Dallas Morning News. August 25, 2022.
Editorial: Texas should eliminate the tampon tax
Abbott’s support signals this tax’s days are numbered.
Taxes are, at best, a necessary evil. But there are certain areas where, if we can get the government out of our pockets, we should.
In Texas, there is an opportunity to lift taxes on tampons and other sanitary feminine products. These are not optional consumer items; they are necessary for personal hygiene, but we tax them like they aren’t.
That’s not true of similar health and hygiene items. According to the state’s comptroller’s website, certain basic necessities are tax exempt. For example, adhesive bandages are exempt if they “absorb drainage.”
A recent report in The Texas Tribune noted that 24 states have made tampons and other menstruation products nontaxable. Texas may be about to join them. Gov. Greg Abbott, Comptroller Glenn Hegar and state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Houston Republican, are now all on record calling for sales tax on women’s sanitary products to be eliminated.
The Legislature needs to follow their lead in the next session and vote to eliminate the “tampon tax.”
The state receives no meaningful revenue from the tax. But even if it did, eliminating it would be the right thing to do. Taxing people on products they must purchase is a dubious matter on any level. Taxing them on something so personal and necessary as this borders on immoral, not to mention discriminatory.
“Taxing these products is archaic, and it is time for Texas to join the 24 states that already exempt tampons and other feminine hygiene products from sales tax,” Hegar said in a press release. “Our economy and state revenues are strong, and Texans are grappling with inflation and challenging price increases on everyday goods.”
Huffman, who chairs the Senate finance committee, added that “Every woman knows that these products are not optional. They are essential to our health and well-being and should be tax exempt.”
The chair of the House’s Women’s Health Caucus, Rep. Donna Howard was pleased with the support.
“I am proud to have championed menstrual equity issues in the Texas House for the last three sessions and am ready to file this bill in November. One in 4 Texas women regularly struggle to purchase period products and 1 in 5 girls report missing school monthly because they do not have access to period products. Ending the discriminatory tampon tax is the first step to ensuring all Texans have access to period products,” the Austin Democrat told us.
Abbott has promised to sign legislation if it makes it to his desk. A spokesperson for the governor, Renae Eze, told the Tribune that “Governor Abbott fully supports exempting feminine hygiene products from state and local sales tax.”
This should have happened years ago, but better late than never.
Now, we might ask, what else is Texas taxing that it shouldn’t be?
Fort Worth Star-Telegram. August 25, 2022.
Editorial: As Fort Worth-area schools battle on race and gender, they risk driving teachers away
Step One when you find yourself in a hole: Stop digging.
Some Fort Worth-area school districts need a reminder of this when it comes to teachers. Their trustees seem determined to put landmines and tripwires all around educators on politics, sexuality and race, making an already difficult job even more fraught.
Grapevine-Colleyville trustees did just that this week, adopting a lengthy policy that governs classroom materials and permissible statements on any number of topics and dives into the touchy area of pronouns and gender identity.
More teachers are throwing up their hands at the impossible demands of the work. This is just one more incentive to leave the industry.
And it’s a distraction from what should be the main focus in a thriving suburban district: excellence in education. We’re not naive enough to suggest that schools can merely remain silent on these charged topics in our snarling political environment. But any policy that’s this taxing and demanding fails to contribute to the main mission.
Politics is, inevitably, a factor. Northeast Tarrant County conservatives successfully targeted school board seats in the Carroll, Keller and Grapevine-Colleyville districts to build upon a larger effort to maintain a GOP majority in a purple-trending county. We’ve said before: All credit goes to those who want to engage in their communities and shape education policy. The pandemic revealed to many parents things about their schools that they did not like, and they are using the remedies available in our systems of government.
But in diverse areas, that policy can be difficult to craft and even harder to enforce. Once they win, trustees must remember that they serve all of a community — especially if they’re elected at-large rather than in single-member districts. They must honor obligations to nondiscrimination laws.
The nation and our area are sharply divided on issues surrounding race, sexuality and gender identity. That’s why much of it is best left at home, particularly for younger children. Even the best schools sometimes struggle to get kids to excel at reading, writing and math. Let teachers focus.
Grapevine-Colleyville’s sweeping policy touches on everything from Tocqueville (encouraged) to The New York Times’ “1619 Project” (a no-no). And district trustees and officials have a point that the Legislature has instructed schools to address these issues, with vague guidance and little clarity on the right methods and possible penalties.
Much attention has gone to the issue of requiring use of preferred pronouns for trans individuals or those questioning their gender identity. GCISD at least didn’t go so far as to prohibit use of a student’s desired pronouns. But the policy makes a show of preventing anyone from being forced to adopt such language — even if a parent requests different pronouns for their child than the ones corresponding to their birth identity.
We urge school leaders everywhere — and everyone, really — to remember the Golden Rule. Not every interaction must be about politics. We can argue broadly about the use of language, and we do. But on an individual level, kindness and politeness are much better principles than trying to win the argument.
Districts in well-off suburbs like Colleyville, Grapevine, Keller and Southlake have excelled because they offer quality public education for people willing to make sacrifices such as long commutes and high property taxes. The last thing anyone charged with the stewardship of those schools should do is water down their success.
