Big issues for Texas’ 79th legislature

The opening days of our state’s 79th legislative session were more hopeful than the session begun two years ago. Those lawmakers began their work with a $10 billion dollar deficit and at least one huge issue to address. This legislature begins with a half-billion dollar surplus. That’s not much money but it is an improvement of several billion dollars. I was privileged to visit on the opening day and noted among pro-family leaders several recurring themes.

Texas education: Of course this is number one. The last session went into extra innings without settling long-term needs of Texas public schools. This one item could easily bury our little surplus. For Texas Southern Baptists, the frequent suggestions that slot machines or casinos can solve our finance problems cause us great concern.

Baptists contend that this is not easy money. It’s a trap for any state that hawks a get-rich-quick mentality to the most gullible of us. These are the folks who need the jackpot because they can’t handle their household finances. The money they plug into slots will be recovered by crime, second mortgages, bankruptcies, and impoverishing their own children. The money comes from somewhere. Many states have found that the promises of the gambling (not gaming) industry are overblown?aimed at gullible political leaders.

There must be another way. Some have suggested that even modest efforts at greater efficiency in our educational bureaucracy could free up over a billion dollars for use in critical areas. Our legislature is responsible to superintend the priority use of state money, not just to allocate money. We have the model of other, better-funded and worse-performing, states to show us that money alone is not the answer here.

As for the lure of gambling money, kids would rather have outdated equipment at school than a family devastated by the results of a gambling addiction. Our lawmakers know this in their hearts. I doubt that many of them spend much at casinos or on lottery tickets.

Defining marriage: This should be a homerun. A couple of bills have already been written to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. This issue is rising from the states and hopefully will push the federal government to give us a constitutional remedy to our activist court system.

Although Texans overwhelmingly favor a traditional definition of marriage, we can’t take anything for granted. Sometimes our lawmakers do not represent the values of their constituents until six months before Election Day. If you are unwilling to live in a culture where marriage can mean anything (and thus nothing), pay attention to what your state representative is supporting. Call him/her and express your opinion about the holiness of traditional marriage. To a great degree they’ll listen to the voters that call. You can be sure that homosexual advocates will be calling. It’s a crucial matter to them. If we make it crucial to us, we’ll win.

Biotech development: Biotechnology is an industry. To our political leaders it is a growth industry that we should bring to Texas if there is anything we can do to provide a welcoming environment. Sounds good. The governor’s office seems to be interested in encouraging the growth of biotech industry in Texas for the sake of jobs, research, and the benefits to higher education that seem likely to follow.

The Texas Medical Association and the American Medical Association think biotech growth must include expanded public funding for embryonic stem cell research and “therapeutic” cloning. Remember that the U.S. government has not banned stem cell research, only federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. This currently unproductive research is now the focus of professional advocacy groups. What they want is public funding for research unfettered by the convictions of millions of taxpayers. Of course they do.

For biblical Christians, the notion is more than mildly threatening. We wonder if our state leaders have an adequate moral filter in the face of these pressures. Will we fund the cloning of embryos for research? Will we fund embryonic stem cell research? Will we do just anything to woo companies to come to Texas to set up research facilities? I suspect not but I need to hear that regularly if I am to trust my political leaders. I think they need to be reminded of what they believe also.

Gov. Perry has expressed agreement with President Bush on embryonic stem cell research (no public funding) and cloning (ban it). We should support him in that belief and do more than that if our legislators start pushing the state toward a lowered value on human life.

Abortion: It’s sad that we should be so jubilant to win even modest restrictions on abortion?even if we cast it as a minor medical procedure. The last session passed a law requiring parental notification for minors seeking an abortion. Who could stand against this? Lucrative abortion mills and their professional lobbyists at least.

In this session we should seek the next reasonable step, parental consent. Until we take a minor daughter’s decision to kill her baby as seriously as a wart removal or ear piercing, we are an absurdly barbaric people. Parental consent will save babies, and likely some 16-year-old daughters.

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