Connect with us

Texas

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.

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Comments

86th TX Lege

Texas Senate Passes Religious Liberty Bill That LGBTQ Advocates Fear Licenses Discrimination

The measure moved quickly through the Senate after the LGBTQ Caucus killed a near-identical proposal on a procedural motion last week in the Texas House.

Published

on

State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, on the Senate floor on May 15, 2019. Photo credit: Juan Figueroa / The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Over the fierce opposition of Democrats, the Texas Senate on Wednesday advanced a significantly watered-down version of a religious liberty bill whose original form some LGBTQ advocates labeled the most discriminatory piece of legislation filed this session.

The bill requires one more vote from the Senate before it can return to the Texas House, whose LGBTQ Caucus killed a nearly-identical proposal on a procedural motion last week. But the House is likely to advance the measure if given a second pass, at least according to the lower chamber’s leadership.

As filed, Sen. Bryan HughesSenate Bill 1978 contained sweeping religious refusals language that brought LGBTQ rights advocates out against it in force. Proponents, for their part, have labeled the Mineola Republican’s proposal the “Save Chick-fil-A Bill,” in reference to a provision that would empower the Texas attorney general to sue San Antonio for excluding the Christian-owned chicken franchise from its airport.

Senate Democrats used every means they had — long lines of questioning, a slew of proposed amendments and a procedural point of order — to fight the bill, or at least tweak it as it was debated. But ultimately, after three hours of discussion, the measure passed on a 19-12 vote, with Brownsville Democrat Eddie Lucio Jr. voting for it and Amarillo Republican Kel Seliger voting against it.

Still, the messy floor fight many advocates feared would load up the bill with discriminatory amendments did not materialize.

The original version of Hughes’ proposal prevented government retaliation against an individual based on that “person’s belief or action in accordance with the person’s sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction, including beliefs or convictions regarding marriage” — language advocates feared would embolden businesses to discriminate against gay Texans. The revision, which Hughes made on the floor, outlaws government retaliation against someone based on their association with or support of a religious organization. That revised language is largely duplicative of existing protections for freedom of religion and freedom of association.

But advocates — pointing to the bill’s origins, and to its roots as model legislation from anti-gay efforts across the nation — adamantly opposed the bill, lobbying lawmakers to do so as well. Samantha Smoot, interim director of the advocacy group Equality Texas, said this week the measure is “part of an insidious, coordinated strategy to advance anti-LGBTQ messages and discriminatory public policies.”

Democrats, questioning whether Hughes’ bill would protect organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church — called “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America” by the civil rights group Southern Poverty Law Center — worked to amend the bill to clarify that it does not protect discriminatory groups hiding behind the cover of religion. Pointing to the law’s definition of “religious organization,” Hughes asserted such language was unnecessary, and said some amendments could “confuse” the bill.

State Sen. José Menéndez, a San Antonio Democrat who has filed a number of bills to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ communities, questioned why the upper chamber is debating a measure that worries gay communities instead of a measure that protects their rights.

“Session after session, we end up entertaining legislation that sends a message to my LGBT staff members…They feel they’re coming under attack for who they are. So the question I have is: What do you say to them?” Menendez asked. “Do you think Chick-fil-A needs more protection from us than our constituents who have a history of being discriminated against?”

Throughout the lengthy floor debate, Hughes maintained that his bill does not sanction discrimination.

“I would only ask you to look at the language in this amendment we’ll be offering and show us where there’s discrimination,” Hughes said. In the new version of the measure, he said, “folks will be hard pressed to find discrimination.”

The bill will need to move quickly if it is to make it to the governor’s desk. The deadline for the House to pass it is Tuesday; before then, it must receive a committee hearing and approval, and also move through the lower chamber’s calendars committee.

Its chances look good in the lower chamber, though it died there on a procedural motion last week. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen told Spectrum News this week he personally supports the bill, adding, “I think it would pass the House.” A House companion bill has 70 co-authors, nearly half the chamber.

Hughes’ bill, which he amended on the floor, is near-identical to the House proposal that died last week — but with one notable difference.

Hughes’ bill says it does not apply to a 2017 law that made it illegal for the state to contract with companies unless they pledge not to boycott Israel; Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed a bill to narrow that law, excluding state contractors with very few employees, after a federal judge temporarily blocked the law’s enforcement, citing free speech concerns.

