- By Ed Sterling, Texas Press Association
AUSTIN â€” Questions over where you may stand, what you can say and when you can say it arise here and there around Texas at election time. A new law to solve such issues is on the books.
House Bill 259, which took effect when Gov. Rick Perry signed it into law on June 14, 2013, allows political speech outside of the 100-foot zone at public buildings where election polls are located.
The new law trumps local practices that previously may have prevented citizens from engaging in political speech outside of the 100-foot zone. “This change in law protects First Amendment rights by assuring that people are able to express their political views without fear of prosecution or persecution,â€ said state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, primary author of HB 259, in a Feb. 18 statement.
“Language was specifically included in the bill to authorize reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on electioneering conducted outside of the 100-foot marker, so long as electioneering is not prohibited altogether,â€ Simmons added. “HB 259 protects some of our nationâ€™s most fundamental rights: the freedom of speech and the right to vote.â€
DPS offers election ID
On Feb. 18, the first day of early voting in the primary election, the Texas Department of Public Safety publicized a reminder that election identification certificates are available at driver license offices, with select offices open on Saturdays and at mobile stations in select counties.
State law requires voters to present their driver license or suitable photo identification at the polls prior to voting. There is no fee for the election identification certificate. Information on how to obtain a certificate can be found online at dps.texas.gov or by telephoning (512) 424-2600.
More health funding comes
The state announced the awarding of $45 million to supplement the amount the 2013 Texas Legislature appropriated for womenâ€™s health services for use in 2015.
“Weâ€™re providing women greater access to a broader range of health services in Texas,â€ said Department of State Health Services Commissioner David Lakey on Feb. 14.
“These dollars will help women receive the family planning and screening services they need to be healthy.â€
According to Lakey, the entities to receive the supplemental funding â€” which include local health departments, hospital clinics and other health clinics â€” serve about 170,000 low income women per year with services including family planning and health screenings.
The agency estimated more than 60 percent of the women served will receive family planning services and that to be eligible for the program women must be 18 years of age or older and at or below 200 percent of Federal Poverty Level guidelines. According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, 3.3 million Texas women are at or below the Federal Poverty Level.
Panel eyes health, safety
Reducing child fatalities and improving access to womenâ€™s health services were the subjects of a Feb. 20 interim meeting of the state Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.
While child deaths due to abuse and neglect are down overall, there has been a recent spike in foster care fatalities, according to a statement released by Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “It is unacceptable for any child to die from abuse or neglect, certainly when that child has been entrusted to the state.â€
Regarding womenâ€™s health care, Nelson noted that the 83rd Texas Legislature provided $240 million in funding for womenâ€™s health services, including cancer screenings, wellness exams and other health services to an additional 170,000 women. “As a result, womenâ€™s health in Texas is now funded at record levels and Texas has the capacity to serve more women than ever before,â€ she said, adding, “Now we need to ensure that the resources we invested are truly meeting the needs of Texas women.â€
Sen. Kirk Watson, chair of the Texas Senateâ€™s Democratic Caucus, posted a reaction saying, “Weâ€™re encouraged by Chairwoman Nelsonâ€™s pledge to have â€˜a thorough discussion of every aspectâ€™ of the stateâ€™s efforts to provide healthcare to Texas women.â€
Court to hear EPA cases
An appeal filed by the State of Texas was among six lawsuits against the federal Environmental Protection Agency grouped and scheduled 90 minutes of collective time for arguments be heard by the United States Supreme Court on Feb. 24.
In its case, Texas is petitioning the high court to stop the EPA and the Obama administration from broadening greenhouse gas enforcement standards to include more sources of carbon dioxide emissions.