Will a Bill to Regulate Texas Payday Lenders Finally Pass?

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Such a noble enterprise.
There are few legal enterprises in this country as despicable as the payday-loan and rent-to-own businesses. They share the same parasitic business model -- one that achieves maximum profit potential the more desperate and/or unsophisticated a consumer is.

That's partly why Houston and other cities throughout Texas have regulated these businesses, and why Woodville Republican state Rep. James White has introduced a bill to implement some of those regulations statewide. Thing is, this would affect the bottom line of his fellow lawmaker, Rep. Gary Elkins of Houston, whose bottom-feeding Power Finance Texas chain somehow manages to skirt usury laws while charging APR rates between 739 and 792 percent.

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Islamic Advocacy Group Asks Ted Cruz to Skip Conference Featuring an Anti-Muslim Leader

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It's only been a few days since Sen. Ted Cruz formally admitted he's running for the GOP nomination for president for 2016, but an Islamic advocacy group is already weighing in and urging Cruz to skip a conference they claim has ties to white supremacists and anti-Muslims.


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GOP Lawmakers Want to Make It Harder for Minors to Get an Abortion Without a Parent's Consent

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thinkstock.com
Six years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade, legalizing abortion across the country and protecting it as a woman's constitutional right, the high court took up another thorny issue: are pregnant minors afforded that same right?

The 1979 case Bellotti v. Baird challenged a Massachusetts law requiring pregnant minors to get parental consent before obtaining an abortion. In writing the plurality opinion, Justice Lewis Powell explained that the court had to balance two competing interests. Noting the "peculiar vulnerability of children," Powell wrote that the "rights of children cannot be equated with those of adults." However, Powell also said the decision of whether or not to end a pregnancy "differs in important ways from other decisions facing minors." While states may reasonably want to ensure that parents are in on the decision, Powell wrote that parents should not be allowed to exercise an "absolute, and possibly arbitrary, veto" over a girl's choice to have an abortion.

The ruling meant a couple of things. First, states could still have parental consent laws on the books if they wanted to (the court refused to extend full abortion rights given to adult women under Roe to minors). But states also had to provide an escape hatch: girls could petition a judge for approval if their parents wouldn't consent or if girls were too afraid to ask them.

Ever since, anti-abortion activists have been trying to restrict that process, known as judicial bypass, and this session there are a slate of bills filed by Republican lawmakers in the Texas Legislature that would make it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for many teenage girls to get an abortion without the approval of a parent.

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Ted Cruz's Presidential Run Could Actually Be Way More Entertaining Than Rick Perry's

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Rick Perry's awkward 2011 slog around the GOP presidential primary circuit felt kind of like putting a once-powerful horse out to pasture. A formidable politician, Perry led from the Texas governor's mansion for more than a decade using his power of appointment to leave a lasting conservative mark on things large and small before jumping into the fickle world of presidential politics.

Then things got weird. In his reported pain pill-fueled push for the GOP nomination for president, Perry at turns forgot what state he was in, oops-ed his way through a nationally-televised debate, and merrily sang "I've Been Working on the Railroad" to keep himself occupied entertained. At least he got a consolation prize: fresh off the heels of an embarrassing campaign, in Perry's final 2013 ride through the capitol he oversaw a session that even further legislated every uterus in Texas.

But Rick "felony-indictment" Perry is old news. Sure, he's put on his smart-guy glasses, formed a political action committee and set off to join the pack of hopefuls delivering far-right speeches to far-right crowds in early primary states. But more punchline than viable candidate, Perry's inevitable run is sure to be a way-more-depressing repeat of his last go at the GOP presidential nomination.

That Ted Cruz, though. He's the guy to watch. To the surprise of no one, Texas' firebrand freshman GOP senator announced his presidential campaign yesterday at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, saying he hopes to channel support from the "silent plurality," ostensibly the die-hard evangelical crowd that thinks gay-luvin' America is just as doomed as Cruz does.

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5 More Good Bills Filed in the Texas Legislature

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thinkstock, monica fuentes

We've already talked plenty these past few weeks about the many alarming bills filed by the members of the 84th Texas Legislature. So far this biennial legislative session has been a good show for those who savor watching one of the most conservative legislative bodies in the country try and shove a well known conservative state even further toward the right. It's an entertaining political circus to watch, right up until you realize that there's a good chance some of that stuff might actually become actual law. And that's when it is time to start looking on the bright side and sussing out the more positive pieces of legislation that are being run through the glorified political sausage machine known as the Lege.

Legislators had from November 10 to March 13 to file their bills for the general session. The filing deadline was last Friday. We've sifted through some of the bills filed and found some bills that are downright encouraging. Despite the fact that there's a ton of legislation focused on making sure all the guns can be openly carried everywhere and an alarming number of anti-LGBT laws of all sorts, there are actual good ideas being worked on. Here are five of our favorites:

5. The one that will protect LGBT youth from conversion therapy. HB 3495, filed by state Rep. Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat, has introduced a bill that will protect young people and their families from conversion therapy, a tactic that -- although it has become a part of the GOP platform -- has been condemned by the pretty much everyone, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Israel's bill will make it so that any mental health provider who "engages in unprofessional conduct" by trying to change a child or minor's gender identity or sexual or romantic feelings toward the same sex will be in trouble with the state. Specifically, they'll be subject to disciplinary action "by any state regulatory entity with the power to take disciplinary action against the mental health provider." Pretty nifty, right?


