Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Comedy Stylings of the 83rd Texas Legislature

Let’s go round up some bills, fellers…

The Texas Legislature is a venerable institution; a place of studied consideration of public policy. It is also peopled solely by Texans, who are occasionally seized by that unique Texas character that is a mix of independent spirit, fundamentalist zeal, and oddly polite velociraptor.

Artcar Parade -
She’s got that Texas Spirit. Or a wedgie. It’s hard to tell.

This inevitably leads to some eyebrow-raising legislation packed in among the loftier bills. Many are garden variety last gasps of mid-century American cultural hegemony, but once in a while they are some that are just particularly odd. Here are a few of my favorites from the new session so far, by topic. Some are bizarre, some are just overtly hostile, and some are just…Texas.

Mission Espada
Religion[i], like everything else, is big in Texas. Big megachurches, big influence, big hair on pastors’ wives. Unfortunately, sometimes it also means big-otry . This year actually has not seen a lot of truly crazy bills in the religion side of things, but the session isn’t over yet. Here’s what has been filed so far:

HB51 – allows the Ten Commandments to be displayed prominent in classrooms, regardless of whether the class has any relation to non-religious aspects of the Commandments[ii]. No such protections are offered for other religious dictates (5 pillars of Islam, etc.)

HB308 – allows people to use “traditional winter celebration” greetings in schools (Read: Christmas, and , begrudgingly, Hannukah). It does not include Kwanzaa, solstice, Festivus, etc[iii].  The bill also protects the right to erect Christmas displays[iv]. The greatest bit about this bill is its continuance of the ongoing theme of “legislation whose aim it is to cure perceived ills that don’t actually exist”.  Oddly “happy holidays”, the fury touchstone of the far right, is one of the protected greetings.

HB 285 – This bill prohibits universities from discriminating against professors who want to research and teach intelligent design. This essentially means that universities cannot stop a professor from teaching intelligent design in a biology class. It also potentially means that in hiring professors, a school may not be able to discriminate against candidates for a position even if they are teaching something completely against the accepted curriculum of that area of study. This is akin to hiring a nutrition teacher who advocates anorexia.

HB 288 – In unrelated contrast to its other xenophobic elements, HB 288 also contains a provision that emphasizes the separation of church and state…..but only in terms that the church should be completely autonomous from the state.

Nowhere else does the Texas spirit of independence shine through quite so brightly[v] as their fondness for the firearm. Every time someone in Washington even says “gun” in passing conversation, there is a run on Texas guns and ammunition from crazed citizens SURE that the very next day black helicopters will swoop in to take their guns and leave them unable to defend themselves against robbers, rapists, and/or Joe Biden.  

In the face of school shootings and a serious national discourse on gun control, the general aim of Texas legislatiure is….well, completely in the opposite direction. Texas, once again, is doubling down on guns[vi].

HB 706/SB 182 – Got a firearm and a concealed carry permit, but having to face the heartbreak of leaving it behind when you go to school? No more! In an era of school shootings there is no better solution than to add a general fear that anyone you run into may be carrying a firearm. This is perfectly logical, because teenagers/young adults never act impulsively or irrationally in a way that would be dangerous to combine with firearms. Every frat party I ever went to was merely a sober salon in which we discussed 14th century French literature.

HB 700 –  Ok, fine, HB706, you think you’re head crazypants for bringing more guns to schools? Well meh, you’ve got nothing on me. I’m HB700, and I want to make it legal to carry your gun in the open if you have concealed carry permit. That’s right, we’re going back to the frontier days. What’s the point of packing that new penis compensator .44 Magnum if you can’t show it off to the world? Bet that barista in Starbucks won’t be so uppity now when I say Large instead of Venti. I’m getting downright gunslinger up in here.

HB 553 – Continuing the theme of open defiance to perceived federal  government overreach, this “second amendment preservation act” effectively says any federal gun control is a violation of the second amendment and won’t be accepted.  Any.  Not only that, it adds punishments for peace officers who carry out such laws in their role of protecting the public. One step closer to completely free access to guns unfettered by government. I hear this has worked out fantastically well in Somalia.

Goddam’ Furr-iners
Texas shares two international borders[vii], and employs seemingly half of Mexico and Guatemala. However, even given this close proximity and familiarity, there is a strong and abiding fear of anything not originating in ‘Murica. Mostly it seems based on the assumptions that illegal immigrants will come steal the jobs that we’re already illicitly paying them to do.

A few of the bills are just minor shots across the federal bow. HB 180 removes completion of degree program as a resident status criteria in response to the feared Obama DREAM act and decision not to deport young people. HB 288 requires no application of foreign international law in courts that already do not apply foreign international law. HB 359 is essentially a copy of Arizona’s “Show Me Your Papers” fascist marching orders legislation.

The one that takes the cake for its nod to the tinfoil hat crowd is HB 181, which prohibits governments from making day labor centers to house illegal aliens for work. Again carrying on the proud tradition of taking a symbolic and vitriolic stand against imaginary things. I am motivated by this example to personally propose HB32 next session, a bill I will entitle the “Prevent Victoria’s Secret Models from Kidnapping Me to be Their Love Slave Act”.  

ArtCar Parade - Eagle
The Rest of the Crazy
The remaining bills don’t fit nicely into one category other than the general catch-all of Crazy. They are presented in order of crazy from “mildly deranged” to “I weep for humanity”.

HB 360 is a mostly unfunny bill that indicates schools won’t get funding if they don’t allow student organizations to discriminate based on race, gender and sexual orientation.  Because schools were just getting downright welcoming with their emphasis on “inclusion” and “diversity” and …“basic human dignity”.  

HB 773 requires students to pledge allegiance to the US flag and to the Texas flag in charter schools as well as public schools. This act is not in itself crazy, as it’s just adding the charter schools. What is odd is that this is already mandatory in public schools. Before I came to Texas, I have never lived in a state that required pledging allegiance, let alone to a state flag. Take THAT, Supremacy Clause[viii].  

HB 778 – Requires A&M and UT to play an annual football game. Not recommends, not suggests they do so out of tradition, but REQUIRES. If they refuse for any reason, they would lose the ability to give football scholarships at all to any students. Texas football is serious business, and we will have our traditional A&M and UT game even if it has to be at gunpoint. Luckily, there are at least two bills that would allow us to carry firearms on campuses, so this won’t be a problem.   

HB337 - The absolute best bill of the bunch, however is this heavy-handed bill referring to the licensure of adult-oriented businesses and display of said licensing. The hilarity comes in its inclusion of exotic dancers in its requirements. Strippers must not only be licensed by the state, which brings up the inevitable jokes about license testing procedures, but they must also display their license. At all times. ON THEIR PERSON. The conversations that will ensue about how the logistics work out (what am I supposed to attach it to?), and potential liability (client paper cuts during lap dances?) will make for the best hearings ever.


[i] Which tends to translate solely to Christianity in Texas talk, despite growing diversity in many areas.  
[ii] i.e. comparative religion, history, etc.
[iii] One might argue that Saturnalia, Solstice, etc are a good deal more “traditional” than Hannukah or Christmas….
[iv] Though it does require they be “balanced” by having another display (not necessarily of equal prominence  reflecting another religion (read: Judaism) or secular scene.
[v] This term is being used, of course, in the sense of a metaphor for prominence, not in the context of bright in which it refers to intelligence. I cannot emphasize this enough.
[vi] Which gives a whole new meaning to Texas Hold ‘em.
[vii] According to Texans, anyway. Those borders are Mexico and the US.
[viii] In Texas history, the Supremacy Clause is depicted as Santa’s more successful brother. i.e., a mythical thing.  

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