Lege update 7/9

First and foremost, I want to discuss the events that took place today resulting in the possibility of productive, meaningful legislation. And by that, I mean, the stuff that will not almost certainly be struck by a Federal Court.

As the astute followers may recall, exactly one week ago the Senate unanimously approved SJR1, a Transportation funding  bill, and SB2, a “Miller compliance” bill. Both bills passed the committee somewhat under the radar.

Today,  both of those bills came up for consideration in the equivalent Senate committees. HB4, the Miller compliance bill, passed 4-1, with Rep. Terry Canales being the sole dissenter. The Houston Chronicle reported its passage, and insinuated it was somewhat different from SB2, the Senate equivalent. For the life of me, I read HB4, and cannot find any meaningful difference between it and the Senate’s bill. Both bills provide a mandatory sentence of life with parole, or forty years, for 17 year olds convicted of capital murder.

Then, the House Appropriations Committee took up the Transportation bill, and was less successful. A companion piece of legislation to SJR1,which would have diverted a significant amount of cash from the rainy day fund into highway maintenance, HJR1, was set for a vote. However, the Texas Tribune reports that Sylvester Turner, who is the Vice-Chairman of the Committee, raised a variety of concerns with the measure. These included the fact that SJR1/HJR1 sets a maximum amount to be withdrawn from the rainy day fund. Turner was concerned that this would raise too little money for transportation. A competing bill was also considered by the committee. That bill, HJR2, was the brainchild of Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso). That bill would have eliminated the diversion of fuel tax money into education. Instead, all of the money would go to transportation. The educational setbacks would presumably be offset by rainy day fund withdrawals.

Personally, I find SJR1/HJR1 to be the favorable bill. All Pickett’s bill does is pass the hot potato to students and teachers. That isn’t fair, they’ve been the ones messed with recently. I would rather see a problem down the road for highways than high schools, but that’s just me.

Now the big news. The Texas Tribune reports that HB2, the House’s omnibus anti-abortion bill, has passed on second reading 98-49. The day was a long one for the House, coming into session at 10AM and immediately bringing up the bill.

The Democrats –and one Republican, Rep. Sarah Davis of Harris County– brought up 22 amendments. One after another, every single one of them was tabled. They would have provided exemptions for rape and the health of the mother. Not important, in the GOP’s mind. They would have struck everything but the 20 week ban, since that seems to be all the Republicans keep bringing up. Lots of good amendments, including ones for sex ed, but to no avail. The Republicans are not interested in compromise, they are only interested in appeasing their primary voters.

Ryan Guillen (D-Starr County), Abel Herrero (D-Nueces County), Armando Martinez (D-Hidalgo County), Sergio Munoz (D-Hidalgo County) and Joe Pickett (D-El Paso County) were the five Democrats to brake ranks and vote yes on this obscenely unconstitutional legislation. None of them have been or ever will be pregnant. Funny how those things work. I will do everything in power, financially and politically, to make sure none of these men ever win another Democratic primary in my Texas. These men ought to be ashamed of themselves, for it is their constituents, the poor population in El Paso, Corpus Christi and the Valley, who will be hundreds of miles away from the nearest sage, legal abortion.

Kudos to Sarah Davis, however, for doing what is right. Also, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, whose father is the one Democratic Senator supporting the asinine bill, voted against it. Good for him.

The House adjourned slightly after the vote and will reconvene at about 10AM tomorrow for third reading. Once again, Senfronia Thompson stood at the front mike with a wire coathanger. The eyes of the world are still upon us, and I will have more on what to do from here tomorrow when I fly back to Houston.

Anti-abortion bill passes House

This is still breaking news, so I will not really cite articles for all of this, but I will try my best.

Per the Houston Chronicle, at 3:23 this morning, the House passed SB5, the omnibus anti-abortion bill, in 2nd reading. Around noon today, they passed it on third reading. The vote was largely along party lines, though Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Harris County) voted against it. The measure will now be taken up in the Senate, where a variety of issues still exist.

First, however, I would like to briefly discuss some of the highlights of last night. Hundreds, if not thousands, of orange shirt protesters packed the gallery in opposition to these arcane measures. They were repetitively shut down by security for expressing any bit of opinion on the pending bills. Literally any show of emotion.

Jessica Farrar started off the evening by making an impassioned speech against the measures. Then, after Points of Order relating to the time the bill was being considered delayed the bill a few hours, the amendments started being heard. A few amendments in, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County), in one of the most dramatic incidents of the evening, pulled out a wire coat hanger and proclaimed: “I don’t want women forced to use these.”

