By The Associated Press
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Aug. 23, 2012.
Women's Health Program still unsettled
The many twists and turns in the fight over funding for Texas' Women's Health Program hardly seem to be about healthcare at all.
Gov. Rick Perry would have you believe it's about the big, bad Obama administration disrespecting Texas officials and stealing federal money from poor people who desperately need it. No small irony there.
The administration says it's simply abiding by federal law requiring choice in medical providers for Medicaid patients.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst would have you believe it's all about "states' rights, the sanctity of life and Texas' commitment to defending the unborn." None of that, mind you, is advanced through providing cancer screening, pregnancy prevention and other health services.
Planned Parenthood clinic operators say it's fundamentally about chilling their rights to say whatever they want about abortion.
Isn't that the unfortunate bottom line: who gets the upper hand in the abortion wars - even though not a penny at stake pays for abortions?
The focus should be on making sure that low-income women can receive healthcare that can prevent more-serious, more-expensive-to-treat conditions later. But the distractions are many since the standoff started last year.
The Legislature has attempted to starve Planned Parenthood by barring its affiliated clinics from getting paid to treat low-income patients eligible for the Women's Health Program. That is even though the clinics provide health and family planning care, not abortions.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department has said Texas can't do that and continue to receive federal funds that provide $9 for every $1 in state money for the WHP.
Texas has sued the Obama administration, and a collection of Planned Parenthood clinics sued Texas.
On Tuesday, a three-judge federal appellate panel said Texas can drop the clinics from the program even though a trial hasn't yet determined whether the state can lawfully bar them from participating.
Texas says providers in the WHP can't recommend abortion or affiliate with entities that perform/promote elective abortions.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower-court judge shouldn't have blocked the state from moving forward with its regulations.
Dewhurst called the court ruling "a strong message to the Obama administration that Texans' right to protect life and the wellness of thousands of women will not be compromised."
Well, it was nothing of the sort.
The appellate panel wasn't speaking to the administration or defending Texas' sovereignty. The court said the clinics probably couldn't prove their claim that the rules unconstitutionally restrict their speech and so a preliminary injunction against enforcing them wasn't justified.
The appeals court relied on a 1991 Supreme Court ruling, Rust v. Sullivan, that allowed the federal government to prevent taxpayer-subsidized clinics from promoting abortion.
The panel said the lower court should look again at whether the state has gone too far by excluding the clinics for carrying "abortion-related identifying marks," namely the Planned Parenthood name. That part of the ruling is curious, given that the judges already had declared that Planned Parenthood conveys "a pro-abortion message," even though the organization provides a range of health services unrelated to ending pregnancies.
With both prongs of litigation unsettled, it's expected that the state will be solely responsible for funding the program come November - though state officials insist they should be able to have the restrictions and federal subsidies, too.
The Texas Health and Human Services Commission estimates that it could generate $42 million to pay for WHP through fiscal year 2013, largely by reducing Medicaid fraud, freezing some administrative salaries and cutting overtime.
But beyond that, it will be a race of sorts between the Legislature and the courts. If the state prevails in court, federal tax dollars will underwrite Texas' ousting of Planned Parenthood. If the state loses, lawmakers will have to find money to continue the program. Either way, low-income women's health will remain in the crossfire.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Aug. 26, 2012.
Could the market regulate what the EPA cannot?
Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and operators of Texas' dirtiest coal-fueled power plants are breathing easier, having thwarted an effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to help humans breathe easier.
A U.S. appeals court ruled last week that the EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule exceeded the agency's authority and sent the rule back for revision. Basically, the rule would have required 28 states, especially Texas, to stop polluting themselves and neighboring states quite so much. How? By cutting coal plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.
Opponents had legitimate economic concerns - coal industry employment; the effect, short-term at least, on the power grid. Operators of older, heavier-polluting plants warned that they'd have to shut down because of the cost to upgrade and the nearness of the Jan. 1 deadline.
They can relax. The soonest the EPA could come back with a revised rule is likely to be 2016. Plus, it's likely to be less restrictive. And that's overlooking the possibility of a regulator-unfriendly Romney administration.
As with most Obama administration policies, Perry and Abbott argued that the EPA rule was an unwarranted intrusion on Texas' sovereignty. In powdered-wig language, Abbott hailed the ruling as, among other things, "an important victory for federalism."
In human terms, Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, deemed it "a big blow for breathers."
The EPA had estimated that the rule would prevent 34,000 premature deaths annually. Pushing aside - as Perry, Abbott and the plant operators did - any moral imperative to pursue such an outcome as nefarious nanny-state meddling, let's look instead at the cold, hard financial benefits of saving lives. The EPA estimated a $280 billion a year savings in health care and other expenses at a cost of $800 million annually.
Luckily, an unexpected rescuer of the environment from coal plants appears to be emerging, not from regulators or the courts, but the market. Increasing displacement of coal as a power plant fuel by abundant, cheap natural gas was credited recently for reducing carbon dioxide emissions to their lowest level in 20 years.
Climate scientists didn't see it coming because market forces, which they don't tend to study, drove the trend rather than direct government regulation. One need not be an Ayn Rand fan to smirk at that.
Natural gas as a fuel produces about half as much carbon dioxide as coal, much less nitrogen oxide and negligible sulfur dioxide. It has environmental downsides but so do giant wind turbines.
The bigger point is that market forces might accomplish for the EPA a lot of what it set out to do in cutting cross-state pollution. Lives could be saved without added regulation or altruism.
Houston Chronicle. Aug. 25, 2012.
