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Mansfield ISD Teacher on Leave After Showing Students Photo of Wife

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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-flag” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#000000″]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

Stacy Bailey has been employed as an art teacher at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School for a decade, but she hasn’t been in the classroom since September. 

Instead, she’s in limbo: She isn’t fired — her contract with the district has even been renewed — but she’s not working. 

Mansfield ISD in North Texas put Bailey on paid administrative leave at the start of this school year, following complaints from a parent that she was “promoting the ‘homosexual agenda’” by showing her class a photo of her and her now-wife, Julie Vazquez, as well as mentioning that the artist Jasper Johns had a partner, another artist Robert Rauschenberg, Bailey claims in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month. 

The two-time teacher of the year argues that the district violated the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution by treating her differently than it would have treated a straight teacher. 

Bailey’s story has drawn outrage from the state’s LGBTQ community and disappointment from many of her students’ families, who praise her as knowledgeable and passionate. Her case has also exposed what advocates call gaping holes in the state’s employment discrimination laws, which don’t explicitly protect LGBTQ employees. 

Texas law prohibits employment discrimination based on a host of factors, including sex, race, religion and disability. But there’s no express protection for gay, lesbian and transgender employees. 

“Texas doesn’t protect its workers very well in general, and it doesn’t protect LGBT folks in particular,” said Jason Smith, the Fort Worth attorney representing Bailey. “Stacy Bailey’s case will hopefully send a message to school districts across Texas that the Constitution doesn’t allow them to discriminate based upon sexual orientation.” 

Some courts across the country have ruled that prohibitions on sex discrimination also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but there’s no Texas court decision on the matter, according to Paul Castillo, an attorney with Lambda Legal, an advocacy firm for LGBTQ rights. And either way, said Equality Texas CEO Chuck Smith, “we’d like to not have to rely on judicial interpretation, but to codify this in statute.” 

The dearth of Texas-level protections has forced Bailey into federal court, where she’s claiming that Mansfield ISD violated the state and federal constitutions’ equal protection clauses. But the federal system is costlier and will almost certainly be more time-intensive, Jason Smith said. 

“We could do much better by explicitly amending the Texas Labor Code to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to a pre-existing list of personal characteristics that already constitute employment discrimination,” Chuck Smith said. “We know that discrimination occurs, and the protections need to exist as a matter of law in order to provide the same level of recourse for [anti-LGBTQ discrimination] as is available for other characteristics. At the end of the day, it comes back to equal treatment.” 

Twenty-two states have some sort of employment protection for LGBTQ workers, Chuck Smith said. State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, has filed such a measure in Texas every session since 2011; in 2017, the bill narrowly passed through a House committee but never got a vote in the full chamber. Opponents told the committee at a public hearing that the bill would create a special classification for LGBTQ individuals and impose new restrictions on businesses. Johnson said he plans to raise it again next session. 

“LGBTQ Texans have waited long enough,” Johnson said. “If Texas had a statewide employment nondiscrimination policy in place, [Bailey] would have had clear protection under state law.” 

Johnson’s bill, if successful, would have given Bailey a more local option for pursuing her case against the district. It may have even prevented her from being placed on leave in the first in the first place, advocates said. 

“Statewide protections send a message to both private businesses and public entities that discrimination is expressly prohibited. It would’ve been clear,” said Castillo, the attorney for Lambda Legal. “And it may have been outcome-determinative.” 

And, Jason Smith said, a state law would have given Bailey a much broader legal ability to win monetary damages for lost wages, lost benefits and mental anguish. 

Current law allows Bailey to recover those damages under the U.S. Constitution. But under the Texas Constitution, she can’t win money back, her lawyer said. If she could sue under Texas state law — the way employees discriminated against based on sex or religion, for example, already can — she’d have a much better shot at winning back those funds. 

Still, in some ways, Bailey is fortunate: Texas law leaves few options for teachers like her, but there are even fewer options for workers not employed by government entities like public school districts. 

Bailey’s lawsuit — which challenges the school based on a constitutional protection that prevents the government from treating different groups of people differently — would not have been possible if she were employed by a private school, advocates said. 