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Stop Calling Houston a "Sanctuary City"

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Almond Butterscotch via Flickr creative commons
See that sign that says "approaching sanctuary city"? Yeah, neither do we.
On Monday Sen. Charles Perry, a Republican from Lubbock, went before a senate border security subcommittee to promote his bill reviving a measure that, like a zombie, seems to come back from the dead every time the Lege comes to town.

Perry's Senate Bill 185 would ban so-called "sanctuary cities," liberal hubs where, in Perry's mind, local authorities openly thumb their nose at federal immigration law. While there's no legal or even standard definition for what exactly makes a "sanctuary city," Perry's camp continues to advance the idea that Houston is among cities that have "adopted sanctuary city policies."

Whether deliberate or unintended, Perry putting Houston in the "sanctuary cities" camp shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how immigration enforcement currently operates here and how closely local law enforcement actually work with federal immigration authorities.

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Texas Senate Passes Open Carry, Second Amendment Buffs Shrug

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You could see a lot more of this in the near future
We learned pretty early on this session that a so-called open carry bill, one that lets concealed handgun license holders openly display their pistols, wouldn't be enough to sate die-hard pockets of the state's gun rights crowd.


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Local Lawmaker Wants More Funding for "Crisis Pregnancy Centers"

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This state-issued manual tells women that abortion is linked to breast cancer, which it isn't.
As abortion clinics become an endangered species in the state of Texas, a Houston-area lawmaker wants to double down on the state's Alternatives to Abortion program, the primary vehicle for funding the state's dubious crisis pregnancy centers.

Last week, Friendswood Republican state Rep. Greg Bonnen managed to pass a budget rider through the House Appropriations Committee that would nearly double the amount of state money going to the Alternatives to Abortion program, from about $5.1 million per year to more than $9 million per year, as first noted by the Texas Observer. According to language in Bonnen's rider, the money would go to increase funding to "pregnancy centers and early childhood care."

While the nonprofit Texas Pregnancy Care Network, which contracts with the state to distribute the Alternatives to Abortion program cash, funds maternity homes and adoption agencies, it spends the bulk of that money on crisis pregnancy centers.

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5 More Crazy Bills Filed in the Texas Legislature

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Photo from the Texas Legislature

We always look forward to the biennial Texas legislative session with a mix of gut-gnawing fear and giddy anticipation. This year was no exception and so far, based on the bills filed by the 84th Texas Legislature, the stars of the best political reality TV show this side of D.C. have not failed us..

No, despite some surprisingly smart proposed legislation filed over the course of the legislative filing period -- from November 10 through March 13 -- state lawmakers also cooked up some bills that have given us armchair Lege watchers plenty to cackle over (we laugh because it's so much easier on the mascara than crying). There was a last flurry of activity before the filing deadline Friday and lawmakers came up with some incredibly, shall we say, entertaining bills as a result. We've rounded up five that really caught our attention:

5. The one where business owners will be able to refuse service on religious grounds. HB 2553 filed by state Rep. Molly White, a Republican from Benton, is a real winner. This bill would change the state business and commerce code so that private business owners would have the right not to provide goods or services if doing so would be "in violation of that business owner's sincerely held religious or personal beliefs." The bill would also clear business owners of any liability for refusing goods and services as long as they were refusing on those same "sincere" religious grounds.

There's a lot wrong with this one. First, it comes from White, a regular model of religious tolerance and tact. For those who've already blocked it out, White is the freshman representative who dealt with Texas Muslim Capitol Day by leaving an Israeli flag prominently displayed in her office and informing her constituents via social media that she had instructed her staff to require any Muslim visitors "to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws" if they walked into her office. And now she's pitching a "religious tolerance" law that would basically allow businesses to discriminate against whomever they feel like as long as they can "sincerely" prove that they were doing so because their particular religious teachings demanded it. With language that vague just imagine the possibilities for legal discrimination! They're practically limitless!


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Another Sign Ted Cruz Is Running in 2016

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We've all known for a while now that a presidential run was almost inevitably in Sen. Ted Cruz's near future. After all, it was hard to miss the signs -- the trips to Iowa, the habit of giving a speech or making a filibuster whenever anything that even smelled like an opportunity presented itself, fighting the Democrats, fighting his own GOP leadership -- even for those who tried to squeeze their eyes shut and hum and ignore them.

While Cruz hasn't actually made an announcement or even released a campaign book, he's been making eyes at the 2016 GOP presidential nomination since the freshman senator hit the floor of Congress in 2012. But now his office has given us the first clear indication that Cruz will actually run.

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