Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What to Brace for as Texas Embarks on Another Season of Legislative Lunacy

Posted By and on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 6:30 AM

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The Family That Stays Together…

Texas State Rep. Matt Krause says he isn’t trying to deter divorce. He’s only filing bills to make divorce more expensive, more time-consuming, and much more complicated to get in Texas.

The Fort Worth Republican has already filed two divorce-related bills for the session: One that more than doubles the amount of time a couple must wait to finalize a divorce, and another to repeal a person’s right to divorce for non-criminal reasons. Krause said he filed these bills in hopes of giving children a better future — and preserving the sanctity of marriage. Apparently lost on Krause, and what domestic violence prevention workers fear, is that taking away Texans’ freedom to divorce without cause could actually worsen a child’s wellbeing, lock abused spouses into violent relationships, and essentially make divorce a privilege of the wealthy.

This all stems from Krause’s dislike for “no fault” divorces — ones that are simply rooted in a couple’s unresolvable differences. Such “no fault” divorces have only been legal in Texas since 1970; up until then, a person had to prove in court that their spouse was “at fault,” meaning they were either cruel, adulterous, a felon, had intentionally abandoned them, moved away, or lived in a mental hospital. 

After such laws swept the country in the 70s, social scientists found that states who allowed “no fault” divorce laws saw a 8-16 percent decline in female suicide, a 30 percent decline in domestic violence for both men and women, and a 10 percent decline in women murdered by their partners. As marriage rates declined in America, so did the rates domestic abuse. Krause’s bills could unravel this work, and endanger the children he’s hoping to protect.

“Living in an abusive home, even if it’s just two or three years, can do irreparable damage to a child,” said Patricia Castillo, director of the local nonprofit PEACE Initiative, a domestic violence awareness organization. “So many of those kids end up in our state’s foster care system, juvenile justice system, or homeless.”

And few victims of domestic violence actually report their abuser to law enforcement — or even a close friend — out of denial or fear of retaliation. According to Marta Pelaez, president of San Antonio’s Family Violence Prevention Services, an abuse victim’s risk of harm is actually greatest when the victim decides to leave or get a divorce. Plus, Pelaez told the Current, if a spouse is being abused by their partner, it’s likely that their child is being abused, too. Krause said he doesn’t want to endanger victims, but he’s “not sure” what he can do to protect them. 

Another unknown is what Krause’s bills might do to low-income people seeking a divorce. In most cases, no fault divorces are far less expensive than fault divorces. Again, Krause told the Current he hasn’t put much thought into resolving this inequity. 

If Krause gets his way this year (bills like his have failed in previous sessions), Texas would be the first state to repeal no fault divorce. — AZ


Clickbait

Ahead of the session, a pair of San Antonio politicians vowed to crack down on the universally agreed-upon menace of cyberbullying with a new state law. But with a major focus on incarceration, and the potential to violate free speech rights, some children’s advocacy groups say the bill could do kids more harm than good.

“David’s Law,” filed by local Democratic lawmakers   and Rep. Ina Minjarez, is named after David Molak, a 16-year-old San Antonian who took his own life last year after months of relentless cyberbullying. It’s not just that the law would make it illegal to “electronically harass or bully” anyone under the age 18 — but in order to find the culprits, the law would direct school districts to collaborate with law enforcement to investigate off-campus cyberbullying, giving police the subpoena power to unveil anonymous social media bullies.

Menendez told us that currently, law enforcement doesn’t have the tools to do anything about cyberbullying — and schools are hesitant to interfere. “I don’t feel it’s right for school districts to wash their hands of this problem just because it didn’t happen on school grounds,” Menendez said. “They should help parents and law enforcement get to the bottom of these incidents.” That may include hiring a staff member whose specific job is monitoring (and understanding) social media platforms. Menendez says he also wants districts to install a hotline for students or parents to anonymously report bullying. Law enforcement would then investigate further. 

