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That’s our Lege

Did Greg Abbott oppose the bathroom bill?

Color me skeptical.

Gov. Greg Abbott himself was opposed to the controversial “bathroom bill” that dominated debate at the Texas Capitol for much of 2017, according to a state representative involved in keeping the legislation from passing the Texas House.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee that blocked the bill from reaching the House floor for a full vote, said Tuesday that Abbott “did not want that bill on his desk.”

Cook’s comments on the bill, which would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, came alongside the long-awaited release Tuesday of a report from the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness. After months of discussion, a public squabble and several hours-long hearings, most committee members came to the conclusion many had anticipated: the “bathroom bill” is bad for business.

“Future legislators should focus on [low taxes, limited regulation and local control] to maintain a predictable and reliable business climate, avoiding legislation that distracts from critical priorities and is viewed by many as enabling discrimination against certain groups or classes of Texans,” says the committee’s report. “Texas policymakers must acknowledge warnings from leaders in the business community, academicians and law enforcement officials about the consequences of such discriminatory legislation to avoid endangering the state’s successful economy.”

Two of the committee’s Republican members, state Reps. Angie Chen Button of Richardson and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, didn’t sign the final report. Neither Abbott, Button nor Geren immediately returned a request for comment Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick first unveiled a “bathroom bill” in January 2017, and for the first several months of debate, Abbott remained largely silent even as some cautioned that it would be bad for business. When an alternative form of the bill emerged in the Texas House in April, Abbott called it a “thoughtful proposal.” But he didn’t give the policy his clear support until later that spring, when he endorsed it as a legislative priority.

No bathroom bill made it to Abbott’s desk by the end of the legislative session in May — a block largely credited to Straus and Cook, who said in a hearing that “there’s no information” supporting the need for such a bill. But Abbott revived the controversial legislation in June, when he put it on his 20-item call for the summer’s month-long special session.

After that, he struck a delicate balance on the thorny issue, calling on legislators to pass all of his special session priorities but taking care not to emphasize the “bathroom bill” individually. Many observers speculated that Abbott was happy to stay out of the fight, letting Straus take the heat for keeping the bill from the floor.

The rest of the story is about that report, which looks like it says more or less what you’d expect it to. I guess the best argument for what Rep. Cook says to be true is basically that Abbott was too scared of getting primaried by Dan Patrick to say anything against a bathroom bill. He’s a weak leader, and I can believe he’d let Joe Straus take all the bullets for him on this, so I can’t completely dismiss Rep. Cook’s words. But how big a wuss does he have to be to put the bathroom bill on the call for the special session if he didn’t want a bill to be sent to him? There’s just no bottom to his fecklessness. The Chron has more.

We have no idea how many sexual harassment complaints there have been at the Capitol

And we have a too zealous records retention policy to blame for that.

Late last year, amid a national reckoning over sexual misconduct in politics, media and entertainment, reports surfaced of a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the Texas Capitol. The problem has been widespread and women appear to have such little confidence in traditional avenues for reporting grievances that they started their own list of “bad men” to warn others in Texas politics.

In response to media reports, the Texas House announced a new sexual harassment policy, which included training and counseling for employees and lawmakers, in the hopes that it would curb harassment and help victims report abuse. But the policy seems to have a glaring blindspot: Complaints, when filed with the House, are destroyed five years after they are investigated. While so many stories exist, records do not.

In November, the Texas Tribune reported that there were no formal complaints of sexual harassment made in the House since 2011. In the Senate, there have been no formal complaints since 2001, Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw said in committee hearing the next month. But an Observer public records request revealed that there are no documented complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination on file against any lawmaker or legislative staffer in either chamber, at any time — partly a result of the Legislature’s records retention policy.

If a complaint was made against a lawmaker or staff member before 2011, it has since been destroyed, even if the lawmaker is still in office or the staffer is employed at the Capitol. By comparison, the Senate destroys complaints seven years after the accused leaves the Capitol. (The 2001 complaint in the Senate was filed by one staffer against another, both of whom left the Capitol more than seven years ago.)

“It’s ridiculous,” said Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who researches sex discrimination and workplace equality. “There’s no reason to ever destroy them.”

