Citing Plano's Anti-LGBT Discrimination Law, Jason Villalba Moves to Protect "Religious Freedoms"

Categories: Legislature

Stanton Stevens
Only the most serious, non-pandering lawmaker would don slacks and a blazer to take his kids to the zoo.
In his first term as North Dallas' state representative, Jason Villalba established himself as a serious, policy-minded lawmaker focused on finding common-sense solutions to important problems, like freeing Mavs fans from stupid and outdated liquor laws. Unapologetically conservative, to be sure, but in a reasonable, non-pandering way that has won respect, if not agreement, from a lot of those to his political left. Even when he carried a bill to arm school employees post-Sandy Hook, it seemed less like he was trolling liberals than addressing a matter of legitimate concern with a controversial but careful and measured piece of legislation.

Wednesday, he veered off course and proposed an amendment to the state constitution barring state agencies and local governments from "burden[ing] in any way a person 's free exercise of religion." Before he posted a link on Facebook to a hyperventilating Empower Texans article describing Plano's passage of an ordinance barring various forms of anti-gay discrimination. Villalba wrote:

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Texas Cops Are Going to Fight Like Hell Against Cell-Phone Privacy Protections

Categories: Legislature

Mark Fahey
Last night in Houston two masked men, armed with a revolver and a shotgun, stormed a Denny's and raided the cash register. The same scene has played out on security footage at dozens of Houston-area IHOPs and Denny's, albeit occasionally with bloodshed.

Houston police officer James Taylor, testifying before a Texas Senate committee this morning, said the department's investigative efforts have been fatally hamstrung by its inability to acquire cell-phone location data without a warrant.

"The inability for us to access data has led us to being unable to catch them," Taylor told the committee.

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The Future of Women's Healthcare in Texas Looks Bleak. What's Next?

Stephen Young
One of two Dallas clinics that will remain open.
Listening to the oral arguments before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday confirmed what advocates for reproductive rights feared upon seeing the three-judge panel selected to hear the Texas' appeal of a lower-court ruling striking down two sections of House Bill 2, the 2013 legislation enacted to restrict access to abortion. Two of the judges, Jerry E. Smith and Jennifer Elrod, seemed ready to rule in favor of the state, as they did in a previous challenge to HB2. They peppered Stephanie Toti, the attorney representing the clinics bringing the challenge, with questions about whether reducing the number of abortion providers in the state to eight would actually pose an "undue burden" to women in the state seeking abortions.

As defined in federal case law, a law fails to meet the undue burden standard if it is too restrictive of one's fundamental rights. The standard has also been applied when a law lacks what former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called a "legitimate, rational justification."

No major medical organization has ever agreed with the contention made by proponents of HB2 and similar laws that its major requirements -- that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that clinics providing abortions meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers -- make women safer. In fact, as Dr. Hal Lawrence, the CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said, the full implementation of the law could lead to women seeking out illegal abortions or failing to get necessary prenatal care, endangering themselves in the process.

See also: How Texas' New Abortion Restrictions Have Actually Impacted Access to the Procedure

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Texas Cities Follow Dallas' Lead and Stand Up to Payday Lenders. Is the State Next?

That gleaming wad of cash comes with a 600+ percent interest rate, if Texas predatory lenders have anything to say about it.
In Dallas, the political atmosphere for payday lending reform is optimistic. After three years of ordinances limiting lending practices, the local movement has spread to 17 other cities across the state. Today, Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen went before the Amarillo City Council to try and recruit that city to the fight club against loan sharks. "The momentum just continues to gain," Allen told Unfair Park. "After the 2011 session, I realized that the state wasn't really going to do anything so I got back and worked with the city."

And increased limitations can't come quickly enough: Texas has some of the most lax lending laws in the country, with the highest surcharges. There is no cap on lending fees, and some interest rates soar over 600 percent. Moreover, statewide payday lending reform has failed in the Legislature for the past three sessions.

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TxDOT Told Woman Her Ten Commandments Sign Was an Ad, Is Now Backtracking

Categories: Legislature

George Bannister
The Ten Commandments are OK in their original tablet format, but not as giant signs along the highway.
If you think Texas' highways are too beautiful to sully with cheap, unpermitted signs, you're not alone. Under the Highway Beautification Transportation Code, the Texas Department of Transportation has some very strict, un-Texas-like regulations dictating the types of signs people can display. First, for what is allowed: businesses along highways can post signs on their own premises, advertising for themselves.

