Catching up, Part II

When it comes to state politics, if something feels different in the last couple of days, it is because things have — indeed — changed. A new crop of officeholders have taken office, namely Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton and a few new members of the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. In the next week, Governor-elect Greg Abbott and Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick, respectively, will assume their offices at the top.

Despite not yet taking office, both men have already staked out positions both toward the far-right and toward the middle (leaning a little more to the former option). First, as the San Antonio Express-News reports, Abbott went on the offensive earlier this week on what he called the “Californization” (Californication?) of Texas. Specifically, he took issue with municipal bans on tree-cutting, plastic bags and fracking.

Evidently, Abbott finds municipal bans on cutting down large trees uniquely objectionable, and he openly compared the practice to “collectivism.” He similarly fumed over municipal bans on single-use plastic bags, enacted in cities such as Austin and Laredo. The bag bans have particularly drawn the ire of legislators and politicos since they must spend so much time in the state capital. Finally, Abbott took a firm stance against Denton’s recent referendum to ban fracking within its city limits. Since the enactment of the ban in November, numerous legislators have filed bills to prohibit such bans statewide, and Abbott now looks amenable to signing such a bill.

All this being said, perhaps there is something to be said for Abbott having at least one pragmatic side in office. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram published an editorial examining if Abbott is coming around on medicaid expansion. The statewide sentiment has recently turned against the opponents, but I’d still say true expansion is a longshot. Back in November, I opined in The Daily Texan that this was a possibility nonetheless, well before anyone else did.

Moving onto Dan Patrick, he recently outlined his legislative priorities in a series of interviews. The Texas Observer reports that Patrick would be fighting for an ambitious conservative agenda while in office. The topics outlined were garden variety right-wing ideas involving tax cuts, immigration and school privatization, but a few novel specifics stood out. Among them was a proposal to rescind state funding for the Public Integrity Unit within the Travis County District Attorney’s office. The PIU, always overseen by a Democratic DA hailing from Austin, is typically a thorn in the side of prominent Republican officeholder, be it former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, former Congressman Tom DeLay or Governor Rick Perry.

The Texas Tribune also looks at Patrick’s historically animosity toward the Senate’s 2/3rds rule. For those of you playing at home, the 2/3rds rule is an anachronism for the chamber stemming back to when it was comprised exclusively of Democrats. It requires the votes of 21/31 senators to advance any particular piece of legislation during the regular session. Patrick will likely get the needed votes to lower that threshold to 19 votes, conveniently just below the 20 Republican votes in the upper chamber.

However, as the Brownsville Herald reports, Patrick could have at least something of a mind toward bipartisanship. State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-Hidalgo County) has been selected as the President Pro Tempore of the chamber, meaning he would serve as the President of the Senate in the lieutenant governor’s absence.

Last but not least, as the Houston Chronicle reports, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller has dedicated his first official act in office to implementing so-called “cupcake amnesty.” About a decade ago, the Department of Agriculture (which has power over school lunches) opined against parents packing cupcakes and other sugary foods in their children’s lunches. The policy was quietly reversed last year, and now Miller is wishing to publicize the change. Miller also noted that he has set his sights on removing restrictions on sodas and fries.

“We’ve been raising big, strapping healthy young kids here in Texas for nearly 200 years and we don’t need Washington, D.C. telling us how to do it,” Miller said.

Glossing over the obvious problems with that statement, Miller made a lot of sense when he noted that local control should be trumpeted in these cases. Sadly, it seems that local control is not respected unless it is convenient for Republicans, as Abbott has clearly shown.

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Lege udpate 5/14

Final Tallies
As I mentioned last night, both the Campaign Disclosure bill and the Michael Morton bill were one step away from being sent to Perry. Well, at end of business tonight, they have both passed roll call votes and been sent to Perry’s desk. The Governor will most likely veto the former and sign the later.

The Disclosure bill passed 95-52, just shy of overriding capability. The only opposition came from far-right Republicans. Debbie Riddle was the only Houstonian I could find opposing the measure. Meanwhile, the Michael Morton Act continued its support in unanimity, succeeding 147-0. If Perry signs it, it will take effect immediately.

TRC lives another day
The Texas Railroad Commission will not be reformed in any way, according to the Tribune. After the Senate passed an ambitious bill that did a lot of good, including stricter regulations for the Commissioners (as well as name change for the organization), the legislation was greeted as dead on arrival in the lower chamber by Energy Resources Committee Chairman Jim Keffer (R-Eastland).

Guns on Campus probably a reality
The so-called “Campus Carry” or “Guns-on-Campus” bill looks like it will be a reality after all. Facing the threat of an ambitious piece of legislation mandating the practice for all institutions of higher learning to be jammed through the Special Session, Senator Whitmire folded and allowed the less ambitious HB972 to be voted out of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

The Committee voted 5-2, with all four Republicans joining Senator Juan Hinojosa (D-Hidalgo) in supporting the measure. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) were the only two opposed. This bill, unlike one the Senate previously shot down, allows public universities to opt-out if they want to. So, as I have said before, this would create Guns on Campus for A&M and Tech, but not UT, UH or TSU.

The Texas Tribune has the full story on this.