Newsmonger: Tables Turned, Ethics Shake-up and Challenging Texas 

click to enlarge Mayor Ivy R. Taylor (right) is at the center of an ethics shake-up at City Hall.

Mayor Ivy R. Taylor (right) is at the center of an ethics shake-up at City Hall.

Tables Turned

Indictments against two anti-abortion activists from the Center for Medical Progress — its founder, David Daleiden, and Susan Merritt — were handed down by a grand jury last week. The two were indicted on charges of tampering with governmental records. The pair used fake California driver's licenses to sneak into a Gulf Coast Planned Parenthood facility while they were making a Criterion Collection of heavily edited films purporting to show the reproductive-healthcare organization selling fetal tissue — or baby parts, according to a flock of squawking Texas Republican politicians who called for investigations into Planned Parenthood after the doctored videos were released last year.

Here's the irony — and it's strong: Daleiden is additionally charged with attempting to purchase fetal tissue. That's against the law.

But, wait, there's more.

Lone Star State Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a Tea Party favorite, is the one who first called on Harris County's Republican district attorney to investigate the clinic. And Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who faces growing legal problems in two separate criminal cases, both ordered their own investigations, which they vowed would continue.

But damage has already been done. Texas' benevolent leaders have cut Planned Parenthood from Medicaid funding, and slashed grant money for the organization's Houston-area HIV prevention program. And, of course, the state's controversial 2013 abortion law drastically reduced a woman's access to abortion services, which is finally on the Supreme Court's docket.

Ethical Shake-up

On January 14, just two San Antonio City Council members — Rey Saldaña and Ron Nirenberg — voted against Mayor Ivy R. Taylor's proposal to waive any ethics complaints filed against her for a conflict of interest she was engaged in with the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA).

Taylor said in a statement that the effort was one of transparency.

Her husband, Rodney, has received $430,000 in rental subsidies from SAHA since 2010, and he continued collecting them until November 1, 2015, more than a year after she was appointed interim mayor in July 2014, the San Antonio Express-News has reported. Taylor beat former state Senator Leticia Van de Putte in a June 2015 run-off election.

Since City Council approved Taylor's waiver proposal 8-2, Saldaña and Nirenberg have filed a request for an ordinance that would remove the ability of public officials to bring ethics waiver proposals. Councilman Roberto C. Treviño has offered up his own proposal, one that would tweak the City Council-appointed Ethics Review Board by hiring an independent ethics officer not hired by City Council.

As for Saldaña and Nirenberg's proposal, Taylor has pushed it to the annual review of the Ethics Review Board in February, and additionally promised expansion of the Ethics Office's authority in her charge to the Citizens Charter Review Commission in February or March. That's because Saldaña and Nirenberg didn't reach out to her.

"I fully support my council colleagues' interest in clarifying and strengthening the role of the Ethics Review Board," Taylor said in a statement. "While it's not legally possible to permanently tie the hands of future councils — and since Councilmembers Saldaña and Nirenberg didn't reach out to me before writing their CCR [council consideration request], I'm not sure that's even what they are intending."

Or, she's just kicking the ethical can.

Challenging Texas

Last week, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed a lawsuit challenging a harboring provision in Texas' massive 2015 $300 million-plus "border security" bill.

MALDEF is representing Jonathan Ryan, executive director of the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), San Antonio landlord David Cruz and Farmers Branch landlord Valentine Reyes, both of whom don't ask tenants about immigration status.

You may remember Dallas suburb Farmers Branch from its controversial ordinance that attempted to prohibit landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants, which was struck down by lower courts before the Supreme Court declined to hear the city's appeal in 2014.

All three say they fear law enforcement could arrest them since Reyes and Cruz rent to undocumented immigrants, and because part of RAICES' work includes housing undocumented immigrants in a shelter.

The law's author, Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, told the Associated Press that the lawsuit was frivolous, saying the bill never meant to encompass shelters, aid workers and landlords.

Now that assertion is up to the courts.

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