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.

Civil Affairs: Refugees

CIVIL AFFAIRS

Thousands of children, fleeing violence and deplorable conditions in their home countries, escape their own countries and arrive at the periphery of this one. They freely turn themselves in to the proper authorities, not seeking to evade the law but rather face the direct consequences of their own action. These children are convinced that even perpetual detention is preferable to the egregious state of affairs from which they came, in Central America.

Under normal circumstances, this humanitarian crisis would be treated exactly for what it is. Resources would be spent trying to assuage the suffering of these migrants, and ensuring that they are cared for, with all their needs met. Instead, partisan squabbles have bled over into this issue, with Democrats using the opportunity to score points with pro-Immigration Reform. More seriously, the Republicans have attempted to placate Tea Party concerns by adopting a hardline stance on this topic, threatening deportations for unaccompanied refugee children and eviscerating any semblance of humanity on the matter.

This cruelty came to a head today when Governor Rick Perry announced he was deploying approximately 1000 members of the Texas National Guard to the border region. The Washington Post has the full story on this topic, including the revelation that Perry wants his State Guard to patrol the border personally, a serious dereliction of duty and usurpation of the Federal Border Patrol’s responsibility. This much did not surprise me, what surprised me was the muted reaction from many of the serious rank-and-file in the Texas Democratic establishment.

“If the federal government won’t act, Texas must and will,” Wendy Davis, a State Senator and the Democratic nominee for Governor, said. “However, we should be deploying additional deputy sheriffs to the border like local law enforcement is calling for.”

Notice that Davis did not necessarily criticize the rapid buildup at the border, a stark departure from most of her contemporaries and colleagues on the slate. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant Governor, took a different approach.

“To strictly militarize the border won’t help us meet this unique humanitarian challenge,” Van de Putte said. Similar points of view were also echoed by State Senators Sylvia Garica (D-Harris County) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso County), as well as a few prominent State Representatives.

They are children. Say that again….out loud. Jockeying these poor kids around like some sort of partisan political football is not constructive, nor does it assist us in solving the obvious humanitarian crisis. Van de Putte and others get that, but evidently, Davis does not. This issue should specifically transcend whatever our simplistic policy disagreements on immigration reform and the like may be. I, for example, believe in largely open borders for all those willing to wait in line at a designated crossing and provide identification. I assume that most in politics would not take such an audacious stand on the topic, but I should share their opinion on this issue nonetheless.

It does not truly matter if you think these refugee’s adult parents, for example, should be allowed expeditious entry into this country with ease. The refugees are still figuratively knocking at our doors without shelter or the means to obtain it. It is our moral duty to absorb all such migrants.

But even humoring some of Perry or Davis’ points, what should this increased presence along the border do to assuage the humanitarian crisis in the Valley? Stand on one side of the Rio Grande with semiautomatic guns? I fail to see how one can adequately intimidate away these children, who are already freely turning themselves into the authorities.

This issue, perhaps more than any other domestic issue this summer, deserves a brave response from our political leaders, not muted and impotent replies. This is not mundane policy, these are people’s lives.

Brains & Eggs and Dos Centavos have more.

 

Mudslinging in District I

First, the Houston Chronicle compiled an outline of the runoff election in District, between Graciana Garces and Robert Gallegos. As I noted about three weeks ago, the election looks to be a perfect carbon-copy of the special election for District 6 of the Texas Senate earlier this year. In that election, Sylvia Garcia (the former boss of Gallegos) defeated Carol Alvarado (the former boss of Garces) in the runoff that was ultimately held.

The Chronicle article, however, does not really note the policy differences that the two candidates have. Texpatriate endorsed Sylvia Garcia in March, just as how we endorsed Robert Gallegos in November, largely for the disquieting contributors of their respective opponents’ campaigns. Both Alvarado and (more timely) Garces have been funded in no small part by the payday lending lobby. Additionally, Councilmember James Rodriguez (to which Garces is actually the Chief of Staff) has been fighting against a recent proposal to regulate these payday lenders, and Garces has remained strangely silent and opaque on the issue. Her campaign continues to insist that she has not taken a definitive position, though I remain rather skeptical. Gallegos, on the other hand, is an ardent supporter.

