Filing bills for the 84th

The Texas Tribune reports that bill filings have begun for next year’s session of the State Legislature. When all was said and done, about 350 proposed laws and constitutional amendments were proposed today. Oddly enough, all this commotion conspicuously occurred amid the silence of Governor-elect Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus (R-Bexar County). Most of the loudest initiatives came from Democrats and Tea Party Republicans, with both leadership and centrists mostly ducking away from the limelight.

For whatever reason, the Tribune as well as the Associated Press have been harping about a new proposed ban on texting-while-driving. The usual suspects, including former Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), have been pushing the measure once again, cautiously optimistic that the new Governor would consider the idea; a far cry from Governor Rick Perry, who infamously vetoed the bipartisan measure in 2011. However, Abbott noted in the course of the campaign that he too would likely veto a measure. Accordingly, it’s a dumb point to focus upon.

Most notable were three major Tea Party aspirations, all of which very well may get a vote in this upcoming session. First, three concurrent pieces of legislation (HB 106 by State Representative Dan Flynn (R-Van Zandt County); HB 164 by State Representative James White (R-Tyler County) and; HB 195 by State Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Tarrant County)) were all introduced that would have the effect of ushering in “open carry” in Texas, meaning that all CHL holders could openly show off their deadly weapons in any location its hidden counterpart would be welcome. Abbott has implied he would sign such a law.

Second, Stickland also introduced HB 209, which would do away with the Texas Dream Act, the bipartisan policy nearly unanimously passed at the start of Perry’s tenure that allows undocumented students brought into this country in their infancy to attend UT and other public universities at the “in-state” rate. Abbott would also sign this proposal.

Third, State Representative Jim Murphy (R-Harris County) introduced HB 193 while State Senator Craig Estes (R-Wichita County) introduced SB 105. The bills would repeal Texas’ unpopular franchise tax, the closest thing to taxes on corporate profits in the state.

That’s more or less what’s important, but I included a list below of the other assorted bills that piqued my interest one way or another:

  • HB41 by State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer (D-Bexar County) would raise the minimum wage to about $10, while HB 174 would do the same for state contractors.
  • HB 53 by State Representative Ruth McClendon (D-Bexar County) would raise the age at which offenders are tried as an adult from 17 to 18, all other things being equal.
  • HB 68 by State Representative Robert Alonzo (D-Dallas County) would allow for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
  • HB 70 by State Representative Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso County) would provide for penalties for bullying on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in school districts.
  • HB 71 by Gonzalez would create a “Romeo & Juliet exception” for same-sex partners.
  • HB 76 by State Representative Ceila Israel (D-Travis County) would allow for online voter registration.
  • HB 78 by Gonzalez would provide for comprehensive sexual education in schools.
  • HB 81 by State Representative Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County) as well as HB 170 by State Representative Carol Alvarado (D-Harris County) would regulate e-cigarettes throughout the state, as well as prohibit their sale to minors.
  • HB 89 by Gonzalez would regulate tuition at public universities.
  • HB 91 by Flynn would create a legal marketplace for the sale of raw milk.
  • HB 92 by White would legalize possession of the “Bowie knife,” among other changes to the state’s knife laws.
  • HB 93, HB 107 and HB 110 by White would greatly reform and generally liberalize laws pertaining to truancy. Specifically, the fine would be reduced from $500 to $20, among other provisions.
  • HB 97 by Guillen as well as HB 189 by State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County) would end the statute of limitations on sexual assault.
  • HB 108 by Guillen would retain the right of lottery winners to be anonymous.
  • HB 111 by Fischer would allow for voters to register to vote on election day.
  • HB 113 by State Representative Allen Fletcher (R-Harris County) would criminalize aborting a fetus based on its gender.
  • HB 116 by Fischer would expand Medicaid in Texas.
  • HB 124 by Fischer would expand free, universal Pre-Kindergarten throughout the state.
  • HB 130 by State Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas County), as well as other pertinent joint resolutions, would legalize gay marriage in Texas.
  • HB 135 by Flynn would require High School students to take a civics class on the US Constitution.
  • HB 138 by Flynn would require the 10 Commandments be posted in schools, in clear defiance of the Supreme Court.
  • HB 142 by Stickland would prohibit the use of red light cameras for traffic citations.
  • HB 147 by State Representative Jose Menendez (D-Bexar County) would require merchants to receive photo identification for major purchases involving credit cards.
  • HB 150 by Flynn would nix day light saving’s time in Texas.
  • HB 161 by State Representative Lyle Larson (R-Bexar County) would allow prisons to house inmates in tents.
  • HB 176 by State Representative Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lee County) would somehow “allow” the state to not follow Federal laws involving guns that they did not fancy. The ignorance here is astounding.
  • HB 204 by State Representative Jeff Leach (R-Collin County) would shorten summer break for public schools by about two weeks.
  • HB 213 by State Representative Angie Button (R-Dallas County) would require ex-legislators to wait four years before lobbying under the dome.
  • HB 215 by State Representative Patricia Harless (R-Harris County) would do away with the fees for fishing licenses when it came to fishermen 65 years and older.
  • HB 216 by White would lower the minimum wage for a concealed handgun license from 21 to 18.
  • HJR 31 by Gonzalez would require the Attorney General to be an attorney.
  • HJR 37 by Larson would require legislators to resign from office before running for something else.
  • HJR 38 by Larson would impose term limits on state offices.
  • SB 54 by State Senator Jane Nelson (R-Denton County) would drug test welfare recipients.
  • SB 76 by State Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Harris County) would prohibit insurance discrimination on the part of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • SB 81 by Ellis would create a commission to further research wrongful convictions, particularly for capital offenses.
  • SB 82 by Ellis would greatly expand the availability of probation for drug-related offenses.
  • SB 86 by Ellis would allow for no-excuse absentee voting.
  • SB 135 by State Senator John Whitmire (D-Harris County) would reform grand jury systems by transitioning from “pick-a-pal” systems in which the grand jurors are chosen by an intermediary to one in which the District Judge directly selects the participants.
  • SB 139 by State Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock County) would end diversions from the State Highway Fund to the Department of Public Safety, among other recipients.
  • SB 141 by State Senator Sylvia Garcia (D-Harris County) would increase voter education for high school seniors.
  • SB 148 by State Senator Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County) would repeal the unconstitutional ban on “homosexual conduct.”
  • SB 150 by State Senator Kel Seliger (R-Potter County) would appropriate about $3 Billion for university construction around the state.
  • SB 158 by State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas County) would grant funds for local police departments to purchase body cameras, then require officers wear them throughout their interactions with the public.
  • SB 173 by State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) would deem synthetic marijuana a “controlled substance.”
  • SJR 10 by State Senator Donna Campbell (R-Comal County) would invalidate municipality’s non-discrimination ordinances.

