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 opposes texting ban

The Associated Press reports (the Corpus Christi Caller-Times had it first, but it is paywalled) that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Governor, would veto a proposed ban on texting-while-driving. As many will recall, Governor Rick Perry vetoed such a bill in 2011, and in 2013 the bill languished in the Legislature and never made it to his desk. Perry claimed that educational campaigns were preferable to changing the law and that it amounted to governmental micromanaging of one’s life. Indeed, Abbott has taken up the same point of view.

In 2011, both Houses of the Legislature passed the bill –which would have made it a moving violation citation (Class C misdemeanor) to send ANY type of communication from your cell phone while it is in motion, including not only texting, but email, messaging and any type of general internet usage– by supermajorities, veto-proof margins. However, because the Legislature adjourned before Perry could offer a final adjudication on the matter, his veto could not be overridden. The bill was heralded in the Legislature, of all people, by State Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland County), a firebrand Republican who once served as Speaker of the House. He introduced the bill in 2013, where it was passed by a supermajority, though no vote was ever taken in the Senate.

Click here to read more about future prospects!

Parker names Committee chairs

Shortly after the inauguration nearly two weeks ago (wow, time flies), City Councilmember Stephen Costello announced he had been selected as the Chair of the Finance & Budget Committee for the second straight term. Today, as the Houston Chronicle reports, the Mayor appointed Chairs and Vice-Chairs to the remaining seven committees.

First up, Parker creates a Subcommittee within Costello’s budget committee that will deal with Pensions and Health Benefits. Councilmember Dave Martin, a conservative with somewhat right-wing views on the guaranteed benefits, will Chair this subcommittee. The decision is strange for Parker, as she has often sought a middle ground on this budgetary matter, with views typically aligning with the far more moderate Republican (Costello). Still, sometimes these chairmanships are nothing more than empty titles, so it is possible I might be reading too much into it. Meanwhile, Councilmember Jerry Davis, who is now the Vice-Mayor Pro Tem, will also serve as the Vice Chair of Costello’s Budget and Fiscal Committee.

Councilmember Ed Gonzalez, who previously Chaired the Public Safety Committee, will continue in that position for his final term. Gonzalez also serves as the Mayor Pro Tem. This committee will consider at least one high-profile issue this term, the issue of whether or not to ban texting while driving. Councilmember Brenda Stardig, another Republican with ties to Parker, was named the Vice-Chair of this committee.

Click here to read more!

School Zone Phone Ban Expanded

Back in 2009, you know, when the Legislature wasn’t passing Jim Crow laws, there was a law passed which banned the use of cell phones (texting or talking; with the exception of hands-free devices) in School Zones. Here’s the main problem with the law: unless a sign is put up at each School Zone posting, the law is not legally enforceable. Further, a municipality can’t just put up one sign at a time, they have to do it all at once. Unless there has been a development in the last few months, Houston still hasn’t put up the signs.

When I was in High School, this really ticked us off, and, if I remember right, we were featured in the news protesting it. I even brought a little posse down to City Hall to speak at public session, but it was to no avail. That was three and a half years ago.

Just a little background, so you know how useless what the Legislature did today will be in reality. The Dallas Morning News reports that the House has passed a bill 130-15 which expands this impotent ban to include “the property of a public elementary or middle school.” The bill originally included all schools, including High Schools and private schools, but the former was axed after being seen as redundant (kids under 18 can’t use a phone in the car anyways) and the latter being seen as an unnecessary intrusion into private property.

I think this bill is a good step, for the record, but it won’t do a thing if the idiocy regarding mandatory signage isn’t addressed first. For the record, I did the research, and this bill (HB 347) does, in fact, just amend the bill from 2009 in the Transportation Code, so I am correct assuming the same rules apply.

Statewide texting ban passes House

I got the news first hand on this one (from Rep. Gene Wu), but the Tribune has a full story on it, so I suppose you check that out too.

The State House has passed a statewide texting-while-driving ban by insufficient margins. 98-47, to be clear; a few votes shy of the supermajority required to overcome Governor Perry’s promised veto. HB63, Tom Craddick’s bill, was split along rather unorthodox lines.

Lots of Democrats voted against the measure (there is some discussion on this in greater detail below). The chief Democratic opponent was Harold Dutton. Dutton feared the law would allow for widespread racial profiling by the police under the guise of pulling someone over for violating this rule. His amendments would make the violation a secondary offense, and it was defeated.

