The Texas Special Legislative Session vs. the Bathroom Bill

It’s “good news, bad news” time here in the Lone Star State, y’all.  The good news?  The Texas 2017-2018 legislative session has ended without passage of the bathroom bill.

The bad news?  Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session, and on the agenda is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s obsession: the bathroom bill.  If certain legislation doesn’t pass during a session, the governor can call the legislators back in order to finish up the job.  Mr. Patrick took advantage of this fact.  From The Texas Tribune: “Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had been pushing Abbott to call a special session on the bathroom issue, as well as property taxes.”

Fortunately, the Texas House doesn’t seem terribly interested in passing the bill.  It’ll be bad for the economy and bad for privacy rights.  Unfortunately, the governor can keep calling special sessions until he deems the work of the legislature complete.

Can You Recycle Campaign Yard Signs?

Yes, or at least around these parts.  I’ve displayed campaign yard signs for a number of election cycles now, and some of the signs I’ve kept (for sentimental reasons?  to clutter the garage?) and some I’ve passed along to our party precinct chair for use at the polling locations on election day.

Alas, the garage is filling up, so after May’s municipal elections, I decided to ask the city in which I reside if I can recycle them.  And the answer is yes.  File under “good to know.”  I’ll be carting a bunch of ’em out to the curb soon….

 

If Senator Cornyn is Appointed FBI Director

On the off chance that Senator John Cornyn is selected to be the next director of the FBI, Texas might just have the chance to fill his seat with a Democrat sooner rather than later.  From The Texas Tribune:

Gov. Greg Abbott would be tasked with a short-term appointment, but several months later the state would hold a special election to finish the duration of the term, which ends in 2021. 

The The Austin American-Statesman floats a couple possibilities as challengers to Gov. Abbott’s appointee: US Representative Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, who has already begun his 2018 campaign against Senator Ted Cruz, or US Representative Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

That said, the scenario is unlikely to play out.  Again, from The Austin American-Statesman:

While Cornyn did serve as both a Texas Supreme Court justice and state attorney general before being elected to the Senate, he would seem among the least likely picks on the list.

Which leaves us here in the Lone State State waiting for the 2018 election for the next opportunity to elect a Democratic candidate to a Senate seat.

Guns, Girls, and Glory: Part I

At a recent book sale to benefit my local elementary school, I happened to find a copy of Herland near a copy of Nebula Award Stories 8, edited by Isaac Asimov. Both I grabbed, the former because my current copy is an ebook, the latter because the anthology boasted stories by Clarke, Anderson, Pohl, Ellison, and others.

Herland and Nebulas 8

Among those “others” in this 1972 paperback is Joanna Russ; her story “When It Changed” won the Nebula for best short story published that year. In this story, a planet populated entirely by women is visited by men. The men on the planet had died hundreds of years before, so none of the women had first-hand knowledge of men—a parallel to Herland.

What’s strikingly different is that while Gilman’s all-women society is a utopia, the society that Russ created, the planet Whileaway, is not. Children are communally raised in Herland; society conducts itself in a “feminine” manner. On Whileaway, a sense of individualism permeates the culture. The narrator considers her twelve-year old daughter’s imminent coming-of-age: “Some day soon, like all of them, she will disappear for weeks on end to come back grimy and proud, having knifed her first cougar or shot her first bear, dragging some abominably dangerous dead beastie behind her, which I will never forgive for what it might have done to my daughter.” Though men are absent from the planet, a sort of stereotypically male relationship between people and nature—and among the people themselves—remains.

Aside from the obvious differences between these two takes on women-only societies, one notable distinction between them struck me: guns. Guns are conspicuously absent from Herland—they’re not needed in a society without conflict. On Whileaway, they’re a part of daily life. And in spite of their presence, what guns they have are not enough to protect the women there: “Men are coming to Whileaway. When one culture has the big guns and the other has none, there is a certain predictability about the outcome.” Katy, the narrator’s wife, never touches her rifle, because, as she says after she nearly shoots one of the men who do come to their world, “’I knew I’d kill someone.’”

