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The Brief: State Leaders React to Obama's Transgender Directive

Attorney General Ken Paxton submitted a letter seeking clarification on a directive from the Obama administration advising public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms aligned with their gender identity.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton at a press conference in Austin on Jan. 13, 2016.

The Big Conversation

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton submitted a letter to the U.S. Justice and Education departments seeking clarification on a recent directive from the Obama administration that advises public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Paxton submitted the letter with top lawyers from Oklahoma and West Virginia, seeking the answer to a basic query, the Tribune's Kiah Collier wrote — "Will public schools really lose federal education funding if they refuse to comply with a new Obama administration directive regarding transgender students?"

Obama's directive came within days of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick calling on the Fort Worth ISD superintendent to resign for adopting similar guidelines for transgender students.

In the letter sent Tuesday, Paxton and the attorneys general from Oklahoma and West Virginia asked whether the public schools could not follow the directive and still be in compliance with Title IX, a federal law requiring gender equality in education institutions.

“Do circumstances exist in which you would consider a school still in compliance with Title IX despite non-compliance with these guidelines?” the letter asks. “If so, please describe those circumstances and whether you would take steps to recoup or end federal funding.”

Gov. Greg Abbott also spoke on the directive Tuesday, calling comments from U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch comparing the fight for transgender rights to the fight for civil rights during the Jim Crow era "offensive" and "ignorant," wrote Brandi Grissom of The Dallas Morning News.

Other state officials stayed quiet on the issue, most notably Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who declined to comment on the issue during an interview with the Tribune's Evan Smith on Tuesday.

“Last time I checked, it was a free country,” Morath said during the event, Collier wrote.

Trib Must Reads

West Texas Congressional Race Pits Establishment Against Wealthy Republican, by Abby Livingston – For Glen Robertson, the GOP race for Congressional District 19 is about his record as Lubbock mayor and the fact that he’s mostly funding his own campaign. For Jodey Arrington, it's about connections to fading Texas political power brokers.

Female Veterans Find Solace Through Houston Program (Video), by Alana Rocha and Justin Dehn – More female veterans call Texas home than any other state in the country, according to 2015 figures. One nonprofit group in Houston ensures that female veterans get a safe space to receive counseling and learn from one another's experiences.

Analysis: Selling Ideas to the People Who Influence Texas Lawmakers, by Ross Ramsey – The more prescriptive a party platform becomes, the more it reads like a directive to the Legislature. In Texas, the GOP platform becomes a way to build the kind of grassroots support that can spur action from legislators. That, in turn, attracts lobbyists.

The Super PAC Experiment That Bankrolled Ted Cruz, by Patrick Svitek – Super PACs backing Ted Cruz's presidential bid didn't just raise millions, they pioneered a new way to channel the money into his effort. The results were mixed.

Senators Vow to Tighten Rules for Emergency Leave, by Madlin Mekelburg – Members of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday vowed to "tighten it up" when it comes to granting emergency leave to state employees.

The Day Ahead

•   Gov. Greg Abbott kicks off his book tour for his memoir/political manifesto, "Broken but Unbowed," at 1 p.m. in Austin, hosting a book signing at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

•   The House Appropriations Committee holds an interim hearing at 10 a.m. in the Capitol extension where they will discuss progress made during the last session to reduce the state's reliance on general revenue dedicated accounts for budget certification.

•   The joint Health and Human Services Transition Legislative Oversight Committee holds an interim hearing at 10 a.m. in the Capitol extension where they will hear invited testimony. 

Elsewhere

(Links below lead to outside websites; content might be behind paywall)

Top staffer leaves AG Ken Paxton’s office citing family medical emergency, The Dallas Morning News

Company charged for oil spill that fouled California beaches, The Associated Press

Judge blocks Texas 'incumbent protection law'San Antonio Express-News

Ken Paxton touts 7,000th arrest by AG’s sex offender unitAustin American-Statesman

Abbott asked to study Texas school policingHouston Chronicle

Experts warn Texas lawmakers of Zika threatSan Antonio Express-News

Lawyer for Waco biker seeks to disqualify district attorney, The Associated Press

UT study: Fracking-related activities have caused majority of recent Texas earthquakes, The Dallas Morning News

Texas can do its own background checks on refugees, AG saysHouston Chronicle

New rule to require overtime for more workersSan Antonio Express-News

NTSB: Anti-lock brake system was not active at time of fatal bus rolloverLaredo Morning Times

Paxton spokesman: Indicted AG has not been asked to resign, The Associated Press

Quote to Note

"This guy... if we lose in November we Republicans have ourselves to blame.”  

— Former presidential candidate Jeb Bush on the Republican party's presumptive nominee Donald Trump

Today in TribTalk

Electric grid security is a serious — but fixable — issue, by Bob Hall – Experts have warned for more than two decades of the electric grid's vulnerabilities to physical, cyber, and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threats. However, unlike physical and cyber, the nation's electric grid has not been adequately protected against EMP threats. More than 11 comprehensive studies, either authored by or for the government, have detailed the seriousness of the EMP threat to electronic based infrastructure and specifically to the nation's electric grid.

Neglecting the Texas coast is a Category 5 mistake, by Jerry Patterson – Those of us who grew up in the Houston-Galveston area have long known of the vulnerability of its infrastructure — and that negleting the Texas coast could be a Category 5 mistake.

Trib Events for the Calendar

•    A Conversation Series on the Direction of Health Care: Do We Have Enough Doctors?, on May 19 at the Medical World Americas Conference in Houston

•    A Conversation with state Sens. Kel Seliger and Kirk Watson on higher education funding in Texas, on May 26 at The Austin Club.

•    A Conversation with Ryan Sitton, Texas Railroad Commissioner, on June 3 at The Austin Club

•    The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 23-25 at the University of Texas at Austin

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