University of Houston bans smoking

The Chron (paywall) reports that the University of Houston has will officially ban smoking on June 1st. The ban will include “cigarettes, cigars, pipes, water pipes, electronic cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco…” While smoking in all buildings is already banned, the new measures announced the past few days will prohibit smoking in most outdoor areas, except for a few specially marked “designated open areas” for smoking, which are ostensibly far away from sidewalks and buildings.

No good deed goes unpunished, however. The Libertarians, Objectivists and the rest of the cupcake cadets call the regulation “fascism at its worse.” What is really concerning is not only their neurological disorder which prevents them from EVER being told what to do (that is expect, at the point), but the fact that opponents of such a ban dispute the notion that secondhand smoke is harmful. When you start believing the FDA is undergoing some sort of massive conspiracy about secondhand smoke in order to deprive your liberty, then I have a tin-hat I’d like to sell you. This is just another example of how far the goalposts have been moved to the right in this country. I remember an old Lewis Black routine, where he said “I never thought that during the course of my life, a president would be elected who didn’t believe in evolution,” in, of course, an obvious jab to then-President George W. Bush. In similar shock and disbelief, I did not believe we would ever have a significant political movement comprised of so many theoretically educated members that disputes such clear science.

For what it is worth, I find it to be overkill banning smokeless tobacco, but I am very happy to see that there will not be so much actual cigarette smoking on campus anymore. No matter what the idiot Libertarians will argue, secondhand smoke really is quite harmful. Accordingly, when you smoke a cigarette in public, especially in a place with a lot of young people, you are not just physically harming yourself. I tend to make one very strong exception to my rule that “people should be allowed to basically do what they want”: harm to others. If your personal choice carries a strong risk oh physical harm to innocent bystanders, then I air on the side of preventing harm. Hence, why I am pro-Gun Control.

My college up in Boston basically allows smoking anywhere outside (including like 5 feet away from the doors). It is not an annoyance, it makes it painful to walk between the buildings. Also, when it is 10 degrees (farenheit) outside, it does not help to hold your breath and run. When I visited UT last month, I found their smoking ban to be quite nice. It is a good step for UH to follow.

Miscellaneous legislative updates

Some other things happening around the legislature.

Beer
I don’t remember covering this earlier, but here it goes. Anyways, a pair of bills that recently passed the Senate unanimously which would make things a lot easier for craft beer brewers, is continuing to advance. The Chron reported on tuesday that the House Licensing Committee voted, once again, unanimously to advance this bill. The only remaining obstacle would be to hold a vote before the full House.

As the Chronicle states, “In what would be among the biggest changes to the state’s beer laws in 20 years, the legislation would allow breweries to sell a limited amount of beer in their own taprooms for consumption on site. Another major provision would allow brewpubs to package beer for sale in groceries and other off-site outlets.” Off the Kuff has more.

SNAP
The Trib is reporting that Senator Lucio’s SB 379, which would require schools to offer free breakfasts if 80%+ of their students qualified for free lunches, passed the Senate 27-4. The four opponents were Troy Fraser (Burnet County), Jane Nelson (Denton County), Robert Nichols (Jacksonville County) and, last but not least, my Senator, Joan Huffman (Harris County). All opponents were Republicans.

According to the Tribune article, the bill is “cost-neutral and potentially profitable,” I’m guessing, because it’s the Feds and not the State that pays for free school lunches (SNAP). Accordingly, I don’t quite understand why even the Tea Party would oppose this. If the Democrats aren’t too freaking lazy to run a candidate against Huffman in 2014 (like they were in 2012), this is the stuff they should be talking about in their commercials.

Romeo & Romeo
The Dallas Voice reports that HB 2403, Mary Gonzalez’s House equivalent of Sen. Whitmire’s bill to expand the “Romeo+Juliet exception” to both Romeo & Romeo and Juliet & Juliet, has passed the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee 5-3. No idea on the roll call as of now. This means that the legislation has passed committee in both Houses of the Legislature. I can trust Whitmire to force the thing through the Senate, but am less optimistic about the chances in the full House. Time will tell, I suppose.

Senate votes to allow Online Voter Registration

From the San Antonio Express-News. The Senate has voted 21-10 to pass SB 315, which would allow online voting registration.

The bill, proposed by Senator Carlos Urseti (D-San Antonio), would only be applicable to those with Texas Driver’s Licenses, and individuals would register online on a DPS website, and would enter lots of specific, government-issued numbers to prove identity. All of this would take effect on September 1st.

