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.
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A place of their own

The Houston Chronicle reports on a story that has its roots over twenty years in the making. 21 years ago, actually, Rodney Ellis penned a famous op-ed in The New York Times entitled “Jim Crow Goes to College,” that lamented the nasty vestiges of Jim Crow still present in Waller County. The County, which was a majority white at the time, fought to disenfranchise and dilute the power of the 37% Black minority of the time, heavily concentrated at Prairie View A&M University. Among the many obstacles facing the students was a lack of a polling place on campus. Students “have had to walk or drive more than a mile” to vote. While having a polling place a mere mile away from your residency is often not an issue, everything changes when a college or university is involved.

In a collegiate environment, a disproportionate share of the students lack adequate transportation into the outside world. This is true of any college, from Prairie View to UT-Austin. That is why most colleges have no shortage of polling locations for the students. But Travis County doesn’t mind the students voting. Waller County, a historically White Republican county, has minded the historically Black Democratic students voting.

Fortunately, today cooler heads prevailed as the Waller County Commissioners approved the creation of both a polling place and an early voting location on the campus. The change will be sure to elevate turnout among the students, who have historically felt disenfranchised. Today, however, the County’s African-American population is significantly lower. comprising only 24% as of the 2012 estimate of the Census bureau. The Hispanic population, however, was grown sharply to 20%. A mere plurality, 44% of the County, remains Caucasian.

The numbers give Waller County the capability to turn into a Democratic county with a little bit of foresight. In the blended average of the last few elections, roughly 15,500 people voted in the County. Of those, 7k voted Democratic, while 8.5k voted Republican. The two voting districts encompassing PAMU are 309 & 310, respectively. In just one of those precincts, 2.5k Democratic voters resided, while the other one housed a further 500. This means that, excluding PAMU students, Democrats are 3,000 votes short of victory. The university holds more than 8.5k students. The math is clear, Waller County SHOULD turn blue.

Lieutenant Governor debate

Patti Hart at the Houston Chronicle reports on the first official debate in the Lieutenant Governor campaign. The debate, held at the Houston Doubletree Hotel, featured all four candidates: incumbent David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and, last but not least, State Senator Dan Patrick.

Many of the questions hinged on Dewhurst’s handling of the Wendy Davis filibuster, which Patrick was especially critical thereof. Dewhurst touted his conservative credentials when responding to these sorts of questions, including the fact that he passed the unfortunate bill eventually and that the pro-life anti-choice groups endorsed his actions.

However, the much more entertaining portion of the debate hinged upon two ideas brought up by two different challengers, alleging that the Lieutenant Governor is not conservative enough. First, Patterson uttered that laws protecting endangered animals are unwise, pontificating that the “critters ought to die anyways.” He then doubled down on the statement, as the Chronicle, reprinting his quote, noted: “I mean – the blind salamander? How long are we gonna let that little bugger last?”

Patterson’s comments, though, while asinine, were insignificant compared to Dewhurst’s response to one of Patrick’s inquiries (yes, I know, all the names are getting confusing). Patrick defiantly castigated Dewhurst’s record of bipartisanship and cooperation with Democrats, stating that he would reward partisan affiliation much more than seniority in appointing committee heads. His full quote that the Chronicle printed was: “I will not appoint half of the Democrats as chairman of committees.”

Dewhurst responded to the comments, at first, with arithmetic. Democrats control 7 of the 17 committees, or roughly 29% of them. However, Patrick’s comments involved an allegation about “half of the Democrats,” not half of the Committees. There are only 12 Democrats in the Senate, while mean 42% of the caucus is a Committee chair, and if one more was added to the mix it would be exactly 50%. Dewhurst’s response to this was that the committees controlled by Democrats were not important.

The five committees chaired by Democrats are Criminal Justice (Whitmire), Government Organization (Zaffrini), Intergovernmental Relations (Hinojosa), Jurisprudence (West), Open Government (Ellis) & Veterans Affairs (Van de Putte). I will concede that Government Organization & Interovernmental Relaitons are not the most glamorous (or important) subjects, but the other three most definitely are.