If she had worked at a private school, Smith said, “I don’t think she would have the same avenue. I’m not sure that she would have any avenue.” 

Some of the state’s liberal centers such as Austin, Fort Worth and Dallas have local anti-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBTQ individuals. And a handful of school districts, many in those same geographic areas, have the same protections; in fact, Bailey lobbied Mansfield ISD to add LGBTQ protections to its anti-discrimination policy. But none of those is as powerful as a state law, advocates said. 

“State law already protects workers from discrimination based on things like religion,” Johnson said. “If someone can’t be fired because of whether or where they worship, then they shouldn’t be able to be fired because of who they love or how they identify.” 

Disclosure: Equality Texas and Chuck Smith have been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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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[gdlr_notification icon=”fa-camera” type=”color-background” background=”#999999″ color=”#ffffff”]Top image: Lupe Valdez gives her victory speech after defeating Andrew White in the Democratic runoff for governor on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. / photo credit: Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson / The Texas Tribune[/gdlr_notification]

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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Texas

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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Austin

More Algae Tests Positive for Neurotoxins

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Barton Creek (center) flowing in to Lady Bird Lake. Photo credit: Chase Martin / therepubliq

Additional testing has revealed increasing levels of neurotoxins in algae at a greater number of locations. Samples were taken on Monday, August 12, 2019, at Auditorium Shores, at Red Bud Isle and at Barton Creek. Samples at Barton Creek were taken just below the pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. All the samples contained greater amounts of neurotoxins than found the previous week.

Red Bud Isle remains closed. The public should not allow their dogs to swim anywhere in Lady Bird Lake. In addition, they should keep their dogs out of Barton Creek where algae is present.

In addition to swimming, dogs should not be allowed to drink the water in these locations. People should avoid handling the algae and minimize their exposure to the water. Boating and paddle-boarding is still allowed at your own risk. Pets and people who come into contact with the water should rinse off. If symptoms develop, they should seek immediate medical attention.

“Barking Springs” at the spillway of Barton Springs Pool is upstream of this area. Water at Barking Springs is cold and flows from Barton Springs and Barton Creek. At this time, we believe people and pets can continue to swim in this area at their own risk. They should avoid going downstream to areas with floating algae. They should be aware that bacteria is always a concern in smaller waterways where there is a high concentration of dogs.

Previously, algae in Barton Creek downstream of Barton Springs appeared to be a mix of harmless green algae. However, the most recent samples showed a low presence of blue green algae in the Barton Creek area of Lady Bird Lake. These samples did test positive for neurotoxins. This is a reminder that the situation is evolving and can change rapidly. Watershed Protection will be taking more samples for testing tomorrow.

The algae will naturally die off when cooler weather returns in the fall. At this time, the City of Austin has not identified a safe and effective way to treat or remove the algae, and it is likely that Red Bud Isle will remain closed for the next several weeks.

On Sunday, August 4, the City of Austin warned residents not to allow their pets to swim in or drink from Lady Bird Lake after being told that a dog had died from possible exposure to harmful algae. Since then, the City has been told about three other dogs who have died after swimming in the lake.

On Monday, August 5, the City was able to confirm the presence of algae that could produce a neurotoxin.

Drinking water remains unaffected by this situation. Austin Water regularly looks at algae levels on Lake Austin and Lake Travis and has not seen levels of concern for drinking water. Austin Water does not currently use Lady Bird Lake as a source for drinking water.

Dogs who ingest water contaminated with this toxin could have a number of symptoms. On the severe end, it could result in respiratory paralysis and death. Look for these signs in your pet within minutes to hours of exposure:

  • Excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Jaundice, hepatomegaly
  • Blood in urine or dark urine
  • Stumbling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Photosensitization in recovering animals
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Progression of muscle twitches
  • Respiratory paralysis

The amount of toxins the dog ingests and licking of the fur are factors.

