Texas ‘wrongful birth’ bill fails to pass

A Texas bill that would have prevented parents from suing their doctor if their baby was born with a disability did not pass into law.

The controversial measure, dubbed the “wrongful birth” bill, had stirred outrage among abortion-rights supporters who said it could result in doctors who morally oppose abortions to lie to patients about the health of their fetuses.

The Texas Senate passed the bill in early April, but it never made it out of the House. There was still one last chance the bill could pass in a special session. However, on Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced 19 priorities for the special session. The wrongful birth bill wasn’t on the list.

The issue of “wrongful birth” suits in Texas dates to a 1975 case in which the state Supreme Court sided with a mother whose doctor failed to diagnose her rubella during pregnancy, leading to the birth of a daughter who was blind, deaf and severely brain damaged.

CNN profiled the mother and daughter shortly after the Senate passed the measure. Dortha Biggs, 77, still tends to her daughter Lesli, now 48, at a group home in Texas. Their only form of communication is through touch, an almost ritualistic rubbing of hands. She has never heard her daughter speak a word. Biggs said she has often wished she’d never been born “because had I not been born, she would not have been born and suffered this.”

Biggs told CNN she was shocked and outraged her family was brought into the discussion on the Senate floor without a single lawmaker ever asking about Lesli or seeking input from her family. Infuriated, the mother penned a letter to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brandon Creighton.

“I have stood over her bed for hundreds of nights watching her suffering,” she wrote. “If you have not experienced this heartbreak, you have no right to judge.”

Informed Tuesday evening that the bill failed, Biggs said, “I’m so thankful.”

“Right now, I’m thinking two groups of people won by this,” she said. “No. 1, I would say children who would’ve been brought into the world to just suffer; they now have the chance for that not to happen. I also think parents won because they retain the ability to make a loving decision for what they think is best for their child.”

Creighton has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

Biggs pledged to keep close tabs on the legislature from now on. “I know one thing: I will check every time the Texas legislature is in session to see if another bill is presented and, if it is, I will fight it for as long as I am physically able — whether my name is brought up or not. I promise you that. That’s just kind of how I feel.”

Creighton previously told CNN that he was moved by the letter Biggs sent and that he hoped to reach out to her. “I never heard a word,” Biggs told CNN. “Not a word.”

One person she did hear from after the CNN profile was her high school basketball coach. She hadn’t seen him or spoken to him in 61 years. He’s now in his 90s. He said he’d read about her life struggle and how she’d spent her life fighting for disabled children. He told his old ballplayer that he always knew she’d grow up to become a forceful, strong woman.

“I just wanted to tell you I’m so proud to know you,” the coach wrote.

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Texas special session: What’s on the agenda

School choice, abortion and bathroom access are among Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda items for a special session of the Texas Legislature starting July 18.

Announced Tuesday, a special session is a convening of state lawmakers outside the constitutionally mandated 140-day regular session.

The Republican governor said the Legislature forced the extra inning by failing to reach a compromise on a bill that would prevent the closure of some state agencies, including the medical board.

The sunset bill is the first order of business. If and when lawmakers pass that legislation they can move on to the remaining 19 points on his agenda.

State GOP leaders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, said the “big and bold” agenda “solidly reflects the priorities of the people of Texas.” Democrats accused Abbott of crafting an agenda that appeals to Republican voters. The ACLU said Patrick held the sunset bill hostage to force the session so the Legislature would revisit issues on his “extremist agenda.”

Chief among them is the so-called bathroom bill, simply labeled “privacy.” Patrick was an ardent supporter of a measure that would prevent transgender students from using facilities that match their gender identity.

The agenda addresses health and reproductive care in several items. One proposal would require women to pay an additional premium if they want their insurance to cover elective abortions. Another would increase provider reporting requirements on abortion complications. Another still would prevent local and state agencies from contracting with abortion providers.

Private school choice, school finance and bills to increase teacher pay and hiring flexibility are also on the agenda, along with mail-in ballot fraud and property tax reform.

Here’s the complete list:

– Sunset legislation

– Teacher pay increase of $1,000

– Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices

– School finance reform commission

– School choice for special needs students

– Property tax reform

– Caps on state and local spending

– Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land

– Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects

– Speeding up local government permitting process

– Municipal annexation reform

– Texting while driving pre-emption

– Privacy

– Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues

– Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers

– Pro-life insurance reform

– Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise

– Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders

– Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud

– Extending maternal mortality task force

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Texas special session: What’s on the agenda

School choice, abortion and bathroom access are among Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s agenda items for a special session of the Texas Legislature starting July 18.

