The filibuster begins…

Per the above video, the epic filibuster has begun in the Texas Senate. As I mentioned last night, Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), the one anti-woman Democrat, switched votes to prevent suspension of the rules. This held true all the way through about 11AM this morning, when the 24 hour rule was satisfied and the Senate was free to take up the bill. Shortly thereafter, Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) began her filibuster.

For those of you who are not familiar with this saga, here is a brief overview. After failing to pass any regulatory measures on abortion in the Regular Session of the 83rd Session (January-May), Governor Perry added “abortion” to the call of the Special Session that began on May 27th and ends at midnight today (June 25th). An omnibus anti-abortion bill, SB5, was drafted by Republicans in the Legislature. The bill does four things: (1) bans abortion after 20 weeks, (2) requires abortions be performed in “ambulatory surgical centers,” (3) requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and (4) requires to abortion doctor to administer in person most all of the drugs. The second and third rules are the most damaging, and a study by the Texas Democratic Party insinuated it would close 37 of the 42 abortion clinics in the State. That would leave 1 clinic in San Antonio, 1 in Austin, 1 in Dallas and 2 in Houston. 0 in the Valley, 0 in East Texas, 0 in the heartland, 0 in the panhandle, 0 in the west, 0 in El Paso, 0 in Fort Worth. For the record, El Paso to San Antonio is 550 miles.

The bill passed a Senate committee on June 14th, and the entire Senate passed the bill shortly thereafter, but without the 20 week ban. The bill started fanning the flames on June 21st, when the House State Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill. Hundreds, if not thousands, of women showed up to testify until the middle of the night, when the Chairman of the Committee finally, abruptly, cut off debate. The committee passed the bill early the next day. Last Sunday, the House brought up the bill for passage, and the Democrats tried their hardest to delay debate as long as they could. By the time the bill made it out of the House, it was 11AM on Monday and the 20 week ban had been reintroduced to the bill, requiring the legislation to return to the Senate.

The Senate normally requires a bill to sit for 24 hours before it takes up the legislation. Accordingly, the Senate could not take up SB5 until 11AM this morning. The Republicans, twice, attempted to thwart this by voting to suspend the rules. However, this requires a 2/3 majority. As such, the Democrats were able to block this suspension.

Accordingly, the Senate took up the bill at 11AM Tuesday morning, with just 13 hours left to go in the Special Session. Shortly thereafter, Sen. Wendy Davis began filibustering the bill and that is what she is still doing.

At press time it is about 4:30. Senator Davis has been filibustering for about 5.5 hours, with about 7.5 hours left to go. Here’s to hoping –err, praying– she does not back down.

Off the Kuff and Brains & Eggs each have more.

In re Shelby

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The New York Times reports that the United States Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, has struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, but upheld Section 5. For those of you who are not familiar, Section 5 is the more contentious provision, which requires certain predominantly Southern States to have their voting and election procedures precleared by the Federal Government, specifically the Department of Justice. Section 4 is the formula that the law uses to determine who requires approval under Section 5. Under current law, Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia, as well as about half of North Carolina’s county, are covered under Section 5. The court ruled, 5-4 in usual fashion, that the formula was outdated and that enforcement of the law would be enjoined until Congress could revise it.

For all intent and purposes, this guts and kills the Voting Rights Act for the time being. The important part is that, when the Democrats retake the Congress, it will be reauthorized. Brains and Eggs has more on the big picture. However, there will be some local implications for the time being.

The Houston Chronicle, in its coverage on the issue, reveals that the Texas state government was wasting no time getting down to [Jim Crow] business. Attorney General Greg Abbott immediately commented that the Voter ID Act would take effect immediately. Progressive groups will still be positioning against the measure as a violation of the Constitution.

The Texas Tribune reports that the Department of Public Safety has recently announced it will be handing out free “Voter Identification cards.” This has done to avoid the critique that an identification was a de facto poll tax. To obtain these identification cards, however, would still be stupidly burdensome for indigent individuals to make their way to the suburbs for the DPS office.

Great, this just adds another reason for Governor Perry to call another Special Session.

Hall endorsed by Firefighters’ Union

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For some reason, Dr Hall’s campaign still doesn’t recognize our legitimacy. The HPFFA (Houston Professional Firefighters’ Association) has endorsed Ben Hall in a recent announcement. Although fake Ben Hall had broken the news on Friday, the official announcement did not come out until today. From a press release (THAT WE DID NOT GET):

“The women and men of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association voted to support Ben Hall in the upcoming mayoral election. We believe Mr. Hall will better balance the needs of public and firefighter safety with fiscal responsibility. Mr. Hall believes in fair play and has the better vision to lead Houston into the future.