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In an exceedingly odd and ignorant response, the main cosponsor of the bill, Rep. Jodie Laudenberg (R-Collin County) confused what the purpose of a rape kit is. “In the emergency room, they have what’s called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out,” Laudenberg said. The asinine comment drew hisses from the crowd and prompted this fabulous little article in Salon Magazine. It even prompted a hashtag, “#OtherThingsRapeKitsDo.” 

Finally, at around 3 in the morning, the House passed SB5 on second reading. The kicker is that it included the 20-week ban, meaning it must return to the Senate rather than go straight to Perry’s desk. In other news, the House also approved SJR2, the Transportation funding measure. After getting to all of the non-abortion legislation, the House adjourned at 4:30 in the morning.

At 6:30AM the House reconvened and considered SB5 on third reading. Democrats once again delayed and slowed down such that it was 10:40 before final passage was ensured. Under Senate rules, 24 hours must pass before they can take up the legislation. However, this is complicated by both Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio), who is at her father’s funeral, and Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), who is a pro-life anti-woman Democrat. Republicans plus Lucio-the-traitor put total numbers at 20. That is 64.5% of the chamber, less than the 66.7% required for suspension of the rules.

Around Noon today, the House granted final approval to the Transportation bill. As of 4PM, the Senate has just gaveled back in. Senator Van de Putte is on her way back to the Capitol, so all eyes are on her impending arrival. Lucio is voting no on suspensions of the rules until Senator Van de Putte can arrive. This means the Senate will not begin discussion of SB5 until 11 tomorrow. Then, there will be at least a meager amount of time spent debating the merits of the amendments concurred in the House. The net result is a 12 hour filibuster, which is doable. Senator Wendy Davis has already announced her intention to do just that.

The Houston Chronicle reports, however, that David Dewhurst has told them that a Second Special Session is “likely” if SB5 doesn’t pass. Accordingly, I am starting the “Buy Bus tickets to New Mexico for 11 Senators” fund. There will be more to come on this tonight. I recommend not following Texpatriate for the breaking news, but rather following Stace Medellin’s twitter (https://twitter.com/2centavos) or the Texas Tribune’s live feed. Good night and good luck.

Soda ban: Texas edition

Michael Bloomberg has a new ally in Texas. Who, you ask? Senator Carlos Uresti. I am being somewhat facetious, of course, but the legislature has just given final approval to a bill that would ban sugary drinks, such as Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper, from public elementary and junior high schools.

HB217 completely flew under the radar. It passed the House on May 10th by an official vote of 95-44. However, a lot of members later complained that their votes were incorrectly attributed. Taking into account all of these errors, the real roll call was 92-49. All of the opposition came from Tea Party Republicans. Among the moderate Republicans voting in favor was Sarah Davis. I have heard for a while now that her close call election has moved her into the centre, and now I am really starting to see it.

At press time, the journal hadn’t gone up, but this article by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram states the roll call at 24-6. I can guess who the half-dozen Senators are, but I am positive as to their political party.

A few months ago, I penned an op-ed about how, by and large, Soda bans like the one in New York are silly, stupid and unneeded. However, I do see some good in this legislation. There is a big difference between a consenting adult and a little kid (14 and younger). This legislation would not apply to High School students.

The bill is not especially contentious, with most beverage associations as well as Coca-Cola itself supporting it. Time will tell if the Governor does too.

 

Gun Day

The Texas House passed some major legislation yesterday. Among these are the good, the fair, the bad, the horrible and the blatantly unconstitutional and possibly treasonous. Okay, maybe not treasonous, at least not yet, but all the other superfluous adjectives. All of these passed by voice vote, so I am not sure what the crossover was on any of these bills, but let me go down the line on them real quick.

First up, the infamous “Campus Carry,” or as I call it, “Guns on Campus.” It sounds meaner. Anyways, it was among the bills that passed, and you can read what it does here. The only differences from the Committee version was that this bill has incorporated a substantial amendment that essentially adds Hegar’s bill from the Senate as a rider (Guns in Cars), as well as changes private schools from “opt-out” to “opt-in.” The “opt-out” that applies to both Public and Private would have to occur every year. Finally, “bio-harzard” zones would be exempt, so Medical Schools (Craig Eiland [D-Galveston] offered up this amendment with regard to UTMB).