The integrity of Criminal Justice, Open Government & Veterans’ Affairs are absolutely among the most important functions of the State. I find it somewhat fitting, therefore, that they are also some of the most neglected by the right wing. Even at the local level, Republicans hate these things.

Hart resurrected the story again today, where she wrote in the Houston Chronicle about the backlash Dewhurst has received, specifically from Leticia Van de Putte of the Veterans’ committee. Van de Putte published an extended open letter critiquing Dewhurst’s insult of her committee:

“You can imagine my great shock when I read the newspaper this morning and learned that you dismissed the work of the VAMI committee…I can only hope that your comments were taken out of context because, Governor Dewhurst, I can assure you that the work of the VAMI committee is important– as a veteran, you should know this. The VAMI committee serves over 1.7 million veterans living in our state and more than 131,000 active-duty military service members. The committee I chair has worked hard to make Texas the number one state for military service members, veterans and their families by passing legislation that eases the transition of service members and their families to civilian life; strengthens Hazelwood higher education benefits for veterans and their families; and addresses the high number of suicides by veterans and serve members.”

As a Democrat in the state of Texas, I would understand if you attacked me personally at a Republican political debate. However, I take great exception with dismissing the work of the committee which I chair, particularly because the VAMI committee works hard to protect the men and women that defend your right to freely debate.”

Van de Putte, for her part, is seen as a possible candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Accordingly, such harshly worded comments give me a slight inkling that she is fanning the fire for a Statewide run.

Texas Leftist & Burnt Orange Report have more.

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.

photo (6)

 

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.

OH MY GOD

It’s just after 1 o’clock in the morning at press time, and we still do not know if SB5 passed or not. Yes, it was that close. Let me run through the timeline, and then I will discuss the current implications as well as the future ones.

At roughly 4:30, I posted my last update about the filibuster. At that time, Senator Wendy Davis (D-Forth Worth) was still going strong in her dilatory measure. This continued until 10:07PM, when Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) made a Point of Order against Davis for an alleged violation of the rules of filibuster following two sustained points (three strikes and you’re out). For what it is worth, the 1st point was for allegedly not being germane to SB5 when she discussed Planned Parenthood funding. The second strike was for allegedly receiving undue comfort when Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) helped her to adjust a back brace. The third strike was for allegedly not being germane to SB5 when making a comparison to last session’s Sonogram Law. At 10:39PM, the Lieutenant Governor sustained the third point of order. This caused a massive eruption of booing from the gallery.

Shortly after this, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) was able to gain control of the floor on an Appeal of the Chair’s ruling, which is debatable, and thus, filibusterable. After a series of lengthy parliamentary inquiries eat up time, Watson is given the floor at about 11PM. For what it is worth, the Senate rule on ending filibusters only applies if there are 3 violations pertaining to undue comfort OR 3 violations pertaining to non germane material, but not a mixture. Thus, Dewhurst completely ignored the rules.

Watson began his own mini-filibuster. Finally, at about 11:30, the presiding officer (Dewhurst had since left the floor), Senator Robert Duncan (R-Lubbock) allowed a motion on the previous question while Watson was still talking. For all intent and purposes, this was an egregious and open defiance of the Senate’s rules on filibusters.

Democrats continued to make dilatory motions until about 11:45, but it looked like passage would be achieved in the next few minutes. Then, a miracle happened. The thousands of people in the Capitol lost their tops. All hell broke loose. The noise drowned out the chamber for the next 15 minutes, until sine die.

However, in the last few seconds of the session, the Republicans made a desperate attempt to pass the legislation. Anyone watching the livestream could tell that this vote took place at 12:02 AM, after the end of the session. In fact, the TLO website said it took place on “June 26th” until it mysterious changed. No seriously, here’s the tweet from the Texas Tribune.

At press time, the Senate still hasn’t adjourned. Here are the facts: (1) there was a vote on SB5 and (2) it occurred after Midnight. However, seeing how many of the rules have been tossed out the window already, I see no reason to think it won’t again.

Obviously, SB23 and SJR2 (Youth Sentencing and Transportation) did not pass, so there is a very good chance that Rick Perry will call the Legislators back into a Second Special Session. As I have suggested before, if SB5 is deemed to have not passed, and if Abortion is once again added to the call, the Democrats shouldn’t even bother showing up to this one.