Click here to read more about the mudslinging in District I!

District I troubles

Among the many City Council races that have descended into runoff elections, District I has arguably received the least press of any contest, certainly the least of the open races. The Houston Chronicle recently ran two pieces, one on who former candidates in District D were endorsing in the runoff, and the other on ongoing legal dispute in At-large 3. Coverage of District I seems few and far between.

That is not to say nothing has been happening in this race; in fact, far from it. Recently, former candidate Ben Mendez endorsed Robert Gallegos in the runoff. Additionally, the Harris County Young Democrats, originally Mendez supporters, endorsed Gallegos. While it is certainly helpful to have the assistance of any former candidates, Mendez has a long history of doing especially strange things, including allegedly making low personal attacks against another candidate and defending child-rapists. Gallegos should tread lightly in receiving his support.

Additionally, the remaining candidate in the runoff election, Graciana Garces, has penned published a confrontational letter against Gallegos. In [T]he letter (which is reprinted in its entirety at the link),  she accuses Gallegos of intentionally misrepresenting himself as a family member and favorite son of Mario Gallegos, the former State Senator for the region.

Click here to continue reading!

287g Reauthorized

The Houston Chronicle reports that the controversial 287(g) program used in the Harris County Jails will be extended for another two and a half years, following a unanimous vote of confidence from the Commissioners’ Court and strong campaigning from the Sheriff.

The program basically allows law enforcement to check those arrested of crimes for their immigration status, and then possibly turn them over to the Federal authorities (i.e., ICE, formerly known as INS). Supporters of the policy note that it roots out dangerous people who should be deported, while opponents allege that most of those deported are non-violent, and it presumes one is guilty until proven innocent.

287(g) in Harris County, which first reared its head during the tenure of Sheriff Tommy Thomas (a Republican), was introduced in 2008. Later that year, Thomas was defeated for re-election by Democrat Adrian Garcia. The next year, amid massive protests, the program was controversially reauthorized. Mostly because of the rather quiet nature of today’s reauthorization, there were no such protests this time. Part of this most likely stems from the different partisan composition of the Commissioner’s Court. Whereas the commissioners were, in 2009, split evenly, there are 3 Republicans and 1 Democrat today. This, of course, is because Sylvia Garcia was defeated for re-election in 2010 by Jack Morman. The elimination of Garcia, the only Hispanic on the court, probably made reauthorization easier, though Sheriff Adrian Garcia, an ardent supporter of the problem, is also a Hispanic Democrat.

Click here to read more!

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 6/14

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Quite a lot of stuff happened today, so much that I have been holding off on talking about it until end-of-business. First and foremost, the Governor went on a Veto Spree, killing off 22 pieces of legislation in all, along with a few more line-item cuts. The only significant bill he signed today was SB21, which mandates drug testes for unemployment insurance recipients. In other news, a Senate committee pushed through an omnibus abortion restriction bill and the full Senate voted (along party lines) to rubber stamp the court-drawn maps in the redistricting saga. Last but not least, the Senate also voted to close the loophole for 17 year old offenders charged with Capital Murder.

Friday Night Massacre
Rick Perry line-item vetoed SB1, the budget. Specifically, he vetoed the funding for the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s office, as he promised. Just this morning, an organization, Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint against Perry for the possible action, alleging he committed “coercion of a public servant, abuse of official capacity and official oppression.” The Dallas Morning News has the full story on this lawsuit. I spoke with a friend a few days ago who is heavily involved with Travis County Democratic politics, and he was discussing the more noticeable transgression would be a separation of powers issue. The PIU is what investigates official violations and corruptions from public officeholders in Austin. There are many pending investigations against the Governor’s office, including, most notably, the CPRIT ones. This is where the parallels to the Saturday Night Massacre begin. Just as how Nixon committed a steep transgression by firing the Special Prosecutor who was in the process of investigating his administration, the Governor coercing the director of an independent agency that does the same thing to resign is on very, very iffy grounds.

