Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vote Centers Coming To Collin Co. For Election Day This November?

Updated Saturday Aug. 1, 2009 4:55AM
Over the last few years several states have already or are seriously considering implementing consolidated Vote Centers on Election Day - and now, after taking a pass on it in 2006, the idea has again come to Collin Co. In mid-July Collin Co. notified the Texas Secretary of State that the county wants to be selected to join Texas' ongoing Vote Center trial program. (also see previous post 'Consolidated Polling Centers Coming To Collin Co. Next Election Day?')

Late in the 2009 legislative session the Texas legislature passed HB719, which amends Section 43.007 of the Texas Election Code to require the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) to implement a program that allows Commissioner's Courts in selected counties to eliminate election precinct polling places and establish county-wide Vote Centers for certain elections.

These Election Day Vote Centers work almost exactly like Early Voting Vote Centers. During the early voting period for each election cycle, a number of polling places appear through out the county and any registered voter in the county can vote in any of those places throughout the early voting period.
The change from precinct voting places to Vote Centers won't happen immediately or throughout the state. First, the SOS is going to expand the Vote Center pilot program by selecting a few more counties to join the two counties already in the pilot program.
HB 719 states that the SOS can only select three counties with a population more than 100,000 people and two with populations less than 100,000. Additionally, those counties who want to be added to the trial program must also have converted to electronic voting and have electronic poll book systems networked via the Internet to qualify voters at the Vote Centers.
Lubbock will be one of the three larger population counties and Erath County will be one of smaller population counties in the program, as both counties have already participated in the initial pilot project testing the concept of consolidating polling locations into vote centers.
Once in the Vote Center program HB 719 allows counties to incremental decrease in the total number polling places by up to 35 percent of the polling places in the first year and up to 50 percent of the polling places in the second year of the plan.
Bottom line, by August 28th the SOS will select two additional larger counties and one smaller county to expand the experimental Vote Center trial program.

In mid-July the Collin County Elections Administrator applied to be one of those larger counties selected by the SOS to join the program. The Elections Administrator notified the SOS that Collin County intends to submit a plan, by the August 15th application deadline date, to implement countywide Election Day Vote Centers this coming November. (see SOS scheduled and plan requirements at end of this blog post)
Erath and Brewster counties in the smaller county category and Collin, Galveston, Grayson, Lubbock and Midland in the larger county category have applied to the SOS to join the program. All of the counties applying to join the program must submit their complete vote center plan to the SOS no later than August 15th to be considered during the selection process. A maximum of five counties total will be selected to participate in the expanded trial Vote Center program, no matter how many counties apply. (Galveston County is likely to be one of the larger counties selected by the SOS, because so many of their regular precinct polling locations were wiped out by Hurricane Ike. Galveston County would seem to have a very practical need to utilize Vote Centers in the coming election.)

The SOS will, by August 28th, select the two additional larger counties and one smaller county to join the Vote Center Program. The selected counties must then forward their Vote Center plans to the U.S. Dept. of Justice for pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 for their approval to proceed with the program expansion.
After the Collin County Commissioners Court held a brief public hearing on July 20, 2009 to take public comment on the Elections Administrator's Vote Center proposal, the Commissioners authorized the Administrator to proceed with the Vote Center planning process.
Due to the concern expressed by the public during the public hearing and a request that community input be allowed during the planning process from Shawn Stevens, the newly elected Chairperson of the Democratic Party of Collin County, the Commissioners instructed the County Elections Administrator to form a community planning committee.

The planning committee will participate in the planning process to properly locate, equip and staff Election Day Vote Centers for the November 3, 2009 election. The eight person Community Planning Committee formed by the Elections Administrator includes the following voting members:
  1. The GOP County Chair - Fred Moses
  2. The Democratic County Chair - Shawn Stevens
  3. The Libertarian Party Chair -
  4. Early Voting Ballot Board Judge - Neal Katz
  5. Central Count Station Alt. Judge - Bill Baumbach
  6. Advocacy, Inc. representative - Staff Attorney Dustin Rynders of Austin
  7. LULAC Representative - Rick Gonzalez
  8. NAACP Representative -
The first community planning committee meeting was held on Monday July 27, 2009. The next planning meeting is scheduled Monday, August 3, 2009, at 7:00 pm in the Commissioner’s Courtroom in the Jack Hatchell Administration Building in McKinney.
The following meeting will be on Thursday August 6, 2009 - time and place TBD.

Though the efforts of Shawn Stevens, the new chairperson of the Democratic Party of Collin County, Dr. Robert M. Stein of Rice University in Houston will attend the August 6th meeting to speak to the planning committee.
Under the provisions of a Voting Center program there are many fewer than usual Election Day polling places, but each Election Day Vote Center acts like the Early Voting Vote Center, now familiar to many Collin County voters, where any county resident can vote at any Vote Center polling place.

Two key arguments are made in support of Vote Centers:
Pros and Cons

Convenience

PRO: Voters have more
choices about where
to vote.
CON: If the sites are not
distributed evenly,
problems may arise
for voters who cannot
travel longer distances
due to lack of access
to transportation.

Efficiency

PRO: Staffing and equipment
needs are reduced if
counties use a smaller
number of voting
locations.
CON: Long lines could be a
problem if too few poll
workers are scheduled
or too many voters
arrive at one vote
center simultaneously.

Planning & Administration

PRO: Fewer people showing
up at the wrong polling
places means fewer
headaches & fewer
provisional ballots for
voters and elections
officials alike.
CON: Vote Centers can make
it harder to plan for
individual
Vote Center
traffic. Too few voting
booths or electronic
check-in computers or
technical problems
with either can cause
long delays for voters.
  1. First, historically, voters are assigned to vote at precinct polling places according to their residence address on Election Day. This is often inconvenient for voters, especially those who work some distance way from where they live, to return to their home precinct on Election Day. Holding elections at countywide polling locations would not only ease the burden on voters.

    It is argued that Vote Centers will increase turnout by freeing voters to cast their ballots at a number of locations convenient to where they work and shop instead of limiting them to one precinct polling place in their neighborhoods.

  2. Second, there are assertions that Vote Centers will reduce the governmental costs of administering elections because fewer poll workers will be required to staff Vote Centers than the more numerous neighborhood-polling places.
Vote Centers were first tested in Larimer County, Colorado in 2003 when 143 precinct polling places were converted into just 22 Vote Centers. The center locations, mostly in urban settings, were chosen for their convenience to work and shopping, the availability of large parking facilities, and accessibility for the disabled.

To "qualify" voters entering the Vote Center election clerks used an electronic poll book application running on laptop computers which were linked, via the Internet, to a central election office computer poll book database of all registered county voters.

As Vote Center election clerks verified each voter as "qualified to vote," the electronic poll book software updated that person's central poll book database record to show that person had voted in the election. This electronic poll book voter qualification and check-in process prevents voters from casting ballots at multiple Vote Center locations.

The electronic poll book software also specified what "ballot style" to give to each voter. Since Larimer County voters could go to any of the county's 22 Vote Center locations each voter had to receive a ballot that included the correct list of candidates for their particular residential location.
For example, in the November 2008 election Collin County, Texas had over fifty unique ballot styles to cover the various combination of U.S. Congressional Districts, State House and Senate Districts, Judicial Districts, County Commissioner Districts, and so forth for each resident of the county.
Because Larimer County officials properly planned their Election Day Vote Center strategy they were able to report that their 2003 experimentation with Vote Centers yielded an increase in voter turnout, a reduction in the number of poll workers needed to manage the election and satisfied voters:
The centers have been a huge success, said Clerk and Recorder Scott Doyle. Voters can cast ballots at any Vote Center in the county, as long as they can prove they are a registered voter. Doyle said each center has up to eight [electronic poll book voter qualification] registration computers when the doors open and that more are immediately brought in if there is a crush of voters [at a particular Vote Center location.] "We try and move people through like a checkout line at Albertsons," Doyle said.
Accessible voting places with ample parking and sufficient poll workers quickly check-in and help voters had a significant and positive effect on voter’s rating Larimer County's Vote Center experiment.

