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Federal Judge Rules Obamacare Unconstitutional, Handing Texas an Early Win

Fort Worth U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the individual mandate — a critical component of Obamacare — is unconstitutional, rendering the rest of the law invalid as well.

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Dr. Javier Saenz treats a patient in his clinic in the Rio Grande Valley town of La Joya. Photo credit: Reynaldo Leal / Texas Tribune.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

In a ruling that could throw the nation’s health care system into chaos, Fort Worth-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor on Friday ruled that a major provision of the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional — and that the rest of the landmark law must fall as well.

In February, a Texas-led coalition of 20 states sued the federal government to end the health care law in its entirety, arguing that after Congress in December 2017 gutted one of its major provisions, the rest of the law was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the law because its individual mandate — a financial penalty for not having insurance — could be interpreted as a tax. But after Congress set that tax at $0, the Texas coalition claimed the rest of the law no longer had “constitutional cover.” 

O’Connor sided with Texas, ruling that the individual mandate was rendered unconstitutional. That portion of the law, he argued, is not severable from other provisions, and so the rest of the law must fall. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton cheered the decision in a statement. 

“All Americans will again have greater choice about what health coverage they need and who will be their doctor,” the Republican said. 

O’Connor’s ruling comes a day before the deadline to enroll in a health plan through the insurance exchange created under the law. 

That could cause unnecessary confusion for consumers, said Stacey Pogue, a health care expert with the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities

“But that confusion or anxiety shouldn’t stop people from signing up who need health care,” Pogue said. “This is just the very first step. The lawsuit will go on for a very long time. Open enrollment ends tomorrow.” 

A White House statement said that the law will remain in place pending the appeals process. 

A counter-coalition of states led by California, which stepped in to argue the case when the federal government sided partially with Texas, panned the decision. 

A spokeswoman said the California Attorney General’s Office will immediately appeal. 

“Today’s ruling is an assault on 133 million Americans with preexisting conditions, on the 20 million Americans who rely on the ACA’s consumer protections for healthcare, on America’s faithful progress toward affordable healthcare for all Americans,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The ACA has already survived more than 70 unsuccessful repeal attempts and withstood scrutiny in the Supreme Court. Today’s misguided ruling will not deter us: our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and wellbeing of all Americans.” 

Rob Henneke, general counsel for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and an attorney on the Texas side of the case, described the ruling as “a historic win.” 

“Obamacare’s been broken long before it was struck down by the court,” Henneke said in an interview Friday evening. “It’s time to now work toward solutions that can actually provide health care, doctor choice and affordability for Americans.” 

Henneke added that the case is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. The coalition’s suit was filed on behalf plaintiffs who said they were burdened by Obamacare 

This is not Texas’ first lawsuit targeting Obama’s signature health care law, though it is the most sweeping. The lawsuit, which now involves most states in the country on one side or another, also has emerged as a political issue in dozens of states. If successful, the lawsuit would end Obamacare’s protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions like diabetes or asthma — a group of about 130 million people across the nation. Democrats have focused on that provision, arguing that their conservative foes are failing to protect the country’s most vulnerable. 

Legal scholars — even some conservatives who oppose the law — have nonetheless called Texas’ argument unconvincing. 

The argument that the whole law should be doomed by problems with one provision is “a massive stretch,” Ilya Somin, a constitutional scholar at George Mason University who filed an amicus brief in the case, told The Tribune in August. 

Some have pointed to O’Connor as an advantageous decider for Texas. An appointee of President George W. Bush, O’Connor has ruled against Obamacare several times and is perhaps best known for for blocking Obama-era guidelines directing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. 

Timothy Jost, an emeritus professor at Washington and Lee University who has studied Obamacare and its legal battles extensively, called Friday’s ruling “an ideological opinion” that is “unmoored in law.” 

“This is breathtaking in its sweep, and I think O’Connor has no idea what he’s doing,” Jost said Friday. “This is going to get thrown out. But I also think it’s timed to cause maximum chaos.” 

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Emma Platoff is a breaking news and civil courts reporter at The Texas Tribune, where she started as a fellow in 2017. She is the first to fill either role. A recent graduate of Yale University, Emma is the former managing editor of the Yale Daily News and a former intern at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Hartford Courant.

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Austin

Austin PRIDE Announces Date for 2019 Festival & Parade

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The Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation, the non-profit organization that manages and organizes Austin’s PRIDE celebration, has announced that the 29th annual Austin PRIDE Festival and Parade will take place on SATURDAY, AUGUST 10, 2019. This year’s theme is Boogie Wonderland.

The 2015 Austin Pride Festival at Fiesta Gardens. Photo credit: Chase Martin/therepubliq

The festival will return to Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach in Town Lake Metropolitan Park (a/k/a Fiesta Gardens) from 11 AM – 6 PM and feature entertainment, games and activities, drinks, food, family zone, and 140+ booths featuring local non-profits organizations and businesses. Tickets on the day of the event will be $20 for adults (18+), $10 for youth (7-17 years old), and FREE for children six and under. Discounted advanced tickets will go on sale in the near future at www.austinpride.org.

The Apple contingent in the 2015 Austin Pride Parade
The Apple contingent in the 2015 Austin Pride Parade. Photo credit: Chase Martin/therepubliq

The parade will step off at 8 PM. The route through downtown Austin remains unchanged from previous years; starting at the south gate of the Texas State Capitol Building, heading down Congress Avenue, then turning on 4th Street going through the Warehouse District before ending at Republic Square. The parade is free and open to the public.

