Abbott opposes texting ban

The Associated Press reports (the Corpus Christi Caller-Times had it first, but it is paywalled) that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Governor, would veto a proposed ban on texting-while-driving. As many will recall, Governor Rick Perry vetoed such a bill in 2011, and in 2013 the bill languished in the Legislature and never made it to his desk. Perry claimed that educational campaigns were preferable to changing the law and that it amounted to governmental micromanaging of one’s life. Indeed, Abbott has taken up the same point of view.

In 2011, both Houses of the Legislature passed the bill –which would have made it a moving violation citation (Class C misdemeanor) to send ANY type of communication from your cell phone while it is in motion, including not only texting, but email, messaging and any type of general internet usage– by supermajorities, veto-proof margins. However, because the Legislature adjourned before Perry could offer a final adjudication on the matter, his veto could not be overridden. The bill was heralded in the Legislature, of all people, by State Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), a firebrand Republican who once served as Speaker of the House. He introduced the bill in 2013, where it was passed by a supermajority, though no vote was ever taken in the Senate.

Click here to read more about future prospects!

Abbott and Davis on equal pay

The San Antonio Express-News reports that the gubernatorial campaigns have begun fighting a war of words over the Equal Pay for Equal Work act and how each candidate would handle the issue. As some may recall, back in June, Governor Rick Perry vetoed a new equal pay for women bill that would have mirrored Texas law to newly implemented Federal standards. The controversy specifically revolves around the statute of limitations for such suits, which has previously been defined as 180 days from the date the allegedly discriminatory pay was set. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act into law, which shifted the statute of limitations to 18o days following the last allegedly discriminatory paycheck received.

Following a 2012 decision of the Texas Supreme Court, renewed attention was placed on State law, which still had the “180 days from first paycheck” limitation placed upon it. Thus, State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County) reintroduced a bill in the State Legislature last session to make Texas law mirror existing Federal regulations. Reasons for this include the fact that the State Court system is significantly cheaper and less cumbersome than the Federal system. The bill, which had State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, as its main co-sponsor in the upper chamber, passed by razor-thin margins before being vetoed by the Governor.

Click here to read more about Abbott & Davis’ positions on the matter!

Dewhurst adds to Ethics committee

The Houston Chronicle reports that Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst has appointed a new Democrat to the Texas Ethics Commission. As I noted back in December, Dewhurst had previously been considering former Congressman Craig Washington for the post. However, on Friday, it was determined that former State Representative Wilhemina Delco would be appointed to the position.

Delco was first nominated by State Senator Kirk Watson (D-Travis County), the de facto Senate Minority Leader. Likewise, Delco served in office from the capital area and continues to reside there to this day. Delco, 84, has a long and illustrious career in public service. She was first elected to public office in 1968, to the AISD School Board, being the first African-American person (much less, a woman) elected to office in Austin. In 1976, she was elected to the Texas House, where she served for ten terms.

Click here to read more!

Sylvester Turner will run for Mayor

KRIV reports that Sylvester Turner, a longtime State Representative, will run for Mayor of Houston in 2015. Turner has run for Mayor twice before, in 1991 and 2003. While he finished in a distant third place in 2003, he proceeded into a very close runoff election during his first run. In that race, he lost in a squeaker to Bob Lanier after Wayne Dolcefino ran a slimy expose based on utter falsehoods. Turner later sued Dolcefino for libel, but that is neither here nor there. My point is that if you think of Sylvester Turner with preconceived notions of alleged wrongdoing, you are totally incorrect.

In the 22 years since then (30 years total, in the House), Turner has truly become a force to be reckoned with on the State Legislature. He currently serves as the Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Committee (the ranking Democrat) and is one of the biggest leaders among the minority party in the Capitol. Instrumental in the passage of a massive water-infrastructure constitutional amendment this past session, he earned a spot on Texpatriate’s list of Best LegislatorsTexas Monthly also noted his massive contribution to the session by naming him the Bull of the Brazos.

Click here to read Turner’s announcement!

Algebra II nixed

The Texas Tribune reports that the State Board of Education, following often contentious hearings and discussions on the subject, has given final approval to a new set of graduation requirements for High School students that removes the math class Algebra II. In fact, the 15-member board (which is comprised of 5 Democrats and 10 Republicans) passed the policy with all but one vote in favor.

However, as the San Antonio Express-News notes, the board also had previously introduced two alternatives to Algebra II that could be taken in lieu of that class for some sort of credit in advanced mathematics. Statistics and Algebraic Reasoning were the new courses selected to be tentative replacements. From what I recall, my high school offered both of those courses, but its enrollment was only open to those who had successfully completed Algebra II (I took Statistics my senior year, over the great objection of my school, following a hard year of Pre-Calculus the previous year). As I have been saying for nearly a year, and will continue to do so today, relaxing standards to receive a High School diploma is a terrible idea and and even worse solution for graduation deficiencies. Rather than admit we need to revamp our education system, the Legislature is moving the goalposts closer. But I digress.