As senators slogged through the debate, one recurring theme from Democratic opposition was: Why spend time on a controversial measure when there are so many other priorities to complete? And, some added, if the bill is largely just a codification of existing protections, why bring it forward at all?

“Can you identify the shortcomings of the Constitution in protecting religious freedom?” asked Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

“This is covered under the First Amendment, so I’m not sure what your angle is,” she added, after reading from it.

Responding to such questions, Hughes called the measure an important “vehicle for protecting those First Amendment rights.”

That vehicle could come in the form of a lawsuit from the Texas attorney general, who under Hughes’ legislation would be empowered to sue governmental entities accused of discriminating based on religious affiliations. One likely candidate for such a lawsuit is the fast food franchise Chick-fil-A, which was recently blocked from opening a restaurant in the San Antonio Airport after a member of the city council said he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has billed himself as a crusader for religious liberty, leapt into the ensuing culture war, launching an investigation into the city’s actions in that case and asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to probe the situation as well.

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

Continue Reading

86th TX Lege

Texas Senate Revives, Fast-Tracks Religious Liberty Bill that LGBTQ Caucus Killed in the House

The measure, which had yet to advance in the Senate, was swiftly voted out of a surprise committee hearing Monday, days after companion legislation in the House died on the floor.

Published

on

The Senate bill, filed by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, prevents the government from taking “adverse action” against individuals for acting in accordance with their “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction, including beliefs or convictions regarding marriage.” Photo credit: Juan Figueroa / The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

After LGBTQ lawmakers in the Texas House killed a religious liberty bill they feared could be dangerous to their community, the Texas Senate has brought it back — and looks to be fast-tracking it.

House Bill 3172, by state Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, effectively died Thursday after members of the lower chamber’s first-ever LGBTQ Caucus torpedoed it with a pair of procedural ploys. On Monday, a companion bill filed in the Senate by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, moved for the first time in weeks. After being unexpectedly added to an afternoon committee docket, it was swiftly voted out of the panel on a party-line vote.

Within the hour, the bill was placed on the Senate’s agenda, making it eligible for a vote later this week.

As filed, the Senate bill prevents the government from taking “adverse action” against individuals for acting in accordance with their “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction, including beliefs or convictions regarding marriage.” Advocates fear that would embolden businesses to decline service to members of the LGBTQ community.

Faced with those concerns at a contentious late-night hearing, Krause significantly watered down the House version, removing some of the strongest language and spurring groups like Texas Impact, a faith-based organization that opposes discriminatory measures, to remove their opposition to it.

That watered-down version — which Hughes has indicated he prefers — would prevent government entities from taking “adverse action” against individuals or organizations based on their “membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support provided to a religious organization” — protections that, in large part, already exist in law. It also would have empowered the Texas attorney general to sue on behalf of individuals or organizations claiming religious discrimination.

Last week, when that version of the bill died in the House, it was due to an objection that the bill hadn’t followed the proper procedures — not an up-or-down vote on its merits from lawmakers. The House version of the bill had a total of 70 lawmakers — nearly half the chamber — signed on as authors.

In an interview minutes after he watched his bill die on the House floor, Krause said he was surprised advocates and his LGBTQ colleagues opposed the new version of the bill, which he said had been significantly altered to ameliorate their concerns. He added that he hoped to see the bill move in the Senate.

Hughes did not offer a watered-down version Monday but indicated he plans to amend the bill on the Senate floor so that it aligns with Krause’s slimmer proposal.

“[Rep. Krause] worked very, very hard, worked with stakeholders all across the spectrum, to come up with language that was not offensive, that would accomplish the intended ends without harming, without causing problems,” Hughes said as he laid the bill out at a sparsely attended committee hearing Monday. He added that he intends to “make the bill look more like the agreed-to language that Rep. Krause was able to work out over in the House.”

Five Republicans on the committee voted for the bill, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, voted against it.

If the bill is to proceed, it will have to maintain its blistering pace. Next Tuesday is the deadline for the House to approve Senate bills. Before it reaches the House floor, the measure would need to win approval from the full Senate, be referred by the House speaker to a committee, get scheduled for a hearing and earn a positive vote from a House committee.

Advocates have long feared that floor debate on the bill in the socially conservative Texas Senate could result in a slew of anti-LGBTQ amendments. In a one-page handout issued to Texas House members last week in anticipation of floor debate, the advocacy group Equality Texas warned that if the measure came up for debate, it could spark a “‘bathroom bill’ style floor fight.”

