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Recent editorials from Texas newspapers

September 18, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Texas newspapers:

Austin American-Statesman. Sept. 14, 2018:

Lawsuit to kill Obamacare would hurt many Texans, too

It’s no secret Attorney General Ken Paxton opposes the federal health care law.

But his animus toward the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, runs so deep that he is now leading a stampede of Republican state attorneys general over a cliff to attack the most vital pieces of the law — recklessly disregarding the health consequences for Texans and the political ramifications for his party.

If Paxton’s latest salvo succeeds, millions of Texans with pre-existing conditions could lose their health care or find the premiums significantly more expensive, perhaps unaffordably so.

More than a million Texans would lose the federal subsidies that help them afford insurance coverage. Texas, which sadly leads the nation in percentage of uninsured residents, would surely grow those ranks.

And the remaining lucky ones with insurance would face even higher premiums as the pool of people paying into the system continues to shrink.

How is this fighting for Texans?

As Congress tried last year to overhaul Obamacare, we heard from many Central Texas readers who called the health care law a lifeline. The law enabled many with pre-existing conditions to buy affordable health insurance for the first time in decades. Relatives of people who died after a costly illness said the insurance saved the family from financial ruin.

Even so, we recognize the Affordable Care Act has not been a panacea for the country’s health care problems. Premiums keep rising, particularly for individual policies purchased in the marketplace, and dwindling competition in many counties leaves consumers with poor options.

We urged Congress last year to repair the law.

Instead, here comes Paxton with a gasoline can and a match.

Paxton’s lawsuit, joined by 19 other states and pending before a federal court in Fort Worth, argues that when Congress last year eliminated the tax penalty for those who don’t buy health insurance, the rest of the landmark health care law became invalid and unenforceable.

Despite his laments in other arenas against “activist judges” overstepping their role, Paxton now dares the courts to do what Congress would not: Repeal Obamacare.

This cynical approach is legally hollow: If Congress intended to eliminate all the protections of the health care law, including the coverage for pre-existing conditions or the continuation of federal subsidies, it would have voted to do so.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who heard arguments Sept. 5 in his Fort Worth courtroom, has not yet issued a ruling. Regardless, the case is destined for appeals that will ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The courts shouldn’t be swayed by public opinion, but Paxton and his colleagues should take note. Nearly two-thirds of Americans polled in July said the courts shouldn’t overturn the protection for people with pre-existing conditions, and half said the courts should keep Obamacare overall, according to the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll.

That same poll found coverage for pre-existing conditions is the top health care campaign issue for voters, with three-quarters of Democratic voters and 49 percent of Republican voters saying the issue is very important or most important to them.

Not surprisingly, Paxton’s opponent this fall for attorney general, Democrat Justin Nelson, has made this issue one of the cornerstones of his campaign. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke likewise champions “universal, guaranteed, high-quality health care for all” as part of his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a longtime Obamacare critic who says Paxton’s lawsuit would be “a win for health care consumers across the country.”

GOP leaders working to take away the protection for pre-existing conditions risk alienating their base and losing voters as a whole.

Still, the real damage would be done to everyday Texans.

More than 4.5 million Texans, or roughly one in four under the age of 65, have the kind of pre-existing conditions that individual market insurers refused to cover before the Affordable Care Act required them to do so, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That includes people with diabetes, arthritis, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, a new pregnancy or a cancer treatment within the past decade. Many are still able to get insurance through their employer or other government programs despite those conditions, but without the protection for pre-existing conditions, those seeking policies in the individual market would be out of luck.

The Trump administration’s brief to the court supported striking down the protection for pre-existing conditions, while keeping some parts of the law intact. But if Paxton’s lawsuit succeeds, it would unravel other provisions for everyone, including the full coverage of preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs to patients, the ability for families to keep young adults under age 26 on their plans, and other measures that lowered prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients.

Years of Republican cries to “repeal and replace” Obamacare have given way to an awkward silence from the GOP over how to actually improve health care costs and access. Last year, with control of both houses of Congress and the White House, the best Republicans could offer were bills to cut Medicaid spending, increase premiums for many and add more than 20 million Americans to the ranks of the uninsured by 2026. No wonder they couldn’t scrape together the votes to replacethe Affordable Care Act.

There are good ideas a solution-minded Congress could explore to rein in costs, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate for better prescription drug prices and use competitive bidding for medical equipment, for instance. Enticing more young, healthy people to buy insurance would also help bring down costs overall.

But the work of fixing health care needs to be done by lawmakers who have the power to build improvements — not by courts that can only strike things down.

___

Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sept. 14, 2018:

Alamo defenders ‘heroic’ again, but was this really necessary?

The defenders of the Alamo were not saints. Nobody who really knows Texas’ history thinks they were.

But they died taking a courageous stand for independence against a giant army backed by the heavy-handed central government of Mexico, and that’s what Texas seventh-graders should be taught.

