Road Rage — This time, it’s the good kind of road rage; or a sign of Judgment Day, as it seems to be an issue that both Democrats and Republicans agree on. Launched in 2003, the Driver Responsibility Program levies additional fines and fees for certain driving offenses, anywhere between $100 to $1,000, for several years after the offense. Politicians are calling it an attack on the poor and basically debtors prison. “You’ve got $2.4 billion owed by the poorest people in our state. That just seems like bad government. We’re making a permanent underclass here,” Republican state Senator Don Huffines, told the Austin American-Statesman. Democrat Sylvia Garcia echoed the sentiment: “It just makes poor people poorer,” she told the Statesman. The paper further reported that “sharpening frustration with the Driver Responsibility Program, expressed during a Senate Transportation Committee hearing at the Capitol, indicated a growing momentum toward efforts to reform the 13-year-old program — if not scrap it altogether — when the Legislature convenes in 2017.” As the story notes, more than 1.3 million Texans have lost their license thanks to the program, which could be cast as “good” work for sending all of that money to trauma rooms and ERs (money that had been lost due to budget cuts). Efforts were made during the last session to reform the program, and while it failed it seems to have galvanized opposition.
Battle Plans — The latest fight over Planned Parenthood is just getting going. After a grand jury indicted the two videographers who secretly taped a meeting with the women’s health group, anti-abortion opponents only increased their attacks. “The charges, which made national news and stunned GOP leaders when they were handed down Monday, prompted abortion opponents to ramp up their political rhetoric by claiming David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were indicted by a ‘runaway grand jury’ and put out calls for Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to step aside and appoint a special prosecutor to look into the case,” writes the Houston Chronicle. The lawyers said they plan to argue a favorite position among conservative activists these days—the First Amendment. Then again, Reuters explains how the two were charged, thanks namely to an “aggressive legal strategy” by Planned Parenthood. “Planned Parenthood’s legal strategy was in some ways similar to how corporations facing major white-collar criminal investigations often cooperate closely with prosecutors to try to influence the outcome,” according to the story, which offers one of the clearer looks into how the two were charged in the first place. What’s more, poor Harris County DA Devon Anderson, a Republican, is taking hits from her own team, who are now pointing out that in “2013, a grand jury on her watch cleared a doctor accused of ending late-term pregnancies.” How will this hottest of hot button issues turn out? Lord knows. The Wall Street Journal, however, does have a quick look at what some legal experts are saying about the case.
Holy Issues — Pope Francis has made a name for himself being “the people’s pope,” a designation that has not garnered favor with many religious conservatives. In the lead-up to his visit to Juarez, it’s expected he’s going to live up to his reputation, in this case tackling immigration. “It is … an issue close to Francis’ heart, and while analysts doubt he will wade too blatantly into the political thicket, his very presence along the border speaking on the issue will turn heads,” writes the Associated Press in its pre-visit analysis. “Francis has made the plight of migrants one of the hallmarks of his papacy, denouncing what he called the ‘globalization of indifference’ toward people desperate to flee poverty and persecution. He has taken his message of compassion to Lampedusa, Italy, destination for many African migrants, and to the European Union and the United Nations.” As the story notes, Pope Francis’s visit to the Juarez/El Paso area is going to be all about the people. “In Ciudad Juarez, the Argentine-born Francis plans to celebrate Mass in a huge open field on the border and then walk to the Rio Grande to salute people on the other side in a powerful show of solidarity with his Latin American compatriots. Vatican officials say he intends to address violence and drug trafficking as well. Francis will also come close to fulfilling his wish to cross the border during the U.S. visit, something that was ultimately scrapped for logistical reasons.” For the past few weeks, local officials on both sides of the border have been really drilling down on the details for the visit on February 17, so it’s going to be a heck of an event regardless of what the Pope has to say.