Texas war on Planned Parenthood hurts low-income women
The state's continuing battle against Planned Parenthood strikes us as short-sighted and destructive. Texas wants to defund the organization and shut it out of the Women's Health Program because Planned Parenthood, though it does not perform abortions itself, is associated with abortion providers, and it offers a small amount of abortion counseling. This counseling represents about three percent of Planned Parenthood services nationwide. The vast majority of their work focuses on women's health in general.
This past week, a federal appeals court ruled that the state could cut off funding for Planned Parenthood while awaiting an October court challenge from that organization. But having a court-approved right to do something doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. This stand will cost Texas dearly in federal funding.
As the Chronicle reported last week, Texas decided to "forfeit a 9 to 1 federal funding match, after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services refused to let the state kick qualified, non-abortion providers out of the program." Instead, the state will offer, on its own dime rather than the federal buck, its "rogue version of the Women's Health Program." Gov. Perry vows that the state will find the money needed to provide for women's health, but we're skeptical, given that the state had already cut its family planning budget by two-thirds in the draconian 2011 legislative session.
Even before this loss of funding, of course, Texas was near the national bottom when it came to providing health care services for the poor, especially poor women.
Rene Resendez is a 25-year-old grad student at UT-Odessa who is among the so very many who are already being affected. She's low-income, and had come to depend on the state-federal Medicaid Women's Health Program "for annual well-woman exams, cancer screening and contraception."
Resendez used the Odessa clinic's services until it closed in March. Now she's not sure how or where she'll get the kind of "well woman" exams that possibly saved her mother's life when she was Rene's age and an abnormal pap test at Planned Parenthood revealed that she had cervical cancer. (Resendez's mother was then successfully treated.)
What will be the outcome of the state's adventures in anti-federal posturing? Either state spending will go up or women's health will suffer. We're betting on the latter. And abortions? Will their number go up or down as a result of the state's restricting low-income women's access to contraceptives? The question answers itself.
We hope that one day our leaders will come to their senses, look back at these policies and wonder what they were thinking.
The Dallas Morning News. Aug. 23, 2012.
Governor for how long? It's up to GOP
As another summer wanes, millions of Texas sixth-graders prepare to reacquaint themselves with bedtimes, books, backpacks and another school year.
One consistency: The governor of Texas is the same fellow as the day they were born.
Time does fly. It was a year ago that Rick Perry applied for a promotion in a new city, declaring his candidacy for president. That year certainly hasn't gone as he expected. To say his gaffe-ridden campaign fizzled is a bit unfair to actual fizzles.
Perry showed he could raise money and little else. By the end, January, he had devolved into something of a national laughingstock, his effort down to a single word: "Oops."
Back home in Texas, Perry reached for relevancy in the Republicans' U.S. Senate primary. He went all-in for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, which didn't turn out so well for Dewhurst. From almost nowhere, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz rode a tea party wave to win the nomination.
The parlor game today is deducing whether Perry will seek another term in 2014, extending his already-record gubernatorial longevity deep into those sixth-graders' high school years.
Our guess? Perry raised nearly $2 million in the first six months of this year, refilling Texans for Rick Perry to about $3.3 million. Publicly, he has neither committed nor ruled anything out, not even another run for the presidency. Depending on how this election turns out, one could argue that Perry 2016 would have a stronger platform as a sitting Texas governor.
Well, if Texas Republicans want it to be so, that is.
Perry has never been seen as more vulnerable. His presidential campaign embarrassed many of his supporters, especially some influential Texans. By backing Dewhurst over Cruz, Perry chilled relations with some in a tea party base so essential to his wins over Kay Bailey Hutchison and Democrat Bill White in 2010.
Barring another Texas miracle, the state Democratic Party is far from rousing itself to a standing position. That leaves it to Texas Republicans to decide if they want to turn Governor-for-Life from dismissive irony to effective fact.
Attorney General Greg Abbott has banked about $14.5 million and could see this election as his one best chance. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert fell far short in the Senate race but did begin building statewide name ID. Could there be another Gov. Bush - George P. this time - in Texas' future?
Or is there another Ted Cruz type, who cuts an unexpected swath?
If 2014 seems far away, it's entirely likely Perry is raising big money now to thin the potential field. Money isn't everything to a campaign, but it's awfully tough to win without it.
What we do know is that Rick Perry, no matter how weakened, isn't going to surrender. If Texas Republicans want new leadership in Austin, they are going to have to beat him for it. He won't just walk away.
Beaumont Enterprise. Aug. 27, 2012.
UT incentive plan not justified
Gov. Rick Perry talks a lot about fiscal restraint, but he missed a good opportunity to demonstrate that virtue. At a time when many college students in Texas are struggling to afford their education, Perry supported a tone-deaf incentive proposal for the University of Texas System. It grants bonuses to presidents and other top officials at 15 campuses if graduation rates improve or donations increase.
What's wrong with that? Well, that's their job - and in fact their well-compensated job. All have six-figure salaries that are far more than average Texans will ever earn. If those incomes aren't enough of an incentive to work hard and meet goals, the UT system could easily find replacements who would be motivated.
Schemes like this also could undermine efforts to keep academic standards high even if that meant fewer students passed.
Higher education has enough ethical challenges as it is. This is one that shouldn't have been added to the list.
An old Tucumcari ethanol plant is gaining new life.
An old Tucumcari ethanol plant is gaining new life.
With more than average rainfall in Amarillo, water usage has been down throughout the city.
With more than average rainfall in Amarillo, water usage has been down throughout the city.
Starting this fall, students who attend West Texas A&M University will be welcomed with a brand new food court.
New voting machines for Potter County are on the way, and election officials say they will make voting easier for residents this November.