The 2003 Larimer County Vote Center pilot project was such a success that Colorado expanded the Vote Center program statewide for the 2006 general election. Unfortunately, many Colorado counties did not plan their 2006 Election Day Vote Center strategy as well as Larimer County planned for the 2003 election:
The Denver Post newspaper carried the headline, Vote Centers "A Total Fiasco": Vote Centers were designed to make casting ballots easier and more convenient, but on Tuesday, they produced jangled nerves, technological gaffes and long lines across Colorado.
. . .From urban Denver to suburban Douglas County to rural Routt County, there were long lines at Vote Centers. . . .Douglas County voters may have been hit the hardest, as some lined up more than four hours for a chance to cast a ballot.
. . .Denver voters faced two to three hour waits at the city's 55 Vote Centers. . . .Among the problems [causing the delays] were having only four or five [electronic poll book check-in] computers at a Vote Center to check-in hundreds of voters.

Rocky Mountain News carried a headline Ballot Bedlam: Voters at many of the city’s new 55 voting centers have been encountering long lines, computer problems and an inadequate number of computers to check proof of voter registration. . . .there were not enough workers to check identification cards.
. . .Denver election officials rebooted the whole computer system shortly after 1 p.m. in hopes of keeping the servers from crashing throughout the afternoon.
. . .At about 2 p.m., election officials sent 30 more [electronic poll book check-in] laptop computers to some of the most heavily used polling centers.
. . .By 3 p.m., election officials had sworn in 85 to 100 new election worhers; some city employees, others, private citizens. Those with election experience were working polling machines. Those who had no experience were asked to greet voters and hand out sample ballots.
Clearly, studied advanced planning to properly locate, equip and staff Election Day Vote Centers has tremendous impact on how well they serve voters on Election Day. However, little academic research has been conducted to explore the full effects of Vote Centers on overall voter turnout or voter turnout from specific segments of the electorate.

The few studies so far conducted indicate that accessibility to Vote Centers does have an impact on turnout among various segments of the population. Vote Center utilization has a modest positive impact on turnout among younger voters, infrequent voters and those who have not yet developed the voting habit. There are also some indications that Vote Centers, at least initially, may have a negative impact on turnout among older voters, voters who have historically strong voting habits of always returning to the same polling location, minority voters and lower income voters. As yet the full extent and causes for these voter turnout observations are not understood.

Because the Collin County Elections Administrator waited until mid-July to announce an intention to implement Vote Centers for the election this November, many people associated with the Democratic Party of Collin County are concerned there is not enough time to prepare a studied plan to properly locate, equip and staff Election Day Vote Centers by November 3rd. Neither is there enough time to adequately inform voters that they must go someplace different than their usual home precinct polling place to vote on November 3rd.

The Collin County Elections Administrator states her believe that the 2009 November general election presents a good opportunity to test Vote Centers because the election will be a very low turnout election with only Texas Constitutional Amendments on the ballot. That may or may not be the case depending on exactly when Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns her senate seat this fall, to focus on her gubernatorial campaign against Gov. Perry for the March 2010 primary election, and what Gov. Perry decides to do in calling either a special or emergency election to fill the senate seat.
Gov. Perry has said he might expedite the date of the special election to replace Sen. Hutchison as soon as possible after her senate resignation because too many important things are going on in Washington, D.C. [StarTelegram blog, July 29]

Related Posts:

Related Links:
Proposed SOS schedule for implementing HB 719 for November 3, 2009 election:
  • July 15, 2009-Deadline to provide notice of intent to participate to the Secretary of State.
  • August 15, 2009-Selected counties must submit plan (items 1-3 above) for the program to Secretary of State by this date.
  • August 25, 2009-Deadline for SOS to approve proposed local plans for the program and provide detailed guidance on the information that will be requested from the Secretary of State and that will be included in the final report after each election held under the program. The counties will be required to submit this information to the Secretary of State no later than 30 days after the election.
  • September 4, 2009-Deadline for selected counties to submit local countywide program for pre-clearance with DOJ if countywide election precincts will be used at November 3, 2009 constitutional amendment election.
  • December 3, 2009-Deadline for county clerk/elections administrator to submit report on local countywide program to Secretary of State.
  • January 1, 2010-Deadline for Secretary of State to submit report on countywide program to Legislature.

The written implementation plan submitted to the SOS by August 15th must include how the county will comply with the following requirements:
  • Statement of Minimum Eligibility Requirements. The county plan must state that the county uses only DRE voting equipment, has access to a computerized voter registration list at each polling place to immediately record voting history, and has conducted the applicable public hearing.
  • Public Hearing Transcript. A transcript or electronic recording of the public hearing(s) in which voters were informed to the plan and opinions were solicited from voters, minority organizations, and other interested parties as described above, must be submitted. Methodology for Selecting Countywide Locations. A county that wishes to participate in the program must adopt a methodology to determine the placement of the countywide polling places. For an election held in the first year in which the county holds an election under the program, the total number of countywide polling places may not be less than 65% of the number of precinct polling places that would otherwise have been used in that election. For subsequent elections, this number drops to 50%. (We believe that the legislative intent is that a county must establish locations in 65%of the existing county election precincts.)
  • Notice and Outreach Plan. The county must develop a plan for providing notice and informing voters of the program and of the changes made to the locations of election day polling places that will occur. The county must solicit input from organizations that represent minority voters. At a minimum, an election day notice must be posted at each precinct polling place that was used in the last general election for state and county officers but will not be used in the election under this program which indicates the location of the nearest countywide polling place.
  • Submission to the U.S. Department of Justice. Participation in the program represents a change in voting that must be precleared with the U.S. Department of Justice ("DOJ") under Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act. DOJ will probably review the proposed number and locations of the countywide polling places to determine whether they could have any discriminatory effect on the basis of race or language group.
  • Joint Elections. Local political subdivisions may hold a joint election with a participating county. Remember that state law requires local political subdivisions using the November uniform election date (excluding certain water districts and other districts created pursuant to Section 52, Article III or Section 59, Article XVI of the Texas Constitution located within Harris County or counties bordering Harris County) to use the regular county polling places in the county election precincts that contain territory from their elections. Political subdivisions in participating counties would need to have a presence at each of the countywide polling places at which its voters would be eligible to appear, either through a joint election with the county or conducting its own polling place at each of the locations. Counties that wish to participate in the program will need to demonstrate that the details of local joint elections have been resolved or at least that the governing bodies have agreed that they will resolve such issues.
  • Polling Place Officials. While Section 43.007 does not explicitly address the question, we believe that the election officials at each of the countywide polling places would need to be appointed according to the same list procedure as Election Day judges and clerks to the extent possible. Again, counties that wish to participate in the program will need to demonstrate that the county commissioners court and the county chairs have resolved how polling place officials will be appointed.
  • Written Report. Section 43.007(j) requires the Office of the Secretary of State to me a report with the Legislature concerning the program, including a recommendation on the future use of countywide polling places on January 1 of each odd-numbered year. All counties that participate in the program will be expected to contribute their specific findings after each election held with countywide precincts, which will be included in the report.

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Sen. Hutchison Says Will Resign Senate Seat In Oct. Or Nov.

Update Thursday July 30, 2009 3:55PM
Gov. Rick Perry's campaign has created a new YouTube video criticizing Republican challenger U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, for Wednesday's discussions of when and if she will resign from the Senate.

Update Wednesday July 29, 2009 8:55PM
CQ Politics: First, she [U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison] told a Texas radio interviewer that she intends to resign her seat in the Senate. [Radio Interview Transcript at Houston Chronicle ]

In Washington a short time later, Hutchison said she might stay in the Senate through next year's gubernatorial race and really didn't intend to indicate a change in her anticipated timetable.