While the policies are in line with state record retention guidelines, not keeping complaints on file indefinitely means the Legislature does not have a way to track alleged incidents, Grossman said. Future employers don’t have a way to discover details about an employee’s past conduct. Within the Capitol, repeat offenders and patterns of misconduct are also harder to identify.

“It’s just bad management generally, and it’s certainly not going to contribute to a better environment,” said Grossman.

Well then the good news is that now we know this, and it’s a simple and objective thing to fix. The story notes that some complaints were made verbally and there may not have been any record of them, so that’s another thing to fix. This needs to happen in the next session. Who will take the lead, and who will get in the way? It would be a good idea to get your legislators and the candidates running for election this year on the record about this.

Sandra Bullock hurts Dan Patrick’s fee-fees

Poor little snowflake.

I can see why she might intimidate him

Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick is not too pleased that Oscar winning actress Sandra Bullock has agreed to star in a movie about former state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose 13-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in 2013.

“It saddens me that Sandra Bullock agreed to play Wendy Davis in a movie called ‘Let Her Speak,'” Patrick said in downtown Austin, just miles from where Bullock once owned a home.

When a member of the audience doubted it, Patrick assured the crowd it was true.

“Sandra Bullock,” he repeated. “I used to like her.”

But Patrick said he’s already taking steps to keep Bullock and film crews out of the Senate chamber to recreate the filibuster that raised Davis’s statewide profile. Davis ran for governor in 2014 and lost to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“And by the way, if I have anything to do with it, I’m not going to let them use the Senate chamber to shoot, because they’ve already disgraced it once,” Patrick said. “They’re not going to do it a second time.”

Patrick told the audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative public policy advocacy group, that he already has other issues with the movie. He said they sent him a script and asked, “Guess who the villain is?”

After a pause, Patrick raised his right hand and smiled: “Me.”

Can’t imagine why anyone might think of you that way, Danno. Now please go ahead and show me where that mean lady hurt you. You’re safe now. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Microbreweries organize again

About time.

Craft brewers are asking beer fans to put their money where their thirst is.

Six weeks before state primary elections, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild on Monday launched a political action committee to raise money and awareness to challenge “archaic, anti-competitive beer laws” it says are holding back an industry poised for dramatic growth.

The PAC already has raised more than $40,000 from among its approximately 250 brewery members, with the largest individual donations coming from the owners of Austin Beerworks and Saint Arnold, Live Oak and Deep Ellum Brewing Cos. Much of the money raised by the new CraftPAC will go to support state legislative candidates who support the brewers’ agenda, guild executive director Charles Vallhonrat said

CraftPAC so far has donated $1,000 each to two incumbent legislators – one Democrat and one Republican – in the Austin area.

“We intend to influence where we can,” Vallhonrat said.

Here’s the CraftPAC finance report for January. The legislators in question are Reps. Eddie Rodriguez and Tony Dale, though I’m sure there will be more. It’s one thing to give money to a friendly incumbent in a friendly district, but it’s something else altogether to contribute to someone who’s looking to take out an enemy. We’ll see how seriously they decide to play.

Brewbound has more details:

Initially, CraftPAC will focus on legalizing of to-go sales from production brewery taprooms, which Texas law currently outlaws. Although the state’s manufacturing breweries are not allowed to sell beer for off-premise consumption, the state’s brewpubs, wineries and distilleries are allowed to sell their products to-go.

Speaking to Brewbound, Texas Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Charles Vallhonrat said Texas distributors have had a financial edge over brewers after giving more than $18 million in political contributions to lawmakers. CraftPAC, he added, is a way to level the playing field.

“We want to be on the same field,” he said. “We know that they have big bats, but we need to be on the same field to say we’re in the game.”

CraftPAC board chairman and Austin Beerworks co-founder Adam DeBower added that Texas’ brewers haven’t had a voice in the legislature since 2013, when several lawmakers who supported brewers retired or moved on.

“We don’t have any champions left,” he said.


Vallhonrat said last year’s passage of House Bill 3287 — which put tighter restrictions on how beer that is sold for on-premise consumption at brewery taprooms — was the catalyst to the formation of CraftPAC.