Seems fair, until you learn what isn't allowed, at least not without a very expensive permitting process: signs displayed on private property that advertise for something other than yourself. That includes the words of the Lord.

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Sandra Crenshaw, Mental Illness and the Race for the Texas Legislature.

Categories: Legislature, Media

Sandra Crenshaw, talking with Schutze when she was on the City Council. during the Don Hill corruption trial in 2009.
No one who knows former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw would dispute her intelligence or obsessive dedication to public service. It's her long and well-documented history of erratic behavior, the most recent case involving the alleged theft of a rental car, that raises questions about her fitness to hold public office.

Suffice to say that pretty much everyone was flummoxed when The Dallas Morning News endorsed her in the race for Texas House District 110 over the weekend.

Weirder still, the editorial offers only glancing allusions to Crenshaw's past antics. She "has her own shortcomings," the paper writes, and is "no stranger to handcuffs." But if she is able to "slow down and focus," she will do a far better job than incumbent Toni Rose.

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Texas Is Considering Accepting High-Level Radioactive Waste, and Environmentalists Are Pissed

A rendering of a possible nuclear storage facility in West Texas.
The United States has never quite figured out what to do with its spent nuclear fuel, some 68,000-plus highly radioactive tons of which is sitting in temporary storage at the nation's 104 nuclear power plants. The plan has been to bury the stuff in a secure geological formation deep underground, but, with Nevada's Yucca Mountain now effectively off the table, it's not clear where that will be.

On Friday, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus put the Lone Star State on the short list, instructing the House Committee on Environmental Regulation to study the disposal of high-level radioactive waste and its potential economic impact and recommend state and federal legislation to make that happen in Texas.

On a certain level, this makes sense. Texas, after all, has large underground formations in arid, sparsely populated areas along with broad, lax environmental regulations and, with its embrace of Waste Control Specialists' facility in Andrews County, a proven willingness to serve as a dumping ground for lower-level radioactive waste.

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Dallas State Rep. Jason Villalba Makes a Play for Sriracha

Categories: Dish, Legislature

Via Facebook
Jason Villalba's egg sandwich just wouldn't be the same without Sriracha.
When Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden first made his pitch to bring Sriracha to North Texas last October, it seemed like an impossible long shot. What chance did a lone municipal official, bearing no tax breaks or economic development incentives, have of convincing the manufacturer of the most delicious condiment on the planet to come to town?

But the momentum is building, people.

Less than two months after Huy Fong Foods was forced to shutter the Irwindale, California factory where it manufactures the spicy, Asian-style chile sauce with the instantly recognizable rooster label, luring the company has entered the realm of state politics.

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"Justice Undone" -- Texas Lawmakers Mull Tougher Punishments After "Affluenza" Case

Thumbnail image for dewhurst.jpg
On Thursday, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst became the latest Texas politician to insert himself into the debate over the sentence handed down to 16-year-old "affluenza" victim Ethan Couch, who killed four people during a drunken joy ride earlier this year. Days after gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis chimed in with expressions of outrage, Dewhurst has charged the Texas Senate with studying whether the punishment for intoxication manslaughter offenses is adequate.

"Having lost my own father to a drunk driver in my youth, I have a particular interest in this issue because I know the devastation it causes," Dewhurst said. "I am wholeheartedly committed to the safety of our citizens and believe that recent cases indicate existing sentencing options may leave justice undone."

Tapping into public outrage over a controversial criminal case is a time-honored political technique. The danger arises when this type of populist politicking translates into actual legislation, which tends to be terrible.

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Dewhurst Looks to Beat Back NSA Snooping and Big Data With Privacy Protection Agenda

Categories: Legislature

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst unveiled his interim charges to the Senate Committee on State Affairs Friday, and they are, to say the least, pretty ambitious. They read like red meat for the paranoid-hacker constituency at times, but they also include the bones of some common-sense privacy protections.

And they may appeal to a broader electorate, which is probably why Dewhurst is staking out a position as bulwark against Big Brother. He's offered up a slate of nascent policy prescriptions for the legislature to study during the off-season. We'll see how much our growing institutional distrust moves the needle next year.

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