Hutchison said her comments were meant to convey that she believed Gov. Rick Perry might -- and maybe should -- drop out of the race, given that it was "pretty unprecedented to have a governor trying to serve 15 years."

In other words, she was nudging Perry to step out and clear the field for her.

Hutchison said she likely would formally announce her intention to run for governor over the August recess but that the announcement would not specify for sure her intentions about remaining in the Senate.
<-------------- Credibility Kay??? ------------>

Original post date Wednesday July 29, 2009 2:55PM - U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison told a Dallas radio talk show host earlier today that she will resign her Senate seat in October or November. Hutchison told host WBAP host Mark Davis that she would like to stay in office while running for governor, but she cannot so long as fellow Republican Gov. Rick Perry remains in the contest. [Transcript of Radio Interview at Houston Chronicle ]

Gov. Rick Perry holds a 12-point lead over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in advance of the March 2010 Republican primary election, according to a poll conducted last month by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin. Many politicos are saying that Perry's 12-point lead is not as significant as it might seem, given the UT Austin poll also found that one-third of the likely voters say they remain undecided or would choose someone else. Still the big swing from a 56 percent to 31 percent lead Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison enjoyed over Gov. Rick Perry among likely Republican voters just last January can't be totally dismissed.

So, what happens to KBH's senate seat after she resigns? Texas could have a special election as soon as November 3, 2009, or as late as May 8, 2010 depending on exactly when KBH resigns and what Gov. Perry decides to do in calling either a special or emergency election to fill the senate seat.

When Sen. Hutchison does resign, Gov. Rick Perry will appoint a temporary replacement to U.S. Senate until a special election can be scheduled. Some have speculated that Gov. Perry will be looking to
appoint a strong well known person to the senate seat that will give him a big boost among the conservative Republican base that he is counting on to win again Hutchison in the 2010 March primary election. Some have speculated that Perry may well decide that appointing Texas Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to temporarily fill the senate senate will give him that boost.
Dewhurst has the personal wealth to self-finance his own campaign with millions of dollars; An important consideration for a candidate that might need to make last-minute media buys in every Texas media market at a moments notice on a 30 day special election campaign cycle.
Unlike most other states, Texas only allows the Governor to make a temporary appointment to fill the senate seat until he can order a special or emergency election. Six people are now in the starting gate to run for Kay Bailey Hutchison's U.S. Senate seat when she does resign to focus on her gubernatorial campaign.
Whether or not Gov. Perry does in fact appoint Dewhurst, some Texas politicos believe the Lt. Gov. will join the special election race. (Lt. Gov. Dewhurst isn't amending and cleaning up his fund filings just for the fun of doing it!) (DMN 9/11/09 - The Texas secretary of state - a Perry appointee - projects it would cost $28 million to $30 million to hold a special election, including $10 million for a likely runoff.)

Candidates now in the starting gate pictured below: (Left to right) Houston Mayor Bill White (D), former State Comptroller John Sharp (D), Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams (R), State Sen. Florence Shapiro (R), former Secretary of State Roger Williams (R) and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones (R)
Bill white senate John sharp senate 2 Michael williams senate
Florence shapiro
Roger williams senate Elizabeth ames jones senate
Pictures from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Texas' special election procedure has no party primaries, but lists all candidates, regardless of party, on the same ballot. The two Democrats and four Republicans that have so far announced plans to run for Hutchison's vacated senate seat will appear together on the special election ballot. If no candidate gets fifty percent of the vote in the special election, the top two finishers, regardless of party, participate a runoff election, generally within 20 to 45 days after the final canvass from the special election.

After a ceremonial bill signing of House Bill 3 at R.L. Turner High School in Carrolton Gov. Perry said he might move up the date of the special election to replace Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison because too many important things are going on in Washington, D.C. [StarTelegram blog, July 29]

A short fast election announced at the last minute would give Gov. Perry's appointed interim senator a distinct advantage. Perry's appointed interum senator will get a burst of local texas and national media attention simply by getting selected by Perry and sworn in as a U.S. Senator. And, don't you just know the newly minted senator will show up on one or more Sunday morning news programs by special election day.


Candidates like Dewhurst or
former State Comptroller John Sharp, who already has statewide name recognition and the personal wealth to self fund their campaign also has an advantage. A quick election will leave all the other candidates, Democrats and Republicans alike, gasping for political air in the scramble for attention in a 36-day campaign and election cycle.

Voters, unprepared for a quickly called election, probably won't even know what's happening until the election is over. This will be a distinct advantage for a Republican like Dewhurst because the die-hard religious conservative base will turnout their voters while everyone else is trying to figure out who to vote for and where they should go to vote on that special election day.

Confusion over where to vote in a quickly called November or December special senate election could be made even worse in Collin Co., given the county's plans to implement one-time experimental "consolidated voting centers" for the November 3, 2009 regular general election. [see Consolidated Polling Centers Coming To Collin Co. This November]

Such a coup in getting a conservative Republican elected to the U.S. Senate through 2012 would certainly give Gov. Perry a boost in his primary election against Hutchison.

Texas Election Code and Special Elections:
Texas only allows the Governor to make a temporary appointment to fill the Senate seat until he can order a special election on the next uniform election date after the office vacancy occurs, on the provision that uniform election date falls at least 36 days after the governor orders the special election.

If Hutchison resigns on or before September 28, 2009, Gov. Perry will order a special election for the next uniform election date in 2009, which is November 3rd.
[Section. 204.005 and Section 203.004 of the Code require that a special election be held on the first uniform election date occurring at least 36 days "after an election is ordered," which in this case is September 28, 2009.]
If Hutchison resigns after September 28, 2009, but before December 31, 2008 Gov. Perry would order the special election to occur on the March 2, 2010 primary election date.
[If a vacancy occurs in an even numbered year (2010 in this case) on or before the 62nd day before the spring primary date (which under Section 41.007 will be March 2, 2010), then Section 204.003 requires that the unexpired term be filled at that next general election date. Since there are 61 and not 62 days between January 1, 2010 and the March 2nd spring primary date, Hutchison would have to resign by December 31, 2008 in order to have the senate special election occur on the March 2nd spring primary date.]
[Texas Election Code Sections 2.025, 3.003, 41.001, 41.007, 201.023, 201.051, 203.004, 203.011, 203.003, 204.003 and 204.005]

Alternatively, the vacancy could be filled by a special "emergency special election" called by Governor Perry. Under Section 41.0011 of the Election Code, the Governor has authority to schedule an "emergency election" on any date that the governor deems necessary. For example, if Sen. Huchinson resigns early enough in October, the Governor could still order an emergency special election for the 2009 November 3rd general election date. Such a last minute emergency election order under sec. 41.0011 for November 3rd would seem to be contrary to the sec. 204.005 and sec. 203.004 "36 day" special election rule, but one never knows what Gov. Perry might decide. However, Gov. Perry could still order an emergency special election for later in November or December or anytime up to the 2010 primary date. Under the Texas election code the election can happen on any day the governor pleases.

To call a special "emergency election" the Governor must declare that an emergency exists such that warrants the earlier voting date. The Governor has considerable discretion in deciding whether to call an emergency election, and in the last four years Gov. Perry has ordered at least two emergency elections: the emergency election of February 25, 2006 to fill a vacancy in House District 106, and the emergency election of January 17,2006 to fill a vacancy in House District 48.