Announced Tuesday, a special session is a convening of state lawmakers outside the constitutionally mandated 140-day regular session.

The Republican governor said the Legislature forced the extra inning by failing to reach a compromise on a bill that would prevent the closure of some state agencies, including the medical board.

The sunset bill is the first order of business. If and when lawmakers pass that legislation they can move on to the remaining 19 points on his agenda.

State GOP leaders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, said the “big and bold” agenda “solidly reflects the priorities of the people of Texas.” Democrats accused Abbott of crafting an agenda that appeals to Republican voters. The ACLU said Patrick held the sunset bill hostage to force the session so the Legislature would revisit issues on his “extremist agenda.”

Chief among them is the so-called bathroom bill, simply labeled “privacy.” Patrick was an ardent supporter of a measure that would prevent transgender students from using facilities that match their gender identity.

The agenda addresses health and reproductive care in several items. One proposal would require women to pay an additional premium if they want their insurance to cover elective abortions. Another would increase provider reporting requirements on abortion complications. Another still would prevent local and state agencies from contracting with abortion providers.

Private school choice, school finance and bills to increase teacher pay and hiring flexibility are also on the agenda, along with mail-in ballot fraud and property tax reform.

Here’s the complete list:

– Sunset legislation

– Teacher pay increase of $1,000

– Administrative flexibility in teacher hiring and retention practices

– School finance reform commission

– School choice for special needs students

– Property tax reform

– Caps on state and local spending

– Preventing cities from regulating what property owners do with trees on private land

– Preventing local governments from changing rules midway through construction projects

– Speeding up local government permitting process

– Municipal annexation reform

– Texting while driving pre-emption

– Privacy

– Prohibition of taxpayer dollars to collect union dues

– Prohibition of taxpayer funding for abortion providers

– Pro-life insurance reform

– Strengthening abortion reporting requirements when health complications arise

– Strengthening patient protections relating to do-not-resuscitate orders

– Cracking down on mail-in ballot fraud

– Extending maternal mortality task force

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Obama warns about appeal of authoritarianism

Former President Barack Obama warned Tuesday against the appeal of authoritarian voices around the world — at several points airing veiled criticism of his successor, President Donald Trump.

In a rare post-presidency speech, delivered before the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, Obama called on people, in the face of uncertainty, to stand by some of the very post-World War II economic and political institutions Trump has repeatedly called into question.

“In periods like this, people looking for control and certainty — it’s inevitable,” Obama told the Canadian audience. “But it is important to remember that the world has gone through similar moments. … Our history also shows there is a better way.”

He said people should overcome fear and not listen to those who “call for isolation or nationalism” and those who “suggest rolling back the rights of others.”

Obama’s comments set a different tone than Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” message and has called Americanism his “credo.”

“We’re also bound by the institutions that we built to keep the peace,” Obama said, referring to the UN, NATO and NAFTA.

Obama said that everyday people who felt left behind by government and a changing world could find authoritarians alluring. He said people who felt at a loss with the democratic process could “try anything,” but that liberal values would win out over time.

“I am convinced that the future does not belong to strongmen,” Obama said.

Without mentioning Trump, Obama spoke about the importance of wealthy nations investing in development abroad.

“We’re going to have to summon the same capacity to adapt to new circumstances that we saw after World War II,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to replace fear with hope. That’s the spirit that we need right now.”

Climate change

Obama repeatedly touched on the threat of climate change and Trump’s decision last week to initiate the US’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement.

“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Obama said.

Still, he tried to make the case that the agreement could be effective, regardless of Trump’s decision, calling the accords “an agreement that even with the temporary absence of American leadership, will still give our children a fighting chance.”

He commended state and local leaders who have pledged to push for clean energy and combat climate change.

“They will keep pushing forward for the sake of future generations,” Obama said.

Post-presidential life

Since leaving office, Obama and his wife Michelle spent a significant amount of time off-radar and out of country.

He emerged in April to speak at a form in Chicago. He has spoken several times since then.

