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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Abbott and Davis on equal pay

The San Antonio Express-News reports that the gubernatorial campaigns have begun fighting a war of words over the Equal Pay for Equal Work act and how each candidate would handle the issue. As some may recall, back in June, Governor Rick Perry vetoed a new equal pay for women bill that would have mirrored Texas law to newly implemented Federal standards. The controversy specifically revolves around the statute of limitations for such suits, which has previously been defined as 180 days from the date the allegedly discriminatory pay was set. In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Act into law, which shifted the statute of limitations to 18o days following the last allegedly discriminatory paycheck received.

Following a 2012 decision of the Texas Supreme Court, renewed attention was placed on State law, which still had the “180 days from first paycheck” limitation placed upon it. Thus, State Representative Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County) reintroduced a bill in the State Legislature last session to make Texas law mirror existing Federal regulations. Reasons for this include the fact that the State Court system is significantly cheaper and less cumbersome than the Federal system. The bill, which had State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic nominee for Governor, as its main co-sponsor in the upper chamber, passed by razor-thin margins before being vetoed by the Governor.

Click here to read more about Abbott & Davis’ positions on the matter!

Kroger’s and Macy’s

The Houston Chronicle reports that Texas retail giants, most notably Kroger’s and Macy’s, lobbied hard against Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s Equal Pay act, which ultimately passed the legislature but died at the hands of a veto by Governor Perry. As the Chronicle reports, this move comes as a shock to many in the community, including Thompson herself:

“I shop at Kroger’s for my groceries,” Thompson said. “I shopped there just last week. I’m going to have to go to HEB now. I am really shocked.”

Ostensibly, these retailers urged a veto because the existing laws were “good enough,” the same argument, of course, made by Governor Perry in his vetoing statement. Immediately, as another Houston Chronicle article explains, calls began being heard throughout the State for boycotts of these stores. Senator Sylvia Garcia, who had been scheduled to give a speech at a Macy’s sponsored event, cancelled the event after learning of the lobbying on behalf of the store. Per the Chronicle article, Garcia made a lengthy statement in solidarity with the boycotts:

“While I strongly support the tax free weekend that allows parents struggling to provide clothing and supplies for their children before they return to school, I was dismayed to learn that Macy’s and Kroger would oppose equal pay for equal work,” Gracia said in a statement. “As a co-sponsor of the legislation and supporter of equal rights, I am supporting the call to boycott until these stores reverse their position and declare their support for equal pay.”

This was soon joined by the sponsor of the original bill, Senfronia Thompson, who soon joined into the boycott herself. The Houston Chronicle report on this fact, and carries a lengthy statement put out by the House Democratic Dean herself:

“Upon learning that Macy’s had pressured Governor Perry to veto the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, I decided to cancel my appearance at today’s press conference,” Thompson said in a press release. “HB 950 passed both chambers with bipartisan support, and until Macy’s and other retailers that oppose common sense legislation get on board with equal pay for equal work, I will not be patronizing any of them. I will not support these retailers until they support Texas women.”

I tend to recall the neanderthal wing of the Republican Party opposing things like the Civil Rights Act (or Equal Pay, for that matter) because the free market would hypothetically solve the problem. Well, people, here is our chance to solve the problem using the free market. It is up to us to vote with our dollars and boycott the misogynistic and outdated viewpoints of Kroger’s and Macy’s. If we can’t stamp out hatred and discrimination at the Capitol, let us do it at the Market.

This is an ongoing issue, and I will be sure to post more when I have it. Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos, Texas Leftist and Burnt Orange Report all have more.

Lege update 8/1

There are three words I would have never thought I’d be piecing together. But here we are, three Special Sessions into the summer. Thus far, Transportation funding is the only issue on the call, though Campus Construction & Guns on Campus could still appear. As one may recall from my previous post on the issue, the Senate has already approved SJR1. At press time, the journal has still not been uploaded, so I have absolutely no idea how the vote went down.

Anyways, the Texas Tribune now reports that the House Select Committee on Transportation has taken up SJR1, and purposefully chosen not to move forward with the legislation. The Committee then took up HJR1, which is Joe Pickett’s plan, and passed the measure 6-1 with the lone dissenting vote coming from Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris County). Sergio Munoz (D-Hidalgo County), the only other Democrat on the committee, voted yes, as did all four Republicans.

There are a few different circumstances, however. First, Comptroller Susan Combs announced that Oil & Gas taxes would come into the coffers at levels $900 Million higher than previously expected. Second, there were some changes to Pickett’s proposals. From the Tribune:

Pickett added a provision to the plan that would require the Texas Department of Transportation to find $100 million in “efficiencies” over the 2014-15 biennium and put that money toward paying the agency’s multibillion-dollar debt. Paying off that much debt early would save the agency $47 million in debt service payments, Pickett said.

