Patrick finalizes Senate committees

The Texas Tribune reports that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has finalized committee assignments in the senate for the 84th Legislature. Making good on two longstanding committees, Patrick both consolidated the number of committees and significantly reduced the number of Democratic chairs for those committees that remained. Three committees (Government Organization, Jurisprudence and Open Government) got the ax, and a further two committees (Economic Development and Natural Resources, respectively) were merged. This had the overall effect of slashing the total number of committees from 18 to 14.

All three folded committees had been chaired in the 83rd session by Democrats, as did a further three committees. Thus, 1/3rd of the committees had Democrats at the helm, roughly the proportion of the chamber controlled by the minority party. Patrick kept State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County), the dean of the chamber, in charge of the Criminal Justice Committee, a position he has held for many years. He also tapped State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Cameron County) as the chair of Intergovernmental Relations, a rather low-ranking post. Reportedly, this was an olive branch extended to the upper house’s most centrist Democrat. Lucio was the one Democrat this past week to vote for the elimination of the 2/3rds rule, as well as for the omnibus anti-abortion bill HB2 (the one Wendy Davis filibustered) in 2013.

Among other important picks and retentions was State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) staying on as the chairman of the Higher Education Committee. Seliger has been, according to the Tribune article, an “occasional critic” of the Lieutenant Governor. He also is especially pro-Bill Powers and anti-Wallace Hall, for what it’s worth. State Senators Robert Nichols (R-Cherokee County) and Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County), respectively, also retained their chairmanships (Transportation and Business & Commerce, respectively).

State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County), a two-time chair in the 83rd (Agriculture & Rural Affairs and State Affairs), was stripped of both titles. Harvey Kronberg at Quorum Report opined this could be because Estes was the sole Republican against the 2/3rds rule’s demise. Estes was replaced at Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County), a freshman. I found it somewhat interesting and telling that the one freshman tapped was not a right-wing activist like State Senators Don Huffines (R-Dallas County), Konni Burton (R-Tarrant County) or Bob Hall (R-Van Zandt County), to name a few.

Finally, all eyes were on the Senate Education Committee, of which Patrick previously chaired when he served in the upper chamber. He selected State Senator Larry Taylor (R-Galveston County) as the replacement, which garnered a wide variety of responses. Breitbart Texas appears particularly stoked. Many observers prognosticate that Patrick — now flanked by Taylor — will pursue a wide variety of educational reforms, including a more extensive use of vouchers for charter and private schools.

Say what you want about Patrick, but his first few days in office have featured nothing but him staying true on his word. Unfortunately, that means he was not bluffing on the campaign trail about implementing a very conservative agenda if sent to high office.

This is just a preview of things to come. Patrick is looking more and more like a boisterous and powerful lieutenant governor (the anti-Dewhurst, if you will). Meanwhile, Abbott looks as though he may not continue Perry’s mega-powerful theme. Texas politics may very well regress back to the mean, with a more powerful lieutenant governor and a less powerful governor. Still, don’t be surprised if Patrick runs for governor (and wins) in 2018.

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Burns to not run for SD10

The Forth Worth Star-Telegram reports that Joel Burns, a reputed member of the Forth Worth City Council, will not run in next year’s Democratic primary for Senate District 10. The district, currently held by Wendy Davis, will be open next year on account of the fact that Davis is running for governor. Burns was Davis’ successor on the City Council, and is a talented Democrat himself.

Back in 2010, well before anyone around the country had heard of Wendy Davis, Councilman Burns became a well-renowned in his own right. Burns, who is openly gay, delivered a tearful speech on the topic of bullying against LGBT children, drawing upon his own experiences. The speech made Burns a celebrity in the movement overnight, and it got international press. Since that time, Burns has been a major liberal in the Fort Worth area, long assumed to be aspiring towards higher office.

My friend Charles Kuffner first suggested to me the provisional candidacy of Burns if Davis, in fact, decided to run for the post, though I am sure Fort Worth insiders beat him to the point. In the three months since he made that posts, just about everyone in politics has assumed Burns would run. They were wrong.

Click here to read more about the implications!

Where do we go from here?

Awful. Tonight, after a variety of speeches, good and bad, by nearly all of the members of the Senate, the body approved HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill, 19-11. The bill is identical to the House version, and, as such, is now sent to Governor Perry’s desk for his signature.

One of the biggest highlights of the evening was that the DPS informed female gallery guests that tampons, among other items, would be confiscated upon entrance. I also saw unconfirmed tweets that DPS troopers were told to instigate the orange shirted individuals, whilst backing off from those wearing blue. But that’s just a rumor.

The speeches were what one expected. Wendy Davis delivered what would probably be the most repeated line of the evening, stating “Some may believe that that this fight has been waged and won with this final vote today, but they are wrong in so many ways. The fight for the future of Texas is just beginning.” This is what I’ve been saying, Remember the Alamo!

