In two separate appearances on a conservative pundit’s radio show, Governor Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told citizens to expect action on this topic soon — “in the next week or so,” Paxton said.
Abbott told host Mark Davis on Wednesday that the Texas Department of Family Services (DFPS) already stands poised to investigate and prosecute the use of puberty blockers as child abuse.
“A letter was already prepared by the head of the Department of Family and Protective Services concerning things like puberty blockers, all those other items that you talked about, and it was being delivered to me on the day when a request was made for an attorney general opinion about whether or not that was going to be lawful or not,” Abbott said.
“So this letter is ready to go. It’s already been written up.”
Recent history shows that a letter from the governor, though not law, can make changes fast. After promising on Davis’s show to “address the problem” in July, Abbott later sent a letter to the DFPS that asked the agency to interpret existing child abuse law to include genital surgeries. The agency, evidently convinced, agreed.
The agency’s response didn’t satisfy Republican lawmakers that had kept the issue in their crosshairs since the regular session. State Rep. Bryan Slaton (R-Royse City), who unsuccessfully tried to restrict puberty blockers using amendments to other bills in the legislature, asked the DFPS on August 12 whether child abuse might also include puberty blockers, mastectomies, and counseling that encourages transition. Shortly thereafter, his colleague, Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), asked Paxton to weigh in on the legality of puberty blockers and non-genital surgeries with an official opinion.
Though Krause, Slaton, and others called the DFPS letter a half-measure, it was a major shift for Abbott. The governor had previously never devoted official attention to the topic, much less used his executive power to address it.
As Davis put it, “a continuing mystery” remains. What force has restrained a potential ban, supposedly well-favored among the dominant party? When asked, Abbott, Paxton, and Krause all shrugged.
Although Abbott said the DFPS has prepared a letter that could broaden the definition of child abuse to include puberty blockers, he added that he has to wait on Paxton to resolve Krause’s opinion request before releasing it.
“When an attorney general request is made, it kind of holds it up,” Abbott told Davis.
Meanwhile, Paxton said that his office was initially waiting on the legislature to act but decided to speed up the opinion process after lawmakers’ efforts failed to gain traction in the regular and special legislative sessions.
“It’s really a legislative decision about how these things are going to take place. But since then, I just told my staff, ‘Let’s just expedite this one,’” Paxton told Davis.
“I can only tell you that my role in the process is to give a legal opinion on what the law is, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be very thorough, we’re trying to answer the question so we don’t make any mistakes… because this is a really important issue. But the legislature could have addressed this. They failed to even get it out of committee, and I’m not sure why.”
Krause was one of several lawmakers who filed a bill to ban child gender modification procedures in the regular session. All of the bills ultimately wound up in the House Public Health Committee, chaired by Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), and Krause’s bill was the only one to pass through. It landed a low spot on the House’s agenda, set under the leadership of Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), and ran out of time before reaching the floor. None of the bills received a House floor vote.
He filed a nearly identical bill in the first special session that gathered over 70 coauthors. The support would have guaranteed easy passage in the 150-member chamber in a regular session, but the legislature can only act on topics that the governor approves during special sessions.
Krause, who launched a campaign bid against Paxton before deciding to run for Tarrant County district attorney instead, told The Texan that he expected Paxton to act faster, which could have potentially buoyed efforts to ban the procedures in the second and third special sessions.
“I can’t answer why it’s taken almost 100 days for him to come out with an opinion on a matter I thought was pretty straightforward. Again, either way that they decide, and in our thinking, we submitted the AG opinion request before the 3rd special session, hoping that we would get some kind of indication or clarification on this issue from that office. So we were expecting it back within a matter of weeks,” Krause said.
“I mean, we’ve seen the attorney general move very quickly before on other matters, on AG opinions, and so we didn’t think this would be any different.”
When asked if doctors who have administered puberty blockers would become retroactively guilty of child abuse depending on Paxton’s opinion, Krause said that was another question for the attorney general to answer.
The attorney general’s opinions are advisory documents meant to gauge how a court would likely rule on an issue. They do not carry legal effect.
Calls for a fourth special session have been brewing for weeks, and Abbott remains open to the possibility. However, if Paxton’s office delivers an opinion before another session is called, it could unlink a daisy chain of administrative action that criminalizes the use of puberty blockers without the passage of a bill.
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