“The time has come to end Annise Parker’s three-year campaign against Houston firefighters. Aware of our top rating among city departments, we work hard to maintain the citizens’ trust, but the mayor’s antagonistic management style wastes city resources, damages our nationally recognized fire department’s reputation locally, and threatens to undermine the long-term financial security of firefighter families.

“Houston deserves a mayor who appreciates that Houston firefighters strive to deliver excellent service, be good stewards of city resources, and give back to the community. Ben Hall will be that mayor.”

Looks like the Firefighters still bear a lot of resentment for Parker firing Phil Boriskie all those years ago. As many people have previously noted, the Firefighters’ Union does not have a lot of sway in elections. They endorsed Fernando “14 percent” Herrera in 2011. This really is not, however, the “game changer” Hall had announced it to be. This was a given.

What probably was a little more interesting was that Bob Ryan, a prominent local attorney, was featured on Hall’s Facebook was an endorser. Immediately, and embarrassingly, Ryan called the Hall campaign out. “Unfortunately, this photo is incorrect. I am not endorsing Ben Hall for Mayor,” Ryan stated. Oops. Possibly worse, Hall did not immediately change his page. Brains and Eggs has the full story on the Ben Hall drama.

In the other side’s news, Annise Parker has gotten some recent endorsements of her own. She was endorsed by the Building Owners and Management Association, as well as the Lesbian PAC. Unlike her opponent, Parker’s campaign emailed me the press releases. Score for Annise! One high profile conservative group and one liberal group. In an interesting twist, Mayor Parker has also been advertising her strong opposition to SB5 and all that anti-abortion mumbo jumbo. Like I have been saying, Parker has taken off the gloves–she is unapologeticly liberal. We’ll see how it goes.

Fisher decision

The New York Times reports that the United States Supreme Court has come out with their ruling in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas. Many months ago, I wrote an op-ed on this topic. I wrote shortly before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case, where I repeated the assertion made often in the media at that time, that a 5-4 division of the Court would have struck affirmative action as unconstitutional.

That was before the court heard arguments, however. As this decision approached, I became convinced the Court would render an exceedingly narrow opinion, pertaining only to Texas because of the 10% rule, in a nearly unanimous manner. For the first time in many, many years, I was right about one of these things.

The Supreme Court held 7-1 that the Fifth Circuit had, indeed, erred in their ruling. However, they attributed this to the Appeals court incorrectly not applying heightened scrutiny to UT’s affirmative action program.  6 Justices specifically held not to overturn Grutter v. Bollinger, the most recent Supreme Court opinion upholding affirmative action.

The Justices, for all intent and purposes, were actually divided into three groups. 5 Justices (Roberts, CJ., Kennedy, Breyer, Alito, Kagan, J.J.) held the opinion of the court, the thing with heightened scrutiny and what not. 2 Justices (Scalia and Thomas, J.J.) would have scrapped all affirmative action. Justice Ginsburg would have affirmed the Fifth Circuit’s opinion. The missing link, Justice Kagan, did not take part in the case since it was pending while she was the President’s Solicitor General.

This was especially interesting since Justice Kennedy was in the dissent of Grutter. While Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were not on the Court in that year, Justices typically as conservative as them were dissenting in the previous case, like Chief Justice Rehnquist.

We’ll see how the Legislature deals with all this in 2015, though.

Anti-abortion bill passes House

This is still breaking news, so I will not really cite articles for all of this, but I will try my best.

Per the Houston Chronicle, at 3:23 this morning, the House passed SB5, the omnibus anti-abortion bill, in 2nd reading. Around noon today, they passed it on third reading. The vote was largely along party lines, though Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Harris County) voted against it. The measure will now be taken up in the Senate, where a variety of issues still exist.

First, however, I would like to briefly discuss some of the highlights of last night. Hundreds, if not thousands, of orange shirt protesters packed the gallery in opposition to these arcane measures. They were repetitively shut down by security for expressing any bit of opinion on the pending bills. Literally any show of emotion.

Jessica Farrar started off the evening by making an impassioned speech against the measures. Then, after Points of Order relating to the time the bill was being considered delayed the bill a few hours, the amendments started being heard. A few amendments in, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County), in one of the most dramatic incidents of the evening, pulled out a wire coat hanger and proclaimed: “I don’t want women forced to use these.”