Since Texas started selecting its U.S. Senators by popular election in 1916, there have been just four temporary senate appointments and special elections fill a vacancy. The temporary appointee has never won a subsequent special election - twice because the appointee didn't run. Of the two appointees that did run, Democrat William A. Blakley lost to Republican John Tower in 1961, and Democrat Robert Krueger lost to Republican K. B. Hutchison in 1993.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I'll Just Say No To Judge Sotomayor, Says TX Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

Updated For New Video Wednesday July 29, 2009 11:58 PM


Sen. Hutchison Breaks Promise,
Opposes Sotomayor
Original Post Tuesday July 28, 2009 8:02 PM
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison joins Texas Sen. John Cornyn in opposition to Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor. [Houston Chronicle]

Hutchison announced Tuesday that she would vote no on the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor when the full Senate holds Sotomayor's confirmation vote next week. Sen. Hutchison expressed concern about Sotomayor's statement at a Duke University law school forum four years ago that legal “policy” was made by federal appeals courts. “I believe judges should interpret the law, not make it,” Hutchison said in a statement issued late Tuesday.
(KERA audio) At a Dallas press conference, Sen. Hutchison blamed illegal immigrants for making Texas the national leader in uninsured residents while bashing Pres. Obama's Healthcare reform, presumably to bolster her credentials with the far right conservative base. But hospital officials and state statistics don't back her up. Sen. Cornyn also opposes Pres. Obama's Healthcare reform.
Conservatives like Hutchison and Cornyn continue to press their so called "strict constructionist" constitutional argument, that judges, like Judge Sotomayer, who make decisions based on "constitutional principles" carried in the words, rather than application of the exact words, written in the constitution are liberal activist judges who legislate from the bench.

Of course, the Constitution, as written, does not prohibit, in exact word, a legislative body at the state or federal level from segregating schools as separate but equal "white only" and "black only" institutions, but the Supreme Court did find such laws unconstitutional in the court's 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision. In Brown the court found that the language of the constitution defines principles that segregation deprives segregated citizens of their equal protection under the "due process of law" as granted in the 14th Amendment. So Brown was a case where the judges "made law."

The GOP is on the record as opposing the court's finding that the language of the constitution defines a principle that American citizens have a general "right of privacy" to be left alone without government intrusion. The court's 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut "right of privacy" finding is the decision that legalized the sale and use of birth control pills and other contraceptive options in the United States. The court's "right to privacy" finding also gives parents the right to home school or send their children to private school. Griswold is another case where the judges "made law."

When Republican Senators like Cornyn and Hutchison say they oppose judges who "make law," they state their opposition to the court's so called "activist" decisions on a broad range of social rights that include child rearing, procreation, interracial marriage, contraception, private and home schooling rights and civil rights equality.

Related Post:

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Will Collin Co. Be Ready, If The Swine Flu Hits Hard Next Flu Season?

The Collin County Observer reported yesterday that The Collin County Commissioners Court, in their role as Health Care Trustees for the county, had a meeting with Candy Blair, the county's Director of Health Care Services, to consider a contract with the Texas State Department of Health to purchase anti-viral drugs as part of the county's H1N1 swine flu preparedness plan. (The anti-viral drug is given after exposure to the Flu.)

Ms. Blair explained to the court that the county will only be purchasing 600 doses of the anti-viral drugs for "first responders" and "essential personnel" in the county. According to the Observer report Ms. Blair told the commissioners that the State was only planning to procure 570,000 doses, and those were not for general distribution to the public - even in case of pandemic.

The purpose of the state program is to ensure that in the event of a major epidemic, essential services are uninterrupted. The commissioners asked Ms. Blair to prepare, for court approval, the list of 500 essential employees eligible to receive the anti-viral drugs.
Is this enough for Texas, considering the state has a population of 24,326,974 people? [quickfacts] Is it enough for Collin Co. with a population of 800,000 people? Consider the following article published on July 17, 2009 in the London Times.

The Times Online: Britain's National Health Service (NHS) has been told to plan for a worst-case scenario of 65,000 swine flu deaths this year.
The news came as the number of people to die after contracting the virus rose sharply.

The surge prompted officials to announce the launch next week of the National Pandemic Flu Service, as disclosed yesterday in The Times.

The advice to prepare for 65,000 deaths is based on 30 per cent of the population falling ill. Children under 14 are being hit hardest and the NHS was told to plan for a worst-case scenario of up to half of all children being infected during a first pandemic wave. Sir Liam said there was now “exceptional influenza activity” across most of the country.

The planning model given to the NHS shows that deaths could range from 19,000 to 65,000 if 30 per cent of the population fell ill. In the pandemics of 1957-58 and 1968-70, between 25 and 30 per cent were infected. In the former, 33,000 people died; in the latter it was a few thousand fewer.

The model says that the NHS should prepare for up to 12 per cent of the workforce to be off sick. However, it emphasises that its figures are not a prediction but based on a “reasonable worst-case scenario for planning purposes”.
Great Britain has an estimated population of 60,943,912 people.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Talking About Sex Ed In Texas' Schools


Video: Kathy Miller, Pres.
Texas Freedom Network
Education Fund, announcing
TFN's report on Sex Ed in TX
This blog has published a five part series on the state of sexuality health education in Collin County based on the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund study, “Just Say Don’t kNOw” by Dr. David Wiley, Dr. Kelly Wilson and Ryan Valentine. (A copy of the TFN study can be found online at www.tfn.org.) The five part series is researched and written by Linda Magid, TDWCC member.

All are welcome to attend the July 27th meeting of the Texas Democratic Women of Collin County to hear guest speaker Kathy Miller, Pres. Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, talk about the factually inaccurate sex education information taught to students in Texas' public schools, including Collin County.

Click to read part-1, part-2, part-3, part-4 and part-5. of the five part series on the state of sexuality health education in Collin County published in this blog.

Also read posts Tough Calls On Sex Education In Texas Schools and Conservatives Say No Right To Privacy.

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Sex Ed In Collin County Schools - Part 5

WHO MAKES THE DECISIONS ON WHAT IS TAUGHT

This is Part 5 of a 5 part series on the state of sexuality health education in Collin County based on the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund study, “Just Say Don’t kNOw” by Dr. David Wiley, Dr. Kelly Wilson and Ryan Valentine. A copy of the study can be found online at www.tfn.org. The series is researched and written by Linda Magid.

In Part 1 of our series, we gave an overview of the state of sex education in Texas. In Part 2, we looked at how the Texas Education Code deals with sexuality health and what is and isn’t covered in Allen, Frisco, McKinney and Plano ISD classrooms. In part 3 we turned to a frank discussion of the Factual Errors, Lies and Distortions about Condoms and STDs taught in these Collin County school districts. In part 4 we covered how abstinence-only programs base their educational philosophy on fear and shame about sex.
Now, in part 5 we cover who makes the decisions about what is taught in sex ed classrooms and how parents can get involved to help make those decisions.
Sexual Health Education Is Controversial

Parents, teachers, school board members and legislatures have their opinion about what should be taught and at what age.

Texas Legislature defined the roles of state government and local government in Senate Bill 1 (SB1) in 1995 by including the requirement that every school district establish a School Health Advisory Council (SHAC). SB1 also included general guidelines for sexuality education instructions while at the same time charging SHACs with the responsibility of making recommendations to local school boards. Local school boards must listen to both the SHACs and the Texas Education Code while deciding what to teach resulting in a diverse and inconsistent array of instructional materials – guaranteeing that teens across the state are learning different information and likely incorrect information. (“Just Say Don’t kNOw,” Wiley, Wilson and Valentine, pg. 11)

In their study, Wiley, Wilson and Valentine discovered that SHACs are, for the most part, inactive in the area of sexuality health education. Across Texas,
  • 64.7% of school districts indicated their SHACs had not discussed the topic of sexuality education in the previous three years.
  • 80.5% of school districts could not produce any formal SHAC recommendation on sexuality education instructions.
  • 24.8% of districts reported no formal policy at all governing sexuality education – teachers are addressing the sensitive topic of sexuality health education with no guidance or protection from their local school board. (Wiley et al., pg 11-12)
Even for those ISDs with a “functioning” SHAC [“meets regularly and demonstrates an effort to address issues assigned by the Texas Education Code” (Wiley et al. pg 12)], those committees do not guarantee informed, evidence-based recommendations on sexuality education instruction (Wiley, et al., pg. 12). The primary duty of a SHAC is to recommend the number of hours of instruction, appropriate grade levels and methods of instruction for human sexuality education but the TEC does not guarantee that those on the council know how to do this. According to the TFN Education Fund report,
“The TEC includes no requirements that SHAC members have a background in health education, sexuality education, medicine, child development, curriculum evaluation or any other professional background or training that helps prepare a council to make informed recommendations to the local board of trustees.” (pg 12)
With SHACs full of well-meaning but inexperienced volunteers, Texas schools end up with contradicting sexual health information, non-compliance with relevant state law, placing the interest of teachers before the health of students and sometimes putting an ISD in legal hot water.