The Texas Senate already passed a different religious refusals bill. Senate Bill 17, which advocates call a “license to discriminate,” would allow occupational license holders like social workers or lawyers to cite “sincerely held religious beliefs” when their licenses are at risk due to professional behavior or speech. Advocates say the Hughes bill moving this week — at least in its original form — contains all that language and more troubling provisions.

“A majority of Texans want equal rights for LGBTQ people, not discrimination,” said Sam Smoot, interim director of Equality Texas. “In the final days of the session, we hope state leaders will return to the position they held on Jan. 8, that this session would not focus attacks on the LGBTQ community.”

Supporters of the bill — notably, the hardline group Texas Values, which pushed the bathroom bill in 2017 — have dubbed it the #SaveChickFilA bill. That apparently refers to a provision that would lay the groundwork for Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue San Antonio, whose City Council voted earlier this year to keep Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in the city’s airport after one member, Robert Treviño, said he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

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: Equality Texas has 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.

Continue Reading

86th TX Lege

Texas LGBTQ Caucus Marks Major Victory, Killing Bill They Feared Would Hurt Gay People

The LGBTQ Caucus, formed this year, notched a major victory Thursday evening, defeating a controversial measure as the Texas House raced toward a midnight deadline.

Published

on

“We’re getting things done, and we’re here to stay,” state Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, said of the House LGBTQ Caucus. Photo credit: Emree Weaver/The Texas Tribune

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

In their first major test, members of the Texas House’s LGBTQ Caucus helped muscle down a bill Thursday night that they characterized as an assault on gay rights and protections.

The five female lawmakers in the first-of-its-kind caucus used a parliamentary maneuver to delay and ultimately defeat House Bill 3172 by Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause, a measure he said would protect religious individuals and organizations from attacks by the government, and authorize the Texas attorney general to bring lawsuits in their defense.

With the Texas House racing toward a midnight deadline to consider its bills, state Rep. Julie Johnson, a Carrollton Democrat and longtime trial lawyer, rose with a “point of order” — a procedural technicality aimed at delaying or killing a bill. It was shot down. But she had a second point of order up her sleeve, and this one — to the surprise of many — stuck. While it’s possible Krause’s measure could get amended to another piece of legislation in the waning days of the legislative session, the clock has run out for this particular bill.

“The LGBTQ Caucus is in the House,” Johnson said in an interview on the House floor shortly after the bill was defeated. “We’re getting things done, and we’re here to stay.”

The defeat of Krause’s bill — which many LGBTQ advocates considered the most serious threat to reach the House floor this session — took less than an hour. And it marked a major shift in tone in a chamber that has been less conservative since the 2018 midterms. This session, pro-LGBTQ measures have made unprecedented progress in the Republican-majority Texas House, earning debate in committees for the first time — though few, if any, are expected to become law. The death of Krause’s bill was particularly striking given how close a highly controversial “bathroom bill” got to becoming law during the last legislative session.

“This commonsense religious freedom effort is far from over. We will not allow the clear will of the majority of Texans and a bipartisan majority of the Texas Legislature to be thwarted by a few,” said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action.

By the time Krause’s bill reached the House floor, it had already been significantly watered down. That followed a late-night committee hearing that drew passionate opposition from the LGBTQ community. As presented Thursday, the bill would have prevented government entities from taking “adverse action” against individuals or organizations based on their “membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation, or other support provided to a religious organization” — protections that, in large part, are already enshrined in current law. Some groups, such as Texas Impact, a faith-based organization that opposes discriminatory measures, removed their opposition to the bill after its toughest language was stripped out.

But LGBTQ advocates and lawmakers still feared the bill could be amended or restored to its original version in a messy floor fight — particularly in the more socially conservative Texas Senate, which has already passed a so-called religious refusals law.

Krause said he would not have allowed additions from either chamber, and added he was disappointed that the House did not get the chance to debate his bill, especially after the revised measure stripped out so much of the language that caused advocates concern.

“Not only was there no discriminatory intent, there was no discriminatory language,” Krause said. “There was no discriminatory possibility with this bill. We worked very hard to make sure that was the case.”