In addition to Davis, Sen. John Whitmire delivered quite an emotionally stirring speech that deserves positive recognition. Jose Rodriguez, Kirk Watson and Royce West also had great things to say. But at a certain point, we had to assent to the inevitable. Around midnight, after religious antics that had no place in a Government proceeding , Dewhurst called the roll and the Senate approved the measure. Sen. Tommy Williams (R-Montgomery County) was absent while Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Cameron County) voted affirmatively. I will give credit where credit is due to Sen. Lucio, however. The Senate considered 20 amendments by Democrats that did everything from provide rape exceptions to inserting equal pay wording into the statute. Lucio joined with the other Democrats on all of these amendments.

It will probably be about 10 days before Governor Perry signs this legislation. At that point, it would be November 1st before the law would take effect. The ambulatory surgical center requirement would not take hold until some point in 2014.

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This all presents the unfortunate question of, “Where do we go from here?” Simply put, there are three places to go from here.

1. The Courthouse
The day that this bill is signed by the Governor, expect there to be a lawsuit filed in the United States District Court. Given that the plaintiffs will most likely seek a temporary restraining order, it will be filed in the Western District, based in San Antonio, because that court has jurisdiction over Austin.

If you are confused about what I just said, here is the basic gist of it. Constitutional court cases must arise out of a current controversy, meaning someone must have an active injury or complaint in the case. For example, an abortion provider who had no choice but to close after the regulations went into effect. Such a lawsuit could arise out of any of the four Federal Districts in Texas (the Northern, based in Dallas, the Western, based in San Antonio, the Southern, based in Houston, and the Eastern, based in Tyler). However, if the lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, to enjoin enforcement of the legislation before it takes effect, it will be much more academic. Thus, centered around Austin.

As I have discussed at length previously, this bill, once becoming law, should go down in flames in Federal Court. If it doesn’t, the Supreme Court must take an action tantamount to overturning Roe.

2. The Ballot Box
Since the first filibuster, I have seen a lot of my contemporaries, who couldn’t have cared less about politics just a few weeks ago, become involved and outspoken on the process. If this motivation and anger will translate to mobilized and dedicated voters on this issue, it will be a wonder for the Democratic Party. That is still an open-ended question at this point, however.

2014 will see all Statewide positions, roughly half of the State Senate and all 150 State Representatives seek re-election. If the Democrats do their jobs (a big if), we could have a meaningful impact.

3. Activist Lane
Remember, don’t get mad, get even. Or at least get involved. This whole controversy has propelled Wendy Davis into the national spotlight. As I have been arguing somewhat perpetually now since the filibuster, she truly needs to run for Governor, regardless of her feasibility as a winning candidate. Be the Democrats’ Barry Goldwater.

Find people riled up by this, and register them to vote. Get people involved with the local Democratic Party. And, my gosh, find some candidates for Statewide office next year. Wendy Davis is obvious, but there are so many others. Rodney Ellis, Jose Rodriguez, Leticia Van de Putte and Judith Zaffrini are among the talented Democratic Senators who are not up for re-election next year. Cecile Richards is a great possible candidate as well.

There was a huge rally at the end of the evening tonight, where Cecile Richards and Jessica Farrar led thousands of protesters from the Capitol down Congress Street. Stuff like that needs to continue happening.

So, I guess Wendy Davis really was prophetic when she said this is only the beginning, and not the end. Don’t pout, don’t cry, don’t complain. What we need to do right now is to get to work. I will part with a line from an old Bob Dylan song that I find quite fitting for this evening.

“The loser now will be later to win, oh the times they are a-changin'”

Good night and good luck.

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.

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.

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.”

“Guns in Cars” passes Senate

From the Tribune:

The bill that I talked about not too long ago is back in the news, unfortunately. It has passed the Senate. Essentially, this bill, sponsored by Glen Hegar and known as the “Guns in Cars” alternative to the “Guns on Campus” bill, would force public universities to allow guns and ammunition to be carried in students’ cars. I don’t want to delineate the reasons why that is an awful idea again, so just click the link.

The measure passed 27-4, with Sylvia Garcia, Eddie Lucio, Joe Rodriguez and Judith Zaffrini being the sole nay votes. Why Kirk Watson, Rodney Ellis or Royce West sold out and voted for this abhorrent legislation, I do not know.

This looks like a classic deal by Whitmire. I expect that it was him, as Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee (who heard the Guns-on-campus bill), who pushed for this compromise legislation. I wouldn’t care if this one also included the opt-out provision as well, but it imposes the conservative agenda on UT-Austin and UH. Hopefully this may be resolved in the House.

Big Jolly has more, on a much different angle. Evidently I am now the stand-bearer of the Houston liberals, being referred to as simply “the left.” I like it–though, after residing in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts for a year, I now know what that word really means, and I am a few stones away from it.