“The blow we received from 3287 showed the overwhelming power that the distributors wield,” he said. “That they could influence a bill that absolutely no brewery supported, and they could go around saying this was for the protection of breweries and convince the Legislature and get it passed, that really demonstrated what we’re fighting against.”

In 3287, Texas lawmakers changed the way the state’s barrel cap is calculated, adding production across multiple brewing operations rather than from individual facilities. Now, breweries making more than 225,000 combined barrels annually will be required to repurchase their own product from a wholesaler in order to continue selling beer for on-premise consumption in their taprooms.

In the announcement of CraftPAC, the Guild also cited the 2013 passage of Senate Bill 639, which prohibits breweries from selling their distribution rights to wholesalers, and led to a lawsuit that will be decided by the Texas Supreme Court.

Vallhonrat told Brewbound that CraftPAC will also work to make other “common sense updates” to Texas’ alcohol code such as eliminating the distinction between “ale” and “beer.” According to the Texas code, an ale is a beer above five percent ABV while a beer is under five percent ABV. Such distinctions are costly, and add market confusion and work for brewery owners, he argued.

DeBower added that CraftPAC would work to equalize licensing differences between breweries and brewpubs. Currently, brewers are required to have a manufacturer’s license while brewpubs receive retail license and are afforded different privileges, such as off-premise sales.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know what I think of this state’s ridiculous, anachronistic, and extremely consumer-unfriendly beer laws. (If you’re new here, you can now probably guess.) I support all of this, of course, but I’m shaking my head a little because this is at least the third separate effort to organize and whip up public opinion in favor of modernizing the beer codes. There was a bipartisan blog-based effort in 2007, of which I was a part, and the now-dormant Open The Taps group that helped spearhead the 2013 laws that represented the one step forward we have taken. The experience since then shows that a movement can never take anything for granted – what has been done can be undone, or at least undermined. I wish CraftPAC all the success – their Facebook page is here; give it a Like – and I especially wish that they stay around and keep at it well after they do have success.

Looks like the House just totally solved its sexual harassment problem

They went and got themselves a new training video. Woo hoo!

[I]t’s a 40-minute video that seems unlikely to change the toxic atmosphere at the statehouse any time soon.

The training is a video of a PowerPoint presentation with a voiceover that also covers discrimination based on race, age, disability and genetics. Just 18 minutes of the video is dedicated to sexual harassment, including boilerplate examples of harassment, reasons to prevent it, laws against sexual harassment, the House’s policy and reporting mechanisms.

“The whole video has a feeling of, ‘Let’s quick minimize liability on every front, watch this video,’” said Joanna Grossman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University who researches sex discrimination and workplace equality.

Recent research shows that if training isn’t properly designed, it’s unlikely to lead to more reporting of harassment, much less reduce instances of inappropriate behavior. According to Eden King, a psychology professor at Rice University, there’s some evidence that training programs have better outcomes when they are longer than four hours, include face-to-face interaction, involve interactive learning, are conducted by outside experts and actively involve leaders in the workplace. The House video meets none of those criteria.

Instead of being paired with an interactive, in-person training as recommended by researchers, the video is available on the House’s internal server and is probably watched alone. Viewers are required to take a 10-question, multiple-choice test. To pass, you must answer at least seven questions correctly. If you fail, you can simply retake the test without having to watch the video a second time.


When institutions face allegations of sexual harassment, Grossman said, the instinct is often to establish programs that reduce legal liability. The law tends to reward somewhat “superficial or simplistic” measures, she said, such as merely implementing a policy or conducting training. A 2016 report from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that most of the harassment training conducted in the last 30 years has failed to reduce harassment and has instead been used to meet legal requirements. “Ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive,” the report noted.

Research shows that to create an environment of equality, institutions must go beyond training. One crucial aspect is to ensure that victims feel they have a safe way to report complaints.

“If the video clearly explains the options [to report harassment], but you go to complain and you get the message that you’re causing trouble and you shouldn’t be, then the training will have had no benefit,” said Grossman.

See here, here, and here for some background. I like that seven out of ten is enough to pass this little quizlet. It’s good to know that someone is thinking about all those C- students at the Pink Dome. Think how much better our statewide achievement numbers would be if the STAAR test were like this.