Perhaps the most damaging impact to our teens is that members of SHACs are mandated to review sexuality health programs for recommendation to the local school board but if the members are not health experts, they can easily be mislead by terrific presentations full of factual errors, misleading information, inappropriate religious content and all manner of other flaws. (Wiley, et al., pg. 14)

Members of SHACs might be enthusiastic about their roles in students’ health, and rightly so. Putting children on a positive track to good health is a real contribution to society. Unfortunately, since the statute establishing SHACs has been rewritten several times, the committee’s role in designing student health curricula on other topics has been expanded (nutrition, exercise, mental health, etc.) and perhaps has watered down the importance of sexuality health education as the primary reason for the SHAC to exist.

The following is information on SHACs in Plano, Allen, Frisco and McKinney. You will find how active (or inactive) the SHACs are and where to find more information or even apply to join these SHACs. (All information on SHAC activity was provided by Texas Freedom Network, which they obtained directly from the school districts under the Freedom of Information Act.)

Plano SHAC
  • addressed sexuality education within the last 3 years.
  • did not make a recommendation to the school board for sexuality education.
  • internet link (http://www.pisd.edu/about.us/advisory.committees/index.shtml) to SHAC explanation and list of members (includes committee application download at top of page) No information on when the council meets or the meeting location available.
  • Questions about SHAC (when they meet, for example) are directed to the communications office at (469) 752-8150.
Frisco SHAC
  • addressed sexuality education within the last 3 years.
  • did not make a recommendation to the school board for sexuality education.
  • website (http://www.friscoisd.org/inside/board/committees.htm) says the council meets twice annually. Content under Human Sexuality section is taken directly from the Texas Education Code Section 28.004 “Local School Health Advisory Council and Health Education Instruction” The website offers no clear way to contact the SHAC members or to apply for a seat on the council.
  • Call the FISD at 469.633.6000 for information.
Allen SHAC
  • The SHAC addressed sexuality education within the last 3 years.
  • The SHAC made a recommendation to the school board for sexuality education.
  • No information online.
  • Allen's SHAC meets twice per year, in November and February. The council is not limited in number, but there are mandated percentages of the makeup – i.e. parents, staff, clergy, etc. The positions are appointed and you need to be nominated by a school principal, or people can apply directly to Mariba Zoller at 972-396-6936.
McKinney SHAC
  • addressed sexuality education within the last 3 years.
  • made a recommendation to the school board for sexuality education.
  • March 14, 2005 SHAC took vote to recommend health texts (noted that teachers and parent have access to the web site which will have updated current health issues)
  • November 29, 2005 SHAC had Jeff Friedel, Choosing the Best, gave presentation and discussed changes made to the program from the previous time the committee had viewed 2 years ago. Committee had lengthy discussion. The committee agrees that the sex education needs to be curriculum based, not just a one time shot as AIM for Success has been.
  • February 2, 2006 “Over the past two years the committee has been reviewing potential programs that deal with abstinence based sex education. After reviewing several programs, the committee recommends Choosing the Best as the best overall program for McKinney ISD.
  • (Agendas/Minutes provided from March 28, 2005)
  • website information (http://www.mckinneyisd.net/departments/health_services/shac.htm) provides only one sentence on council’s function, which does not include sexuality health education. Provides meeting dates through the past school year but has not yet updated for next school year.
  • Contact Julie Blankenship, committee chairperson by e-mail at jblankenship@mckinneyisd.net or by phone at 469-742-4151 for questions and, we assume, to apply for a position on the SHAC.
As reported in this blog ("Tough Calls On Sex Education In Texas Schools"), Texas received almost $18 million in federal "abstinence-only" funding in 2007, matched by $3 million in state funds in that year. Federal abstinence-only education funding reached a maximum level of approximately $214 million per year during President Bush's second term in 2008. (Abstinence-only advocates don’t want you to know that. See "Abstinence-Only Education Supporters Reference Inaccurate And Out Dated Facts")

While statistics on teen pregnancy in Collin County goes only up to 2004, recent studies from multiple sources show that after falling steadily for more than a decade, the birth rate for American teenagers again started to increase after 2005. The teen birth rate rose by 3 percent between 2005 and 2006 among 15-to-19-year-old girls, after plummeting 34 percent between 1992 and 2005, according to National Center for Health Statistics. Those numbers correlate with the increase in abstinence-only funding by the Bush administration. WE should expect that Texas sees an increase of the same numbers, perhaps an even larger increase.

All of these statistics prove that abstinence-only education doesn’t work. Thankfully the Obama administration knows that and that why sexual health funding includes contraception information in his new budget. The budget still needs to be passed and that part of the budget will absolutely get flack from Conservatives and conservative Democrats. We will need to be diligent in keeping that section in the budget. (This blog has an entry questioning how Texas will change with the new Obama budget at "Tough Calls On Sex Education In Texas Schools")

Currently, Texas schools are no longer mandated to teach health education with the legislature claiming budget constraints. This is a double edges sword, however. On the one hand, if ISDs cut out health they cut out misinformation to teens but on the other hand teens still won’t get the support they need to live a healthy life.

Health classes don’t need motivational speakers and complicated role-playing exercises to learn that using a condom is 98% effective against pregnancy and STDs. Teens need you, their parents, to get involved on their behalf and press the SHACs and school boards to stop using federal and state money on misinformation and scare tactics and get back to the facts. Here is how you can get involved:
  1. Request workbooks and textbooks. Review then and make notes on questionable material. Present these concerns in writing to your SHAC and school board. Use the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/) and the Health Education Curriculum Anlaysis Tool (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/HECAT/index.htm) for support.
  2. Ask SHCAC and the school board to vet speakers if they haven’t.
  3. Apply for a SHAC appointment
  4. Attend school board meetings especially when the agenda includes sexual health curriculum decisions or discussions. Expect them to review current health classes and whether or not to continue them.
  5. Encourage medical professionals to participate in SHAC recommendations.
  6. Join TFN for state updates on sexual health matters
  7. Support Obama’s budget when it comes up for a vote in the U.S. legislature.
Texas teens need us to stand up for them. They need information, not moral lectures and misinformation, to keep them healthy. Not just while they are in high school, but for the rest of their lives.


Click to read part-1, part-2, part-3 and part-4

Related Posts:

The Texas Democratic Women of Collin Co. Will Host Guest Speaker Kathy Miller, Pres. Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, At The Group's Meeting On Monday, July 27, 2009. Ms. Miller will talk about the Education Fund's year-long study on sexuality health education in Texas public schools. See the "Calendar Box" in the left sidebar of this blog for more details.

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Abstinence-Only Education Supporters Reference Inaccurate And Out Dated Facts

Guardian News UK - Teenage pregnancies and syphilis have risen sharply among a generation of American school girls who were urged to avoid sex before marriage under George Bush's evangelically-driven education policy, according to a new report by the US's major public health body.

In a report that will surprise few of Bush's critics on the issue, the Centers for Disease Control says years of falling rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease infections under previous administrations were reversed or stalled in the Bush years. According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but are up sharply in more than half of American states since 2005. The study also revealed that the number of teenage females with syphilis has risen by nearly half after a significant decrease while a two-decade fall in the gonorrhea infection rate is being reversed. The number of Aids cases in adolescent boys has nearly doubled.

