Texas 2015: New Year, New Leaders, New Lege

It’s a whole new year in Texas politics.

With the New Year comes a whole crop of new leaders for the Lone Star State.  With the election of Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and everyone else, Texas has now had its most significant transition of power in the 21st century.  Indeed, Abbott will only be the second person to hold the state’s top job in this century.

But despite the time-tested song lyric, old acquaintance shall not be forgot, at least not totally.  Ex-Governor Rick Perry is sure to dominate the news cycle as he mounts his second run to be President of the United States.  Funny… for a guy that spends so much time complaining about the “burdens of government”, Perry sure does seem to enjoy government jobs.  It’s quite ironic.

The other really big news comes from Austin, as lawmakers reconvene for the 2015 legislative session.  Despite strong campaign pledges to the contrary, pressures are mounting for the legislature to find a Texas solution for Medicaid Expansion.  If left undone, state hospital funding sources will be decimated, and many more smaller healthcare facilities will be forced to close down.  Whether Republicans hold ideological opposition to the law or not, ignoring the issue could spell certain doom for the state’s rural hospitals.

Fracking will also monopolize much political attention this year, as the lege tries to deal with how to punish the citizens of Denton for voting to ban the controversial practice within their municipality.  Legislators also have to figure out a response to new clean air proposals for the EPA from the Obama administration, which would force the state to cut pollutants.

It’s no secret that the composition of the 2015 legislature will be much further to the fringe right than virtually any previous year.  Which is why it shouldn’t be surprising to see that a bunch of Anti-Equality legislation has already been filed in advance of the upcoming session.  As LGBT rights watchdog John Wright reports for the Texas Observer, it could be a tough couple of months for the Texas LGBT community…

…a month before the session begins, the flurry of legislation suggests that, thanks in part to the legalization of same-sex marriage across much of the nation, conservatives will challenge gay rights in the name of religious freedom in the 84th Texas Legislature.

[…]

Experts say the amendments could limit cities’ ability to enforce LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances. In addition to Plano, cities that have passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances include Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

That’s because business owners could claim exemptions from the ordinances if they have sincerely held religious beliefs—such as opposition to same-sex marriage—making it legal for them to fire employees for being gay or refuse service to LGBT customers.

“It blows a hole in your nondiscrimination protections if people can ignore them for religious reasons,” said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

These “license to discriminate” bills will definitely be something to watch out for in Austin starting next week.  But this week, all of the major legal action will take place in New Orleans, as the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear challenges against the state’s marriage ban.  As the nation’s most Conservative appeals court, no one is quite sure how the ruling will come out.

Finally, just because the 2014 election fever has broken doesn’t mean that the fun stops until November 2016.  This month, there will be a whopping 3 special elections, as voters try to fill seats vacated by State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, Rep. Mike Villarreal and Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt.

Whatever triumphs and challenges lie ahead, you can be sure that Texas Leftist is on the case for 2015.  No matter who leads in the state house or City Hall, the Progressive, Common-Sense Agenda will always be a a vital part of Texas politics.

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