Also, and I need to say this a few times, but way to go Senator Davis! The eyes of the world were truly upon her tonight and she did fantastic. Also, a little shout out to Kirk Watson. Sen. Watson really helped to save the day at the end, and we all know that he isn’t good under pressure.

I’ll have more on the implications tomorrow morning. Until then, good night and good luck.

Abortion Restrictions Texas

 

UPDATE: And this is 2AM, y’all. Dos Centavos is reporting, via twitter, that SB5 is dead. That it did not pass in time.

Senate passes more stuff

There has been some movement on quite a few different bills recently. First, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee passed what I call the Romeo & Romeo Bill, which equalizes exceptions to the age of consent for close-age relationships in both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Second, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to clarify and expand the ability of defense attorneys to have access to DA’s files on their clients. Finally, just today, the Senate (roll call unavailable at the moment) passed a bill to drug test applicants for unemployment insurance. I’ll talk about each a little bit:

Romeo & Romeo
Statesman reports that the Criminal Justice Committee voted 4-1 to advance the bill, SB 1316, to the whole Senate. The committee, which is inexplicably chaired by a Democrat (Whitmire), was plagued by many absences that day. Out of the eight committee members, only five bothered to show up. Of the five voting for the bill, only one was a Republican. Essentially, the problem the bill attempts to alleviate is that while the age of consent is 17, there are many exceptions  These are called “Romeo & Juliet exceptions,” say that if a 16 year old girl has sex with a 17 year old boy, or any type of scenario like that up to three years difference, no statutory rape would be committed. However, the exception only applies to heterosexual couples. This means one boy on his 17th birthday has sex with his boyfriend, who is 16 years and 10 months old, the 17 year old would be a sex offender. Yeah, it’s THAT screwed up.

Anyways, I am surprised this archaic regulation hasn’t been struck by a federal judge yet. But the bill is receiving from blow-back from the Religious Right. The Statesman article interviews an evangelical woman who was livid at the prospect of any sort of rights or equality for the dreaded homos [sarcasm]. Her two quotes were “can’t believe this is being discussed at our Capitol, where normal Texans are in control” and “The gay liberal agenda is still alive up here, and this bill proves it, we’ll be starting a campaign of prayer and phone calls to stop this one in its tracks” [not sarcasm]. And she’s not alone. Ugh.

Michael Morton
The Dallas Morning News reports that the Senate voted unanimously to clarify the right of defense attorneys to access DA’s files in their clients. The impetus for this act comes from Michael Morton, a Texan convicted of murder and only exonerated recently. His attorneys claim the reason for his wrongful conviction was the DA intentionally burying evidence. This bill has been a pet project of Senator Ellis.

Drug Testing UI too
Just one day after the Senate voted to drug test welfare, they have voted to do the same thing with unemployment insurance. The Trib reports the passage of Tommy Williams’ SB21, although it says nothing about its unanimity, meaning probably at least a few Dems opposed the measure. Wendy Davis successfully got an amendment into the legislation that allows applicants to appeal drug test positives, and Kirk Watson put in an amendment that allows violators to continue receiving benefits if they enroll in a treatment program. Both of those things make it a little better, but I still don’t see the point in doing someone in the name of “fiscal responsibility” when we don’t save any money on it. I’ll update this later to reflect the roll call. Dos Centavos has more.

Senate passes bill to drug test Welfare

The Trib is reporting that the State Senate has voted to require Welfare (TANF) applicants to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits. The bill made sure that if those who flunked the drug test had minor children, the children would still receive money for their welfare.

You can read my extended thoughts upon this topic here. Essentially, results have shown that this program WILL NOT save any money, so I oppose this strictly from a fiscal point of view. I get chewed out regularly by the Left for this position, but oh well. Anyways, needless to say, I am disappointed that it actually got through, because the result will only be to increase this State’s shortfall.

But most perplexing is the fact that this bill passed unanimously. Um, what? Davis, Ellis, Garcia: they all voted for it. I am not even going to pretend that I understand this, because I don’t. Garcia and Ellis are both pretty freaking liberal, and Davis spoke out against this somewhat recently.

Stranger things have happened, I suppose.