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In an exceedingly odd and ignorant response, the main cosponsor of the bill, Rep. Jodie Laudenberg (R-Collin County) confused what the purpose of a rape kit is. “In the emergency room, they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out,” Laudenberg said. The asinine comment drew hisses from the crowd and prompted this fabulous little article in Salon Magazine. It even prompted a hashtag, “#OtherThingsRapeKitsDo.” 

Finally, at around 3 in the morning, the House passed SB5 on second reading. The kicker is that it included the 20-week ban, meaning it must return to the Senate rather than go straight to Perry’s desk. In other news, the House also approved SJR2, the Transportation funding measure. After getting to all of the non-abortion legislation, the House adjourned at 4:30 in the morning.

At 6:30AM the House reconvened and considered SB5 on third reading. Democrats once again delayed and slowed down such that it was 10:40 before final passage was ensured. Under Senate rules, 24 hours must pass before they can take up the legislation. However, this is complicated by both Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who is at her father’s funeral, and Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), who is a pro-life anti-woman Democrat. Republicans plus Lucio-the-traitor put total numbers at 20. That is 64.5% of the chamber, less than the 66.7% required for suspension of the rules.

Around Noon today, the House granted final approval to the Transportation bill. As of 4PM, the Senate has just gaveled back in. Senator Van de Putte is on her way back to the Capitol, so all eyes are on her impending arrival. Lucio is voting no on suspensions of the rules until Senator Van de Putte can arrive. This means the Senate will not begin discussion of SB5 until 11 tomorrow. Then, there will be at least a meager amount of time spent debating the merits of the amendments concurred in the House. The net result is a 12 hour filibuster, which is doable. Senator Wendy Davis has already announced her intention to do just that.

The Houston Chronicle reports, however, that David Dewhurst has told them that a Second Special Session is “likely” if SB5 doesn’t pass. Accordingly, I am starting the “Buy Bus tickets to New Mexico for 11 Senators” fund. There will be more to come on this tonight. I recommend not following Texpatriate for the breaking news, but rather following Stace Medellin’s twitter (https://twitter.com/2centavos) or the Texas Tribune’s live feed. Good night and good luck.

House passes Miller compliance

I have no earthly idea why I am spending so much time on this issue, but I seem to be devoting a fair chunk of time to any and all movement going on in the Special Session.

Just three days ago, shortly after the Senate had passed a bill to substitute the mandatory life-without-parole punishment for 17 year-old capital murderers with 40 years (life with parole), I noted that the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee had unanimously passed the legislation.

As I had predicted, the House offered up and passed some amendments to the Senate’s bill. Accordingly, the bill still must return to a Conference Committee. Although I noted that Rep. Bryan Hughes (yes, the same Hughes who led the Christian Conservative for Speaker conundrum) had proposed an alternative bill that would have allowed juries to see and hear mitigating evidence and arguments, and given them the opportunity to place a sentence as light as 25 years. After pressure, the alternate bill was pulled.

The only amendment that got through on the bill, SB 23, actually put the option of life-without-parole back on the table. Simply put, it gave the jury two options: life-without parole or life-with-parole (40 years). Forty years, to be fair, often times is a death sentence, but if one is 17, it usually is not.

Editor’s note: Being incarcerated from ages 17-57 constitutes the effective lifetime imprisonment of the worthwhile years of your life. While most individuals begin winding down their occupations and the like at that time, these individuals would be just getting out of prison with little to no skills or education. 

The amendment was offered up by Matt Schaefer (R-Smith County), although I cannot find a roll call on it. A point of humor, Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, had to offer up an amendment to Rep. Schaefer’s bill that essentially proofread it and corrected the numerous typos therein. For example, Rep. Schaefer used the phrase “capitol felony.” Yikes, and this guy leads our State?

Anyways, the bill ended up passing 110-28. All the dissenters were Democrats, and they included all the usual suspects. It appeared to me that the strongest opponent was Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Harris County). Dutton railed on and on about how the bill is unconstitutional since it still involves both mandatory sentences and life-with-parole. For the record, the Supreme Court case that caused this issue to be risen in the first place, Miller v. Alabama, did not prohibit either of these things. It only prohibited a mandatory sentence of life-without-parole.

While this bill isn’t the best, it still is better than what we have now. Additionally, under current law and precedent (that’s important), this bill is not unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is currently moving towards a much more comprehensive view of the protections of the Eighth Amendment (especially pertaining to minors), so this may not be true in a few years.

