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Texas governor calls for 2nd special session, anti-trans bill on agenda

Democrat lawmakers said they plan return but they will not return to the Texas Capitol to attend any future special sessions called by Abbott

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Screenshot of Texas House Chamber via KXAN NBC Austin, Texas

AUSTIN – In a statement released Thursday, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott announced that he was calling the state legislature back into a second special session commencing at noon on Saturday—twelve hours after the first special session ends.

The first special session ends at 11:59 p.m. on Friday and was effectively stalled in taking legislative action after the majority of the Democratic Texas House Caucus boarded flights to Washington D.C. on July 12 and have remained out of state denying Republicans from a quorum.

Abbott released a 17-item agenda expanding his priorities like the election bill that caused the House Democrats to flee the state at the start of the first special session, which ends Friday. But it also features six additions, including the spending of federal COVID-19 relief funds and potentially changing the legislative rules regarding quorums, the Texas Tribune reported.

There is also a new item on public education during the pandemic including masks which is an increasingly volatile issue as parents prepare to send their kids back to school with the virus on the rise statewide.

Among the Governor’s legislative priorities is once again focused on denying Transgender youth in the Lone Star state the ability to participate in athletics on teams or intermural sports in their chosen gender.

“Legislation identical to Senate Bill 29 as passed by the Texas Senate in the
87th Legislature, Regular Session, disallowing a student from competing in
University Interscholastic League athletic competitions designated for the sex
opposite to the student’s sex at birth.”

From the Proclamation by texas governor greg abbott published thursday, august 5, 2021

Trans teen activist Landon Richie told the Blade Thursday that “Once again, Governor Abbott is wasting money, time, resources, and energy on attacking trans youth in sports – kids who just want to be a part of a team and spend time with their friends. What trans kids – and adults – are told by this announcement is that the state’s leadership has no regard for our well-being, safety, or lives,” he said.

“What we need instead is to be treated not as second-class citizens, but as the valuable, beautiful, loved people that we are. The Governor would rather make it harder for trans kids to live, for people of color to vote, for students to learn about systemic racism, for immigrants to seek safety, and for people to access reproductive healthcare in our state than to protect us from COVID and extreme weather events; his actions will not be forgotten when it’s time to vote him out in 2022,” Richie added.

Photo: Late journalist and Trans activist Monica Roberts with Landon Richie

The Tribune also reported that with Thursday’s announcement, Abbott is following through on a statement he made toward the start of the quorum break, saying he would make sure the second special began the day after the first one ends. For the second special session, lawmakers will have to start over on every item, including filing bills and holding committee hearings.

Democrats and Republicans remain at a stalemate over the elections bill, which would restrict local voting options and place new statewide rules on early voting and mail-in ballots. GOP leaders have suggested they are not in the mood to further tweak the bill, while House Democrats have abandoned hope for meaningful negotiations while using their time in the nation’s capital to advocate for federal voting rights legislation.

Abbott and the legislative Republican leadership have been thwarted from passage of their agenda as the Texas Democratic lawmakers have blocked every effort by the GOP in advancing bills through to the governor.

First in the end of the regular legislative session in May, they walked off the state House floor, leaving Republicans without the quorum they needed to approve the voting legislation in the final hours before a midnight deadline. Then in July by leaving the state altogether.

The push to pass the elections reform legislation comes as Republicans in Texas have sought to join Florida, Georgia and other GOP-controlled states that have seized on former President Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and adopted new restrictions that will make it harder for some of their residents to vote CNN reported.

Texas House Democrats say that they remain steadfast in their opposition to Abbott’s agenda and will likely stay in Washington where they have held a number of meetings with other Democrats including Vice President Kamala Harris, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. This past week CNN reported that the Texas Democratic lawmakers were joined by more than 100 state legislators from across the country as part of a planned “week of action” on voting rights.

“A vast majority, enough to break quorum, have committed to each other to not be in the Capitol when the second called session happens,” said state Representative Eddie Rodriguez, (D-51)  who serves on the House Committees on Calendars, State Affairs and Ways & Means.

Other lawmakers indicated that while they eventually plan return to Texas have told multiple media outlets that they will not return to the Texas Capitol to attend any future special sessions called by Abbott.

