SAN DIEGO — Deep-sea divers Brett Eldridge and Tyler Stalter enjoy exploring the wrecks of ships and airplanes deposited by destiny on the ocean floor — sunk by stormy weather, shredded by war, mugged by mechanical mishap. They also share a passion for undiscovered historical hulks, those vessels lost to time and shifting sands. They know the waters off Southern California are home to dozens of them. So they pore over sonar maps and video footage taken by remote controlled submersibles for signs of ghostly ruins, and then dive to see what’s there. Last year, about four miles off Pacific Beach,...
Texas bill restricting transgender student athletes’ sports participation sent back to the House with amendment
In the final days of this year's third special session, Texas lawmakers advanced a bill that would restrict transgender student athletes from playing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity. The House must approve an amendment added by the Senate before it can go to the governor's desk.
The legislation is primed to become law after the state Senate voted 19-12 on Friday to pass House Bill 25, authored by state Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring. The Senate floor vote followed a swiftly held committee meeting where a 24-hour notice rule was suspended and the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee voted to advance the legislation. Under HB 25, students would only be permitted to compete on sports teams that correspond to the gender listed on their birth certificate that was assigned at or near the time of birth.
Friday's vote is the fifth time this year the Senate has passed legislation targeting transgender youth participation in school sports. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have pushed for the legislation during this year's sessions. With HB 25 advancing, Texas joins at least five other states that have passed such legislation.
Critics of the legislation, including transgender advocates, say it unfairly targets transgender children and puts them and cisgender children at risk for being discriminated against.
Getting the bill through the House proved to be a major hurdle for lawmakers this year after legislation faltered in the lower chamber during the regular session and two subsequent special sessions, which included a House quorum break.
The birth certificate requirement under HB 25 goes further than rules from University Interscholastic League, which governs public school sports in Texas. According to UIL rules, gender is determined by a student's birth certificate, though the governing body also accepts birth certificates that were modified to match a student's gender identity. UIL has said the process for checking birth certificates is left up to schools and districts.
HB 25 would disallow acceptance of modified birth certificates by requiring a student's gender to be determined by their original birth certificate unless their original certificate contained a clerical error. However, the process for how a birth certificate will be checked for whether it has been legally modified is unclear.
An amendment was added in the House, but later removed in the Senate, to the legislation that defined "biological sex" as "the physical condition of being male or female as determined by the sex organs, chromosomes, and endogenous profile of the individual at birth." Another House amendment ensures the legislation complies with state and federal laws related to the confidentiality of student medical information.
Swanson has said that the intention of HB 25 is to "protect the right to fair competition in sports" for women and girls and uphold Title IX, a federal law that prohibits education institutions that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of sex.
State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who authored similar legislation this special session, said during a news conference in support of HB 25 that passage of the bill had "been a long time coming."
"A lot of times we say bills are transformational. This is actually one that drew the line in the sand: that biological females should stay with biological females and biological males should stay with biological males."
During the House floor debate on HB 25, Democrats said legislators should think about the mental burden such legislation would have on transgender children who already predisposed to bullying and thoughts of suicide.
"This [bill] is not about girls' sports, this is about trying to police people and their behavior and their gender expression," said state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, secretary of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus.
Major employers within the state have also signaled their opposition to the law, with about 70 employers and investors signing on to a letter from the coalition Texas Competes, speaking out against restrictive state policies that target LGBTQ people.
In the past year, more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth in the U.S. have seriously considered suicide, and 1 in 5 have attempted suicide, according to The Trevor Project's 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health. More than 90% of LGBTQ Youth reported that recent politics have negatively impacted their mental health.
Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ Texans, said in a statement that HB 25 tells transgender children "that Texas is not a safe place for them to live."
"Transgender kids, adults, and their families are not political collateral," Martinez said. "They deserve every fundamental right and opportunity that all other Texans have."
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.
Texas Republicans want to use billions in federal pandemic relief to send checks to homeowners just ahead of next year's November elections — and call it property tax relief.