As a Texan following our current legislative session, I’m not surprised that I focused on this difference. A number of bills have been put forth that would make owning and carrying guns far easier than it is now—and that’s not to say that it isn’t already quite easy here. And as a Texan, I hope common sense will prevail and that these bills will not pass. And as a writer of science fiction, I’ve been considering the ways in which state and national bills and legislation will affect us in the future.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing posts about gun ownership and mental health, gun ownership as a signifier of social status among the middle class, and how gun training might be implemented in public and private schools.

In the meantime, y’all, I’ve got letters to write.  From The Dallas Morning News: “Texans could carry a handgun without a license under a House bill that’s stuck in the chamber.”

From Around the Web: 9 March 2017

A few links of interest from around the web:

  • Check out Geoff Ryman’s “100 African Writers of SFF” write-up at Strange Horizons.
  • Skyboat Media is raising funds to produce an audiobook version of Lightspeed’s QUEERS DESTROY SCIENCE FICTION!
  • Here in the Lone Star State, State Representative Ana Hernandez filed HB1947, which would provide high school graduated with two years of free community college.  As a former community college student and, later, instructor, I’m heartened by this.  And as a Texan, I’m glad to see a bill filed of late that has nothing to do with threatening reproductive rights….

 

Alternative Facts and Wrongful Births

Another assault on reproductive rights here in the Lone Star State shouldn’t surprise any of us.  What’s disturbing is that the tactic used to used to wage this fight appears to be pulled right from the “alternative facts” playbook.

The Texas State Senate Health and Human Services Committee recently passed SB25 out of committee, which would essentially allow doctors to withhold information about fetal abnormalities from parents, overturning current “wrongful birth” legislation  This bill was promoted by the anti-abortion lieutenant governor, who, according to The Texas Observer, “told lawmakers to ‘protect the unborn'” through such legislation.

That said, this withholding of information is right in line with the sort of science denial that threatens clean air, vaccination rates, endangered species, and any number of other inconveniences to right-wing idealism.  By allowing doctors to withhold test results that indicate fetal abnormalities, law makers are essentially allowing anti-abortion practitioners to present “alternative facts” to parents-to-be who need to be informed about the implications of their situation, regardless of what those parents decide to do in response to that information.

Lt. Gov. Patrick’s purported wish to “protect the unborn” coupled with bill sponsor Sen. Brandon Creighton’s stated purpose to uphold “the sanctity of life” would do the opposite for affected children and their families.   Without time to prepare emotionally and financially, families will be devastated by the fallout from the lack of necessary information.

It’s a devastation that those in power will turn their focus away from.

 

 

Q&A with Pantsuit Republic Podcast Producer

Pantsuit Republic, the Texas offshoot of the Pantsuit Nation movement, recently launched a podcast that covers not only politics in Texas but also the issues behind it. I spoke with Emily Dylla, coordinator and producer of the podcast, about the content and direction of the show.

Freethinking Ahead: There are so many media available for getting the word out to folks about politics and calls to action. Why did PSR choose to launch a podcast?

Emily Dylla: We thought it would contrast nicely with all the social media work that we do. Social media is so fast. It’s really up-to-the minute. And in a podcast, you might not be up-to-the-minute, but you can get into a lot more depth on subjects. So we decided to take an educational approach to what we wanted to do with the podcast. It’s really meant to go into any range of topics or issues that we feel are somehow relevant to PSR members and anyone else who tends to more of a progressive approach.

So we thought it would complement all the frantic activity that we do on Twitter, Facebook, and everywhere else.

FTA: Something that feels a lot less ephemeral, right?

ED: Exactly. And it’s really nice because podcasts, for people with crazy schedules, like myself–I’m a graduate student, I work, I have a family, I’m an avid runner, so I’m running all over the place all the time–a podcast is really nice because you can listen to it while you drive to work, while you might be out on a bike ride or running, or cooking dinner in the evening. We thought it would to reach people that way as well.

FTA: What direction would you like to see the podcast take over the course of the 2017 Texas legislative session? And after?