Gov. Greg Abbott announces plans for a second special session, 17 agenda items

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On 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade- is it the last? Biden & others weigh in

The whole country is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on one of the most serious challenges to abortion rights since the Roe v. Wade

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Abortion opponents gathered Friday for the annual March for Life March and Rally (Screenshot via WUSA CBS9)

WASHINGTON – As thousands gathered on the National Mall in D.C. Friday for the annual anti-abortion ‘March for Life March and Rally 2022,’ there were signs among the speakers and the participants gathered of a renewed sense of optimism that with a pending Supreme Court case, this year maybe the last annual gathering as the court looks poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“We are hoping and praying that this year, 2022, will bring a historic change for life,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said at the event, The Associated Press reported.

A large portion of the crowd during the March for Life rally on Friday was made up of young people, with some holding signs saying they were the “pro-life generation.”

The whole country is waiting for the Supreme Court to decide on one of the most serious challenges to abortion protections that the institution heard since the Roe v. Wade decision 49 years ago, which gave women the constitutional right to abortion.

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments this past December, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case involving a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, passed in 2018 but has been blocked by two lower federal courts, allows abortion after 15 weeks “only in medical emergencies or for severe fetal abnormality” and has no exception for rape or incest. If doctors perform abortions outside the parameters of the law, they will have their medical licenses suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional penalties and fines.

The lack of access is felt most heavily by marginalized people, says Kari White, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin and researcher with the Mississippi Reproductive Health Access Project. She was the lead author of a study published last month in the journal Contraception that found that Mississippians were more likely to wait longer for an abortion if they were low-income or Black, NPR reported.

In an analysis published by SCOTUS blogAmy Howe noted;

If the justices overturn Roe and Casey, the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 26 states (including Mississippi) will implement complete bans on abortion. Although the stakes in the case are thus obviously high, Mississippi takes pains to assure the justices that overruling Roe and Casey would not have ripple effects beyond abortion rights. It distinguishes abortion from other constitutionalized privacy interests, such as interracial marriage and same-sex marriage, saying that those interests – unlike abortion – do not involve the “purposeful termination of a potential life.”

In a statement to the Los Angeles Blade after the oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last December had concluded, Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) warned;

“[Today’s] arguments should be a wakeup call for LGBTQ people. We must face the reality of a Supreme Court packed by one of the most reactionary presidents of our time, and we must get serious about passing a federal law that protects basic rights and liberties for our community. If you care about LGBTQ equality, it is essential as never before to do everything within your power to elect fair-minded local, state, and federal officials and to engage in real dialogue with those who do not yet fully understand or support LGBTQ people. We do not have the luxury of disengagement or passivity. If you are not actively involved in supporting a federal civil rights law for LGBTQ people, you are part of the problem.”

Minter further cautioned;

“While restrictions on abortion primarily harm women, they also compound the challenges that trans men and nonbinary people already face in accessing gynecological and reproductive health care. Being a trans man or a nonbinary individual who needs an abortion is often a nightmare even in jurisdictions that support reproductive freedom. In places like Texas, which are making abortions inaccessible to anyone, it is terrifying,”

“My heart goes out to the trans and nonbinary people who are living in fear, praying they never need this care, and that if they do, they can find a way out of the state. And for those who know they can’t afford to travel or pay for out-of-state care, there is no hope,” he added.

Graphic via NBC News

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris released a joint statement Saturday commemorating the 49th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade;

The constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade nearly 50 years ago today is under assault as never before. It is a right we believe should be codified into law, and we pledge to defend it with every tool we possess. We are deeply committed to protecting access to health care, including reproductive health care—and to ensuring that this country is not pushed backwards on women’s equality.

In recent years, we have seen efforts to restrict access to reproductive health care increase at an alarming rate. In Texas, Mississippi, and many other states around the country, access to reproductive health care is under attack. These state restrictions constrain the freedom of all women. And they are particularly devastating for those who have fewer options and fewer resources, such as those in underserved communities, including communities of color and many in rural areas.

The Biden-Harris Administration strongly supports efforts to codify Roe, and we will continue to work with Congress on the Women’s Health Protection Act. All people deserve access to reproductive health care regardless of their gender, income, race, zip code, health insurance status, immigration status, disability, or sexual orientation. And the continued defense of this constitutional right is essential to our health, safety, and progress as a nation.

We must ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have the same fundamental rights that their mothers and grandmothers fought for and won on this day, 49 years ago—including leaders like the late Sarah Weddington, whose successful arguments before the Supreme Court led to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

At this pivotal moment, we recommit to strengthening access to critical reproductive health care, defending the constitutional right established by Roe, and protecting the freedom of all people to build their own future.