More Vetoes
Next, reports The Dallas Morning News, Rick Perry had vetoed HB950, Senfronia Thompson’s Equal Pay for Women act. This is big news, like front page of the Huffington Post big. The veto is not especially surprising, as the act passed with significant Republican opposition in both Houses of the legislature. The Morning News reported that Sen. Davis, the bill’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber, responded saying Perry’s veto “[i]s a statement of his absolute disregard for the challenges that women face.” If anyone was unclear if there is a War on Women occurring in Texas, Davis said, there is not even any opacity left in it. Perry thinks that Equal Pay is not important enough for his signature, but radical anti-abortion legislation is important enough of an emergency for a Special Session.

Next, Perry vetoed a bill to regulate the UT Regents. The Dallas Morning News reports that Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)’s bill that would have required Senate confirmation on UT Regents before they could vote on personnel matters, is dead. Perry is absolutely anathema to the idea of anyone, or anything, limited his authority.

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Then, the Governor vetoed HB217, a bill that would have banned sodas from public elementary and junior high schools. I have been uneasy about the bill in the past, but think that its passage would have been for the best. Perry, as expected, jumped onto the individual-liberties bandwagon. Ostensibly, Perry cited his veto to the fact that 2% milk would be banned under the plan. Well, I read the bill, and I know that could have been solved with a line-item veto. Nice try, Governor…

Perry vetoed SB219, colloquially known as the “Ethics bill.” The bill released a whole new code of transparency and ethics for public servants. Perry found some of this reprehensible, including the resign-to-run requirement for the Railroad Commission. For what it’s worth, I find those sorts of requirements to be troubling as well.

Perry also vetoed HB2836, a Dan Patrick bill which would have changed curriculum standards. Perry also vetoed another Patrick bill, SB17, which would have provided crisis training for public school teachers holding CHLs. The Dallas Morning News reported the chief reason for this was the price tag attached.

Last but certainly not least, the Governor vetoed SB1234, a bill aimed at reforming truancy laws. The bill, sponsored predominantly by Sen. Whitmire, passed the Senate with only three objections. The bill would have reduced the truancy fine to $100 from $500, and required counseling evaluations before school districts refer offenders to courts. Perry detested the “progressive sanctions” passed by the Legislature.

There were some other actions, and I will be sure to link it if someone picks up the story, or if some other blog writes on the topic.

Drug Testing coming
The Texas Tribune  reports that Governor Perry has signed SB21, the bill which would drug test unemployment. As you might remember, the measure to drug test welfare (TANF) failed after it passed the deadline. The bill would subject some applicants to drug tests if they are deemed high risk (a/k/a, in Perry’s eyes, minorities), and would require them first to enroll in a drug counseling program before kicking them off the program. It could be worse, though as I have extensively written in the past, it is a stupid idea that saves absolutely no money.

Senate approves maps
The Texas Tribune also reports that, as expected, the full Senate has approved the court-drawn maps for a permanent basis. This comes just two days after the Senate Select Committee rubber-stamped the maps themselves. In a strictly partisan vote, the upper chamber voted 16-11 to approve. Redistricting Chairman Kel Seliger repeatedly shot down and blocked any and all attempts to do something different than his interim-to-permanent map. At one point, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) even stated that it appeared as if Sen. Seliger was intentionally blocking dissenting views. As I had expected, the hearings did not make a [expletive deleted] difference. The ratio was 10-1 against the maps in Houston, and I have heard it was similar in Dallas and Corpus Christi.  Sen. Garcia even told the Tribune that Seliger was refusing dissenting points, and had privately been told by the Chairman that that was the case. This is getting ugly, though not as ugly as those darn maps are.

Omnibus Abortion bill
The Texas Tribune reports that the Senate Health & Human Services Committee has voted out the session’s SB5, which is also known as the “Omnibus Abortion bill.” The bill would (1) ban abortion after 20 weeks; (2) require abortions to occur in ambulatory centers; (3) require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; and (4) require abortion doctor to administer all drugs in person. These regulations would shut down a majority of the abortion clinics in Texas (basically all of them outside of Austin, Dallas and Houston) and would probably be ruled unconstitutional by a court. The bill passed on party lines, 5-2, and will head to the full Senate on Tuesday.