Click here to read more!

Prop 6 is popular

The Texas Tribune reports that a recent poll taken on Prop 6, the water funding measure, finds the measure is very supportive among Texans. The poll also reported some other odds and ends, let me reprint the results and then delineate the implications below:

1. Do you support Prop 6?
55% YES
20% NO

2. Should the Legislature over Voters have the final say on this issue?
75% VOTERS
16% LEGISLATURE

The poll also offered a glimpse into some personal questions about the average polled Texan, including a few I felt really stood out.

3. What are your feelings about the bible?
38% Word of God, but not literal
35% Word of God, word-for-word literal
22% Word of Man

4. How important is religion in your life?
49% EXTREMELY IMPORTANT
29% SOMEWHAT IMPORTANT
10% NOT VERY IMPORTANT
13% NOT AT ALL IMPORTANT

5. How often do you go to church?
16% MORE THAN ONCE A WEEK
21% ONCE A WEEK
12% A FEW TIMES A MONTH
24% ONE OR TWO TIMES A YEAR
27% NEVER

Read analysis below the jump

Lawsuit filed against HB2

The Austin American-Statesman reports that HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill signed by the Governor last July, will see a lawsuit (probably not the last) filed against it.

The bill, known in a previous session as SB5 when Wendy Davis filibustered the bill to death, does four main things. First, it moves up the general ban on elective abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks. Second, it requires all abortion clinics adhere to somewhat onerous standards known as an “ambulatory surgical center” requirement. Third, it requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. In this case, “nearby” is defined as thirty miles, and somewhat strict regulation for rural locations. Fourth, the bill requires the inducing drug, RU-486, to be administered in person. This, in practice, means the woman would be forced to travel to the clinic on two separate days.

Whole Women’s Health, being backed by the ACLU, has now sued the State of Texas in Federal Court to enjoin the latter two components. The suit was filed, as I predicted, in the Austin sector of Texas’ Western District Court. It alleges that these two regulations and unnecessarily burdensome, and they are the two slated to take effect in about one month’s time.

As the Statesman article notes, the ambulatory surgical center requirement does not go into effect for another 11 months, and the protocol regarding that segment is not even finalized until the beginning of next year. I am sure that a further lawsuit will be filed challenging that requirement, which perhaps is the most odious and effective part of the bill, which is obviously designed to close the clinics.

The former regulation, the 20 week-ban, as I have previous discussed, is not even all that controversial to me. However, 40 years of precedent suggest it is unconstitutional none the less. Accordingly, I am disappointed that this segment was not challenged as well. The reason it was, most likely, not challenged at this time was the independent nature of the provision. If the 20 week ban is struck out, the rest of the law would remain just fine.

But among the other three regulations, the legislation comes to resemble a three-legged stool. If one leg is removed, the entire structure comes crashing down.

Feds mess with Texas

The Texas Tribune reports that the United States Department of Education, represented by Assistant Secretary Deborah Delisle, has declined Texas’ proposal to seek a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act that would have allowed selected 4th, 6th & 7th grade students to opt-out of the Standardized Tests in the critical reading and math subjects.

The waiver were sought after the 83rd Legislature passed HB866. As some might recall, I was very happy when the bill passed. The legislation was supported by every single Democrat in both houses of the legislature. Delisle, in making her statement on behalf of the Federal Government, stated that the tests were “critical to holding schools and LEAs [local education agencies] accountable for improving the achievement of all students.”

Texas Education Agency commissioner Michael Williams, for his part, responded with the following statement:

“As has been granted in other states, Texas school districts also deserve some relief from NCLB. I remain optimistic that after months of discussion with the U.S. Department of Education, our districts will be granted greater flexibility for some NCLB provisions.”

The Tribune article notes that young schoolchildren in Texas must take a whopping 17 tests BEFORE matriculating to their secondary (Senior High) school. From what I understand, this decision does not pertain to the opt-out requests for High School students, though, unfortunately, this may be a sign of things to come.

37 States, plus the District of Columbia, have been granted these waivers in the past. Besides, President Obama (in agreement with myself) believes that No Child Left Behind is a bad law that should be replaced.

The fact that only an Assistant Secretary made this decisions prevents me from jumping to the conclusion that this is motivated by malice from the President himself, and perhaps gives the State some hope in terms of an appeal. If this is coming from the White House itself, however, it unfortunately would not be the first time the Federal Government screws with Texas in an apparent political retaliatory move. That would not surprise me.

The Federal Government has an unclear role in the education of our youth, but they at least have the responsibility to treat States similarly. Granting waivers to California, while denying them to Texas, is unacceptable.

