Lege update 6/14


Quite a lot of stuff happened today, so much that I have been holding off on talking about it until end-of-business. First and foremost, the Governor went on a Veto Spree, killing off 22 pieces of legislation in all, along with a few more line-item cuts. The only significant bill he signed today was SB21, which mandates drug testes for unemployment insurance recipients. In other news, a Senate committee pushed through an omnibus abortion restriction bill and the full Senate voted (along party lines) to rubber stamp the court-drawn maps in the redistricting saga. Last but not least, the Senate also voted to close the loophole for 17 year old offenders charged with Capital Murder.

Friday Night Massacre
Rick Perry line-item vetoed SB1, the budget. Specifically, he vetoed the funding for the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s office, as he promised. Just this morning, an organization, Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint against Perry for the possible action, alleging he committed “coercion of a public servant, abuse of official capacity and official oppression.” The Dallas Morning News has the full story on this lawsuit. I spoke with a friend a few days ago who is heavily involved with Travis County Democratic politics, and he was discussing the more noticeable transgression would be a separation of powers issue. The PIU is what investigates official violations and corruptions from public officeholders in Austin. There are many pending investigations against the Governor’s office, including, most notably, the CPRIT ones. This is where the parallels to the Saturday Night Massacre begin. Just as how Nixon committed a steep transgression by firing the Special Prosecutor who was in the process of investigating his administration, the Governor coercing the director of an independent agency that does the same thing to resign is on very, very iffy grounds.

More Vetoes
Next, reports The Dallas Morning News, Rick Perry had vetoed HB950, Senfronia Thompson’s Equal Pay for Women act. This is big news, like front page of the Huffington Post big. The veto is not especially surprising, as the act passed with significant Republican opposition in both Houses of the legislature. The Morning News reported that Sen. Davis, the bill’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber, responded saying Perry’s veto “[i]s a statement of his absolute disregard for the challenges that women face.” If anyone was unclear if there is a War on Women occurring in Texas, Davis said, there is not even any opacity left in it. Perry thinks that Equal Pay is not important enough for his signature, but radical anti-abortion legislation is important enough of an emergency for a Special Session.

Next, Perry vetoed a bill to regulate the UT Regents. The Dallas Morning News reports that Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)’s bill that would have required Senate confirmation on UT Regents before they could vote on personnel matters, is dead. Perry is absolutely anathema to the idea of anyone, or anything, limited his authority.



Then, the Governor vetoed HB217, a bill that would have banned sodas from public elementary and junior high schools. I have been uneasy about the bill in the past, but think that its passage would have been for the best. Perry, as expected, jumped onto the individual-liberties bandwagon. Ostensibly, Perry cited his veto to the fact that 2% milk would be banned under the plan. Well, I read the bill, and I know that could have been solved with a line-item veto. Nice try, Governor…

Perry vetoed SB219, colloquially known as the “Ethics bill.” The bill released a whole new code of transparency and ethics for public servants. Perry found some of this reprehensible, including the resign-to-run requirement for the Railroad Commission. For what it’s worth, I find those sorts of requirements to be troubling as well.

Perry also vetoed HB2836, a Dan Patrick bill which would have changed curriculum standards. Perry also vetoed another Patrick bill, SB17, which would have provided crisis training for public school teachers holding CHLs. The Dallas Morning News reported the chief reason for this was the price tag attached.

Last but certainly not least, the Governor vetoed SB1234, a bill aimed at reforming truancy laws. The bill, sponsored predominantly by Sen. Whitmire, passed the Senate with only three objections. The bill would have reduced the truancy fine to $100 from $500, and required counseling evaluations before school districts refer offenders to courts. Perry detested the “progressive sanctions” passed by the Legislature.

There were some other actions, and I will be sure to link it if someone picks up the story, or if some other blog writes on the topic.

Drug Testing coming
The Texas Tribune  reports that Governor Perry has signed SB21, the bill which would drug test unemployment. As you might remember, the measure to drug test welfare (TANF) failed after it passed the deadline. The bill would subject some applicants to drug tests if they are deemed high risk (a/k/a, in Perry’s eyes, minorities), and would require them first to enroll in a drug counseling program before kicking them off the program. It could be worse, though as I have extensively written in the past, it is a stupid idea that saves absolutely no money.