Next, the “School Marshall” program. HB 1009, proposed by Jason Villalba (R-Dallas). The bill would essentially create anonymous, well-trained individuals with handguns whose responsibility it would be to protect some school districts, much like the current Air Marshall Program. Officers would require 80 hours of training (in comparison, the CHL is 8). I really like this bill, as I have no problem with letting trained, competent individuals posses deadly weapons.

Next, HB864, proposed by Donna Campbell (R-Bexar). The bill reduces the training time for a CHL from 8 to 6 hours. The problem with this bill is that it keeps loosening our already ultra-soft laws in regard to gun licensing. The point of these tests is that it keeps the psychos away from the deadly force. If you keep reducing requirements, you make that failsafe less and less likely.

HB 485, by Sarah Davis (R-Harris), my Rep, was also passed. The bill would sharply reduce the fee for a CHL to $25, for honorably discharged members of the armed forces or reserve peace officers. Again, I have no problem with this, because honorable discharges and peace officers are usually the type of levelheaded people who can handle a gun. The only drawback is it would decreased the amount of revenue the State raises.

Then, there is the Toth bill. Steve Toth (R-Montgomery)’s bill passed, which “nullifies” federal gun regulations, and a bill by Brandon Creighton (R-Montgomery) that punishes federal officials who try to enforce federal laws. Here’s the problem, the Supreme Court has unanimously rejected “nullification” multiple times (most recently in 1958, Cooper v. Aaron). And arrested a federal official for enforcing federal law might just be a tad bit illegal. As Gene Wu said, it’s called the Supremacy Clause. For a faction of politicians who claim to be such mighty “constitutionalists,” this seems to run pretty counter to their big message

The Texas Tribune and Houston Chronicle have more.

Davis on gay marriage

The Dallas Voice has a big article about my State Representative, Sarah Davis. Evidently, this past weekend, as the huge Equality Forward summit was going on in Austin, the Log Cabin Republicans were holding a meeting next door. Their keynote speaker was Representative Davis.

Davis said “It’s not the job of the government to socially engineer society,” as she sharply critiqued her contemporaries in the legislature. She talked about how she believes in limited government, and why this led her to go to odds with her party over social issues, including gay rights and contraception/abortion.

The article stated that Davis “pledged support for gay rights” in the headline, though I could never actually find something that says she explicitly endorses gay marriage. Still, just being okay with being featured prominently in the Dallas Voice is really something for a self-proclaimed Tea Party Republican.

District 134 had always been relatively liberal on these social issues. Ellen Cohen supported gay marriage back when elected Democrats supporting the issue were limited to “Gavin Newsom, Dennis Kucinich and that Governor of New Jersey who went all Brokeback Mountain with his bodyguard,” and Davis’ opponent last year, Ann Johnson, is openly gay herself. Accordingly, Davis is in good company to not be so small-minded on these social issues.

Still, Davis needs to be a little bit more specific about her views, though. She could be the Rob Portman of the State Legislature by announcing her support for gay marriage. It would be a great victory for the gay rights movement, as well as all those who strive for equality and liberty. In a very rare occurrence, I could truly state that I am very proud of my State Representative.

What I think will happen

Keeping in touch with my self-imposed moratorium upon Presidential election coverage, I will not even mention that race (You can see what I had said previous in my post “Cynic“). However, I think this will be a good way for progressives to brace ourselves for what may come next.

Every statewide seat (except Keller’s): SAFE Republican
I think this is a no-brainier here, considering that the Democrats did not even bother to field candidates in some of these races. I really do like Michele Petty and Paul Salder, but this is not going to be a repeat of 2008, and even in 2008 we got our butts kicked.

Court of Criminal Appeals, Position 1: TOSSUP
Keith Hampton, especially in the (unlikely) event of a major Obama victory, could build enough of a coalition between Democrats, Independents, and pragmatic Republicans to victory. Keller is relying on people to simply vote straight Republican, which they probably will.

14th Court of Appeals, 1st Court of Appeals: SAFE Republican
Same logic as the statewide seats.

134th State Representative: LEAN Republican
2012 will not be as good of a year as 2006, which is the last time an incumbent in this district was unseated. Also, Davis is a much more civil campaigner than Martha Wong.

215th District Court: LIKELY Republican
Ken Shortreed is depending upon enough angry Democrats (like me) to vote for him. It will probably push him over the top.

Remaining local judicial races: LEAN Republican
Harris County will probably go red, especially in downballot races.

Sheriff: LEAN Democratic
I think Garcia can put together enough of a coalition with moderate Republicans to avoid defeat. The endorsement of the “C club” didn’t hurt either.

