In the shadow of the Tower

I have five classes on Tuesdays. Combined with some shuffling back and forward to my office at The Daily Texan (speaking of which, I recently received a new title there), this meant a full day of walking around campus. By my estimations, I walked past the Main Mall, just in front of the Tower, about a half dozen times. One such time was a little past 11:45 in the morning, as I was leaving Astronomy and (unsuccessfully) attempting to not be late to Japanese Politics. About 48 1/2 years ago, at that exact time, I would have been in the crosshairs of a psychopathic sniper named Charles Whitman, who had barricaded himself at the top of the observation deck and started shooting at random, murdering 17 people in all that day.

Now, as the Houston Chronicle reports, legislators are determined to liberalize gun laws on college campuses all around the states, including at UT-Austin. Specifically, 19 of the 20 Republicans in the state senate co-sponsored SB11, which would do exactly that (the one exception was State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County)). It would mainly allow concealed handgun license (CHL) holders to bring the weapons to campuses.

I wrote somewhat extensively about this topic throughout the 83rd Legislature. In a wonderful example of how much things can change in just two years, I was opining back then all the way from Boston, instead of actually on the 40 acres. At the time, the bill passed the House but got lost in the Senate. Since that does not look to happen again this time, I would say get ready for this horrendous proposal to get enacted into law.

The reason I reference the Tower sniper attack in my introduction is not to suggest that this will open the floodgates to more mass shootings. Rather, it is to demonstrate the futility of such a proposal. Say, for example, one of the students had a legally concealed handgun. The likelihood of him or her effectively firing at the top of the tower and subduing Whitman would have been quite low.

The Daily Texan has an editorial, coming to print tomorrow morning, that addresses most of the other points on “Guns on Campus” one way or another, but the main argument remains the same: this is a spectacularly bad idea. As time goes on, I will continue to closely follow these bills.

In other news, the Texas Tribune reports that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has announced that the “Open Carry” proposals currently do not have the votes to move the legislation. He also implied to the Tribune that other priorities would likely come first. This has drawn the ire of right-wing grassroots.

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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.

Texpatriate endorses in SD17

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State Senator Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) was first elected in a December 2008 special election, succeeding the longtime Senator, Kyle Janek, who had just been selected to run the State’s Health and Human Services program. The longtime prosecutor had originally been elected within Harris County as a Criminal District Judge, before being elected to represent the strangely gerrymandered district, which stretches from inside-the-loop Houston to the gulf coast, and once went all the way to the Louisiana border.

Unfortunately, be it in her many years on the bench or her three sessions in the State Legislature, Huffman has apparently never shed her mindset as a prosecutor. This became all too evident early last year, when Huffman butted heads with colleagues at an important Criminal Justice Committee meeting. Huffman repeatedly insensitively interrogated victims of wrongful imprisonment, and was a driving factor behind the death of a bill to create an Innocence Commission in Texas. She also grandstanded at one time against the venerated “Michael Morton Act,” which has been lauded by both sides of the aisle as an effective tool to prevent indefensible miscarriages of justice. But, to Huffman, still in the prosecutorial mentality, the Texas criminal justice system is infallible and she’ll have no part of its denigration.

These actions landed her a spot on Texas Monthly‘s list of WORST SENATORS; they called the acts in questions “Behavior Unbecoming of a Senator.” It also caused her to receive a similar dishonor from Texpatriate. Perhaps, as this board opined back last June, it is –as Corey Session famously testified in one of the innocence commission hearings– time for Huffman to find another job.

In fact, it is not just Huffman’s atrocious record on criminal justice matters that we take issue with. She stood idly by last summer when the Senate approve draconian anti-abortion restrictions, designed to shutter most of the State’s clinics and force women seeking a constitutionally-protected right to either jump state lines or retreat into the back alley. She even voted against an overwhelmingly bipartisan bill that reiterated the role of the State to provide free breakfasts to impoverished children. We guess, in Huffman’s world, poor kids should just go hungry.

Thankfully, unlike her easy re-election in 2012, Huffman faces serious opposition this year. Rita Lucido, an attorney from the Houston area, is the Democratic candidate for the position. A longtime activist in the politics of the locale, this board thoroughly believes that Lucido will be qualified and ready on day 1 to take over the complex and intense responsibilities of being a State Senator.

She understands the criminal justice system, flawed as it may be, and its pressing need for reform. She was also on the board of the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, a position that we believe will give her valuable insights.

The voters of Senate District 17 have a fairly easy choice to make, given the contentious tenure of the incumbent, Huffman. Either they can stick with her for another term, complete with her complacency with the criminal justice system and philosophy against helping the underprivileged. Or, they can choose to repudiate those ideas. For us, the choice is clear.

Accordingly, this board endorse Rita Lucido for the State Senate, District 17.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represent a majority opinion of the voting board.

Texpatriate endorses in SD15 primary

Elections are all about incumbents when there is one, especially a primary election. When the incumbent, in this case Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), has served for over 30 years in the Senate (a combined 40 years in the State Legislature), the focus is magnified even further. For this board, it is the first election in our lifetimes that Sen. Whitmire has received a Democratic primary opponent in the greatly gerrymandered district. Unlike most other organizations, we think that is a good thing. As we noted so famously (or infamously, we suppose, depending upon your inclinations) last June, we had some serious misgivings about Sen. Whitmire’s recent tenure in office. In a suggestion that was admittedly more incendiary and evocative than literal, we said that “perhaps 32 years is enough.”