Senate approves maps
The Texas Tribune also reports that, as expected, the full Senate has approved the court-drawn maps for a permanent basis. This comes just two days after the Senate Select Committee rubber-stamped the maps themselves. In a strictly partisan vote, the upper chamber voted 16-11 to approve. Redistricting Chairman Kel Seliger repeatedly shot down and blocked any and all attempts to do something different than his interim-to-permanent map. At one point, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) even stated that it appeared as if Sen. Seliger was intentionally blocking dissenting views. As I had expected, the hearings did not make a [expletive deleted] difference. The ratio was 10-1 against the maps in Houston, and I have heard it was similar in Dallas and Corpus Christi.  Sen. Garcia even told the Tribune that Seliger was refusing dissenting points, and had privately been told by the Chairman that that was the case. This is getting ugly, though not as ugly as those darn maps are.

Omnibus Abortion bill
The Texas Tribune reports that the Senate Health & Human Services Committee has voted out the session’s SB5, which is also known as the “Omnibus Abortion bill.” The bill would (1) ban abortion after 20 weeks; (2) require abortions to occur in ambulatory centers; (3) require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; and (4) require abortion doctor to administer all drugs in person. These regulations would shut down a majority of the abortion clinics in Texas (basically all of them outside of Austin, Dallas and Houston) and would probably be ruled unconstitutional by a court. The bill passed on party lines, 5-2, and will head to the full Senate on Tuesday.

Drug Testing turns into a pumpkin

Well, some of it anyways. The Texas Tribune reports that, very late Tuesday night, the Texas House voted to pass SB21, which mandates drug testing for unemployment insurance applicants, whilst letting the clock run out on SB11, which mandates drug testing for welfare.

The journal states that SB21 passed 104-42, with most all of the Democrats voting against the legislation. That is far better than the Senators could say, where these pieces of legislation were approved nearly unanimously.

SB11, meanwhile, had been vigorously pushed late in the evening, but when the clock struck 12, the legislation, along with many others, simply turned into a pumpkin, to borrow a metaphor from a Disney movie.  I am almost a little bit disappointed, because while the bill was being debated, Amendment 4 by J.M. Lozano (D-Kleberg) had been adopted. It would have, among other things, forced Rick Perry to pee into a cup.

Drug Testing for Perry et al

Earlier this session, the Senate passed a pair of bills to drug test Welfare, as well as Unemployment Insurance. A few weeks ago, I talked at length about a bill, by Senator Lucio, to force the Governor, other executive officers, as well as members of both houses of the State Legislature to undergo similar drug tests.

Under the bill, officeholders would not face sanctions or otherwise any penalties for failure. I suppose it would be a public scandal, though. Now, the Tribune has reported that the bill, SB612, has been passed out of committee in the Senate. The State Affairs committee, to be exact. The Journal hasn’t updated the roll call yet, but I will post it as soon as it is available.

As I said last month on this issue, “This is a great publicity stunt, and it is a good way to turn the tables onto the GOP. I am actually really curious how the Governor will do on his test. I mean seriously, he has to be on something, and I would like to know what.”

Pee in a cup, Governor

This makes me feel slightly better about these asinine measures against UI and TANF beneficiaries. The Chron reports that Senator Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville)’s SB 612, which would drug test, among other public officials, the Governor and the State Legislature, held its public hearing yesterday.

Lucio did specify that this program would be paid for by the Representative themselves for their own tests, so the State will not spend any more money it does not have. The bill was left pending in committee, but the Chronicle insinuated that “no one voice major opposition.”

This is a great publicity stunt, and it is a good way to turn the tables onto the GOP. I am actually really curious how the Governor will do on his test. I mean seriously, he has to be on something, and I would like to know what.

Senate passes more stuff

There has been some movement on quite a few different bills recently. First, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed what I call the Romeo & Romeo Bill, which equalizes exceptions to the age of consent for close-age relationships in both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Second, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to clarify and expand the ability of defense attorneys to have access to DA’s files on their clients. Finally, just today, the Senate (roll call unavailable at the moment) passed a bill to drug test applicants for unemployment insurance. I’ll talk about each a little bit:

Romeo & Romeo
Statesman reports that the Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-1 to advance the bill, SB 1316, to the whole Senate. The committee, which is inexplicably chaired by a Democrat (Whitmire), was plagued by many absences that day. Out of the eight committee members, only five bothered to show up. Of the five voting for the bill, only one was a Republican. Essentially, the problem the bill attempts to alleviate is that while the age of consent is 17, there are many exceptions  These are called “Romeo & Juliet exceptions,” say that if a 16 year old girl has sex with a 17 year old boy, or any type of scenario like that up to three years difference, no statutory rape would be committed. However, the exception only applies to heterosexual couples. This means one boy on his 17th birthday has sex with his boyfriend, who is 16 years and 10 months old, the 17 year old would be a sex offender. Yeah, it’s THAT screwed up.