 

Citizens’ Filibuster and more

Most notably, after holding a largely successful “Citizens Filibuster” into the wee hours of the morning yesterday, the House State Affairs Committee adjourned without voting on the Omnibus Abortion restriction bill. However, the committee quietly reconvened today and voted out the bill.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the hearings on HB60, the equivalent of the Senate’s anti-abortion bill but also including the 20 week ban, extended until 3:40 in the morning last night as nearly 2000 women showed up to testify against the burdensome regulations. I was in meetings all day today, so I never had a chance to be on the first people writing on this. Off the Kuff, Texas Leftist and Brains & Eggs (who spelled my name right, yea!!!) have much more on the topic of the filibuster.

The bigger issue, unfortunately, is that it didn’t really mean much. The Texas Tribune reports that the State Affairs Committee approved the bill anyway. However, there is actually quite a lot to discuss on the actions by this committee. The committee not only approved HB60, which is different than the Senate’s bill (SB5), but they also rubber-stamped SB5 itself. This means the legislation goes straight to Perry if the full House votes favorably upon it. However, in one shining glimmer of hope, the Tribune article notes that there may have been a Point of Order violation when Chairman Bryan Cook cut testimony short.

From the Tribune article: “Farrar and reproductive rights advocates allege Cook’s decision to end testimony could endanger the legislation. House members may be able to kill the bill on a point of order if the committee did not follow proper legislative procedures when they ended testimony. If approved, advocates could also sue the state and seek to overturn the legislation, arguing the state ignored democratic processes by denying them the opportunity to speak on the bill.”

If Turner and his gang can P.O.O. the bill, that would be fabulous. I have always maintained that this bill would be unconstitutional and summarily thrown out in Federal Court. Last but not least, I thoroughly recommend watching Rachel Maddow’s thoughts on the matter. Jessica Farrar joins her as the guest (TX @ 6 min; Farrar @ 14 min).

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26315908/#52280296

Though I can’t find an article for it, I know that the House third-read passed the redistricting maps. It’s a done deal now.

Finally, in an exceedingly bizarre series of events, the Austin American-Statesman reports that Sen. John Whitmire alleged that Governor Perry vetoed one of his bills, SB1234/Truancy Reform, by mistake. The article opened the idea of Perry calling a mea culpa on the matter, and the Legislature summarily re-approving the legislation in the final days of the Special Session. However, in the recent update to the article, Perry reaffirmed it was not by mistake. Even if it was (it probably was), there is no way he would ever admit to it, it would make him look too bad. Whitmire claims he had some good sources, but as our Editorial Board says, he isn’t always to be trusted.

I was supposed to meet with Dan Branch today, but Special Session needs came calling. I did get to see, in unrelated news, a mock trial being put on by Dallas County. It was the hypothetical “Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald.” After a very, very, very short trial for Capital Murder (three hours), a jury of Dallas’ judges deadlocked 9-3 in favor of guilt. It will be in the news soon enough, and you will probably see me in the video (I’m in the second row).

Budgets, domes and energy

First up, today was a big day for the City. The 2013/2014 Budget was approved by the Houston City Council in an unanimous vote. Dos Centavos has a very detailed, quality piece on the process and the outcome, so I suggest consulting it if you want to see exactly what happened and come about from it. I want to –just briefly– discuss some of the political ramifications thereof. Helena Brown, nor Andrew Burks, voted against the measure, which means they are tied to it. They can’t run against the institution in their re-election bids, though I suppose they still could, it would just make them a hypocrite (like that doesn’t happen in politics).

Second, the Houston Chronicle reports that the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation has announced they will not be following any of the 19 proposals submitted by the public for dealing with the Astrodome. Instead, they will be going their own way. The board advocated turning the Astrodome into a new convention and event center. They estimated it would cost nearly $200 Million and would be ready by the start of 2016.

The proposal will be confirmed or rejected at a Harris County Commissioners meeting on June 25th (next Tuesday). However, passage looks somewhat likely, as County Judge Ed Emmett was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea. The “perfect solution,” he told the Chronicle. Brains & Eggs has the full story, as does Off the Kuff.

Third, from a Press Release on the City Hall website, the City of Houston has signed a contract with Reliant to purchase 50% of the City’s electricity from renewable, green sources. These include both wind and solar power. The Mayor, in announcing this policy, stated “Houston is already known as the energy capital of the world, but we are committed to becoming the alternative energy capital of the world as well.” This only applies to electricity used by the municipal government, but it will make Houston the “largest municipal purchaser in the nation.”