In people, possible health effects include:

  • Dermatologic signs or symptoms such as rash, irritation, swelling, or sores
  • Gastrointestinal signs or symptoms
  • Respiratory signs or symptoms
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Neurologic signs or symptoms
  • Ear symptoms
  • Eye irritation

Austin Public Health routinely tracks emergency department visits. We have not seen any increases in unusual conditions that may be related to exposure to the water. APH will continue to monitor.

If members of the public have questions or concerns, please have them call 3-1-1 or 512-974-2000.

Source: City of Austin website

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86th TX Lege

New Texas Law Will Outlaw Unsolicited Nudes

The law will make the electronic transmission of unwanted sexually explicit material a class C misdemeanor. But legal experts worry it could be written too broadly under the First Amendment to be effective.

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Only 36% of adolescent boys in Texas were up to date on HPV immunization in 2016, according to federal data. Photo credit: Cooper Neill / The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

A few years ago, Dallas resident and mother Brandy Davis was reentering the online dating scene. After matching with a “seemingly nice” man, the two exchanged phone numbers. Then, one afternoon while Davis was at work, the man sent her an unrequested nude photo of himself.

“I remember thinking, ‘If this is going to come unexpected like this, it could come at a time when my son has my phone,'” Davis testified during a May Senate hearing. “I was appalled … because nobody should be subjected to that.”

House Bill 2789, signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in May, aims to put an end to experiences like Davis’. The law goes into effect Sept. 1 and makes the electronic transmission of sexually explicit material a Class C misdemeanor, with a maximum $500 fine, when the recipient hasn’t provided consent. The law will make Texas one of the first states to take a stand against sending sexually explicit images, which about 40% of women report receiving without consent.

The law won’t apply just to texts, but also to what’s sent over other platforms like email, dating apps and social media.

Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, who authored the legislation, said as a father of three, he wanted to prevent a form of sexual harassment that previously went unchecked. The bill, he said, aims to close a gap in state law — indecent exposure is a crime in person, but not online.

“Quite frankly, the thought of someone doing that to one of my children scared me,” Meyer said. “There had to be some sort of deterrent to stop this from happening — and now there is.”

Meyer said representatives from Bumble, the mobile dating app headquartered in Austin, initially brought the idea of crafting legislation to him. During a May 13 Senate committee hearing, Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd testified in support of the legislation.

“Lately, it feels like men and women are being told that this increasingly common problem is really no big deal. Women in particular are expected to laugh this sort of thing off,” Herd testified. “But there’s nothing funny about it.”

But with a “staggering volume” of people affected, Dallas employment law attorney Michelle MacLeod, whose firm represents clients in sexual harassment cases, said enforcement could be challenging with limited resources.

J.T. Morris, an Austin-based attorney whose firm specializes in First Amendment rights, said difficulties may also arise if an accused sender claims he or she wasn’t the one who sent a lewd message.

That situation played out in the Texas Senate last year when state Sen. Charles Schwertner was accused of texting sexually explicit messages to a University of Texas at Austin graduate student. Schwertner denied the allegations, saying he hadn’t sent the texts, and a UT investigation found it was “plausible” a third party had sent them.

Morris said even emailing a doctor an image for medical purposes or posting a photo taken while breastfeeding could be considered criminal acts under the law, which he said is overly broad and vague.

That’s why David Anderson, a former UT Austin law professor who focuses on free speech, expects legal challenges to the law.

Four years ago, the Texas Legislature passed a similar law criminalizing revenge porn. The law was declared unconstitutional in April 2018 after a state appeals court said its broad restrictions infringed on free speech. It’s awaiting a final decision in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and Anderson believes a similar constitutional challenge could mark the end for HB 2789.

“I don’t think it could survive,” Anderson said, “and even if it could, it probably won’t ever get to that stage. Who are they going to prosecute?”

Still, Meyer said the law isn’t aimed solely at punishing offenders.

“We understand that enforcement will be a challenge,” Meyer said, “but this bill is intended to serve as a deterrent as well. It’s keeping people aware that sending unsolicited lewd photos will not be tolerated … and stopping them from doing it in the first place.”

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

Disclosure: Bumble and the University of Texas at Austin have been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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