The ten holdouts, you can guess which party they were, were not quoted by any of the news articles as to why they opposed the measure. Among the Republicans that joined all 12 Democrats in support was Joan Huffman. Among those opposed were Dan Patrick and Larry Taylor.

No clue as to what the chances of survival are in the House of Representatives. I have always been big on making it much easier to register to vote, and I know that online registration has been a great success in the states it has been enacted in. Personally, I never found it all that hard to register when renewing your license (I registered on my 18th birthday while renewing my license at the DPS), but I guess people forget about that.

BOR has more.

A wolf wearing another wolf’s clothing

The Dallas Morning News had a really interesting article this morning about the guns on campus bill. Essentially, good ole obstructionism from none other than good ole John Whitmire (the Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee) has made sure this bill is DOA in Whitmire’s committee (still not sure why a Democrat has his own committee, probably has something to do with the fact he’s the dean).

So, since the GOP can’t do this bill, they will do the next best thing, which is still awful. Glenn Hegar wants to allow students with CHLs to be allowed to carry all the firepower and ammunition they want in their cars on campus. Well, at least I know that it is only the students rich enough to have their car on campus who will be the ones killing people after getting drunk/being broken up with.

Whitmire thinks this will be getting out his committee alive, so we may have to deal with the possibility of this being law. Personally, I find this no better than the original bill, because it doesn’t take all that much effort to run to your car into order to fetch a firearm. The idea of guns on a college campus is stupid for the same reason guns in a bar is stupid: otherwise responsible, law-abiding individuals can lose their better judgment, not just because of alcohol and drugs, but because of all of the changes and stress going through a not fully-formed mind during college.

Drain the rainy day fund!

The Trib reports that the Senate has passed a bill, unanimously, which would take roughly $6 Billion, about half, of the rainy day fund out of account and put it to use. Of that, roughly $3 Billion would go to transportation, $2 billion to water infrastructure and a little less than $1 billion for education.

Additionally, the resolution passed by the Senate would advocate further money from unexpected revenue to offsetting Education cuts. All in all, according to the Tribune article, “$3.7B of $5.2B” of education cuts would be offset.

Again, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that the Legislature doesn’t think it actually has to be raining in order to use the rainy day fund. Even the budget watchdog Susan Combs supports this plan. I sure hope Perry doesn’t muck it up.

Innocence Commission bill passes House

The Texas House of Representatives voted yesterday to create the “Tim Cole Exoneration Review Commission,” according to a recent Tribune article. The bill, HB 166, passed the House 115-28. I’ll let you take a guess as to what party those twenty-eight members belong too. Tom Craddick was the only big name that stood out among them.

According to the Tribune article, the gist of the commission is, “Members, appointed by the governor, would investigate wrongful conviction cases, identify why wrongful convictions occur, and examine appeals filed with the state’s courts for evidence of ethical violations by attorneys and judges.” Key point I saw was appointed by the Governor. So I am not so sure how much good any of this would do, but still.

Opponents in the House were mainly worried about the financial costs of the commission. Ironically, a few extra legal appeals followed by exoneration sometimes costs more than simply keeping an inmate in prison. However, don’t underestimate the power of the law & order types. My state senator, Joan Huffman, after making me happy last week, is back to thoroughly disappointing me after coming out in full force against the legislation.

The Tribune articled quoted her saying “I do not believe this would be anything other than a place for people to rant and rave about what they don’t like about the criminal justice system.” Yuck. I suppose this means the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

Expanded Medicaid, Texas style

The Trib has a pretty good article about the recent “Texas Solution” to Medicaid expansion. Essentially, the House Appropriations Committee recently voted 15-9 to expand Medicaid, specifically requesting a block grant to so .

I have no idea what the exact roll call was on the vote. There are 27 members of the Appropriations Committee, of which 18 are Republicans and 9 are Democrats (if I counted right). The Tribune article insinuated that it was just the Tea Party Republicans who opposed the measure.

John Zerwas (R-Fort Bend County) authored the bill to expand Medicaid in clear opposition to both Speaker Straus and Governor Perry. The Tribune article explains what the program would do pretty well. Simply put, it’s would be boon to some private sector parts, and may include a completely separate program. At the end of the day, however, it is going to have a pretty similar effect: reduced healthcare costs up to 133% of the poverty line.

As much as this may not have been my top choice on Medicaid Expansion, I think it will be the best liberals can get.