District Attorney: SAFE Republican
Self-explanatory.

Tax Collector: LIKELY Republican
Even in 2008, tax czar and DA went Republican. Additionally, CM Sullivan is a popular incumbent who has attracted quite a few Democrats (even endorsed by the JHV).

County Attorney: TOSSUP
Vince Ryan has some cross-party support, but again the Republican tilt on the election does not help.

City Council, E: LIKELY Martin
Martin has the establishment support from Sullivan, who is still quite popular.

 

Again, Democrats need to donate to Garcia, Ryan, and Hampton–NOT Obama. Obama has enough money, he is out-raising the Koch brothers!

10 most important elections (besides the Presidency)

The President of the United States is the most powerful person in the world. He sets the foreign policy, has tremendous influence over Congress, and can nominate Justices to the Supreme Court. Obviously, the race between President Obama and Governor Romney is much more important than anything else. However, the media already devotes all of its energy to cover this election, so I would like to focus on the 10 most important other elections.

10. Houston City Council, District E
Dave Martin is the widely assumed favorite, but Elizabeth Perez could very well pull an upset. What we have here is not an election between Democrat and Republican, it is an election between an old-guard Republican and the recalcitrant Tea Party. Martin will surely follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, and perhaps also be like Councilmember Pennington. However, Perez would most like imitate the habits of Councilmember Brown. It will be interesting to watch, but I’m not throwing any of my money at it.

9. Washington gay marriage referendum
There are actually four referendums, but Washington’s has the best chance of approval. Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota also have referendums, but I am less optimistic. Especially Minnesota, I think the traditional midwestern social conservative state has been given up on. Maine is a tossup, and Maryland similar. Maryland has a large African-American population which has ranged from tepid to hostile on the issue. However, Washington has a fairly good chance leading into the home stretch. Most importantly, this could finally break the curse of states approving gay marriage bans.

8. United States House of Representatives, Texas’ 14th district
Control of the House is not especially up for grabs this year, but this election will essentially make-or-break Nick Lampson’s career. A second loss in a row would be disastrous and most likely put an end to the former Congressman’s political aspirations, which could be quite valuable for Texas Democrats.

7. Texas House, 134th district
Sarah Davis seems to represent an average Tea Partier, completely inexcusable for my home district. Texas Democrats NEED a solid number over 50 in the delegations, and Ann Johnson will be the way towards that goal.

6. United States Senate, Indiana
The control of the Senate is up for grabs, and every election counts. This seat, held by longtime Senator Dick Lugar, is now open after Lugar was defeated in the GOP primary by an extremist. The Republican, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock is now trailing in polls against the Democrat, Congressman Joe Donnelly. Donnelly is a strong candidate who I may even donate some money towards.

5. United States Senate, Massachusetts
I believe this election (Scott Brown vs Elizabeth Warren) is important in more ways than one. Massachusetts, arguably one of the most liberal states in the union, is faced between a very liberal Democrat and a very moderate Republican.

4. United States House of Representatives, Texas’ 23rd district
Again, the House is not up for grabs, but this election is important for another reason. Congressman Canseco and Representative Gallego are competing in the heavily Latino district. A loss by Gallego would be truly embarrassing for a Texas Democratic Party attempting to court Latinos.

3. Harris County Sheriff
Sheriff Adrian Garcia is perhaps Harris County’s best chance of retaining a countywide Democrat. His opponent is a crook, and Garcia has done a fantastic job while in office. This election will answer that question he had on November 3rd, 2010 in Houston. Can it get any worse?

2. United States Senate, North Dakota
The funny thing about the Senate is that no matter how small the state, the Senators hold equal power, so this election is just as important as the one in California or Texas. Former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, the Democrat, is running against Congressman Rick Berg, the Republican. The seat has long been held by Democrat Kent Conrad. Heitkamp CAN WIN, and she will if she can raise enough money to compete against the outside money being funneled in by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. I will surely be donating some money to Ms. Heitkamp and I suggest y’all do the same.

1. Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Presiding Justice
Keith Hampton’s campaign against Sharon Keller is almost as important as the Presidential election. Keith Hampton’s campaign against Sharon Keller is almost as important the Presidential election–it is important enough to say twice. Sharon Keller is a travesty to justice and our state. Mr Hampton has been endorsed by quite conservative papers and individuals for a very simple reason: he will restore honour to our highest court.

Also, RIP Arlen Specter. You were a good man in a profession full of wrong-doers.