Accordingly, it caught our attention when Damian LaCroix, a local attorney, announced he would challenge Sen. Whitmire in the primary. Despite laying low for the first few months of campaigning, Mr LaCroix started his campaign off with a bang, hitting back hard at what he called a lack of accountability and a poor track record in the district. Many of his complaints, such as  Sen. Whitmire being directly responsible for exponentially growing the State’s prison population, appeared fallacious. Other comments looked to provide fodder for an high-stakes, high-reward primary election.

Click here to read the full endorsement!

Texpatriate’s Questions for Rita Lucido

Editorial note: This is the first in a series of interviews we will attempt to have with both every Statewide candidate in a Democratic or Republican primary, as well as every candidate in a Harris County Democratic or Republican primary. Unlike our municipal questionnaire, these questions will differ substantially from one candidate to another, given the diverse nature of the offices up for grabs.

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Rita Lucido, Democratic Candidate for the Texas Senate District 17

Click here to read Sophia’s interview and analysis!

Lege Update 7/11

The Legislature had quite a busy day today, in both chambers. The House has adjourned until Monday, and the Senate gavels back into play at 2PM tomorrow. Obviously, the most controversial and newsworthy item is still HB2/SB1, the omnibus anti-abortion bill. However, a number of actions were taken today dealing with the other two topics on the call, as well as a third not on the call. Let us digest the matter.

For starters, both the House and Senate concurred in a final Miller compliance bill for sentencing 17 year olds convicted of Capital Murder. The Texas Tribune reports that SB2 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Harris County) was passed 30-1 in the Senate and then 113-23 in the House. As the Austin American-Statesman noted, this is the Senate’s original bill, which places a mandatory life with parole sentence, typically meaning parole after 40 years. The House’s bill originally allowed the jury to consider aggravating circumstances and evidence that would lead them to specifically sentence the minors to life-without-parole.

Some Democrats, led by Rep. Terry Canales (D-Hidalgo County), objected to the bill because it prevented juries from considering any mitigating circumstances and evidence that would lead them to impose a lighter sentence, such as 25 years. The only Senate objector was Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County). Rodriguez objected because of his belief the bill is unconstitutional. For what it’s worth, I wrote an entire Law Review article on this exact topic last semester, so I beg to disagree. But that’s a discussion for a different day. Anyways, both Houses passed the identical SB2, which now heads to Governor Perry’s desk.

The Senate also passed SJR1, the Transportation funding bill, which you may recall is having some trouble in the House. All eyes go there at this point. The SJR1 approved in the Senate is identical to the Committee’s bill, which simply diverts a portion of the rainy day fund into highway maintenance funding.

In other news, the Tribune also reports that the House Appropriations Committee has passed HB5, known as the “Campus Construction Bill.” The bill would issue, according to the Tribune article, “bonds for 62 campus construction projects.” The bill passed unanimously, 18-0, and now heads to Calendar. All looks good. The only problem is that the Governor has not added the issue to the call of the Special Session, though this is a bipartisan inkling to Perry that he should do so immediately. Most locally, the bonds would include $95 Million in bonds for UT-Austin.

Finally, there was significant action on the omnibus anti-abortion bill. Most pressing, the Tribune reports that the Senate Health & Human Services Committee has passed HB2 along party lines, 6-3. Further, the Tribune article states that Dewhurst has promised to bring the bill up on Friday at 2PM. This is it, folks. Please see my inspirational charge “Remember the Alamo,” about where to go from here. The twitters and facebooks of Democratic Senators are lighting up about the final protest being held tomorrow. It will be interesting, to be sure.

In other news, Rick “frothy mixture” Santorum made an appearance at the Capitol today, further proving the bill is not about women’s health. Speaking of women’s health, the Statesman proves that abortions in Texas are notoriously safe. Last but not least, Greg Abbott will be giving his own “new and exciting plans” speech in San Antonio on Monday. He will be announcing his gubernatorial intentions, obviously.

Miller compliance

As I have discussed at length in the past, one of the issues added to the call of the Special Session was providing a penalty to 17 year-old offenders convicted of capital murder. This is because 17 year old offenders are classified as adults by Texas and juveniles by the Supreme Court. Accordingly, the 17 year old is given the adult penalty options: death or life. And in Texas, parole has been abolished for capital murderers so it is automatically life without parole. This created quite the conundrum, because the Supreme Court has said such penalties for 17 year-old offenders is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.

Anyways, the Senate has passed a bill that solves the problem. The Texas Tribune reports that the bill, sponsored by Joan Huffman, would allow a single, mandatory sentence for these individuals: life with parole (after 40 years). Such a penalty is constitutional right now, but the way the Court is evolving on these issues means there could be a problem in the future. The decisions which struck mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, Miller v. Alabama, mainly drew its concern from the fact that Judges and Juries were unable to consider the mitigating circumstances and unique evidence pertaining to each case. In fact, the Court specifically condoned the idea of individual sentences of life-without-parole.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously and now heads to the House. For what it is worth, I would not have added this to the call, as the issue was raised in the Regular Session, and did not pass. Contrary to what many in the State would have you believe, there is not a choice between trying these individuals for Capital Murder and letting them go. One may still be convicted of 1st Degree Murder, which carries the penalty of life-with-parole.