[…]

The other key difference in Pickett’s new proposal would be in the way the Legislature could ensure that the plan wouldn’t drain the Rainy Day Fund’s balance beyond a level with which state leaders are comfortable. A previous version required the Legislative Budget Board to periodically set a minimum balance, or floor, for the Rainy Day Fund below which tax revenue could not be diverted to transportation. Pickett switched out the LBB with a select joint committee of five House members and five senators.

Also, at the start of each legislative session, lawmakers would have the opportunity to file bills proposing that the floor selected by the committee be adjusted, Pickett said. Such a bill would need to pass both chambers within the first 60 days of the session to be enacted. 

This bill, most likely, will be approved by the full House. At that point, HJR1 and SJR1 would have to be battled-out in Conference Committee, just like last time. It is unclear what the end game here is.

In other news, the Texas Tribune reported that Sen. Ken Paxton (R-Collin County) officially announced his candidacy for Attorney General. Paxton will be facing off against Rep. Dan Branch and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman in the GOP primary. It will be quite the contest. Paxton, by the way, has a two-year term, so if he loses the primary, he will be unemployed.

Triple overtime

In the afternoon today, both the House and the Senate gaveled in for 83(3), the Third Special Session. It will run for thirty days, until August 28th. The House quickly created a Select Committee on Transportation, consisting of seven members including Senfronia Thompson, then adjourned until next Monday, August 5th. The Senate, meanwhile, passed an identical measure, SJR1, in the Finance Committee 10-1. The lone dissenting vote was that of Dan Patrick, who still opposed the Conference Committee’s solution of replacing a hard-floor with a LBB recommendation. The Senate also finally passed the bill, then gaveled out.

Now, at this point, only Transportation funding is on the call of the session. But we all know that a single-issue Special Session can fall apart within a couple of days. Among the issues some want Perry to add to 83(3)’s call are TRBs for Campus Construction, as well as “Guns on Campus.”

First, the Texas Tribune reports that members of both houses of the Legislature, from both parties, are pushing for tuition revenue bonds for campus –specifically the campus of UT-Austin– construction. Among those in favor of such a measure are Rep. Donna Howard (D-Travis County), Sen. Judith Zaffrini (D-Bexar County), Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Potter County), Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Travis County) and Rep, John Raney (R-Brazos County). Among those opposed to such action are the usually cupcake cadets, lead by Van Taylor.

Since it is a new session, the exact nature of the bill of this issue will most likely differ from previous versions. That being said, the measure is somewhat common sense, backed by at least 69 members of the House. In the past, Perry has been open about this issue, telling the Tribune, “Once we get the transportation issue addressed and finalized, then we can have a conversation about whether or not there are any other issues that we have the time and inclination to put on the call.”

Next, the Houston Chronicle reports that Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Hood County) is leading the charge to get Governor Perry to add “Guns on Campus,” already known as “Campus Carry” to the call. As loyal readers will recall, I was jumping for joy when this horrible bill died during the regular session. And the Editorial Board member who attends the University of Texas was really, really happy.

Like Perry said, these issues are things that will be dealt with at the conclusion of the transportation issue. I’m still trying to figure out the roll call on SJR1 in the Senate. The true test will now be in the House, which now stands idle until Monday.

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.

Lege Update 7/1

At roughly 2PM today, the 83rd Legislature convened for their second Special Session. However, what happened at that time was not the biggest news of the day. Instead, the biggest news was what happened at High Noon at the Capitol. The Stand With Texas Women rally occurred, and saw an astronomical amount of people show up to oppose the draconian measures. I just heard Sen. Leticia Van de Putte on MSNBC say that “Eight thousand” protesters showed up.

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Wow. The Texas Tribune has an entire slideshow full of the festivities that occurred today. The rally included a local Austin band, Bright Light Social Hour, as well as Natalie Maines, a former member of the Dixie Chicks. An actress, Lisa Edelstein, also made an appearance.

Those politicians you would expect to speak also made statements, one by one. Senfronia Thompson, Jessica Farrar, Lon Burnam, Kirk Watson, Leticia Van de Putte and Wendy Davis, to be exact. Cecile Richards also made another appearance, and gave another speech. The rally was a big deal, to say the least.

Then, the House and the Senate gaveled into session. Shortly thereafter, they gaveled out. Until July 9th. This drains the clock on about 25% of the Second Special Session. However, the notion that the legislature adjourned for a week is slightly misleading. This is because, while the full House or the full Senate will be out of session, Committees will be free to operate as needed.

In a little bit of review, let me note that the omnibus abortion regulation bill will be heard in the House State Affairs Committee and the Senate Health & Human Services Committee, respectively. Tomorrow, the House will hear its omnibus abortion regulation bill, HB2, in committee.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that this hearing will take place at 3:30 on Tuesday. However, flying straight in the face of House tradition, Committee Chairman Byron Cook will be cutting off testimony promptly at midnight. As many may remember, Cook has done this once before. Expect the hearing to be messy. Very, very messy.

In other news, broadly related to this ugly legislation, Texas Leftist has an awesome piece on how the Democrats were able to expose the Republicans’ extremism and hypocrisy on the subject.