Overburdening teachers will be a surefire way to do just that.
Houston Chronicle. August 23, 2022.
Editorial: While Abbott siphons money for border, Texas is throwing away children in youth prisons.
Texas males of a certain age, recalling youthful trouble they might have gotten into, are also likely to remember the ultimate threat from frustrated parents, teachers and paddle-wielding principals: “If you don’t straighten up and fly right, you’re going to end up in Gatesville.” The small town west of Waco was home decades ago to the state’s reformatory for those boys who ran afoul of the law. (“Gatesville” these days houses female offenders.)
It’s hard to say whether boys who heard the institution’s doors lock behind them were “reformed” by their incarceration experience. What’s easier to say, with certainty, is that Gatesville’s five successor institutions are abject failures.
As the Texas Tribune has reported in recent weeks, teens serving time for serious crimes are being locked alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day. Instead of bathroom breaks, they’re given empty water bottles in which to relieve themselves. Sports programs and other activities designed to rehabilitate and redirect troubled young people have been eliminated. Instead of attending class, they get work packets to complete in their cells. Although these are youth who likely had serious problems before incarceration, they’ve lost access to counseling and therapy.
Shandra Carter, interim director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, stopped accepting newly sentenced children last month. As she told a House committee recently, she can’t guarantee their safety, because she can’t find people who want to go to work every day in such a chaotic and difficult environment. The pay is too low, the job too hard. She said the turnover rate for guards and other employees is 70%. Most new hires quit within six months. (Carter became interim director in April, when the agency’s longest-serving director quit without notice.)
Perhaps there’s no connection, but the previous director quit on the very day that Gov. Greg Abbott dipped into TJJD’s budget to help fund Operation Lone Star, his ever-expanding, multi-billion dollar border boondoggle.
Think about it: While the governor dispatches legions of Department of Public Safety troopers and Texas National Guardsmen to South Texas, where they waste their time and our money allegedly assisting with border security, our most troubled youth are locked in cells as if they were cartel bosses in a maximum-security lockup. According to the Tribune, desperate teens trying to get the attention of distracted, overworked staff have jammed springs from ballpoint pens into their neck or pieces of metal into their urethra. Some have used ligatures to strangle themselves.
It’s not as if our governor is unaware of the state’s juvenile-prison outrage. During the summer of 2021, he dispatched Texas Rangers to investigate the five prisons following an increase in inappropriate sexual contact between staff and youth. The Rangers found five criminal violations.
The governor, a former attorney general, also knows that the agency has been a headache for years. Despite comprehensive restructuring in 2011, TJJD is still under federal investigation for an alleged pattern of mistreatment and abuse, including sexual abuse and violence.
Abbott is not the only one who has picked at TJJD’s budget like a buzzard pecking roadkill. The legislature imposed a 5% budget cut on the department at the beginning of the pandemic. Lawmakers also rejected agency requests for services designed to head off suicides and address other mental health needs. Four times during the pandemic the governor and the Legislature grabbed money TJJD received in federal coronavirus relief funds, so they could use it elsewhere, including the governor’s Lone Star border stunt.
State Rep. James Talarico, a Round Rock Democrat who serves on the House Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, has demanded that the governor call a special session of the Legislature to address a system nearing “total collapse.” Camille Gibson, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Crime Prevention Center at Prairie View A&M University, would like to see a special session, as well. “Considering the type of things we’ve called special sessions for in the past, what with this problem and Uvalde, I’d say one is certainly warranted,” she told the Chronicle editorial board.
Both Talarico and Gibson know the governor is not going to call a special session (although Abbott’s office issued a statement saying he will support salary increases for TJJD employees). What can happen in lieu of a special session is comprehensive restructuring of the state’s juvenile justice department during next year’s regular legislative session. A sunset review of the agency is underway.
As with most issues, restructuring takes money, although the state, according to Comptroller Glenn Hegar, can look forward to record-high revenues next year. The money must go toward more competitive salaries and more attractive benefits for men and women doing a difficult job. The agency needs more personnel, so that young people are not left in their cells unsupervised for 23 hours a day. It needs guards, teachers, coaches, licensed counselors. Actually, it needs them right now.
As Austin attorney Brett Merfish of the legal-reform group Texas Appleseed told the Chronicle editorial board, “the crisis at TJJD is a loud and clear alarm that the current system isn’t working. It is time for state leaders to reimagine the juvenile justice system and take action.”
Reimagining, Merfish and other reformers suggest, would involve, first, dismantling the five youth prisons functioning these days as mini-Guantanamos. The young people serving time in these facilities — located in Mart, Brownwood, Edinburg, Gainesville and Giddings — would be shifted to regional detention facilities. Smaller, narrowly focused facilities, most likely in urban settings, would be closer to home for most of the incarcerated teenagers and closer to mental health services. That regional approach already has happened to some extent, which explains why only a few hundred are still being incarcerated in the five prisons.
Closing down the youth prisons and likely finding new uses for the properties would save money that could go to regional and local facilities. It’s also potential investment money — funds that could be used for programs in schools and social-service agencies, for family therapy, substance-abuse treatment, anti-violence counseling and other efforts designed to head off a life of crime before it gets started.