 

Lege update 6/20

There are a few other things that have happened at the Capitol in the last two days that I have missed. So, briefly, I will attempt to explain and discuss these two actions.

First, reports The Texas Tribune, the Senate is moving towards approving SJR2, which would amend the constitution to allow for the the rainy day fund to be partially depleted in order to fund transportation infrastructure projects. I talked about this bill at length a few days ago, when it passed a Senate panel. 
Off the Kuff has more about the topic.

Next, the San Antonio Express-News reports that the House has taken up the Senate’s bill to apply life-with-parole to 17 year-olds who commit Capital Murder. I talked at length about this bill when the Senate passed it. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee unanimously approved the Senate’s bill. The House, however, discussed alternative proposals, preserving the possibility that the Senate may retake up the measure.

Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County), never really especially progressive, pleasantly surprised me by offering up a better solution to this problem: allowing juries to choose a range of punishments ranging from 25 years to life-without-parole. As a reminder, the Supreme Court said that life w/o parole for 17 year olds is not unconstitutional, per se, but rather only when they are the mandatory sentence. Accordingly, a greater consensus existed in the House to preserve the penalty as an option, allowing juries to choose between life with parole and life without parole. This presents an interesting conundrum, because, in Texas, prosecutors and defense attorneys generally do not discuss parole options before a jury takes up a sentencing matter. When a jury convicts for life with parole, they usually just think they are convicting for “life.”

Third, the Austin American-Statesman discusses the building momentum in the House to override Perry’s line item veto of Public Integrity Unit funding. Sylvester Turner, recently named the “Bull of the Brazos” by Texas Monthly, is leading a coalition to override the veto. This will be interesting to watch. Obviously, Turner can get the votes of all the Democrats. Thereafter, he will still need about 45 Representatives and 9 Senators. I think that is possible, though. Perry ticked off a lot of Republicans when he vetoed their bills (Kel Seliger and Dan Patrick, anyone?), so they may be easy pickings for payback. Just a theory, though.

Last, but certainly not least, and this is fresh off the press, the House has voted to rubber stamp the Redistricting bills. The Houston Chronicle  states that these are second readings, with final approval expected tomorrow. At that point, it will just be the Governor’s signature standing in the way of these vile maps being adopted.

I’m up in Dallas for the next few days on official business. Saw/met Ken Starr and Justice Samuel Alito today, so I guess you could say it was a success.  I’ll probably have more to talk about tonight.

A bitter anniversary

148 years ago today, the news of the Emancipation Proclamation –and the end of the war– reached Galveston, and as such, the last corner of the Confederacy. Accordingly, June 19th, or Juneteenth, is always commemorated as a reminder of the protections of freedom and liberty. How very unfitting, then, that in the wee hours of the morning, this Juneteenth, the Texas Senate voted to, for all intent and purposes, to strip women of many of the same freedoms and liberties.

The Texas Tribune reports that SB5, the omnibus abortion restriction bill by Glenn Hegar (R-Katy), had forfeited the 20 week ban provision, but retained all the other ones. These regulations are threefold. First, abortions must be performed in “ambulatory centers,” whatever the heck that means. Second, all abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles from their clinic. Third, that the abortion doctor must administer a specific drug, RU-486, in person. The last regulation seems innocuous enough, but the former two are quite harmful.

The GOP attempted to say this was all about the safety of the procedure, and the health of the women involved, but we know that simply isn’t true. David Dewhurst made a tweet today that bragged about how SB5 is projected to close down 37 of 42 of the State’s abortion clinics, including all of them outside of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. At least Dew is being honest about the real intentions.

Regardless of one’s personal opinions on abortion, the issue is settled constitutional law: the United States Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that a woman has a right to terminate her pregnancy in the first trimester under the Right to Privacy. Any blatant attempt to eliminate access to these clinics is a huge violation of the Constitution, and, as such, will most likely be struck by a Federal Court.

Although the 20 week ban did not make it out of the Senate, the House will attempt to resurrect it. The Austin American-Statesman has the full story on that. I’m a perpetual optimist, but maybe all the work in conference committee will kill the legislation at next Tuesday’s deadline. Maybe, just maybe.

All of this reminds me of the old George Carlin quote about the priorities in the GOP. “If you’re pre-born, you are good. If you’re pre-k, you are [expletive deleted]”