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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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.

Duncan leaves the Senate

The Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock County) will be resigning from the Senate in order to become the next Chancellor of Texas Tech. Admittedly, I heard a rumor about this a couple of months ago and utterly refused to accept it until I saw it confirmed. I do not especially care about the wonky higher education implications of this, and considering that I do not even talk about the (albeit fascinating) inside politics at the UT system on this publication, I will not bore you with the Ivory Tower tales from Lubbock, Texas (Editorial note: Carl, this is not elitist against your alma matter, it is a general comment that details of inner squabbles with universities, even involving my own college, are not meant to be published here).

Rather, I think the implications of someone like Duncan leaving the Texas Senate are quite significant for two key reasons. First, Duncan is definitely one of the most noble Senators in the upper chamber, and likely the most noble among Republicans. Avid followers of the chamber will surely remember Duncan for his kindness, integrity and all around good graces toward those on both sides of the aisle. However, much more pressing is that he was a foe to ideologues and partisan-over-policy attitudes, especially those in the Tea Party and other fringes of the right wing. In fact, early this year, Duncan strongly repudiated the so-called “race to the right,” a move that garnered him some positive press from an op-ed of mine in The Daily Texan.

But the Senate is losing much more than a moderate, click here to find out what!

Deuell backs Patrick

I promise you that this is very significant. State Senator Bob Deuell (R-Hunt County), a long time stalwart of the upper chamber hailing from the east, has endorsed Dan Patrick in the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor. Patrick (R-Harris County), yet another member of the State Senator, did not always appear to have the most amiable of relationships with Deuell. Not so much for any centrism, but his bipartisanship and general decency around Democrats did him in with the Tea Party. Accordingly, he drew a Tea Party backed, far-right challenger in Bob Hall this primary cycle. Deuell and Hall will face off against one another next month in a runoff election, though polls generally put Deuell at an advantage.

Deuell supporting Patrick in a desperate attempt to improve his conservative credentials should not be seen as surprising in the least, but it is extremely important because of what it means for the future of the Texas Senate. Simply put, Deuell was an invaluable part of coalition I conjured up to combat the reign of terror from Dan Patrick, who –barring an incredibly strange turn of events– will be the next Lieutenant Governor of Texas. The point I made last month was that, assuming Wendy Davis’ Senate seat falls into Republican hands (Dems were too lazy to find a candidate worth their weight in paper), 5 Republicans would have to defect and join with the Democrats to strip Lt Gov Patrick of all his power at the start of the 84th Legislative session in January 2015. As I explained previously, the broad powers that the Lieutenant Governor has as the President of the Senate is by tradition not constitutional mandate. A majority of the Senate could easily strip the Lt Gov of her or his powers.

Click here to read more!

Eltife defends Two-thirds rule

Patricia Kilday Hart at the Houston Chronicle expands upon an issue I lightly touched upon last week: if and how Dan Patrick and recent primaries might move the general temperament of the upper chamber significantly to the right. Specifically, she noted at least three examples of those Republicans most amenable to maintaining the current balance of order in the chamber.

As I have expanded upon in the aforementioned previous post, the venerable 2/3rds rule in the Senate has been incessantly under attack by both State Senator Dan Patrick or Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. I wrote about this issue at length in The Daily Texan, but the gist of the matter is that some of the Republican top brass want to make the Democratic minority powerless to stop the proposals of the Republican majority. This would run hand-in-hand with the oft-controversial Patrick taking the helm of power as Lieutenant Governor, which also serves as President of the Senate. However, as I mentioned in my other article (which, I insist, you should really read), a majority of the Senate may strip the Lieutenant Governor of his power. This majority (16 Senators) would require 5 Republicans join with the Democrat caucus, assuming Wendy Davis’ seat falls into Republican hands.

Click here to read more!

Lieutenant Governor Patrick?

Let us assume that Dan Patrick wins the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. Further, let us assume that –no matter what the Washington Post may say–  Patrick wins the general election. What, then, will become of our Texas? Liberals are preaching about a tentative apocalypse that may occur if Patrick takes the dais at the Senate. Tea Partiers are giddy at the prospect of having one of their own in office.

This leads us to examine just what would, in fact, happen if (when) Patrick is inaugurated into office at the commencement of the 84th Legislature in January 2015. An article in the San Antonio Express-News begins to answer that question, but stops shy of the pronouncement I will go on to say. Simply put, the article notes the continuing hostility between Patrick and many of the Republican members of the State Senate. In my opinion, the article focuses too much on the prospect of what the Senate majority would do if State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), the Democratic nominee, is elected, given how quixotic that proposition could be. Instead, I would like to focus on how the Senate majority may react to the –far more likely– result of Dan Patrick being elected Lieutenant Governor.

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Sine die, MoFos!

My general thoughts at the moment. The term “83rd Legislature Special Session” is such a taint upon this State, that I am ecstatic to delete it from my memory.

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The Texas Tribune reports that, just after 10PM last night and final passage of the Transportation funding legislation of HB1 and SJR1, the Dean of the Senate, John Whitmire, made the comment “Let’s adjourn this mutha [sic].” These bills passed by bipartisan margins, and earned praise from the Governor for not raising the gas tax. However, as has been pointed out to me, the gas tax hasn’t been raised in about 20 years, and any and all monetary tricks that do not involve raising it will not solve the problem. The Tribune lays out this problem:

“The latest version is estimated to raise $1.2 billion a year for TxDOT, a fraction of the more than $4 billion TxDOT has said it needs in additional annual funding to maintain current congestion levels as the state’s population grows.”

SJR1 ended up finally passing the House 106-21. Unlike last time, the vast majority of the dissenting votes were Democrats. In fact, most of the liberal Democrats (Burnam, Collier, Farrar, etc) voted against the measure. Additionally, the journals finally came out in the Senate and we can see their final roll call on the joint resolution: 22-3, with Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton and Charles Schwertner voting nay. I understand, trying to appeal to a Tea Party base in a Statewide primary, why the cupcake cadets voted no, but Schwertner is a mystery.

On HB1, the House passed the bill with only David Simpson objecting and the Senate with only Kel Seliger against.

If you are curious what this bill does, I invite you to consult my prior work on the matter. HB1 is a bill, so Perry still must sign it, but SJR1 is not, and it simply goes directly to referendum. However, as you may recall, it will not go before voters in 2013, but rather in 2014.

As for the 83rd Legislature, it is dunzo. After passing both bills, they adjourned sine die. No more. That’s it. Sayonara. What this means, however, is that all the other issues possibly to be added to the call must wait until the 84th Legislature, due to convene in January of 2015.

What this means for me is that I can now focus, nearly exclusively, on Municipal elections. Of course, there will still be some issues pertaining to the 2014 Primaries, but the Mayoral election will now be sure to heat up. I have been asked multiple times to start making predictions, but I had been holding off until the Legislature adjourned. Well, now that they have adjourned, I guess I have run out of excuses…

Off the Kuff has more.