The Tribune mentions two successful amendments. The first prohibits police officers from confiscating one’s mobile phone and the second prevents the seizure of cell-records without a warrant. No word on who proposed these or what the roll call was. I could figure it out, but I just don’t find it very important.

Finally, this bill would overrule and pre-empt local measures, including those stronger than the statewide proposal. Joe Pickett successfully got an amendment in that would exempt El Paso, which has a total cell-use ban, from the statewide proposal, which provides exceptions for “looking up numbers” and using a GPS or other map system. The bill now heads to the Senate, which, to my knowledge, still hasn’t passed this out of committee.

Part II
The roll call vote was 98-47. Of the 98 in support, 43 were Democrats and 55 were Republicans. Of the 47 in opposition, 10 were Democrats and 37 were Republicans. 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans were absent (one of them, Ryan Guillen [D-Rio Grande City], was a big proponent but his wife went into labor), and, of course, the Speaker does not vote.

The 10 Democrats voting against the bill were Lon Burnam (Fort Worth), Terry Canales (Brownsville), Joe Deshotel (Port Arthur), Harold Dutton (Houston), Naomi Gonzalez (El Paso), Roland Gutierrez (San Antonio), Eric Johnson (Dallas), Borris Miles (Houston), Senfronia Thompson (Houston) and Hubert Vo (Houston). I will most definitely remember them next year.

This actually means that the Texting ban isn’t quite as dead as we figured it to be. If Guillen is present at the next vote, the number is at 99. The other Democrat missing was Rene Oliveira (Brownsville), who is recovering from an automobile accident. The options for getting the one more vote is to get Oliveira there (assuming he is a supporter), or trying to peel off at least one Democratic holdout. My money is on Burnam, for what it’s worth.

It is worth nothing that just because all but one of the 10 Democratic holdouts is a racial minority, doesn’t mean that African-Americans or Hispanics are any less supportive of this measure. That is just the typical makeup of the House Democratic Caucus nowadays.

Houston texting ban moves forward

After announcing a few days ago that Houston would do a texting ban in the event that the State Legislature did not successfully pass the bill this session, Mayor Parker seems to have gone in a complete other direction.

Just a few hours ago, the Chron reported that Parker was proposing an ordinance to the City Council TODAY about texting while driving. The ordinance, which the Chronicle incorrectly linked (the real one is –> here), would prohibit texting while driving throughout Texas’ largest city. Again the Chronicle seems to think it is a $500 fine, but the actual text of the ordinance says it is a misdemeanor with a fine “not less than $1.00 nor more than $200.00.” I have no idea if this is a primary or secondary violation (if Cops can pull you over just for allegedly texting), I have no idea how such an offense would relate to one’s insurance or driver’s license points or what not. This ordinance really seems to have come out of nowhere.

Based on the online PDF of the actual ordinance, it was initially proposed by Ed Gonzalez. I don’t know what other members of the City Council think of it, but I would not be very surprised if the final vote was either 16-1 or 16-2 (Brown and maybe Burks being opposed). But, then again, this really came out of nowhere and blindsided me. If this were the Summer or last year, I would have immediately gotten in my car, gone to City Hall and figured out what was going on. However, seeing as that the car ride now would last about four days, that probably isn’t feasible. I will make some phone calls, and tell all (two) of my readers when I find any more news about this.

UPDATE: The Public Safety Committee, which is led by Ed Gonzalez, discussed but DID NOT VOTE on the bill today. No timeline present as to when it will be voted on.

Texting ban to be voted on in House

Huzzah! The Dallas Morning News tells me, this afternoon, that the texting while driving ban will be voted upon in the State House. The Calendar Committee (<–what the heck is that?) recently moved the bill forward and out of its super-duper secret proceedings.

Anyways, the entire House of Representatives will now consider and vote on the bill on Wednesday April 17. The Morning News discusses how 100 Reps and 21 Senators need to agree on the legislation to override Governor Perry’s veto. According to them, “Word is that former House Speaker Craddick has the votes.” The Senate is a little bit more tricky, but then again, it voted 28-3 to pass a very similar ban back in 2011.

As I have said before, it probably won’t be much of a problem to get this put into law so as long as the Legislature deals with it before it goes out of session. Rick Perry’s pocket veto seemed to be the deathmark last session, so an early start to this (passing everything by the end of April) would be a good first step to avoid the embarrassment from 2011.