- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The U.S. Justice Department said Monday it is abandoning its longstanding opposition to a key aspect of Texas’ toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law, costing voting rights groups their most important ally and possibly encouraging other conservative states to toughen their own election rules with President Donald Trump in charge.

It’s a dramatic break from the agency’s position under President Barack Obama, which spent years arguing that the voter ID law passed in 2011 by Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature was intended to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

“It’s a complete 180,” said Danielle Lang of the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center. “We can’t make heads or tails of any factual reason for the change. There has been no new evidence that’s come to light.”

The law requires voters to show one of seven forms of state-approved photo identification - gun permits are acceptable but college IDs are not. Voting rights activists sued, and the case returns to court Tuesday in Corpus Christi, Texas, before U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Abueg said that although the Justice Department will no longer argue that the law was intended to discriminate against minorities, it doesn’t plan to withdraw from a portion of the lawsuit that argues that the law had the effect of discriminating against them.

The “intent” versus “effect” distinction is important since the former is still being argued before Gonzales Ramos.

A federal appeals court last year already ruled on effect, deciding that the Texas law discriminated against minorities and the poor and ordering changes ahead of the November election. The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined a Texas appeal that sought to restore the law, but Chief Justice John Roberts hinted that the high court could eventually hear an appeal at a later time.

That appeal likely can’t happen until Gonzales Ramos rules on the Legislature’s intent, though, and she’s not expected to decide until weeks after Tuesday’s hearing. In the meantime, the Justice Department’s withdrawal means voting rights organizations suing will lose the assistance of a group of Department of Justice lawyers who had been assisting them on the case.

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‘WRONGFUL BIRTH’ BILL

A “wrongful birth” bill prohibiting parents from suing doctors after their child is born with severe disabilities is headed to the full Texas Senate.

The chamber’s State Affairs Committee approved the measure Monday, after hearing emotional testimony from both supporters and opponents.

In 1975, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that parents were entitled to damages covering the extra cost of raising a child with disabilities after doctors failed to fully inform them about problems with the pregnancy.

Anti-abortion advocates applauded the bill. Its sponsor, Republican Sen. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, said patients could still sue for negligence, but couldn’t hold doctors liable for delivering disabled children.

Opponents warned of dire, unintended consequences, saying Creighton’s bill lets physicians opposed to abortion “lie to” and “impose their own morality on” patients.

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BAYLOR INVESTIGATION BILL

A Texas lawmaker wants the state’s top law enforcement agency to look into Baylor’s sexual assault scandal and whether school officials worked to cover up crimes.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez, a San Antonio Democrat, called on the Texas Rangers on Monday to probe the nation’s largest Baptist school.

Baylor fired football coach Art Briles and pushed out former President Ken Starr in 2016 after an internal report found the Waco school mishandled sexual or physical assault allegations for years.

Baylor officials have acknowledged that at least 17 women reported being raped by 19 football players since 2011. Lawsuits against the school put the number of alleged sexual assaults at more than 50 over a four-year period.

Baylor officials say federal civil rights investigators will be on campus this week.

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ON DECK

The House holds a floor session at 10 a.m. Tuesday, but all eyes will be on the day’s 5 p.m. deadline to file amendments to a pair of bills designed to improve the state’s troubled foster care system. Those are poised to become the chamber’s first legislation approved this session on Wednesday.

The Senate reconvenes at 11 a.m. Tuesday and could take up measures calling for a “convention of states” to amendment the U.S. Constitution and include such initiatives as a federal balanced budget rule and term limits.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

“What makes you think it’s your money?” - State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas. The Dallas Morning News reports that Huffines got into a heated exchange Monday with students from Richardson Independent School District who visited Austin and questioned his support for voucher plans that seek to offer public money to parents who want to send their children to private schools.

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