Krause’s bill would also have allowed the Texas attorney general to sue state employees or government entities to force them to comply with the measure. That provision would have laid the groundwork for Attorney General Ken Paxton to sue San Antonio, a city that has often drawn the ire — and the litigation power — of his office. Paxton launched an investigation into the City Council’s decision earlier this year to keep Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in the city’s airport. One council member, Robert Treviño, asked to block the franchise from a slate of contracts, saying he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”

Supporters of the Krause bill had lauded its potential to “#SaveChickFilA.” The interest group Texas Values — best known for leading the charge for the “bathroom bill” that dominated Capitol conversations in 2017 — had worked to drum up support for the Krause proposal at a “Save Chick-fil-A” advocacy day at the Capitol in April, an all-day affair that began with a lunchtime rally and ended in the early hours of the next morning in a committee hearing packed with witnesses.

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

Continue Reading
Advertisement

may 2019

Filter Events

20may6:00 PM7:30 PMDining Out For Life Ambassador Training6:00 PM - 7:30 PM Categories:Fundraiser,VolunteerAges:All Ages

20may7:00 PM9:00 PMCupcake Bar Trivia7:00 PM - 9:00 PM Rain on 4thCategories:Drag,NightlifeAges:21+

20may(may 20)10:00 PM21(may 21)2:00 AMMartinis & KaraokeHosted by Danny Pintauro10:00 PM - 2:00 AM (21) Rain on 4thCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

20may(may 20)10:00 PM21(may 21)2:00 AMGame Night10:00 PM - 2:00 AM (21) Oilcan Harry'sCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

21may6:00 PM7:00 PMBeginner Yoga with Kirk6:00 PM - 7:00 PM TransformCategories:FitnessAges:All Ages

21may7:00 PM10:00 PMOpen Mic NightHosted by Sheena Simmons7:00 PM - 10:00 PM Sellers UndergroundCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

21may7:15 PM8:45 PMBig Boi Yoga7:15 PM - 8:45 PM TransformCategories:FitnessAges:All Ages

21may7:30 PM9:30 PMOhh! Pleasure Party Comedy Show7:30 PM - 9:30 PM Package MenswearCategories:ComedyAges:21+

21may8:00 PM11:00 PMTexas Hold'em TournamentHosted by Wild West Casino Games8:00 PM - 11:00 PM The Iron BearCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

21may8:00 PM10:00 PMGay Mens Speed Dating8:00 PM - 10:00 PM Doc B's Fresh KitchenCategories:DatingAges:21+

21may(may 21)9:00 PM22(may 22)2:00 AMShowstopperHosted by Sabel Scities9:00 PM - 2:00 AM (22) Rain on 4thCategories:Drag,NightlifeAges:18+

21may(may 21)9:00 PM22(may 22)12:00 AMMagical Muscial Showtune Sing-AlongHosted by Roxy Brooks and Brian Hall9:00 PM - 12:00 AM (22) Oilcan Harry'sCategories:DragAges:21+

21may(may 21)10:30 PM22(may 22)2:00 AMDinner & A MovieHosted by Jeremy & Nadine Hughes10:30 PM - 2:00 AM (22) Sellers UndergroundCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

22may6:00 PM8:00 PMSteak Night6:00 PM - 8:00 PM BT2 AustinCategories:Food,NightlifeAges:21+

22may6:30 PM8:00 PMWorkout! Wednesday w/ Erica Nix6:30 PM - 8:00 PM TransformCategories:FitnessAges:All Ages

22may7:00 PM10:00 PMTexas Hold'em TournamentHosted by ADA Hold'em7:00 PM - 10:00 PM Detour Neighborhood Bar DomainCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

22may7:00 PM10:00 PMA R I Z O N A: The Find Someone Tour w/morgxn7:00 PM - 10:00 PM Emo'sCategories:MusicAges:All Ages

22may8:00 PM10:00 PMSevere Weather WarningPresented by Theatre en Bloc8:00 PM - 10:00 PM Rollins Theatre at The Long CenterCategories:TheatreAges:All Ages

22may(may 22)9:00 PM23(may 23)2:00 AMWerqHosted by Diamond Dior & Scarlett Kiss 9:00 PM - 2:00 AM (23) Sellers UndergroundCategories:DragAges:21+

22may(may 22)9:30 PM23(may 23)2:00 AMPlanet Fabulous KaraokeHosted by Murrah Noble9:30 PM - 2:00 AM (23) The Iron BearCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

Advertisement

Trending

X