Anyways, I am surprised this archaic regulation hasn’t been struck by a federal judge yet. But the bill is receiving from blow-back from the Religious Right. The Statesman article interviews an evangelical woman who was livid at the prospect of any sort of rights or equality for the dreaded homos [sarcasm]. Her two quotes were “can’t believe this is being discussed at our Capitol, where normal Texans are in control” and “The gay liberal agenda is still alive up here, and this bill proves it, we’ll be starting a campaign of prayer and phone calls to stop this one in its tracks” [not sarcasm]. And she’s not alone. Ugh.

Michael Morton
The Dallas Morning News reports that the Senate voted unanimously to clarify the right of defense attorneys to access DA’s files in their clients. The impetus for this act comes from Michael Morton, a Texan convicted of murder and only exonerated recently. His attorneys claim the reason for his wrongful conviction was the DA intentionally burying evidence. This bill has been a pet project of Senator Ellis.

Drug Testing UI too
Just one day after the Senate voted to drug test welfare, they have voted to do the same thing with unemployment insurance. The Trib reports the passage of Tommy Williams’ SB21, although it says nothing about its unanimity, meaning probably at least a few Dems opposed the measure. Wendy Davis successfully got an amendment into the legislation that allows applicants to appeal drug test positives, and Kirk Watson put in an amendment that allows violators to continue receiving benefits if they enroll in a treatment program. Both of those things make it a little better, but I still don’t see the point in doing someone in the name of “fiscal responsibility” when we don’t save any money on it. I’ll update this later to reflect the roll call. Dos Centavos has more.

Senate passes bill to drug test Welfare

The Trib is reporting that the State Senate has voted to require Welfare (TANF) applicants to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits. The bill made sure that if those who flunked the drug test had minor children, the children would still receive money for their welfare.

You can read my extended thoughts upon this topic here. Essentially, results have shown that this program WILL NOT save any money, so I oppose this strictly from a fiscal point of view. I get chewed out regularly by the Left for this position, but oh well. Anyways, needless to say, I am disappointed that it actually got through, because the result will only be to increase this State’s shortfall.

But most perplexing is the fact that this bill passed unanimously. Um, what? Davis, Ellis, Garcia: they all voted for it. I am not even going to pretend that I understand this, because I don’t. Garcia and Ellis are both pretty freaking liberal, and Davis spoke out against this somewhat recently.

Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

In re Drug testing welfare/unemployment

It’s been a sound byte of the Right since Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House: if we could only kick all the druggies off of government assistance (e.g, Welfare and Unemployment) we could save bundles of money. The Chron is reporting that about a hearing on a bill in the lege to do exactly that.

There are a pair of bills that would require drug testing the applicants to TANF (Welfare) as well as unemployment insurance. The Welfare bill, SB 11, was introduced by Senator Jane Nelson, a Metroplex Republican. The Unemployment bill, SB 21, was introduced by Senator Tommy Williams, a Republican from The Woodlands. Recently, the hearing was held on the unemployment bill. Wendy Davis, in her continuing awesomeness, shored up the opposition to the bill.

Davis’ main concern was that it would be an unneeded, added stigma to those needing government assistance. Davis has special insight into this concern, once being dependent upon welfare and unemployment herself. Williams, meanwhile is a wealthy banker who doesn’t quite have much first-hand experience into being poor or requiring government assistance. But anyways….

For what it’s worth, I am opposed to both of these bills, but not for the reasons some on the left are for. I personally have no problems with kicking people off of welfare or unemployment if they are druggies who are squandering the money. Receiving free cash from the government is not an alienable right. But, like a Voter ID Act, these acts are a solution to a problem that really doesn’t exist. We should learn from the horrible experience the State of Florida had in attempting a very similar law.

In the Florida example, roughly 1 in 50 welfare recipients failed the program. The cost of all those drug tests, however, added up. The end result was that the State lost money. A similar conclusion will most likely appear in Texas if this law goes through. Also, the bills are evidently a violation of the 4th amendment, though I may not completely agree with that. Essentially, whether you think these bills are right or wrong, it is a waste of money to go through with them, and I hope the Legislature may come together to stop a waste of money.