A recent poll conducted by CNN found that a large majority of Americans — almost 70 percent — said that they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Thirty percent of respondents said that they supported the move. 

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Biden delivered results for LGBTQ+ & HIV communities in 1st year, but…

Significant work remains to be done, particularly in areas affecting some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community

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President Joe Biden (Official White House photo)

WASHINGTON – Lambda Legal released a new comprehensive report today that assesses the Biden-Harris administration’s first year with respect to its impact on the LGBTQ+ community and everyone living with HIV.

While the report identifies significant achievements, such as quickly rescinding the transgender military ban and correctly interpreting federal nondiscrimination laws as protecting LGBTQ+ people, much more work is needed, as many promises remain unfulfilled one year into the Biden presidency.

“When President Biden took office, he faced a tall task to reverse four years of damage done by the Trump administration, which actively took aim at the LGBTQ+ community, as it did with respect to Black, brown, immigrant, and other communities, whenever it could,” said Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer and legal director of Lambda Legal. “Our analysis shows that while the Biden administration has made progress putting our country back on the right track, we are nowhere close to where we need to be. They should use this report, and the unfulfilled priorities we have identified in it, as a guidepost for the direction our country should be headed over the coming months.”

“President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris promised to use their office to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed,” said Kristine Kippins, deputy legal director for policy at Lambda Legal. “While many important steps have been taken, our assessment after year one is that this administration’s homework must be rated as “incomplete.” Particularly with LGBTQ+ people, especially Black transgender women and transgender youth, facing increased harassment, violence, and discrimination across our country, we hope the Biden-Harris administration will act with the urgency that the situation demands, and take bold action to tackle the immense challenges we face to build a more perfect union.”

The one-year report released by Lambda Legal today follows up on 10 key asks the organization made to the administration as it prepared to take office. It finds that:

  • The Biden administration took decisive action on a number of issues of tremendous importance to the LGBTQ+ community, including clarification of the scope of sex discrimination protections in federal law and the renunciation of the ban on open service by transgender people currently in the military, and those wishing to serve. The significance of these actions cannot be overstated.
     
  • And yet, significant work remains to be done, particularly in areas affecting some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, the Biden administration must take more decisive action to ensure that all programs funded by federal dollars are operated in a nondiscriminatory manner even when services are provided by third parties, including religiously affiliated entities. And the federal government must end discrimination in its own programs and policies, ranging from barriers to transition-related health care in federally-run health care programs to its outdated and discriminatory blood donation policy, which limits the ability of many gay, bisexual, and transgender people to donate.
     
  • With respect to restoring the integrity of our federal judiciary, the Biden administration still has a long way to go in addressing the gross underrepresentation of LGBTQ+ people on the federal bench. The administration must nominate more openly LGBTQ+ people, and particularly LGBT people of color, for judicial vacancies, focusing on the five circuits—D.C., First, Fourth, Eighth, and Tenth—that do not have a single openly LGBTQ+ judge on the bench of either the circuit court or the district courts in its jurisdiction. The administration must also nominate the country’s first transgender or nonbinary judge and the first openly bisexual judge in order to ensure the judiciary reflects the society it serves.

A copy of the full report released by Lambda Legal today can be downloaded by clicking here.

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Manchin & Sinema join GOP defeating passage of voting rights legislation

The 52-48 vote defeating changing Senate rules was followed by sustained applause from the Republican side of the Senate chamber

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Arizona Democrat, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema & West Virginia Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin (Screenshot via CNN)

WASHINGTON – On the eve of the anniversary of his first year in office, President Joe Biden suffered a major set-back Wednesday as Senate Republicans joined by conservative West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin along with fellow Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, blocked efforts by their party to change filibuster rules in order to pass critical voting rights legislation.

The 52-48 vote defeating changing Senate rules was followed by sustained applause from the Republican side of the Senate chamber. The vote was preceded by an effort to break a GOP filibuster on voting legislation that combines key provisions of two bills: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

That effort failed by a vote of 49-51. New York Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer changed his vote to “no” before the vote was gaveled so that he can offer a motion to reconsider the vote.

In a show of support for voting rights and changing Senate rules, House members in the Congressional Black Caucus marched to the Senate, warning that no matter what happens, they won’t stop fighting to pass it, CNN reported.

“We want the Senate to act today in a favorable way, but if they don’t, we ain’t giving up. I am too young to give up,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, (D-SC) the No. 3 Democrat in the House, told CNN.

