AP NEWS

Texas GOP should be consistent on rights

May 16, 2019

When the regular session of the Legislature ends in 10 days, some of the Republican members might want to schedule a meeting with a therapist. They seem to be having an identity crisis. Sometimes, they fully support individual rights. Sometimes, they don’t. It would be better for them — and the people they represent — if they could become more consistent on this basic point.

For example, consider the attitude of many Republicans toward smoking — tobacco or marijuana, we should add.

On the one hand, Texas Republicans joined with many Democratic colleagues to raise the legal age for tobacco smoking to 21. Legislation to that effect has passed the House and Senate and appears to be headed to Gov. Greg Abbott, who has indicated he will sign it into law.

It’s the right move, by the way, just as the drinking age in Texas was raised back to 21 from 18 a few decades ago. Most studies show that if people don’t start smoking when they’re young, they almost never pick up the deadly habit later in life. Making it harder for them to get and smoke cigarettes before they’re 21 will clearly help this sensible effort.

That’s a trend sweeping state legislatures across the nation, so give Texas lawmakers some credit.

On the other hand, another growing trend is to decrease penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, or making it easier for people to use pot or cannabis seed oil for medical purposes.

Despite much more support for these moves in this session — from some Republicans, too — those measures appear to be drifting away like a cloud of smoke. Some of this legislation probably would have actually reached the governor if one person — Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — had allowed the Senate to vote on it.

The ironic thing about the bills regarding tobacco and marijuana is that individual choice is replaced by state government decisions. The same Republicans who say that Texans should have virtually unlimited rights regarding, say, their land or guns don’t trust people to make up their own minds about tobacco or pot. Those are all different issues, of course, but the common thread is whether they are guided by personal rights or state law.

Democrats have their inconsistencies, too, it must be said. But right now, Republicans control the House and Senate and all statewide offices. What happens in the GOP therefore has a much bigger impact on the lives of average Texans than debates within the minority party. In the closing days of this session, the majority party should remember what it stands for, what it talks about during campaign season, and vote accordingly when it really counts.