The State of Texas: June 30, 2015
Chart of the Day
Honeymoon’s Over – Not every same-sex couple in Texas lookin’ to get hitched can start celebrating. “Several clerk’s offices—including those in Hill and Hood counties in North Central Texas, Bastrop and Burleson counties in Central Texas, Jackson County on the Gulf Coast and Odessa’s Ector County—said Monday they were awaiting forms or legal guidance or simply objected,” reports the Texas Tribune. At least seven clerks seem to be following Attorney General Ken Paxton’s lead by objecting for reasons of “religious liberty.” It was probably prudent, then, of state senator Rodney Ellis to ask the U.S. Justice Department to “monitor implementation,” saying Paxton’s opinion “significantly increases the likelihood of civil rights violations should local officials follow the legal advice.” As if that weren’t problematic enough for gay partners, they also face another challenge: paperwork. The state must now look at how it will extend benefits to the spouses, “but when those benefits will be extended is unclear as state officials examine the high court’s ruling and consider new policies.” On the plus side, at least somebody appears to be having a ball: wedding planners. “Houston-area wedding planners like [Christine] Landrum are already seeing the impacts of the Court’s historic ruling,” reports the Houston Business Journal. “She said that her company had experienced an ‘amazing’ number of inquiries in the days leading up the ruling. She didn’t know if the hike was attributable to the Court, but summer traffic for a wedding planner is usually in a lull.”
Your Best (Protest) Life Now – Whenever members of the Church of Wells makes the news, it’s never for a great reason, and this time is no exception. “Six members of an East Texas ‘revivalist’ Christian group have been charged with criminal trespass after allegedly disrupting Sunday morning services at Lakewood Church,” run by TV-ready pastor Joel Olsteen, reports the Houston Chronicle.” Lakewood spokesman Donald Iloff said the men, identified as members of the Church of Wells, “began shouting as Osteen began preaching his 11 a.m. sermon. The men were escorted from the sanctuary by church ushers and arrested. Police said criminal trespass is a Class B misdemeanor offense.” According to the Houston Press, “Lakewood plans to continue pressing charges, which [Iloff] said is ‘uncharacteristic’ for the church. ‘This is something we’re concerned about, so we plan to see this thing through,’ he said.” For a fascinating look at the Church of Wells, be sure to read last year’s feature from Texas Monthly’s own Sonia Smith, as well as an extensive update published this past month.
Retaking the Class – It’s been a banner year for Texas at the U.S. Supreme Court – abortion, EPA rulings. And it looks like it’s happening again. SCOTUS will once more take up the issue of affirmative action, specifically at state universities, with the Abby Fisher case against UT. Recall, Fisher has been arguing that she was denied entrance to UT because of race (she’s white). Notably, she also didn’t make the basic academic cut based on her class rank, regardless of race. “The Supreme Court punted in Round 1 of the present case, Fisher v. UT, telling a lower court in 2013 to apply ‘strict scrutiny’ to the university’s consideration of applicants’ race and ethnicity,” according to the Austin American-Statesman. “In response, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year—as it did in 2011—that the university’s program passes legal muster.” There’s plenty of speculation as to why SCOTUS has taken up the case, however, some suggest that “the high court could be pursuing more clarity, although it’s also possible that the justices want to throw out racial considerations altogether.”
The Price of Information – You’d think after one of its police officers was embroiled in a national controversy, the City of McKinney would try to play nice. No dice! Following the now-infamous pool party incident, it seems the gossipmongers at Gawker filed a Public Information Act request at the City of McKinney “asking to see Casebolt’s records and any emails about his conduct sent or received by McKinney Police Department employees.” The city was not happy with the request. “Today, we received a letter from the city’s attorneys claiming that fulfilling our request would cost $79,229.09.” It’s a pretty classic tactic for public entities trying to skirt these kinds of requests. But where did that exorbitant figure come from? “The city arrived at that extraordinary figure after estimating that hiring a programmer to execute the grueling and complex task of searching through old emails would cost $28.50 per hour [which] comes to about $63,000.” There’s also—no joke—an hourly rate for the work the computer does ($14,726), and $255.05 for paper copies. Ain’t public access to government information grand . . . or, er, eighty grand?