In separate statements released after the vote by the White House, President Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris weighed in.

“At the core of our democracy is a basic principle: the right to vote, and to have that vote counted. That principle was assaulted one year ago, when a violent mob attempted a coup seeking to overturn the will of the people. And today, in state after state, Republican state legislatures are engaged in an unprecedented effort to suppress the sacred right to vote and subvert the American bedrock of free and fair elections,” Biden said.
 
“In the face of those threats, I am profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy. I am disappointed — but I am not deterred,” he added.
 
“My Administration will never stop fighting to ensure that the heart and soul of our democracy — the right to vote — is protected at all costs. We will continue to work with allies to advance necessary legislation to protect the right to vote. And to push for Senate procedural changes that will protect the fundamental right to vote.” the president stressed.
 
“As dangerous new Republican laws plainly designed to suppress and subvert voting rights proliferate in states across the country, we will explore every measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy. The Vice President will continue to lead this effort, as she has for the past year,” the statement concluded.

In her statement, Vice President Kamala Harris speaking about the Senate Vote said;

“Every member of the United States Senate—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—takes an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution. It is their duty to safeguard our democracy and secure the freedom to vote. Yet today, Senators voted to preserve an arcane Senate procedure rather than secure that fundamental freedom. The American people will not forget this moment. Neither will history.  

“Across our nation, anti-voter laws could make it more difficult for as many as 55 million Americans to vote, and will be felt by every American.

“Our Administration will continue to fight to pass federal legislation to secure the right to vote. We will not stop fighting against the anti-voter legislation that Republican legislatures continue to push at the state level—and to champion and support state and local elected officials who work to enact pro-voter legislation. We will work to ensure Americans everywhere can register to vote, cast their vote, and have their vote counted in a free and fair election.  

Generations of Americans have fought to strengthen and expand the freedom to vote. While victory was never assured and almost always preceded by setback, ultimately, We the People have prevailed. We will again.”

Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen released a statement saying;

“This is a sad and tragic day for America. As a result of lock-step opposition to basic measures to safeguard our democracy and the refusal of Sens. Sinema and Manchin to agree to rules reform to win passage of legislation that they support, America now faces a frightening future.

“Republicans across the country are engaged in a concerted effort to make it harder for people of color to vote. Extreme partisan and racial gerrymandering is stripping voters of meaningful influence. And proto-fascist forces motivated by Trump’s Big Lie are actively organizing to subvert elections in 2022 and 2024 – aiming to override actual results with predetermined outcomes.

“Though the Senate’s failure to pass Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act makes the challenge of protecting our democracy exponentially greater, we cannot – and will not — accept this as our fate.”

Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, released the following statement on voting rights:

“The right of candidates to compete in fair and democratic election processes is fundamental to our mission to increase the number of LGBTQ elected officials and ensure they reflect the diversity of those they serve. Voter suppression efforts deny voters the equal opportunity to elect their representatives and are a direct challenge to Victory Fund’s efforts to advance equality through representation. These laws disproportionately impact LGBTQ people of color and voters in urban areas where LGBTQ people are concentrated. The increasingly strict voter ID laws create unnecessary and sometimes insurmountable obstacles for transgender and nonbinary people attempting to access the ballot box.

“Our Victory Fund Campaign Board – made up of more than 150 political leaders and advocates from across the country – votes to determine who Victory Fund endorses. Senator Kyrsten Sinema is not currently endorsed and if she runs for reelection, her record and actions on the advancement of legislation impacting the equality of LGBTQ people will be a primary consideration for whether she receives our endorsement. That board vote would take place in 2024.”

 Kierra Johnson, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund said in a statement:

“The failure to enact the Freedom to Vote, John R. Lewis Act is a profound blow to our Democracy. The inability to ensure voting rights for Black and Brown people and other vulnerable groups like LGBTQ people lays at the feet of those who  voted “nay.” These are the votes of political extremists, whose fear of losing power has become a justification for carving out LGBTQ+ folks, People of Color, women, poor people and other already marginalized groups from the political process.

Senators who voted for the right of all to participate in our Democratic process have our appreciation. To the rest – shame on you. Nineteen states have passed 34 laws that undermine voting rights, rights that are the threshold of our democratic values and civic responsibility – the very heartbeat of our Democracy. We pledge to do all in our power to Queer the Vote in the 2022 midterm elections and beyond, and we will continue to advocate to restore voting rights to all our nation’s people.”

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