That’s why it was surprising to hear two weeks ago that the elected Texas State Board of Education actually had to vote on whether to restore a phrase in seventh-grade history lessons about the “heroism” of the Alamo defenders.

As it turns out, this really wasn’t some attempt to injure Texans’ pride.

An advisory committee was assigned to shorten the curriculum, and decided that teaching the Battle of the Alamo and its central characters was plenty without specifically telling teachers to praise the defenders.

Only one person had complained before Sept. 6, when Texas Monthly blasted the headline: “Should Texas Schoolchildren Be Taught That Alamo Defenders Were ‘Heroic’?”

Two months before Election Day, Gov. Greg Abbott spoke up immediately against “political correctness.” Land Commissioner George P. Bush chimed in that the change was “nonsense.”

The change sounded as if Texas had decided to quit taking a side in the Revolution. That wasn’t the idea.

Look, the Revolution’s causes and context are complicated. As with the American Civil War, secession divided families and pitted brother against brother.

There were courageous leaders and soldiers who fought for both Texas and Mexico, but there is no denying that Texians and Tejanos fought to uphold settlers’ freedom and liberty.

The State Board of Education made other preliminary curriculum changes that were less sure-footed. For example, the board took out an elementary school lesson on activist Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf from birth, and high school history lessons on groundbreaking presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Barry Goldwater.

All the changes face a final vote in November.

This is what we ask of the State Board of Education and our schools: Teach our children all the facts about Texas and U.S. history. Tell them the good and bad. Then let them make up their own mind about the heroes and villains.

But along the way, don’t lose track of Texans’ courageous fight for independence, or the stirring inspiration of the Alamo.

___

Houston Chronicle. Sept. 16, 2018:

The egg cannot be unscrambled: Save DACA now!

If there’s a go-to jurist whose courtroom light is always on for the Trump White House, for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and for other elected officials eager to thwart sensible and humane immigration policy, it’s Andrew S. Hanen, a Brownsville federal judge who sits on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

With Hanen on the bench, Paxton, for one, has become a blatant courtroom shopper. He’s confident that the Waco native and first-in-his-class Baylor Law School graduate will find some legal rationale for anti-immigrant policies that come before the court.

It was Hanen who blocked the Obama administration’s 2015 attempt to shield thousands of families with mixed immigration status from deportation through a program then known as DAPA, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. Thanks to Hanen, thousands of citizens and legal residents faced the prospect of disrupted lives at home and seeing their parents deported to countries they left long ago. The death of its successor, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was pretty much assured once Hanen got his hands on it.

But then, surprise!

On Aug. 31, the immigration hardliner refused a request from nine states, led by Texas, to destroy DACA, the Obama-era policy that grants temporary lawful status and work permits to thousands of young migrants brought to this country through no choice of their own. Hanen wrote that he agreed with a federal court in Maryland that said the question of whether to allow DACA recipients to “continue contributing their skills and abilities to the betterment of this country is an issue crying out for a legislative solution.”

It’s not that Hanen liked DACA any more than he liked DAPA — he expects the U.S. Supreme Court eventually will declare it unlawful — but, unlike Paxton and young Stephen Miller, the cruelly anti-immigrant nativist who has Donald Trump’s ear in the White House, the judge was willing to acknowledge reality. DACA has been in effect for six years, he pointed out, and those young people the policy protects are even more rooted than they were before its implementation.

“Here, the egg has been scrambled,” he wrote. “To try to put it back in the shell with only a preliminary injunction record, and perhaps at great risk to many, does not make sense nor serve the best interests of this country.”

Hanen’s ruling offered a bit of breathing room to young dreamers such as Linett Isela Lopez, a student-teacher who serves “the best interests of this country” — and our community — by working with bilingual first-graders at Johnson Elementary School.

“I’m relieved by last month’s ruling,” Lopez wrote in the Chronicle last week, “but the overall uncertainty persists. Despite a lot of talk, Congress has failed to take action on this issue, leaving Dreamers like me feeling helpless and overwhelmed. Will I be able to keep teaching? Will I be subject to deportation? What will happen to my young students and their parents, many of whom are DACA recipients, too?”

Fix it, a Dreamer urges Congress. Fix it, a federal judge urges.

Approximately three-quarters of the American people, according to most polls, echo their call. So does a coalition of border mayors and business groups, including Southwest and United Airlines. Filing an amicus brief in the case before Judge Hanen, the coalition argued that ending DACA and forcing thousands of young workers out of the economy could cost $460 billion in economic activity during the next decade.

Meanwhile, a craven Congress dithers — and, we hate to say, will continue to dither until voters decide, perhaps in a few weeks, that enough’s enough.

Assuring the legal status of Dreamers and allowing them to get on with their lives in this country is a relatively easy task, particularly if a new crop of conscientious lawmakers arrives in Washington next January. It may be a dream too far, but resolving the Dreamer dilemma might even clear the way for a new Congress to tackle the more complex task of comprehensive immigration reform. We can hope, although fixing DACA is the more immediate task.