House lawmakers are pushing a proposal that would put $525 checks in the mailboxes of some 5.7 million homeowners who claim a homestead exemption — by tapping $3 billion sent to the state under the federal American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill aimed at pandemic relief.
Senate Bill 1, which passed out of the House on Friday afternoon, is a roundabout way for Republican legislators to deliver on a longtime pet issue — property tax relief — without running afoul of a federal rule barring the use of stimulus dollars for tax cuts.
The bill originally came over from the Senate as a straight-up tax cut bill. House lawmakers gutted the Senate proposal to use it as a vehicle for the $3 billion in checks for homeowners. Now, lawmakers in both chambers will have to work out a compromise.
House lawmakers have justified the use of federal relief money, saying their plan addresses "negative economic impacts" resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic "including assistance to households."
Not all households would benefit. Excluded from that relief are renters, who make up more than a third of Texans.
"Here's the problem: A third of Texans don't own their property," state Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said during debate on the House floor. "So none of this $3 billion would go to the one-third of Texans who rent. Not a penny."
Republicans argued that renters have already been taken care of because Texas has already received $2 billion in federal stimulus money for rent relief, state Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, said.
"I think everyone has been hit hard by the pandemic, Mr. Wu," said state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who carried the bill in the House. "Everyone."
The checks would arrive no later than Sept. 1 — about a month before voters head to the polls next year for early voting in the November midterm elections. Dick Lavine, senior fiscal analyst with the liberal-leaning Every Texan, blasted the proposal as a "transparent political ploy."
"They'll have to print the check on legal size paper to fit the signatures of all the people who want to take credit for it," Lavine said.
Republicans tried to head off criticism that the checks would be politically timed.
The bill previously gave Comptroller Glenn Hegar until July 1 to identify property owners eligible to receive the money. Meyer amended the bill to move that date up to May 1, possibly allowing homeowners to get paid sooner.
The House proposal is significantly different from a $2 billion tax cut proposal that sailed through the state Senate last month intended to take about $200 off of an average Texas homeowner's tax bill.
That measure — authored by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's point person on property taxes — would use $2 billion in state surplus funds to "buy down" public education funding normally collected by school property taxes, which make up most of a homeowner's tax bill.
A homeowner whose property is worth $300,000, the median value of a Texas home, would see $200 in temporary tax relief under the Senate proposal — though that could grow depending on how much the Texas economy grows by next June.
Bettencourt did not respond to a request for comment.
Republicans are under pressure from the party's right wing to tackle the state's high property tax burden in one way or another.
Gov. Greg Abbott added property tax relief to the third special session agenda in September — after primary challenger Don Huffines, a former state senator, blasted Abbott for initially leaving it off the table. Abbott had included it in previous sessions this year, but nothing passed.
Patrick, meanwhile, called legislation cutting property taxes his top priority for this special session, which has a packed agenda that includes figuring out how to spend $16 billion in federal coronavirus relief dollars and redrawing the state's political maps.
On Friday, The Birmingham News reported that an Alabama pastor who raped, impregnated, and married a teenage girl will not face jail time, after cutting a plea deal with prosecutors.
"Jason Greathouse, who used to minister in Enterprise but now lives in Tennessee, reached a deal with the Coffee County District Attorney's Office on Thursday that downgrades his charge from second-degree rape, a felony, to contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor, according to court records," reported Howard Koplowitz. "Greathouse, a resident of Henderson, Tennessee, agreed to serve two years of unsupervised probation for the 2018 incident, which occurred when he was 20 and the victim was 14, records showed. The pastor also does not have to register as a sex offender under the agreement's terms."
Greathouse had married his victim at her parents' demand, the report said.
According to Coffee County District Attorney Tom Anderson, the deal was so generous because "there were extenuating circumstances that would have been allowed to be presented by the defense that very likely could have resulted in a mistrial or even a not guilty by jury nullification."
This comes after earlier this year, another Alabama pastor, Mack Charles Andrews, who was convicted of torturing and raping children, was released after serving just one third of his 15-year prison sentence.
You can read more here.
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