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Benefits Should Follow Same-Sex Marriages

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Public employers including Texas agencies, universities and schools may now be required to extend benefits to spouses of married gay employees in light of the U.S. Supreme Court‘s ruling Friday that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. 
 
But when those benefits will be extended is unclear as state officials examine the high court’s ruling and consider new policies. 

“At this point, all I can say is we’re aware of the ruling and we’re examining it,” said Catherine Terrell, director of governmental affairs for the state Employees Retirement System, which oversees retirement and health benefits for state employees and those of most public universities and community colleges. 

A spokeswoman for the Teachers Retirement System of Texas, which serves public education employees, echoed that sentiment, saying it was also “analyzing” the ruling’s impact on the programs it administers. 

The ruling is likely to have little impact on state employees’ retirement benefits, because employees can already assign any person as a beneficiary, Terrell said. But “the major benefit issue” could be with employees’ health insurance plans. 

Before the Supreme Court ruling, state law did not allow a same-sex spouse to be included as an “eligible dependent” on health insurance plans subsidized by the state. (Texas pays 50 percent of the health insurance premiums for state employees.)  
 
Extending health benefits to same-sex couples could be dependent on the interpretation of “spouse.” 

The Texas Constitution does not explicitly define “spouse,” but indicates that marriages between same-sex couples are not permissible and should not be recognized. But the Supreme Court ruled that states could not bar same-sex couples from marrying, and must recognize marriages between two people of the same sex. 

Asked whether the state must interpret the meaning of “spouse” to include same-sex couples, the Texas Department of Insurance deferred to the Texas attorney general’s office, which did not respond to a request for comment. 

The two major university systems, the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M System, were also unclear about whether they would extend benefits to same-sex couples. The two systems are the only public university systems not covered by the Employees Retirement System. 

“We recognize the great interest in this ruling and are giving it our highest priority,” said UT System spokeswoman Karen Adler. “The UT System Office of General Counsel is carefully evaluating the opinion, taking into account all applicable state and federal laws, and will issue guidance to UT institutions as quickly as possible.” 

Later in the day, UT-Austin president Greg Fenves tweeted that details on benefits would be available next week. 

Representatives with the Texas A&M System did not respond to a request for comment on extending same-sex benefits. 

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott unintentionally weighed in on the matter on Friday. Early in the day, Abbott sent a memo to the heads of state agencies directing them to “preserve, protect, and defend the religious liberty of every Texan.” 

The governor’s directive indicated that his order “applies to any agency decision,” including granting or denying benefits. In a clarifying statement, the governor’s office said the state would not “authorize or order state agencies” to deny benefits to same-sex couples. 

Legal experts agreed that when it comes to extending benefits for same-sex couples, the state is now bound by the Supreme Court ruling to recognize all marriages. 

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor and Texas Constitution expert at the University of Houston, said the state has no legal basis to exclude same-sex couples from the benefits it offers married couples. 

“If you’re legally married by the law, no agency or government can restrict you,” Rottinghaus said. “Exactly how this is applied in Texas is going to be a bit shaky.” 

But he added that extending benefits to same-sex couples is inevitable. “It’s not a question of when, but how,” Rottinghaus said. 

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and the University of Houston are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here
 
[gdlr_icon type=”icon-camera-retro” size=”16px” color=”#999999″]A couple arranges a marriage license at the Travis County Clerk’s office on June 26, 2015. / photo credit: Bob Daemmrich

[gdlr_notification icon=”icon-external-link” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#ffffff”]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/06/26/future-benefits-same-sex-couples-unclear/[/gdlr_notification]

Alexa Ura covers demographics, voting rights and politics for The Texas Tribune, with a focus on the state's growing Hispanic population. She previously covered health care for the Tribune, where she started as in intern. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 with a journalism degree.

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Austin

Austin Raises Metered Parking Rates Citywide

Austin Transportation will raise the base rate of all City of Austin metered, on-street parking spaces to $2-per-hour starting Monday, October 14, 2019.

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Starting Monday, October 14, 2019, Austin Transportation will implement the $2-per-hour citywide parking meter base rate City Council approved in the Fiscal Year 2019-20 Budget. The new base rate will apply to all City of Austin metered, on-street parking spaces.

The City’s street parking system is designed to promote space turnover, which provides convenient short-term access to places of interest. However, at the current rates of $1.20 per hour in the downtown core and $1 per hour outside of it, Austin Transportation staff have routinely observed drivers exceeding parking time restrictions.

These observations align with those documented in the Downtown Austin Parking Strategy, released by the Downtown Austin Alliance in 2017. “The rates do not match the level of demand or patterns of behavior,” reads the report. “On-street prices are lower than off-street prices. There is a direct incentive for drivers to circle and hunt for the best deal.”

In order to reduce congestion, national best practices indicate that one to two parking spaces should be available at any time on any given block, minimizing the time that drivers spend circling in traffic in search of a nearby parking space. As parking usage is monitored quarterly, Austin Transportation may make incremental pricing adjustments to ensure that this goal is met.

“This rate modernization better represents the true value of street parking,” said Robert Spillar, Austin Transportation Director. “It also supports the City of Austin’s goals of providing more mobility options and reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips.” These goals are outlined in the Austin Strategic Direction 2023, the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan, and the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan, which envisions at least 50 percent of commuters using modes other than single-occupancy vehicles by 2039.

Reducing drive-alone trips allows Austin Transportation to test and implement curb management strategies that promote equitable and flexible curb space access for all travel modes and public needs.