ED: We’re still in the process of determining this, because we are just about to release our third episode this week. We are still finding our comfort zone and a format that we can fall into, but ultimately I’m hoping that the podcast will focus on the four core areas that PSR is interested in. This is women’s empowerment, that’s one. Health care is another. Social justice is a third, and fourth is political empowerment of Texans.

So we’ll certainly be following on the podcast what our teams who are specifically organized to address those core issues be following what they’re doing. They’re tracking legislation and organizing things, for instance, HB 948, that’s the abolition of abortion in Texas act, introduced by a representative from Tarrant County, Arlington. We’ll be checking in with those teams throughout the course of the legislative session.

But we’re also going to be focusing on more broad issues. With this third episode, we’re kicking off a series on reproductive health and reproductive rights in Texas. We start with abortion, since that’s what everyone thinks of, and we pay attention to that a little bit, and then we’ll expand or at least attempt to expand the conversation belong the abortion debate. Often times people end there, they get frustrated with the ideological clash and don’t see much point in having the debate. We’ll be talking about things like sex education, contraception access in Texas, and also topics that people don’t necessarily connect to reproductive rights so much, like livable wage, affordable child care, how reproductive health specifically concerns LGBTQ communities.

So we’ll be both focusing on the legislation specifically but also going off more into topics that we find interesting and hope our listeners will find interesting as well.

FTA: Personal narratives and statements are such a powerful way to show the day-to-day effects that politics has on the people’s lives. Can you talk a bit about including these as part of the podcast? And why you have the authors submit these in their own voices?

ED: We give people the option to do it in their own voices, and we also give them the option to remain anonymous, though no one has taken us up on that yet. We decided on the personal narratives as an homage to our organizational roots. Like so many groups, we spun off of Pantsuit Nation. On the day before the election on the PSN Facebook page, someone said we should have state groups, and all of a sudden, state chapters were popping up all over the nation. What eventually became PSR was started that day by Dona Kim Murphey. I was one of the first people, when she asked for volunteers for moderators, I thought, yeah, sure I can do that.

From the get go, PSN’s argument has been that there is great power in storytelling. Storytelling allows the listener a means by which he can come to understand another person’s perspective or situation in this rich and really effective way. So we thought that was important.

From the beginning, PSR has distinguished ourselves from PSN by being very politically active. A lot of the statewide groups are that way too. We’ve always agreed with Libby Chamberlain, the founder of PSN, about the effects storytelling can have. And we thought there was more political and social good that PSN and PSR and our local chapters can do. So when I started thinking about putting together this podcast, I wanted it to reflect the two sides of PSR: political action on one side and community building and solidarity building through storytelling on the other.

FTA: It also seems to foster an intersectionality. Was that also part of your aim?

ED: Absolutely. From the beginning our two major goals have been one, we’re going to be politically active in Texas–we want to focus on changing the social and poliitical landscape of the lone star state–and also we need to be explicitly intersectional in our approach. We can’t have this be another voice of white feminism. And that’s something that PSN came under fire for. But luckily Dona had already been very vocal in her leadership about making sure that PSR considers not just gender but race, ability or disability, language, all those kinds of things.

FTA: Which is especially salient in Texas, speaking of language, since most people don’t really think about that here.

ED: That was one of those things that we’ve been ranting about this evening. There are so many things to rage about but the whitehouse.gov page taking every single bilingual page down. About half the population in Texas is bilingual, so it’s ridiculous that they would do that.

FTA: This is why we all fight the good fight, right?

ED: Exactly.

FTA: What do you hope Texas listeners will get from the podcast?

E: Like I said before, the PSR podcast is meant first and foremost as an educational tool, so we have episodes planned on everything from the reproductive health and rights series I already talked about to dealing with online bullying and harassment to activism fatigue. We’ve got one planned on intersectional feminism, and we’re trying to frame all of these topics specifically to how they impact Texans.

And so my hope is that our listeners will learn a bit more about a subject with which they already might be a little familiar or a lot about something with which they never really engaged. So basically we want to provide education.

