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The State of Texas: November 16, 2015

HERO vote skewered on ’SNL,’ Texas abortion fight makes it to the Supreme Court, and the AG is asked to weigh in on fantasy football.

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Monday Commentary

For those worried that HERO’s defeat earlier this month would put Houston under national scrutiny, y’all were exactly right! This weekend, Saturday Night Live poked fun at the logic of potty advocates who claimed men would be dressing up as women in order to be able to sneak into the women’s bathroom. The bit pretty much wrote itself.

Daily Roundup

Supreme Fight — Ready for another battle over abortion access in Texas? The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday that it would take up a challenge to the controversial abortion laws passed by the Texas Lege in 2013. “The court’s ruling, due by June, could spell out the extent to which states can impose clinic regulations likely to restrict access to abortion as an outpatient procedure,” Reuters explains. “If the court upholds the Texas law, similar laws would also fall. But if the court rules in favor of the state, then more states would be able to follow suit.” The focus of the case will be two highly contentious provisions of the 2013 law, the first requiring all abortion clinics to have “costly hospital-grade facilities” and have doctors with admitting privileges to a hospital within 30 miles of the facility. As the New York Times points out, it’s been eight years since the Supreme Court has heard an abortion case, so we were long overdue. Appropriately, former Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who filibustered the bill in 2013, announced that she will file an amicus brief asking SCOTUS to block the restrictions.

Warden Worries — We may have sent the National Guard to help secure the border, but it’s a different and unexpected agency that’s taking “a growing but often overlooked role” in the fight. Say hello to Texas’s secret weapon: game wardens with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. As the Dallas Morning News writes, game wardens were “on the front lines during a 14-month border surge that concluded in August” and are now “shifting their energies to a more targeted approach. … Nearly 70 of the state’s more than 500 game wardens are deployed in border counties. While all of them are trained to handle typical parks and wildlife issues, 30 of the positions are focused more on border security.” During the surge, game wardens “referred 21,000 people suspected of immigration violations to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That represented nearly 80 percent of all referrals by state and local agencies.” Focusing efforts on border security, however, meant that resources and manpower were stretched and there was a marked decrease in wildlife-related citations, warnings, and arrests. It appears things are sort of going back to normal, but lawmakers have ponied up funds for 19 new game warden positions that will focus on the border.

Bail Blame — Waller County is pushing back against a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of Sandra Bland, the woman who was found dead in her jail cell three days after a traffic stop. In a motion filed Friday, lawyers for Waller County asked that the case be thrown out, stating that Bland was “despondent over her relatives’ refusal to quickly bail her out,” according to the Associated Press. “‘Ultimately, Bland’s decision to commit suicide was hers alone, after she denied any suicidal intentions to jail personnel, and after her friends and family refused to bail her out of jail,’ said Larry Simmons, the attorney for the southeast Texas county and two of its jailers, in a court petition.” The motion details ways in which the county says it attempted to assist Bland in trying to locate friends and family to bail her out. Bland’s family called the motion and its details “a gratuitous insult,” the family’s lawyer explaining that they “didn’t ignore her pleas for help. He said they were trying to figure out how to ‘get her out of jail in a situation where it’s happening over a weekend, they’re not familiar with the procedures and processes, they’re over a thousand miles away.'” A hearing is set for December.

Real Life Fantasy — With horse and dog racing already under threat in the state, is another high-stakes hobby under attack? That’s what legislators want to know after New York banned fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel from operating in the state, claiming they are digital gambling dens operating illegally. Now, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been asked to clarify the state’s position on such fantasy sites. State Representative Myra Crownover sent a letter requesting Paxton’s opinion on Thursday. “Along with asking about the legality of the sites, Crownover also raised a broader question about the legality of fantasy sports betting, asking Paxton to rule on whether it’s ‘legal to participate in fantasy sports leagues where the house does not take a ‘rake’ and the participants only wager amongst themselves,'” according to the Texas Tribune. There’s no word yet on how Paxton might side, but as the Houston Chronicle notes, “Gov. Greg Abbott last month gave a cold shoulder to the idea of state regulations targeting fantasy sports. He said fraud should be prosecuted but laws already exist to deal with wrongdoing.” As with other controversial issues, Paxton’s eventual opinion (rational or not) will not be legally binding.

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