The parade and festival are projected to bring in over 400,000 attendees, making it the largest single day event based on attendance in Austin. By comparison, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has 75,000 attendees and South by Southwest has 285,000 attendees.

Registration for booths at the festival and spaces in the parade is now open online at www.austinpride.org/paradeandfestival.

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86th TX Lege

Dan Patrick Dismisses Need for Bathroom Bill in 2019: “It’s been settled and I think we won”

In 2017, Patrick pushed for the controversial measure that would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, but it failed to become law.

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott as he speaks during a press conference at the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / Texas Tribune.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

The “bathroom bill” won’t be back this session, its loudest champion suggested Wednesday morning.

At a Governor’s Mansion press conference on the second day of this year’s legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who last session was the top state leader championing the measure, which would have regulated the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans — suggested there’s no need to bring back the divisive proposal that headlined the last legislative year in 2017, but failed to reach the governor’s desk. 

“When you win the battle, you don’t have to fight the battle again,” Patrick said, sitting beside Gov. Greg Abbott and recently elected Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. “I think it’s been settled, and I think we’ve won.” 

Without citing evidence, Patrick claimed that the school district behavior necessitating the measure has “stopped.” 

“Sometimes a bill doesn’t pass, but you win on the issue,” Patrick said.

The bathroom bill fight kicked off in the wake of an Obama-era policy guideline that directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity. One version of Texas’ “bathroom bill” measure would have required that individuals, including transgender men and women, use the facilities with the gender identity on their birth certificates. Other, similar proposals would have prevented local governments and school districts from enacting or enforcing nondiscrimination ordinances allowing transgender individuals to use the facilities that align with their gender identity.

In the months since the 2017 legislative sessions, Patrick has made similar suggestions that the issue no longer requires the Legislature’s attention. But his answer carried extra weight Wednesday as he and the state’s other top two leaders projected a unified front, promising to tackle bread-and-butter policy reforms like school finance, property tax reform and disaster recovery. Any lawmaker can file a bill, but if the measure doesn’t have support from the state’s top leaders, it’s unlikely to make it very far.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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86th TX Lege

#TXLege86 LGBTQ+ Watch

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The dome from the inside of the Texas State Capitol building
The dome from the inside of the Texas State Capitol building

The 86th Texas Legislature opens this week and, so far, no bathroom bills, but what we do have are several LGBTQ-related bills, all by Democratic lawmakers.

State Senators José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) and José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) filed a bill to revise statutes that referred to “homosexual conduct” as an unacceptable lifestyle and a “criminal offense.”

State Senator José R. Rodríguez and fellow Democrat from El Paso
State Representative Joe Moody, have filed bills to repeal Texas’ anti-sodomy law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, yet still remains on the books.

Whils Senators José R. Rodríguez, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) are calling for “a constitutional amendment to repeal the constitutional provision providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Representatives Jes­sica Far­rar (D-Houston) and Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) along with Senators José R. Rodríguez, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) are all sponsoring bills that would prohibit “certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression” in housing, employment and public accommodations “providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.”

Representative Celia Israel (D-Austin) has filed a bill that would ban “conversion therapy” on children and allow state agencies with regulatory authority over certain mental health providers to take disciplinary action against providers who practice conversion therapy on Texans under 18 years of age

State Senator José R. Rodríguez has filed a bill through would streamline the name and gender change process which will benefit the transgender community.

Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) has filed a bill that would add condoms to the state’s list of items that are tax-exempt.

History made today in Texas as five LGBTQ representatives are sworn in. Congratulations to (left to right) Rep. Celia…

Posted by Equality Texas on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Three new out LGBTQ lawmakers in the Capitol join Celia Israel and Mary González (D-Clint) after their wins in the mid-term elections: Reps. Jessica González (D-Dallas), Julie Johnson (D-Irving) and Erin Zwiener (D-Dripping Springs).

HOUSE BILLS

HB 84
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody (D-El Paso) – District 78
Relating to the repeal of the offense of homosexual conduct.

HB 188
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) – District 123
Relating to the prohibition of housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression and to the enforcement of that prohibition.

HB 244
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) – District 148
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

HB 254
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) – District 123
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

HB 315
Status: Filed – 11/13/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) – District 48
Relating to a sales and use tax exemption for condoms.

HB 517
Status: Filed – 12/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) – District 50
Relating to unprofessional conduct by mental health providers who attempt to change the sexual orientation of a child; providing penalties.

HB 595
Status: Filed – 12/27/2018
Sponsor: Rep. John “Jon” E. Rosenthal (D-Houston) – District 135
Relating to making certain false alarms or reports because of bias or prejudice; increasing a criminal penalty “against a group identified by race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference or by status as a peace officer or judge.”

SENATE BILLS

SB 114
Status: Filed
Sponsor: Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) – District 26
Relating to the repeal of statutes regarding the criminality or unacceptability of homosexual conduct and to the recognition of certain same-sex relationship statuses.

SB 151
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) – District 20
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

SB 152
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Relating to the repeal of the criminal offense of homosexual conduct.

SB 153
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Relating to certain statutory changes to reflect and address same-sex marriages and parenting relationships and to the removal of provisions regarding the criminality or unacceptability of homosexual conduct.

SB 154
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Relating to a change of name and sex for certain persons and the issuance of associated vital records and documentation; authorizing a fee.

SJR 9
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) – District 20
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Proposing a constitutional amendment to repeal the constitutional provision providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

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