The CDC says that southern states, where there is often the greatest emphasis on abstinence and religion, tend to have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs.
Supporters of abstinence-based education said that the new report shows that there is too little not too much emphasis on discouraging sex before marriage.
Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for American Values, which describes itself as a supporter of traditional marriage and "against liberal education and cultural forces", said the abstinence message is overwhelmed by a culture obsessed with sex.

"It is ridiculous to say that a program we nominally invest in has failed when it fails to overcome the most sexualized culture in world history. Education that emphasizes abstinence as the best option for teens makes up a minuscule part of overall sex education in the United States," she said.
The claim that abstinence-only education "makes up a minuscule part of overall sex education" is based on factually incorrect data promoted by abstinence-only education supporters. For example:
WAIT Training FAQs claims that the “Government spends $12 to promote contraceptives for every $1 spent on abstinence.”
What is missing from this “fact”? It does not give a date on what year they are talking about. Click the FAQ cited link and you come to the Heritage Foundation, which cites itself on the list of proof for abstinence education support. The main Heritage Foundation article cited regarding federal funding was written in 2004 and quotes statistics from 2002, just one year after Bush enacted the Abstinence Only mandate.
Both the Heritage Foundation and WAIT Training still have the information on its website as though the facts have remained stagnant over the past 9 years.
Given how much money Texas alone has received in federal grant money, and that only 3% of Texas ISDs cover abstinence-plus education, clearly any suggestion that abstinence-only education "makes up a minuscule part of overall sex education" is outdated and factually incorrect. But it is a convenient statistic in winning support regardless of how old it is.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Insurance Industry, "Don't Let The Government Get Between You And Your Doctor

RawStory: Attempting to make sense of what he called “scary-looking, disingenuous healthcare reform pop-art” on Thursday night, Daily Show host Jon Stewart zeroed in on perhaps the best analogy so far for the Republicans’ latest anti-health reform strategy: "A dildo rolled in glitter." Stewart was speaking specifically about the nonsensical, intentionally confusing “flowchart” created by the GOP, which they say illustrates the complexity of President Obama’s proposals.

On Wednesday night, the President delivered a prime-time address about why delay is simply not an option. He mentioned, Republican Senator Jim DeMint attempt to rally opposition to healthcare reform by declaring that stopping reform would "break" President Obama. Instead, hundreds of thousands are signing up in support of healthcare reform.

Add your name to stand up for the President's real health insurance reform in 2009. Adding your name right now will have real impact. And every time a new supporter stands up with the President, they in turn reach out to others and the movement grows.

The President's goal is to reach the one million signatures in support of health insurance reform before Congress casts the first crucial votes as early as next week. It will send a clear message that the American people will not stand for playing partisan politics with our lives and livelihoods -- and that we won't settle for anything less than the real health insurance reform America so desperately needs this year.


Download .mp3 | .mp4 | transcript
Obama used his weekly radio address to insist that small businesses had a lot to gain from the healthcare overhaul, based on a report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Small businesses, he said, would be able to purchase health insurance through an "insurance exchange."
He described that as a "marketplace where they can compare the price, quality and services of a wide variety of plans, many of which will provide better coverage at lower costs than the plans they have now."

"Small businesses that choose to insure their employees will also receive a tax credit to help them pay for it. If a small business chooses not to provide coverage, its employees can purchase high quality, affordable coverage through the insurance exchange on their own," said Pres. Obama.
For Republican leaders and special interests, the health insurance debate is just another political game. GOP spinmeisters Frank Luntz and Alex Castellanos supply GOP talking points that healthcare reform is bad for America while Republicans like Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe say their party will "stall" President Obama's health care initiative just to ensure a "huge electoral gain" in the 2010 election. [crooksandliars.com] To win elections in 2010 Republicans support:
  1. 50 Million Uninsured in America
  2. Another 25 Million Under-insured
  3. Employer-Based Coverage Plummets Below 60%
  4. Employer Health Costs to Jump by 9% in 2010
  5. One in Five Americans Forced to Postpone Care
  6. 62% of U.S. Bankruptcies Involve Medical Bills
  7. Current Health Care Costs Already Fueling Job Losses
  8. 94% of Health Insurance Markets in U.S Now "Highly Concentrated"
  9. Dramatic Decline in Emergency Room Capacity
  10. Perpetuating Red State Health Care Failure
For millions of American businesses and families, the cost of inaction is economic ruin and deteriorating care for the ones we love.
Out-of-control health care costs are breaking the budgets of families, businesses and government -- and every day that Congress refuses to act, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage entirely. (Note: Health insurance giant UnitedHealth Group Inc. reported a soaring second-quarter profit last week.)
Texas has the highest percentage of those without health insurance in the entire country. A U.S. Census Bureau report released last August showed that nearly 25 percent of Texans (just over 5.5 million residents) lacked insurance (compared to a national average of 15.5 percent). A Families USA report released in March found that the number of uninsured in Texas throughout 2007 and 2008 is much higher, around 9.3 million:
The report went further to say that 7.5 million Texans were uninsured for six months or more during that same time period and about 82.6 percent, were in working families, either working full or part-time.
An estimated 5,550 Texans are losing their health coverage each week, Families USA says in another report out in July 2009. “Rising like a deadly tide, escalating health care costs will have caused 866,580 Texans to lose their health coverage between January 2008 and December 2010,” the organization says.
Texas’ population has a higher percentage of uninsured citizens than any other state. While California comes in first for most uninsured people, at 5,360,940, making up 24 percent of the population, Texas’ 4,214,860 — according to the Texas Medical Association — is a full 30 percent of the state’s people.

Additionally, “one in five children living in Texas is without health insurance — the highest in the nation, according to a report released by Families USA,” noted The Austin Business Journal.
“The study, ‘Left Behind: Texas’s Uninsured Children,’ found that 1.4 million children, or 20.5 percent of the population aged 18, under were without health insurance in the three years from 2005 to 2007,” the paper continued.

The Journal added that almost 90 percent of the uninsured children in Texas live in households where at least one adult works “a year-round, full-time job.”
See more links to learn about Healthcare Reform in the left-hand sidebar of this blog....

Also read:


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Gov. Perry Threatens 10th Amendment Again To Reject Health Care Reform

Gov. Perry, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator John Cornyn, Congressman Sam Johnson and every Republican elected official in Texas made headlines for months pronouncing that President Obama’s economic stimulus plan was unneeded and unwelcome in Texas.

Gov. Perry, the top Republican in Texas, proclaimed that federal money from Washington is so onerous to "all" Texans that we may rise up in revolt and secede from the United States by invoking the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.

Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) is threatening 10th Amendment action over health insurance reform! [Star-Telegram] On a local radio show Thursday, Gov. Perry attacked Pres. Obama’s health care reform plan as “disastrous.” Perry again invoked the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reject health care reform and suggested other states would do the same:

Perry said his first hope is that Congress will defeat the plan, which both Perry and Davis described as “Obama Care.” But should it pass, Perry predicted that Texas and a “number” of states might resist the federal health mandate.

“I think you’ll hear states and governors standing up and saying ‘no’ to this type of encroachment on the states with their healthcare,” Perry said. “So my hope is that we never have to have that stand-up. But I’m certainly willing and ready for the fight if this administration continues to try to force their very expansive government philosophy down our collective throats.” [...]