As an alternative to on-street parking, Austin Transportation launched its Affordable Parking Program in 2016 to make downtown off-street parking more accessible for people who work or regularly park downtown in the evenings, including service industry workers. This program has flourished and now has approximately 400 users, reducing evening demand for on-street parking by directing people to off-street spaces that would otherwise often be unused. There continue to be spaces available at rates that vary from $30 to $65 per month, and Austin Transportation encourages people to learn more about the program.

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Austin

Unite The Fight 2019

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The Equality Alliance returns with its third annual Unite The Fight “black tie” gala event on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at the Hilton Austin, complete with hostess Shangela, the red carpet, a huge silent auction, and the highly-anticipated main event as eight amateur drag contestants lip sync for their rights and the coveted title of Miss Unite the Fight. “Every year, The Equality Alliance hosts our Unite the Fight Gala to raise money for non-profit organizations who are on the front lines every day fighting for equality and basic human rights for the LGBTQ community,” explained Monica Painter, Executive Director of The Equality Alliance.

“At the gala, the charities briefly speak about what they do in our community and ways people can plug in and help,” Painter added. This year’s beneficiaries are:

“To add some fun to the mix, eight people [who have never considered doing drag in their life] are paired with a professional drag queen,” explained Painter. “The amateur queens practice drag for months and then they perform on the night of the gala in front of 1,000 people to compete for the crown of Miss Unite The Fight. We always say: ‘People come all dressed up in their fanciest clothes to support charity and leave with laryngitis from screaming for their favorite contestant.’ We have found this combination to be a perfect mix of philanthropy and fun!”

This year’s contestants walking the catwalk and the chance at the title of Miss Unite The Fight, (along with their mentors) are:

  • Veronica Castelo + Jack Rabid
  • Bobby Cook + Sabel Scities
  • Christopher Davis + Vylette Ward
  • Kelvin Glover + Scarlett Kiss
  • Cody Kinsfather + Colleen Deforrest
  • Sandy McIlree + Vegas Van Cartier
  • Matt Moffit + Alysha Pretty
  • Emmanuel Winston + Maeve Haven

The title of Miss Unite The Fight isn’t the only award up for grabs. Thanks to red carpet sponsor, Chappy, judges will be on the red carpet with awards handed out throughout the night for attendees presenting head-turning looks upon arrival. Categories include:

  • “The Beyonce” for sparkliest
  • “The Grace Kelly” for classic beauty
  • “The Gender Bender” for binary realness
  • “The Cher” for most over the top
  • “The OMGaga” for the Grand Prize

“Not only are LGBTQ+ events important as it raises awareness towards critical issues within our marginalized community, but Unite the Fight is near and dear to our hearts as it is an Austin-based event, which is now our hometown,” said Chappy Co-Founder and Head of Brand Sam Dumas. “We are so excited to participate in this event as a red carpet sponsor and we are honored to work side-by-side with an organization that aligns so closely to our core principals of equality, empowerment, commitment to safe spaces, and values that align across all sexualities and genders.”

In addition to the silent auction with over 100 items up for mobile bidding, this year features a raffle for a 3-year lease on a 2019 Mercedes C-300 Cabriolet (or a $20,000 credit towards the purchase of a new car) from Mercedes-Benz of Austin. The raffle is limited to only 500 tickets.

The official after party for the Unite The Fight gala will be hosted by Oilcan Harry’s on 4th Street, in the Warehouse District.

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El Paso Democrat Sen. José Rodríguez Announces Retirement

Rodríguez, who was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29, said he would retire from the Senate at the end of this term in January 2021.

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State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, speaks to the press following Gov. Abbott's State of the State address in Austin on Feb. 5, 2019. Photo credit: Emree Weaver/The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout

State Sen. José Rodríguez, an El Paso Democrat, announced Friday that he will not seek reelection to the upper chamber in 2020.

Rodriguez informed El Paso colleagues of his decision in a text late Thursday night that was obtained by The Texas Tribune. He said he would make the announcement at “noon tomorrow at my office.”

“I started my tenure in the Senate with one of the worst budgets in the state’s modern history,” Rodríguez said in a written announcement on his retirement. “Fortunately, my last session was one where state leaders finally gave long overdue attention to our public schools.”

Rodríguez was first elected in 2010 to represent Senate District 29. The district, which hugs the Texas-Mexico border, is considered historically Democratic; it covers El Paso, Culberson, Hudspeth, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties.

The senator’s retirement announcement comes a day after the Senate Democratic Caucus announced that Rodríguez would step down as chair at the end of the year. State Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, will replace him at the post.

It’s unclear who all will announce bids for Rodríguez’s seat. One potential candidate could be state Rep. César Blanco, a fellow El Paso Democrat who serves as chair of the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

Patrick Svitek contributed to this story.

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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13oct5:00 PM7:00 PMGHOST QUARTET5:00 PM - 7:00 PM Blue Genie Art BazaarCategories:TheatreAges:18+

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13oct(oct 13)9:00 PM14(oct 14)2:00 AMRewindFeaturing DJ Dallas Downs9:00 PM - 2:00 AM (14) Rain on 4thCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

13oct(oct 13)9:30 PM14(oct 14)2:00 AMPlanet Fabulous KaraokeHosted by Murrah Noble9:30 PM - 2:00 AM (14) The Iron BearCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

13oct(oct 13)10:00 PM14(oct 14)2:00 AMLatin Night ft. DJ PM10:00 PM - 2:00 AM (14) BT2 AustinCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

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