At the Montreal event, just as he made a case for the post-World War II international order and his own legacy, Obama argued for increased civic engagement and the spread of democratic values. He said low-civic engagement and a lack of belief in the average person’s ability to affect change in government weaken democratic institutions and are responsible for the advance of “reactionary” politicians.

Obama pledged to work on increasing democratic participation for the rest of his post-presidential life.

“The focus for the rest of my time on this Earth — in addition to enjoying my children and, in a distant future, grandchildren — will be active citizenship in the United States and around the world,” Obama said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Tuesday evening that he met with Obama in Montreal.

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AG Jeff Sessions offered to quit during exchange with Trump

President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have had a series of heated exchanges in the last several weeks after Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, a source close to Sessions told CNN Tuesday.

A senior administration official said that at one point, Sessions expressed he would be willing to resign if Trump no longer wanted him there.

The frustration comes at a critical juncture for Trump. Former FBI Director James Comey is set to testify Thursday about his private discussions with Trump and the Russia investigation has lapped into the White House, with questions about the President’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

Tuesday afternoon, White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to say whether Trump has confidence in Sessions.

“I have not had a discussion with him about that,” Spicer said.

As of 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, the White House still was unable to say whether or not the President backs his attorney general, a White House official said. The official said they wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened when Kellyanne Conway said Trump had confidence in Flynn only to find out hours later that the national security adviser had been pushed out.

Sessions remains at the Justice Department, where a spokeswoman told CNN that he is not stepping down.

ABC News first reported Tuesday that Sessions offered to resign.

Brewing since Sessions’ recusal

Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe in March, shorty after The Washington Post reported on undisclosed meetings between him and the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.

In the three months since Sessions stepped aside, the intensity of the probe has grown exponentially — culminating in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel.

The frustration between Trump and Sessions has gone both ways, with Justice Department officials upset that the President’s tweets and comments caused problems for Sessions and Rosenstein in the wake of the Comey firing.

CNN has previously reported that Trump was frustrated with Sessions’ decision to recuse himself.

Sessions was Trump’s first supporter in the Senate and was an enthusiastic backer throughout the campaign — standing with Trump through multiple controversies. And Sessions’ own team has become a part of Trump’s inner circle: former Sessions chief of staff Rick Dearborn is now Trump’s deputy chief of staff, and former Sessions spokesman Stephen Miller has evolved into a highly influential figure as Trump’s policy director and speechwriter.

After the election, Sessions was rewarded with one of the most prominent positions in Trump’s new administration, atop the Justice Department.

But pressure has been mounting on Trump over his campaign’s communications with Russians. Trump told NBC News that he fired Comey in part because of the Russia probe and Comey, in a memo about a private talk, said Trump pressured him to drop his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

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Trump blocking Twitter critics raises First Amendment concerns

President Trump has blocked a lot of people on Twitter. And now, some are arguing that’s a violation of their First Amendment rights.

In a letter to Trump on Tuesday, lawyers from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University called on the president to unblock people on Twitter. The group is representing two Twitter users who were blocked by the president after they tweeted critical statements to him.

The lawyers argue that Trump can’t exclude people from engaging with him on Twitter based on their viewpoints.

“Your Twitter account is a designated public forum for essentially the same reasons that open city council meetings and school board meetings are,” the lawyers wrote in the letter.

The letter is directed at the @RealDonaldTrump account, but lawyers say it applies to the @POTUS account as well.

When someone is blocked on Twitter, they are unable to follow the account, view the account’s tweets when logged in to the service, or view tweets the account has liked.

The letter raises interesting questions about how government social media accounts should be treated. The lawyers aren’t saying all Twitter blocking violates the First Amendment, but if government officials use Twitter in an official capacity, they shouldn’t be able to block people for expressing an opinion.

“While [the letter] relates to our most prominent Twitter user, the principles we seek to vindicate apply to all public officials and public entities that use social media to conduct government business and allow the public to participate,” Katie Fallow, senior attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, told CNN Tech.

Nearly all high level public officials use Twitter — many of them to engage in official business.

Courts have previously said public social media accounts used as public forums should not censor opinions. In Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, the plaintiff argued that deleting a post on the Facebook page of a County Supervisor violated the plaintiff’s First Amendment rights. The court agreed, saying the county can’t discriminate or block people based on their views.

On Tuesday, press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump’s tweets are considered official White House statements.

If Trump doesn’t unblock Twitter users, Fallow said the Knight First Amendment Institute would consider a lawsuit.

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