I’m an educator myself, and I’ve been a graduate student for a long time. And really enjoy the teaching process. The podcast is a really interesting medium through which one can at least attempt to teach subjects. So we’ll see how it goes.

FTA: Since many of FtB’s readers are outside Texas, what might listeners across the US get from your podcast, especially in light of the fact that so many state and local elections followed the national trend in 2016?

ED: One of the things I think people can get is that the podcast highlights the work that PSR does as well as our local chapters. We have between 35 and 40 local chapters across Texas that are affiliated–we all work together. PSR has already served as the inspiration for a lot of these Pantsuit Nation derived organizations, because of those two things I mentioned earlier: our commitment to political activism number one, and our commitment to inclusivity and intersectionality.

We talk about ourselves as being not non-partisan but post-partisan, we’re trying to get that term to take off. We’re trying to foster an environment that doesn’t look at political affiliation. We have a lot of Democrats, but we also have independents–I’m one of them–we have Republicans, we have third-party members. So we just tried to focus on issues that are important to all of these people. Because there are Republicans out there who are pro-choice and don’t want to see people have their access to voting cut off. So that’s one of the things that I hope the podcast offers, models for effective engagement in both political activism and intersectionality. I think even more than that, the podcast offers a perspective of Texas.

FTA: Ah, yes, outside all the lovely stereotypes everybody has.

ED: Exactly. I don’t think Texas has quite as crazy a reputation as Florida, but this is a really conservative state. There’s definitely a reputation that we do have, but when you get down into it, there are a lot of progressives who live here. And not just in the big cities. I’m out on a dig, and I talked to multiple guys, and they’re actually really liberal. They’re like, “Yeah, women should be able to choose.” That’s so awesome. So there are a lot of progressives people out here, and our numbers are increasing all the time.

If our podcast can do anything to temper our state’s reputation, that would be awesome. This includes our reputation among Republicans. A lot of them don’t know what’s up with their party and feel like they don’t belong there anymore.

More information about the podcast is available at the Pantsuit Republic website: http://pantsuitrepublic.com/ 

The podcast is available on iTunes here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/pantsuit-republic/id1196901541?mt=2 

Abortion in Texas: Good News and Really, Really Scary News

First the good news, from The Texas Tribune: “U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses, delivering another blow to state leaders in the reproductive rights debate.”  So the additional cost–both financial and, especially for those who miscarried or terminated wanted pregnancies, emotional–won’t be placed on women who seek abortions.  For now, anyway.

And now, the really, really scary news: one of our state representatives has filed a bill to make abortion a felony in Texas.  From The Texas Observer:

House Bill 948 would ban and criminalize abortions at any stage, direct state officials to ignore “any conflicting federal” laws, and would no longer exempt pregnancies as a result of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. The bill would remove the exception for abortion in the state’s penal code for criminal homicide, meaning that women and providers could face charges as serious as murder for the procedure.

You read that right.  Both “women and providers” would face punishment.  Though there have been pushes in the past to punish women for having abortions, this bill sounds an awful lot like something we’ve heard recently from Trump, doesn’t it?

Texas Governor Threatens to Remove Elected Official From Office Over Sanctuary City Policy

Texas Governor Greg Abbott, falling in line with Trump, wants to “drain away” elected officials who disagree with his views on sanctuary cities.  From The Texas Observer:

Governor Greg Abbott threatened to “remove” Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez from office and cut funding for the agency on Wednesday in response to a policy she’s planning to enact that would limit the local jail’s cooperation with federal immigration officials.

“We are working on laws that will ban sanctuary cities, remove from office any officeholder who promotes sanctuary cities and pose criminal penalties as well as financial penalties,” Abbott said during a live Fox News interview.  “… if [Hernandez] doesn’t [cooperate], we will remove her from office.”

Fortunately, there are no laws in place yet that would allow for removing Sheriff Hernandez. Unfortunately, the Texas brief legislative session has just started up.  So rather than focusing on, say, restoring school funding and other important issues, our legislature could well take up ousting elected officials, right after they’re done patting themselves on the back for the bathroom bill….