Senate hearing and Huckabee rally

The Texas Tribune reports that the big SB1 hearing has lasted into the middle of the night. The omnibus anti-abortion bill was brought up for public hearing in the Senate Health & Human Services Committee nearly a week after the House State Affairs Committee approved the measure after a controversial hearing.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Tarrant County), the Chairwoman of this committee, decided to deal with the public hearing quite differently than Chairman Cook did last week. 3,800 people registered positions on the bill, mostly against it.

Testimony included everything one would expect from such a hearing, including a “vagina poem” and the phrase “forced birthers.” My good friend Luis Fayad (another one from my years at City Hall) live-tweeted most of the hearing (warning, he is NSFW or really any type of wholesome, family environment). 

From what I understand, the hearing went on until about 2 in the morning, when the witness list was finally exhausted. There was no vote that took place on the legislation. I suppose this is good news.

The full Legislature gavels back into session this morning, and the House will hit the ground running and take up HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill. We’ll see what happens.

Off the Kuff and Burnt Orange Report have more on the hearing itself.

In other news, BOR also covered the big anti-abortion rally that took place at the Capitol yesterday. 2000 people showed up, mostly bused from across the nation. This is compared to the 5000-8000 local who showed up against HB2/SB1 last week. BOR has a great comparison picture to illustrate this point.

The normal non-normal people one would expect were all there, including the Dew, Governor-designate Greg Abbott, Mike Huckabee and the Duggars–you know, those bible thumpers with like 20 children. There weren’t many verbal gaffes or goofs, but it was very interesting to see how old and White this crowd was compared to the pro-choice crowd. But I suppose that’s about as obvious as the fact that it rains in Seattle.

The rumour this morning is that Rick Santorum is at the Capitol. Oh boy.

Legislative update 4/29

Truancy
The Senate has approved 27-3 (Hancock, Nelson and Paxton against) a watered-down bill by John Whitmire to loosen the penalties for truancy. Originally, Whitmire wished for truancy to be struck from the list of criminal infractions (Class C Misdemeanors). Facing resistance from Senate leadership, Whitmire amended the bill so that truancy would still be a criminal offense, but the fine would be lowered from $500 to $100, and schools would have to evaluate truant students with counselors before referring them to court. The Texas Tribune has the full story.

Domestic Partnerships
Trib also reporting on a non-binding by the AG (Abbott) on the subject of Domestic Partnerships. Abbott argues that School Districts and Municipalities offering limited benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees violates the (deceptively named) “Marriage Protection Amendment.” This layman’s personal opinion is that Abbott’s opinion is complete garbage. When the amendment prohibted unions “similar or identical” to marriage, they meant California/New York style Civil Unions that were marriage in all but name.

Little kid Exams
The House voted unanimously (well, voice vote) to pass HB 2836, Bennett Ratliff’s (R-Coppell) bill to reduce the standardized testing load for the kids in Primary School. The Trib reports that the bill would ax the writing tests for 4th and 7th graders. Additionally, the remaining tests would could not exceed two hours to complete for the “lower grade levels.” This seems really broad, but I am guessing they mean K-8 (typically what is defined as “Primary” as opposed to “Secondary.”) I am also going to guess they mean two hours per section of the test, not two hours overall. I only attended Public School for one year in the TAAKS era, but from what I remember of the 3rd grade, it took FOREVER. Reducing a whole week of tests to two hours would effectively kill the program, so I doubt that is what was meant.

Guns on Campus
The Chron reports that the “Guns on Campus” bill will be getting a full vote before the House of Representatives. This Saturday, a final vote will be taken, and it will probably be successful. This is, as I have mentioned, the bill that would allow colleges like UT, UH and TSU to opt-out, while allowing private colleges like SMU and Baylor to opt-in. Good news for my friends in Austin, bad news for my friend in Dallas.

I never really expected anything else from this bill in the lower chamber. The real test will be seeing how united Whitmire and the fellow Democrats will stand in blocking this bill from the floor in the upper chamber. Time will only tell.

Gas Chambers
Kirk Watson, the author of SB 360, which last month unanimously passed a bill to prohibit rural counties from using carbon monoxide gas chambers for dog/cat euthanasia, reported on his Facebook that the legislation has passed unanimously in the House as well. A cursory search online shows that the legislation, indeed, passed 135-0. Now, from what I understand, the only step left is for Governor Perry to sign it, since the bill is verbatim identical in the two chambers. Also, I believe that if it is unanimous, the legislation takes effect immediately rather than September 1st.

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.

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.