But Will Francis, the government relations director for Texas’ National Association of Social Workers, doesn’t necessarily think schools should be working so closely with the police. Instead, he said, the bill should focus on improving mental health resources in schools to address bullying before it becomes criminal. “My concern is that we’ll just be sticking more kids with felonies,” said Francis, who says he’s been advising Menendez on the bill’s focus. “I worry we’ll see more schools in poorer, non-white areas using hard and fast punitive criminal justice as a solution.” 

Which is already a problem. There’s currently about one campus police officer for every 250 public school students in Texas — but one school counselor for every 470 students. Francis said that expanding the number of school counselors and other mental health staffers on campus could help victims of bullying, and their bullies, without having to get law enforcement involved.

Meanwhile David Greene, a senior attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says law enforcement would be violating students’ First Amendment rights if they arrest kids for what they write about online. “We believe — and most courts agree — that schools are very limited when it comes to punishing off-campus student speech,” Greene said. Schools are free to investigate online bullying to determine how or if it bleeds onto campus, he added, but prosecuting or disciplining a kid for bullying speech online is a whole different matter. — AZ

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No Sanctuary

The supposed threat posed by so-called “sanctuary cities” is one of those zombie issues that seems to come back from the dead each time politicians head back to Austin for their biennial Lege Fest.

This year’s iteration is once again filed by state Sen. Charles Perry, a Republican from Lubbock, and premised on the confused notion that, in the state’s left-leaning urban areas, law enforcement officials are openly thumbing their nose at federal immigration law.

Sure, police in major metros across the state, including San Antonio, have implemented what have in the past been called “sanctuary cities” policies by people like Perry. But that's because the term, as it’s been thrown around by politicians like Gov. Greg Abbott, has been wiggly and ill-defined. While Abbott told Fox News late last year that he’s “used my powers as governor of Texas to withhold funds to cities or counties that are declaring themselves to be sanctuary cities,” Abbott’s office later clarified that it hasn’t actually blocked any state funds over the issue. (Wait, so does that mean there are no “sanctuary cities” then?)

Indeed, Abbott seems to have a new red-line distinction for what makes you a sanctuary city – that is, if you don’t honor U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to keep people in custody, even when charges have been dismissed. Funny thing is: pretty much every jail in Texas currently honors these so-called ICE detainers.

According to this definition, San Antonio is decidedly not a sanctuary city, because if you’re booked in jail here, cops will still run your fingerprints through a federal database that will alert ICE if you’ve got a dubious immigration status. After that, it’s ICE’s call whether or not to pick you up. When ICE flags someone, some counties will hold them for a couple days – even if the person has made bail, their term of incarceration is over, or charges have been dismissed. Some county jails will hold you for weeks. Bexar County has been accused of holding people for months who wouldn’t be in jail if not for ICE’s request.

And yet still, rallying against “sanctuary cities” became a sort of cause célèbre among right-leaning politicians even before the session even started this year – perhaps the result of anti-immigrant rhetoric blaring out of the Donald Trump campaign.

The real problem is that the anti-sanctuary cities legislation Perry has filed goes way beyond ICE detainers and would seem to conflict with the kind of policies supported by many police chiefs – the kind that explicitly tell local cops that federal immigration enforcement is not their job. While the San Antonio Police Department and Bexar County Sheriff’s Office don’t consider themselves “sanctuary” departments, both have similar guidelines prohibiting officers from asking about immigration status in routine police encounters. Perry’s bill could render those policies unenforceable, because it would punish any agency that “prohibits or discourages” any cop, corrections officer or booking clerk from assisting in immigration enforcement.

And beyond “sanctuary cities,” Abbott has even gone after what he now calls “sanctuary campuses,” saying he’ll cut funding to any college or university that “establishes sanctuary status.” Of course, we don’t exactly know what Abbott means by “sanctuary campus” (go figure his office hasn’t clarified or defined the term), but if that means state conservatives now want to add Perry-style legislation to public schools and university campuses, the “sanctuary” issue just got a whole lot bigger this session. — MB

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