mess with Texas, you don’t mess with Whole Woman’s Health,” she added.

If the Supreme Court had left the law in place, only eight clinics would have remained open, including the Planned Parenthood facility in Austin, a U.S. lower court judge said.

The state’s Republican leaders, including the governor and attorney general, criticized the ruling that they said would endanger public health.

“Now abortion clinics are free to ignore these basic safety standards and continue practicing under substandard conditions,” Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said. “By its ruling, the court held that the ability of abortion clinics to remain open – even under substandard conditions – outweighs the state’s ability to put women’s health and safety first.”

The legislature meets again next year, and top lawmakers indicated they may look at new abortion restrictions.

The “admitting privileges” provision, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have formal affiliation with a hospital within 30 miles (48 kms) of their clinic, had gone into effect. The facilities standards had been put on hold by courts.

 

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Will Dunham)

Photo: Rachel Bergstrom-Carlson, the Health Center Manager at Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center, is pictured at the clinic after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas law imposing strict regulations on abortion doctors and facilities, in Austin, Texas, U.S. June 27, 2016.   REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman