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Thought Pieces

  • From time to time, Eric provides his clients observations on Texas politics, and beyond. These brief articles, penned by Eric, offer context for political happenings, summaries and explanations for policy developments, and commentary on the world around us.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died last weekend in Marfa, Texas. I can't say I ever cared much for Scalia’s judicial philosophies, at least as he revealed them from his decisions and commentary from the bench. That said, he served his country with distinction, and it is with regret that we mark his passing.

It is a sad commentary on the state of our nation that a person who has served his country so honorably has his untimely death overlooked, in mere moments, in order to focus on the political implications of his demise. It isn't only pundits who leapt into the political fray at the announcement of Scalia’s passing - it was presidential candidates of both parties, and leaders of our political houses in Washington. One would hope that even 24 hours could have passed before the scrambling for the man’s seat commenced. In particular, Sens. Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz are, in my view, among the worst practitioners of the political opportunism this turn of events offers.

Sen. McConnell, in his role as Senate majority leader, will obviously have a great deal of...

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Last week, I attended a meeting of the Texas Radiation Advisory Board (TRAB), which reviews and evaluates state radiation policies, programs, and rules. The board also makes recommendations and provides technical advice on matters relating to development, use, and regulation of sources of radiation. At the meeting, there was an update from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) regarding treatment techniques utilizing Electronically Generated Low-Energy Sources for Skin Radiation, or ELS. This technology is also referred to as electronic surface brachytherapy.

In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved ELS for skin cancer treatment. These devices were preliminarily designed for intercavity treatments, such as on breast tissue, but the dermatological applications are relatively recent. The ESL devices are becoming more common, as there is a reimbursement code for the procedure.

DSHS is currently working with dermatological offices around the state to approve expanded utilization. DSHS rules relating to ESL devices were initially...

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I attended the TMA winter conference at the Hyatt in Austin over the weekend. There was a tremendous amount of conversation about scope of practice issues being front and center for the next legislative session, because all of the state licensing boards for medicine and allied health professions are up for review by the Texas Sunset Commission. There will be plenty of opportunities for mischief, and we will need to be vigilant to ensure that the practice of medicine is not eroded during the sunset process.

Additionally, the interspecialty society discussed compounding pharmacies and new regulations governing their activities. And of course, balance billing was the primary topic of the day. A researcher gave a thoughtful presentation on her focus group discussions regarding this controversial practice. It was apparent there is a disconnect between patients and physicians about why balance billing must take place. However, there is clearly a need to educate physicians about how this practice is being perceived by the public.

TexPAC also met and reviewed many of the...

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Texans went to the polls on Tuesday, November 3 to cast their ballots on a range of constitutional provisions. All seven propositions passed. Voter turnout was approximately 10% of the voting population.

Proposition 1 (Passed – 86% YES - 14% NO)

Current law provides an exemption of $15,000 of a residence homestead from property taxation for public school purposes. Basically, the proposed amendment would increase this exemption to $25,000. School districts would be held harmless from all or part of the revenue loss with additional legislative funding. The amendment also would constitutionally prohibit a sales tax being imposed on the sale of your home or business property.

Supporters suggested cutting property taxes by increasing the homestead exemption would stimulate economic growth and provide tax relief, as well as increase the state share of public school funding. Moreover, homestead exemptions particularly benefit low-income individuals, by exempting a higher percentage of the value of a less expensive house. Opponents argued that...

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Donald Trump, the billionaire developer/TV personality, has enjoyed a (surprisingly high) degree of support in his (Quixotic) quest for the presidency of these United States. Commentator after commentator has marveled at his gift of exposing the underbelly of Mr. & Mrs. John Q. American, and poking whatever pisses them off. In terms of offering substantive policy, Trump is notably short. But with regard to engaging in issues that move the political needle, we are watching a master at work.

Perhaps the most controversial elements of Trump’s platform are his views on illegal immigration. In his six-page manifesto entitled “Immigration Reform That Will Make America Great Again,” he describes the diabolical plans of our neighbors to the south to send us their tired, their poor, and their huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

“For many years,” Trump says, “Mexico’s leaders have been taking advantage of the United States by using illegal immigration to export the crime and poverty in their own country (as well as in other Latin American countries). They have...

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Is there room for a Nelson Mandela today?

The passing of Nelson Mandela has led to an outpouring of condolences from the international community. During his lifetime, Mandela evolved from a young lawyer and activist who believed that African blacks should independently pursue their own political self-determination, to a convicted saboteur suffering more than a quarter century of imprisonment, to a respected international political figure and the first black South African to gain office in a fully democratic election. He is credited with dismantling the racist apartheid regime and leading South African national reconciliation. Mandela died a transcendental political dignitary, a household name throughout the world and universally beloved.

Or not.

When U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz made rather benign comments on Facebook expressing sympathy for Mandela’s passing and noting that Mandela would “live in history as an inspiration for defenders of liberty around the globe,” a firestorm of controversy erupted among Cruz’s followers. Many derided Mandela as...

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Digital Currency, Beanie Babies, and Crypto-Anarchy: A Beginner's Guide to Bitcoin

Bitcoins. You've heard of them. But do you know what they are? How they are created? What they are used for? If not, don’t despair – despite their growing popularity, many people remain in the dark about this new currency and its profound policy implications.

Supporters of the technology believe bitcoins and other forms of “crypto-currency” have the potential to revolutionize international commerce, saving consumers billions and providing a secure platform for exchange without the hassle of financial institutions or the government in general. Others worry about bitcoins’ uncertainty, its absence of consumer protections and lack of an economic anchor.

In reality, Bitcoin represents all these things and more. It is the Wild West of digital finance, home to pioneers, speculators, hackers and activists, and its emergence is one of the fascinating economic stories of the 21st century.

What the Hell are you talking about?

Bitcoins...

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America, the bill for "Free Speech" comes due.

Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion about “freedom of association,” “free speech” and the 1st and 14th Amendments. Most of us are familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United opinion and its counterpart, the McCutcheon decision, as well as recent IRS investigations into “Tea Party”-flavored tax-exempt political groups that have raised eyebrows on the right.

Observers closer to home debate the merits of Governor Perry’s 2011 decision to veto S.B. 346 (the so-called “dark money” bill), or perhaps the Texas Ethics Commission’s investigation into the political activities of Empower Texans.

Clearly, and somewhat ironically, there is being a lot of money being spent on these “free” rights, either to defend them or to curb them. A showdown between “transparency” vs. “anonymity,” as it were. It’s a healthy debate, in terms of magnitude as well as virtue.

The supporters of the “unfettered free-speech” position often support some degree of anonymity in the...

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I Tweet; Therefore, I Exist.

Justine Sacco, head of corporate communications for New York-based InterActive Corp., recently learned a hard lesson about the power of the internet. Shortly before boarding her flight to South Africa for a holiday retreat, she posted a rather ill-advised comment on Twitter: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

While airborne (and incommunicado with the rest of humanity), her boorish remarks were re-tweeted thousands of times. Unbeknownst to her, the incident went viral, and international outrage grew, often accompanied by the hashtag “#HasJustineLandedYet.” By the time she arrived in South Africa, her career was destroyed. She issued a contrite apology and deleted her Twitter account, but was nevertheless summarily dismissed by her employer.

There are many other well-documented examples of thoughtless or hateful posts, but more personally, I have several Facebook friends that I consider to be respectful and thoughtful people. They range in age, ethnicity, socio-economic...

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Last week, the LBJ Presidential Library hosted a Civil Rights Summit to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Summit reflected on the civil rights legislation passed by President Lyndon Johnson while examining civil rights issues in America today.In a speech at Howard University in 1965, Johnson offered his rationale behind the development of affirmative action: “Imagine a hundred-yard dash in which one of the two runners has his legs shackled together. He has progressed ten yards, while the unshackled runner has gone fifty yards. At that point the judges decide that the race is unfair. How do they rectify the situation? Do they merely remove the shackles and allow the race to proceed? Then they could say that “equal opportunity” now prevailed. But one of the runners would still be forty yards ahead of the other. Would it not be the better part of justice to allow the previously shackled runner to make up the forty-yard gap, or to start the race all over again? That would be affirmative action toward equality.”

Of course, affirmative action is...

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