It really is a state issue, and if there was ever an argument for the 10th Amendment and for letting the states find a solution to their problems, this may be at the top of the class,” Perry said. “A government-run healthcare system is financially unstable. It’s not the solution.
In April, Perry announced his support for a non-binding resolution in the Texas House that says the federal government has overstepped the authority granted to it under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution; A standard southern "states’ rights" claim that is on shaky legal ground. Texas Gov. Rick Perry so incited an anti-tax (and largely anti-Obama) "tea party" in April with his anti-Washington and states' rights rhetoric that the audience began to shout, "Secede!" At an Austin City Hall tea party in April Perry said,

"At some point Texans might get so fed up they would want to secede from the union. There's a lot of different scenarios. ...if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that..."
Then, Gov. Rick Perry, in an op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman, claims he never advocated or supported the idea or possibility of secession at tea part anti-tax rallies in April. Read Perry's op-ed at the Austin American-Statesman.
Perry’s “state sovereignty” cries smack more of politics than principled conviction. In March, Gov. Perry rejected $555 million in federal stimulus funds to expand unemployment benefits, arguing that accepting the money would burden Texans with “higher taxes and expanded obligations.” However, just this month, Perry was forced to ask the federal government for a $170 million loan to cover unemployment insurance and the state is expected to request a total of $650 million, around $100 million more than Perry originally rejected.

Texas has the highest percentage of those without health insurance in the entire country. A U.S. Census Bureau report released last August showed that nearly 25 percent of Texans (just over 5.5 million residents) lacked insurance (compared to a national average of 15.5 percent). A Families USA report released in March found that the number of uninsured in Texas throughout 2007 and 2008 is much higher, around 9.3 million:
The report went further to say that 7.5 million Texans were uninsured for six months or more during that same time period and about 82.6 percent, were in working families, either working full or part-time.
An estimated 5,550 Texans are losing their health coverage each week, Families USA says in another report out in July 2009. “Rising like a deadly tide, escalating health care costs will have caused 866,580 Texans to lose their health coverage between January 2008 and December 2010,” the organization says.
“I can’t imagine that anyone from Texas who cares about this state would vote for Obama Care. I don’t care whether you’re Democrat or Republican,” Perry said. He then criticized those representing Texas in Congress who may be considering supporting health care reform. “This may sound a little bit harsh, but they might ought to consider representing some other state because they’re sure not representing Texas.”

Rachel Maddow called out Gov. Perry for his states’ rights comments on health care.

Maddow, "Governor Rick, you’ve been governor for nine years. How are you doing finding a solution for Texas’ health care problem, Governor? You’ve got the most expensive health care markets in the country, and the least number of people insured. And you’re worried the federal government is going to screw up the good thing you’ve got going on in Texas? You need to protect Texas’ health care system that you’re doing such an awesome job with, from people you think might really screw it up? Let the states find their own solution? You’ve had nine years, Governor. You’re the worst in the country. How are you doing with that?"

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"I'll Just Say No To Judge Sotomayor," Says U.S. TX Senator Cornyn

BayAreaHouston.BlogSpot: No place but Texas. United States Senator John Cornyn in his quest to alienate any last Hispanic in the Republican party vowed to vote against Judge Sotomayor for Supreme Court Justice. (This link is a made up story, but it's a hoot!)

BurntOrangeReport.com: In the end, Cornyn said he believes "the stakes are too high" for him to support a nominee who might approach important constitutional issues like gun and property rights "from a liberal, activist perspective."

Dallas Morning News: Houston Mayor Bill White, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, criticized Texas Sen. John Cornyn's decision to vote not to confirm Judge Sonya Sotomayor on his blog today. Mayor Bill White writes:

"Senator John Cornyn acknowledged that Sonia Sotomayor has an excellent background, the right temperament, and a record of mainstream decisions. Her life has been an inspiration. Texas' Senator should do what is right for our state and our mainstream values. Senator Cornyn's "no" vote on Sotomayor represents political posturing for one wing of one party, politics as usual. As our next Senator, I will do what's right for Texas."
And now our attention turns to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who told TDMN reporter Jim Landers today she hasn't decided how she'll vote. She has some built-in political cover, having voted against Sotomayor's confirmation in 1998 for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, citing concerns Sotomayor was a judicial activist.

Hutchison has less than a week to decide--Senate Democrats are looking to vote on Sotomayor before August recess.

For some insight into why conservatives, particularly Texas conservatives, will vote no on Judge Sotomayor's confirmation, read our DBCC post: Conservatives Say No Right To Privacy

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sex Ed In Collin County Schools - Part 4

“SEX IS SHAMEFUL” AND OTHER OUTDATED THEMES

This is Part 4 of a 5 part series on the state of sexuality health education in Collin County based on the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund study, “Just Say Don’t kNOw” by Dr. David Wiley, Dr. Kelly Wilson and Ryan Valentine. A copy of the study can be found online at www.tfn.org. The series is researched and written by Linda Magid.

In Part 1 of our series, we gave an overview of the state of sex education in Texas. In Part 2, we looked at how the Texas Education Code deals with sexuality health and what is and isn’t covered in Allen, Frisco, McKinney and Plano ISD classrooms. In part 3 we turned to a frank discussion of the Factual Errors, Lies and Distortions about Condoms and STDs taught in these Collin County school districts. In part 4 we cover how abstinence-only programs base their educational philosophy on fear and shame about sex.

Shaming and Fear-Based Instruction

Abstinence-only programs apparently base their educational philosophy on fear: if teens are scared enough, they’ll remain abstinent until marriage. Research contradicts this assumption and proves teens see right through the manipulation efforts.
“…if both the perceived risks of sex and the perceived efficacy of prevention strategies are high, individuals are more likely to adopt preventive behaviors. However, when perceived risk is high but expectations about the effectiveness of prevention are low, individuals are likely to dismiss the risk message as propaganda.” (“Just Say Don’t kNOw” Wiley, Wilson and Valentine, pg. 27)
In other words, teens are likely shrugging off the shrill message of fear when it is followed by only one solution, in this case abstinence. Teens can sense when they are being “sold” on something and suspicious of not getting the full story. Based on the number of teens having sex in Texas (link to other article), teens are clearly rejecting the abstinence-only fear message.

Selling fear doesn’t end with topics like STDs or condoms. Abstinence-only organizations have turned sex itself into something of which to be to be afraid and ashamed. This use of fear and shame has serious consequences:
“Presenting students with negative and shameful information about sexuality can implicitly discourage questions about healthy sexuality, relationships, methods of protection, STD testing, sexual abuse and other important topics. This often means students feel too guilty, shamed or embarrassed to talk to trusted adults or to seek medical advice if they do engage in sexual behavior.” (Wiley, et. al., p. 27)
This fear message is sold to students here in Collin County. For example, programs used in three of our four largest ISDs claim the following conditions are “caused” by premarital sex (Wiley, et. al., pg. 28):
  • Suicide (WAIT Training – McKinney ISD, Scott & White Worth the Wait – Frisco ISD)
  • Divorce (Scott & White Worth the Wait – Frisco ISD)
  • Depression (Scott & White Worth the Wait – Frisco ISD)
  • Low Self Esteem (Choosing the Best – McKinney ISD, Allen ISD)
According to Worth the Wait, the world rests on the teens’ abstinent shoulders: “teenage sexual activity can create a multitude of medical, legal and economic problems not only for individuals having sex but for society as a whole.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 28)

With this kind of perspective on premarital sex, the leap to shaming those students who choose to have sex is short. Often materials portray those who are not married and engaging in sexual behavior as “‘unhappy’ individuals with low self-esteem and universally poor judgment.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 30)

In contrast, those who abstain are presented as morally superior and infused with excellent judgment. WAIT Training (McKinney ISD) “suggests that young people who are not sexually active have the ‘ability’ to develop their self-control and create a value system.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 30) This implies that teens who choose to have sex don’t have this ability.