“DACA is a popular program and one that Congress should consider saving. ... If the nation truly wants to have a DACA program, it is up to Congress to say so.”

So wrote Judge Hanen. So say we.

___

The Facts of Brazoria County. Sept. 16, 2018:

State shows it’s shorting local schools

Texas education officials made no effort to hide the reality every property owner faces when their tax bill comes due — the state has no interest in paying its share of public education.

They’re able to get away with it because of an effective blame game carried out by the state’s elected leaders, who point their fingers at local appraisal districts and school boards as the culprits for skyrocketing property taxes. It’s a game that clearly works.

A poll question that’s been up at thefacts.com for some time presents a simple choice on who is more accountable for increases in school property taxes, local school officials or state government. Of the 730 votes registered, 444 faulted local school boards. That’s about 61 percent.

The flaw with casting responsibility at local officials is the state has set up the current system and done little to change it for almost two decades, despite the state’s highest court calling the system broken.

Perhaps the recent announcement from the Texas Education Agency will convince some people where the fingers really should be pointed.

The TEA announced recently that it would not need as many state dollars to funnel toward public schools because appraisal values statewide had increased 6.4 percent. Those higher appraisals meant local boards would be able to pay more of the cost of educating children themselves.

In other words, local school boards can’t cut their tax rates because the state is going to cut its share.

To take things a step further, consider the case of Brazosport ISD. It saw a significant bump in property tax values for the upcoming school year and expects a $35 million increase in tax revenue. Of that windfall, only about a quarter will stay in the district. Brazosport ISD has to send $25 million of it to the state.

And for the record, Brazosport ISD dropped its tax rate to 5 percent below the effective rate, effectively cutting the tax bills of property owners whose homes were on the tax rolls both years.

Local districts could cut their tax rates even further if the state’s share of education funding didn’t continue to drop each biennium. But the people who could make that possible aren’t sitting in Brazoria County. They have offices in Austin.

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, speaking recently to a business-heavy crowd, invoked his oft-repeated statement that fixing the school finance system is hard. If it wasn’t, they already would have fixed it.

He’s right. Of course, we elect people to make hard decisions, and it’s only right that they are held accountable for not fixing the broken system that is better at allocating blame than dollars.

___

The Dallas Morning News. Sept. 17, 2018:

If Ben Carson was stumbling at HUD, would anyone know?

Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, wants opinions about his proposed changes to federal housing policy. We’re in the opinion business, so here’s ours: It is a plan fraught with unintended consequences.

The proposal, unveiled in early August, would ease zoning restrictions that Carson says limit affordable home construction for low-income families. It also would shift HUD’s strategy away from efforts to integrate lower-income housing into wealthier neighborhoods in favor of promoting more housing development overall.

“I want to encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings all over the place,” he told The Wall Street Journal.

It seems like a laudable goal, but it doesn’t take much of a review of history to recognize an uncomfortable truth. Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 made racial discrimination a violation of federal law, a half-century later, substandard and segregated housing patterns persist in Dallas and nearly every urban community.

The reason is that economic mobility requires more than an increase in the overall inventory of affordable housing. New units must be located near economic opportunities.

That’s why increasing the pool of affordable housing, while important, doesn’t necessarily translate into economic mobility, which should be the end game of housing policy. Where one lives affects job and educational opportunities and, ultimately, economic mobility.

A 2015 Harvard study, for example, found that young children whose families moved during the 1990s from high-poverty housing projects to neighborhoods offering good jobs and schools grew up to be better-educated, more economically successful adults. These outcomes were true for all races and both girls and boys. For each year spent in a better neighborhood during childhood, youngsters benefited from increased earnings in adulthood.

Dallas is a prime example of how housing patterns have hurt cities. Poverty has increased 42 percent in the past two decades, a rise that local studies attribute in part to segregated housing patterns that concentrated affordable housing in southern Dallas and market-rate housing in much of the rest of the city.

The outcome? Generational poverty is concentrated in predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods south of the Trinity River.

The federal government has limited control over state and local land-use policy. But because housing is the biggest expenditure for most families, federal, state and local governments must view their policies as levers to provide opportunities for prosperity. Effectively, this means encouraging affordable housing and breaking down entrenched barriers that perpetuate cycles of poverty.

Resource-deprived communities need targeted strategies to promote robust economic mobility and prosperity. One improvement would be to require landlords in all neighborhoods to accept rental vouchers as valid sources of income as long as renters are able to pass all other requirements. Another is to better monitor how tax credits have channeled affordable housing into minority-heavy and poor neighborhoods instead of scattering affordable housing throughout cities.

A third is to encourage higher-density construction near jobs, streamline permitting and development costs and take aim at other factors that have negatively affected housing construction.

As a nation, we must rethink our housing policies with the goal of reducing poverty and making our cities more equitable for all residents.

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