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Republicans Vow a Religious Liberty Fight

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Texas’ Republican leaders suffered a historic loss on Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court held that state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional. But social conservatives vowed not to go down without a fight. 

In a somber and defiant statement, Attorney General Ken Paxton proclaimed his next battlefront would be in defense of religious liberty. 

“The truth is that the debate over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against people of faith who have sought to live their lives consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage,” he said. “It is not acceptable that people of faith be exposed to such abuse.” 

Hours later, Gov. Greg Abbott sent a memo to the heads of state agencies directing them to “preserve, protect, and defend the religious liberty of every Texan.” That order “applies to any agency decision,” including granting or denying benefits, the memo says. 

A spokesman for Abbott clarified the policy in a statement Friday afternoon. 

“The governor’s directive does not authorize or order state agencies to deny benefits to same-sex couples,” John Wittman, the spokesman, said. “The directive ensures that individuals doing business with the state cannot be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.” 

Abbott’s office directed questions about who would enforce such a policy to the attorney general. A spokeswoman for the attorney general did not immediately return to a request for comment. 

Those celebrating the gay marriage ruling, including civil liberties groups and gay rights advocates, said Texas’ Republican leadership seemed to be picking a fight. 

“I think a lot of us anticipated that this would be the next front, that there are going to be some public officials around the country who are going to try to use religious liberty as a way to avoid complying with the ruling,” said Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. “But we don’t agree that government offices that are open to the public should be able to pick and choose, on the basis of personal religious beliefs, which citizens to help and which citizens to turn away.” 

Added Robertson: “We may end up having to litigate some of these issues.”  

Daniel Williams, legislative director for the gay rights group Equality Texas, said that if a state agency employee denied spousal benefits to another employee in a same-sex marriage, it would be “setting itself up for a very short-lived legal challenge.” 

“The ruling today was pretty explicit that the state may not impose upon same-sex couples a definition of marriage that excludes them,” he said. 

Paxton said Friday he would give directions to county clerks about handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Following the ruling Friday morning, some Texas counties promptly began issuing licenses, while others said they were waiting for Paxton’s instructions. 

Prior to the ruling, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sent a public statement to Paxton, asking whether there were a way to let religious county officials opt out of issuing same-sex marriage licenses. 

“County clerks and Justices of the Peace could be forced to subjugate their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Patrick wrote. “The practical reality of this conflict will occur throughout the state.” 
 
[gdlr_icon type=”icon-camera-retro” size=”16px” color=”#999999″]Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to media after keynoting a June 2015 event hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation regarding impact of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. / photo credit: Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera
 
[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/republicans-vow-religious-liberty-fight/[/gdlr_notification]

Edgar Walters is an investigative reporter for The Texas Tribune, where he started as an intern in 2013. He previously covered health and human services for the Tribune. Before that, he had a political reporting fellowship with the Berliner Zeitung, a daily newspaper in Berlin. He is a graduate of the Plan II Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin, where he worked as an editor for The Daily Texan. When not in the newsroom or at the Capitol, he can be found on the volleyball court, standing 6'7" tall.

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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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