Programs enlist shame to manipulate students when discussing relationships as well. Real Options for Women (used by Frisco ISD) uses clear tape in an exercise to symbolize virginity. Students are instructed to place the tape on their arm. According to the program, “the tape demonstrates how easy it is to pass on STDs and how ‘emotional scars can lead to problems ‘bonding’ with their husband/wife one day.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 31) WAIT Training uses a similar exercise, except that removal of the tape implies the break up of a relationship. The teach holds up the tape, showing it is no longer clear and demonstrates that the tape strength is diminished. The exercise instructions tell the teacher to ask students: “If this process gets repeated too many times, do you think it will affect this person’s (hold up the tape) marriage?” (Wiley, et. al., pg 31)

For teens who decide to abstain from sex after being sexually active, the abstinence-only community created the term “secondary virginity.” This term is not supported or used by the scientific or medical community. (Wiley, et. al., pg. 31) Secondary virginity is supposed to offer a sense of renewed purity but it can’t overcome the power of the foremost message: someone who has premarital sex is guilty of poor judgment, poor character and is doomed to have unfulfilling, destructive relationships. Unfortunately for sexually active teens, secondary virginity never quite measures up to the originally kind even in the programs’ materials.

For example, Choosing the Best PATH (used by McKinney ISD) has an exercise called “A Mint for Marriage.” Students pass around an unwrapped peppermint patty. Once the candy is returned, the teacher is instructed to ask if any students would like to eat it and then must conclude, “No one wants food that has been passed around. Neither would you want your future husband or wife to have been passed around.” How can the students salvage the used mint/used body? Put it back in the wrapper and refrigerate it. The bacteria will die and will be “almost like new.” (pg. 32)

These exercises are not based in reality – people who choose to have premarital sex are able to have strong, healthy relationships. They are not the same as food touched by 40 people or tape applied to an arm. Without medically accurate information mandated by the Texas School Board of Education or the Texas Legislature, we are sure to see more of the same made-up examples meant to leave students feeling guilty and ashamed of sexual behavior, even sexual urges.

As for those still holding onto their virginity, abstinence-only programs use virginity pledges as support. WAIT Training, Choosing the Best and Scott & White Worth the Wait all use this activity. Based on the group mentality, virginity pledges can provide additional shame to those students who “break” their pledge (Wiley, et. al., pg 32).
Recent research suggests that the pledges don’t affect sexual behavior either way (less likely or more likely to have sex). 2009 research does suggest that students who make virginity pledges are less likely to use protection during premarital sex. Another study found that 53% of pledgers denied ever making the pledge. Apparently, virginity pledges are more important to the adults who promote them than the students who make them. And they are no substitute for actual sexuality education. (Wiley, et. al., pg. 32)
Putting Gender Roles in a Time Machine

Abstinence-only programs have long been criticized for teaching outdated and potentially harmful stereotypes. In 2008, a study done on this topic documented numerous cases where these programs present gender stereotypes as truth. (Wiley, et. al., pg. 33) In Texas, the stereotypes mostly fall to females by typecasting women as “gatekeepers of aggressive male behavior,” a perspective public health organizations have spent 50 years trying to undo.

For example, WAIT Training tells students that “women need ‘financial support’ and ‘family commitment.’ Men need ‘domestic support’ and ‘admiration.’” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 33)

Why is this a problem? According to Dr. Deborah Tolman, Professor of Human Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University,
“…the more girls buy into stereotypes about how they are supposed to behave in relationships…and about treating their own bodies as objects, the lower their self-esteem and the more depressed they are.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 34)
Also questionable is where this stereotype comes from and what it represents. Students in Collin County schools come from a diverse list of backgrounds. (Children in our schools represent over 90 different languages.) (need to cite) Educators are naïve to assume that every culture’s role models fit the picture of a docile woman and a strong man. Teens need to be, and can be, empowered to make good choices without pigeon holing them into gender stereotypes designed by a fraction of the county’s population.

As damaging as it is to teach girls their place is in the home, scarier still is the idea that female are responsible for male sexual action. Abstinence-only programs perpetuate this myth by presenting it as fact.

Many programs lay the job of keeping males abstinent on females. “Not only does this stereotype unfairly burden the female with a responsibility both partners should share, there are also potentially dangerous consequences to such message with regard to domestic violence and sexual assault.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 35)

Such a message is a short stop before blaming females for forceful sexual behavior, and Just Say Yes (used in Frisco ISD) comes dangerously close to that assumption. Here is a quote from their materials:
“Girls, taking into consideration that guys are more easily sexually turned on by sight, you need to think long and hard about the way you dress and the way you come on to guys…How can you tell a girl is an easy target for a guy?...By the clothes she wears…A girl who shows a lot of skin and dresses seductively fits into one of three categories: 1) She’s pretty ignorant when it comes to guys…2) She’s teasing her boyfriend which is extremely cruel to the poor guy! 3) She’s giving her boyfriend an open invitation saying, ‘Here I am. Come and Take me.’” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 35)
This example shows how abstinence-only programs are unraveling 50 years of work done by domestic violence prevention advocates teaching both teens that “No means No.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 35) This kind of thinking effectively says that words don’t mean anything and that girls who dress “seductively” (open to interpretation) are asking for sex no matter what they say. A guy who “gives it to her” can’t be blamed for his behavior. It was her fault.

With approximately one in five female high school students reporting being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner, our schools send a loaded message – there are no victims of sexual assault. In fact, “recent research has shown that both victims and abusers attribute the responsibility for violent dating behavior to victims.” (Wiley, et. al., pg. 35) Not only are we leaving students defenseless against pregnancy and STDs if they chose to have sex, we are leaving them defenseless against violence and abuse.

Preliminary research in Collin County’s four largest ISDs shows that sexual orientation is not mentioned in sexuality health programs (nor is it addressed in the textbooks). At first glance, this seems like a positive note given that in some parts of Texas, teens are told homosexual acts are illegal or abnormal. However, with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues ignored, LGBT students are effectively ignored, and this group needs support. According to a study done in 2007 by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network,
  • “more than half (60.8%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation.
  • 86.2% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed at school (in 2006) because of their sexual orientation.
  • 44.1% reported being physically harassed at school (in 2006) because of their sexual orientation.
  • 22.1% reported being physically assaulted at school (in 2006) because of their sexual orientation.”
26% of 114 Dallas-Forth Worth LGBT teens report being forced to have sex against their will, and 55% of respondents report having attempted suicide in their lifetime, according to Youth First Texas. As hard as schools work to make all students feel included, gay students who want to better understand themselves and how to stay safe and healthy can’t feel welcome if they are treated as though they don’t exist. And by being quiet about the LGBT community, rather than fostering understanding and compassion, the schools become complicit in the violence against these teens.

Abstinence-only programs first try to scare teens into abstinent. Next they try to shame them into abstinence. The programs throw modern modes of empowerment (like being responsible for one’s actions) out the window in favor of a “know your place” mentality. And if a teen is different, they simply aren’t there. Rather than being armed with helpful, accurate information for the rest of their lives, teens are being taught from another age – an age from our past.

HOW SEX LEADS TO SUICIDE

Similar to the distorted facts used by The Medical Institute regarding condom effectiveness, the conservative Heritage Foundation misrepresents study findings to assert that premarital sex leads to suicide. Using as study done by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the Heritage Foundation analysts applied the term “sexually active” to any teen who had ever had sex and the term “depressed” to any teen who indicated a “general state of unhappiness.” Redefining study terms and then drawing new conclusions is called Secondary Analysis but is presented to the students as fact. The authors admit that there is an association between teen sexual activity and depression but they also admit that the cause and effect is not yet understood. It could be that teens who are generally unhappy have more sex as a way to cope with their feelings. Assuming that sex is what causes the depression is simply that – an assumption.

The Heritage Foundation bases the claim that sexually active girls are three times and boys eight times more likely to commit suicide (found in WAIT Training – McKinney ISD) on this secondary analysis, and the message gets to our teens.

Next: Part 5 – Who Makes These Decisions and How You Can Change Them

Click to read part-1, part-2 and part-3.

Related Posts:

The Texas Democratic Women of Collin Co. Will Host Guest Speaker Kathy Miller, Pres. Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, At The Group's Meeting On Monday, July 27, 2009. Ms. Miller will talk about the Education Fund's year-long study on sexuality health education in Texas public schools. See the "Calendar Box" in the left sidebar of this blog for more details.

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