“We have to believe that most young people are malleable. Most young people can change,” Prairie View’s Gibson says.
“If we care about our future, it only makes sense that we care about our children,” she added.
Do we care?
The young people spending time in the state’s juvenile prisons — most of them boys between 13 and 19 — have been convicted of serious offenses. They need secure state facilities and close supervision. They need long-term therapy, ambitious efforts to undo damage done by dysfunctional families (or no families), years of neglect and abuse, exposure to violence, sex trafficking, mental illness and numerous other situations that make the challenge of reform and rehabilitation difficult but not impossible. Whatever challenge they represent, they don’t deserve being locked alone in a cramped cell for 23 hours a day, water bottles filled with urine at their feet.
They don’t deserve being thrown away. In a state where political leaders purport to care so much about life, can’t we all agree that the way we force children to live in these abusive conditions is not living at all.
San Antonio Express-News. August 27, 2022.
Editorial: If only busing migrants would spur comprehensive reform
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to bus migrants to New York City and Washington, D.C., has amplified the desperate need for comprehensive immigration reform. Since April, Abbott has bused more than 7,200 migrants from Texas to President Joe Biden’s backyard. Since Aug. 5, he’s bused more than 1,500 migrants to New York City.
Immigration is a federal issue, but it is an acute challenge for border states. And we can’t help but notice that Abbott’s busing program has had an interesting side effect. It has prompted comments from Mayors Eric Adams and Muriel Bowser, of New York City and Washington, D.C., that give voice to the pressures border communities face.
“We need help, and we’re reaching out to the federal government to tell them that we need help,” Adams said just after the first bus arrival.
“The pace of the arriving buses and the volume of arrivals have reached tipping points,” Bowser wrote in a July 19 letter to the office of the U.S. secretary of defense. “Our collective response and service efforts have now become overwhelmed.”
So, in a narrow sense, props to Abbott for prompting Adams and Bowser to articulate the concerns of border communities, which bear the brunt of a broken immigration system. And if this, in turn, leads to comprehensive immigration reform, then it would be a master stroke. But our concern is this is more about scoring political points than bringing attention to the issue of immigration with appropriate moral urgency. Consider what Abbott said in a statement this month about busing:
“Because of President Biden’s continued refusal to acknowledge the crisis caused by his open border policies, the State of Texas has had to take unprecedented action to keep our communities safe” he said. “In addition to Washington, D.C., New York City is the ideal destination for these migrants, who can receive the abundance of city services and housing that Mayor Eric Adams has boasted about within the sanctuary city. I hope he follows through on his promise of welcoming all migrants with open arms so that our overrun and overwhelmed border towns can find relief.”
Immigration is a federal issue, but for border communities it’s local, and the pressure is intense. The flow of migrants in the Del Rio sector has been off the charts. As Express-News and Houston Chronicle reporter Jeremy Wallace has outlined, since October, more than 376,000 migrant encounters with federal officials have occurred in the Del Rio sector, twice as many as the same point in time last year.
In a recent Editorial Board meeting, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told us smuggling organizations “are far more sophisticated than they were in the past.” And he said this is a unique moment in terms of immigration flow.
“What we are seeing is something very, very different than what preceded over the last ‘x’ number of years,” he said. “Because it’s not simply, or merely, migration from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. We are seeing a tremendous increase in Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, Brazilians, Peruvians.”
Given shifting global immigration patterns and federal political gridlock, just what is a border governor to do? No wonder Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, told us busing immigrants to Washington and New York is “smart politics on Abbott’s part” because his GOP base overwhelmingly supports his immigration efforts. And, of course, he has brought broader attention to the issue.
On one level, what Abbott has offered migrants, if you remove the obvious politics, is a pretty good deal. They receive a free bus ride to Washington or New York, where asylum is granted more often than in Texas and organizations are better resourced to provide aid. It’s the kind of offer that might inspire more migrants to come here, an irony Abbott’s supporters should ponder.
But while busing might be “smart politics,” we wonder what Abbott’s end game is in terms of broader policies, or whether there is a moral driving force. In our interview, Mayorkas said the governor’s actions on the border, when done in coordination with DHS, can be beneficial. But when the state acts unilaterally, it can “wreak havoc.”
In this case, the busing doesn’t wreak havoc, but, Mayorkas said, “The unilateral busing of migrants, irrespective of the capacity of particular locales to address the needs of those individuals, also can prove problematic.”
We’re concerned about how it turns migrants into political props; plays states against each other; and presents immigrants strictly in terms of cost while ignoring the economic benefits immigrants bring, such as paying taxes and filling labor needs.
Let’s think comprehensively. As Ken Salazar, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico told us during an Editorial Board meeting Wednesday: “The effort ought to be focused on having the United States Congress bring us the solutions… that we have been trying to get to for 30 years.”
As the buses flow to New York City and Washington, D.C., and mayors in those cities echo the words of mayors along the border, as migrants cross in the Del Rio sector, let’s all take stock of what words and actions truly lead to the comprehensive reforms so long overdue and desperately needed.