Special Prosecutor against Perry

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Paybacks are hell

The Dallas Morning News reports that a Special Prosecutor will be named to begin an investigation against the Governor for charges of coercion and abuse of office following his veto of funding for the Public Integrity Unit.

The astute will surely remember that Rosemary Lehmberg, the District Attorney of Travis County, was arrested earlier this year for Driving While Intoxicated. Lehmberg’s case, like all other misdemeanors, was handled by the County Attorney, so there was no conflict of interest. Additionally, Lehmberg pleaded guilty, spent 30 days in jail, and completed all pending action against with–together will a pledge she would not run for re-election in 2016. Most people thought that would be it.

The trouble with Lehmberg resigning would be that the Governor would appoint her replacement. The Travis County DA is also uniquely important, as it hosts the State’s Public Integrity Unit, investigating corrupt acts perpetuated by State officials.

This is why Perry came in, as he has a vested interest in appointing the next Travis County DA. Shedding crocodile tears over Lehmberg’s alleged alcoholism making her unfit for the job (the pot calling the kettle a drunk, in my humble opinion), Perry announced he would line-item veto the funding for the Public Integrity Unit in the State’s budget unless Lehmberg resigned.

As it turns out, Lehmberg didn’t resign and Perry ended up vetoing the funding. That is where the arguments began over Perry’s wrongdoing. This could be seen as coercion because Perry made a threat to Lehmberg and abuse of office because it would be Perry, for all intent and purposes, withdrawing money from a group that investigates wrongdoings by himself.

The trial will be heard in State District Court in Williamson County, however it will be presided over by Judge Bret Richardson, who was appointed to the case by the powers-to-be in Williamson County. The case would have originally been heard in Travis County, but officials there recused themselves. Richardson is a Republican.

The Special Prosecutor the Morning News speaks of, I assume, will have the power to start the discovery process of the case against Rick Perry. Let us hope he finds something. As the article goes on:

Judge Robert “Bert” Richardson said he expected to name someone early next week, at which time “an order will be prepared and filed with the court.”

[…]

Richardson will appoint an “attorney pro-tem,” which the criminal state statutes describe as a special prosecutor, except the lawyer is not under the auspices of an elected district attorney.

This trial will be quite the event to watch. In other related news, the Houston Chronicle reports that Judge Richardson will soon appoint an attorney to defend the State as well.

Kroger’s and Macy’s

The Houston Chronicle reports that Texas retail giants, most notably Kroger’s and Macy’s, lobbied hard against Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s Equal Pay act, which ultimately passed the legislature but died at the hands of a veto by Governor Perry. As the Chronicle reports, this move comes as a shock to many in the community, including Thompson herself:

“I shop at Kroger’s for my groceries,” Thompson said. “I shopped there just last week. I’m going to have to go to HEB now. I am really shocked.”

Ostensibly, these retailers urged a veto because the existing laws were “good enough,” the same argument, of course, made by Governor Perry in his vetoing statement. Immediately, as another Houston Chronicle article explains, calls began being heard throughout the State for boycotts of these stores. Senator Sylvia Garcia, who had been scheduled to give a speech at a Macy’s sponsored event, cancelled the event after learning of the lobbying on behalf of the store. Per the Chronicle article, Garcia made a lengthy statement in solidarity with the boycotts:

“While I strongly support the tax free weekend that allows parents struggling to provide clothing and supplies for their children before they return to school, I was dismayed to learn that Macy’s and Kroger would oppose equal pay for equal work,” Gracia said in a statement. “As a co-sponsor of the legislation and supporter of equal rights, I am supporting the call to boycott until these stores reverse their position and declare their support for equal pay.”

This was soon joined by the sponsor of the original bill, Senfronia Thompson, who soon joined into the boycott herself. The Houston Chronicle report on this fact, and carries a lengthy statement put out by the House Democratic Dean herself:

“Upon learning that Macy’s had pressured Governor Perry to veto the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, I decided to cancel my appearance at today’s press conference,” Thompson said in a press release. “HB 950 passed both chambers with bipartisan support, and until Macy’s and other retailers that oppose common sense legislation get on board with equal pay for equal work, I will not be patronizing any of them. I will not support these retailers until they support Texas women.”

I tend to recall the neanderthal wing of the Republican Party opposing things like the Civil Rights Act (or Equal Pay, for that matter) because the free market would hypothetically solve the problem. Well, people, here is our chance to solve the problem using the free market. It is up to us to vote with our dollars and boycott the misogynistic and outdated viewpoints of Kroger’s and Macy’s. If we can’t stamp out hatred and discrimination at the Capitol, let us do it at the Market.

This is an ongoing issue, and I will be sure to post more when I have it. Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos, Texas Leftist and Burnt Orange Report all have more.