Commentary roundup: What newspapers around the state are saying

Houston Chronicle

March 22 editorial, "Health experts or politicians? Who should set Texas' vaccine schedule?"

Until the 1960s, when a measles vaccine became widely available and part of the routine for children before enrolling in public school, measles raged through classrooms and families. It spread with astonishing ease to 9 out of 10 people in the vicinity of an infected person.

For decades, though, Americans haven’t had to worry. In 2000, measles was declared eradicated here but today, outbreaks are occurring among pockets of unvaccinated people. It happened in Texas in 2013, at Disney World in 2014 and in central Ohio just last month, where an outbreak sent 36 children to the hospital.

While the overall vaccination rates for students remain relatively high in Texas, the number of parents seeking non-medical exemptions for religious and philosophical reasons has skyrocketed. In the 2003-2004 school year, 2,314 non-medical exemptions were recorded. In the past school year, it was 85,726.

It's no time for any state to be weakening vaccination policies. So why are some Texas lawmakers trying to do exactly that?

At least 27 bills have been filed that would in some way limit the ability of governments or private employers to require vaccinations or masks, with many focusing on COVID. Some of the bills focus on how the state decides which vaccines to require for enrollment in public schools. Senate Bill 1024, introduced by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), would take authority away from the Texas Department of State Health Services to set the vaccine list and give that power to the Texas Legislature.

Yes, you heard that right. Take the authority away from the health department and give it to politicians whose decisions, shall we say, are often influenced by more than a duty to protect public health.

— Houston Chronicle Editorial Board

Dallas Morning News

March 24 editorial, "Local control is under attack in Austin."

Some state lawmakers insist that the cities, which are empowered to pass ordinances to address decidedly local concerns, are crossing into the state’s authority. So among the more than 8,000 bills in the legislative hopper in Austin this session are an onerous batch of wide-ranging preemption bills to roll back the regulatory authority of Texas cities.

These sweeping bills are dangerous, overreaching and lazy lawmaking. Consider House Bill 2127 and Senate Bill 814, filed respectively by state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, and state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. These companion bills would bar local governments from writing laws that impact the Agriculture, Finance, Labor, Natural Resources or Occupations codes, according to the Texas Municipal League.

If that seems broad and excessive, it is. The Texas Municipal League, which represents the interests of Texas cities, says the bills are overreaching and would effectively exclude cities from addressing anything that falls under those codes. Unless state law expressly authorizes a city or county to act in these fields, any local ordinance or order that attempts to regulate any activity within these codes would be void and unenforceable by law, the Texas Municipal League concludes.

For example, the Texas Municipal League says cities could be prevented or severely restricted from addressing overgrown lots, regulating payday and auto-title lending or barring employment discrimination. The bills also could handcuff a city from limiting door-to-door sales, uncontrolled burns, unsafe waste storage and more. And in addition to the sweeping preemption bills, several limited bills have been introduced to block cities from regulating specific issues. House Bill 2665, filed by state Rep. Gary Gates, R-Richmond, would mostly limit city authority over short-term rentals to collecting taxes and fees and enforcing parking and safety rules.

The Texas Legislature has wide authority to preempt local law. However, the indiscriminate use of this authority handcuffs local jurisdictions and shifts authority to a part-time Legislature that meets every other year. City councils meet more often to give residents a representative voice in shaping local policy. At the city level, residents have more opportunities to hold council members accountable than they have to check faceless lawmakers in the Legislature. Legislators should respect this relationship, tread lightly and stay in their lanes, too.

— Dallas Morning News Editorial Board

The Beaumont Enterprise

March 18 editorial, "Hey, Texas GOP, why not censure Attorney General Ken Paxton?"

So, if the Texas GOP is truly concerned about "fidelity" to core principles among elected officials, then Paxton strikes us as a natural point of emphasis. Just what Republican principles is he advancing? Has he demonstrated fidelity to the Texas GOP?They may not like the honest answers to these questions.Here is an elected official whose tenure has been mired in scandal. One that sought to overturn a free and fair election and whose actions in office may cost taxpayers millions of dollars.He has shown little regard for other elected officials as evidenced by his remarks about his fellow Republicans at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.In what world is [Rep. Tony] Gonzales censured but Paxton celebrated? Apparently, in the narrow confines of the Texas GOP.

— The Beaumont Enterprise

San Antonio Express-News

March 23 editorial, "Anti-transgender bills in Texas lege are anti-humanity."

There are 140 anti-LGBTQ bills in the Texas Legislature this session, including 42 that target people who are transgender, according to the Equality Texas’ 2023 LGBTQ bill tracker. It's the most ever filed in Texas.

While this ongoing crusade against trans people isn't new, the focus has intensified since the bathroom bill debate of 2017. Other bills would stop children from attending drag shows and ban transgender student-athletes from participating in college sports that align with their gender identity.

SB 14 is among the most unsettling of the anti-transgender bills because it would infringe on a parent's and child’s freedom to make informed health care choices; and it would prevent doctors from providing leading and appropriate medical advice. The measure would require the Texas Medical Board to revoke the licenses of physicians who provide gender-affirming care, and it would prohibit taxpayer funds from being used for that care.

The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association have all said transition care is medically necessary. And let's also remember that transgender people have much higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts than the general population and are far more likely to experience a violent attack, such as rape, sexual assault and aggravated assault.

Why aren't we focusing on these issues?

— San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

March 18 editorial, "It's time Fort Worth police stop making arrests for small amounts of pot. Here's why."

It’s an interesting time in the country’s perpetual marijuana debate. Decriminalization and even outright legalization have been on the march. In 2022, President Joe Biden announced pardons for thousands of simple-possession cases and prodded federal regulators to reconsider the classification of marijuana, which is currently listed among the most dangerous and potent drugs.

Oklahoma is a fascinating case. The state allowed for broad medical use of marijuana in 2018. The law was crafted in such a way that few limits existed on prescriptions or the dispensary business. Soon, the state was awash in legal pot.

But when voters were asked this month if they wanted to formally legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, they resoundingly said no, the fourth state to do so in recent months. Perhaps they figured that it was easy enough to get, so why change the law? But many probably had concerns about its sudden widespread use.

Texas is further behind the curve. There will be no legalization for recreational use anytime soon. But there are new openings for more medical allowances. Fort Worth Rep. Stephanie Klick, a conservative Republican, is pushing to add conditions such as chronic pain to the list for which doctors can prescribe marijuana and to increase the strength of cannabis available to patients. Some Texas cities, including Denton, have tried to defy state law on the matter. That’s not the right approach, as Parker noted. A readily available first step, stopping arrests and issuing summons, is available.Fort Worth should do it, but it needs a serious — and precise — discussion on the matter. And that doesn't mean snapping on Twitter.

— Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial Board

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Austin American-Statesman Commentary Roundup: March 26, 2023