I’ve been asking all the candidates I interview about sexual harassment, since we all need to be talking and thinking and doing something about it. Clearly, we need a process where the person who reports harassment is taken seriously and shielded from retaliation. The rights of the accused need to be respected during the investigation, but once a finding has been reached then there needs to be some transparency. As the story notes, you can’t just fire a legislator who has been found to have harassed someone, but you can make that information public, with redaction of the victim’s name. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I bet if we asked the women who have come forward and told their stories, we’d get some pretty decent ideas for how to proceed. Better than watching a silly video, I’m sure.

Who’s to blame for the special education limits

The Lege gets a finger pointed at it.

After a federal report blasted Texas for failing kids with disabilities, educators and public education advocates are pointing the finger directly at state legislators who, they argue, first suggested capping special education to keep costs low.

The U.S. Department of Education last week released a monitoring report, after a 15-month investigation, finding that the Texas Education Agency effectively capped the statewide percentage of students who could receive special education services and incentivized school districts to deny services to eligible students. Gov. Greg Abbott released a statement soon after that criticized local school districts for their “dereliction of duty” in failing to serve students — which touched a nerve for educators.

“We weren’t derelict: the state of Texas was derelict, the Texas Education Agency was derelict,” said HD Chambers, superintendent of Alief ISD and president of the Texas School Alliance, an advocacy group. “We were following what they put in place.”

In a statement sent to TEA and Abbott on Sunday, the Texas School Alliance and school administrator groups dated the creation of a special education cap back to a 2004 Texas House Public Education Committee interim report, which surveyed how other states fund special education and which made recommendations to the Legislature for how to discourage identifying too many students with disabilities.


The committee’s report recommended the Legislature “determine what aspects of our current funding mechanism for special education encourage overidentification; and then investigate alternative methods for funding special education that decrease any incentives to overidentify students as needing special education services.”

It also recommended reducing state and local administrative costs in overseeing special education in order to direct more money to students with disabilities.

That same year, TEA implemented a system to monitor and evaluate how school districts were serving kids with disabilities. The percentage of students with disabilities served plunged from 11.6 percent in 2004 to 8.6 percent in 2016. The U.S. Department of Education found last week that the agency was more likely to intervene in school districts that provided services for more students with disabilities, incentivizing administrators to cut back on services.

Chambers was a central office administrator at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD in 2004 and recalls receiving direct and indirect instruction from the state to serve fewer students. “We were under the impression that we were out of compliance if we were identifying more than 8.5 percent of our population,” he said.

See here for past blogging on the topic, and here for the Trib story on the federal report. I will note that the Chair of the House Public Education Committee at the time of the 2004 interim report was none other then Kent Grusendorf, a man who was so anti-public education that he was basically the inspiration for (and first real victory won by) the Texas Parent PAC. So yeah, I have no trouble believing this. As to when it might get fixed, that’s a topic for November.

Still grappling with how to handle sexual harassment claims

I like the idea of putting the authority to investigate harassment claims in the Legislature into an independent body.

Calls for independence between sexual misconduct investigations and those in power have grown in recent months, and experts and several lawmakers agree that impartiality is crucial for building trust in a reporting system at the Capitol, where repercussions for elected officials are virtually nonexistent. But efforts to establish that independence — which could require officeholders to give up their current oversight over investigations — will likely face political challenges in persuading lawmakers to hand over power to a third party.

Any independent entity investigating sexual misconduct at the Capitol would need the power to truly hold elected officials accountable, several lawmakers and legal experts said. That could mean sanctions against officeholders that their colleagues may be unlikely to pursue.

“It cannot be officeholders policing officeholders,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is among those calling for an independent investigative agency.


But to alleviate concerns with existing reporting procedures that leave investigations in the hands of elected officials, lawmakers have proposed several ways to establish what they say is needed independence in investigations. Those proposals range from a review panel that doesn’t include lawmakers to a new state entity comparable to the Texas Ethics Commission, which regulates political activities and spending.

The creation of an independent investigative body “is a necessary immediate step” for the Legislature to address skepticism in the current reporting system set up for sexual harassment victims, said Chris Kaiser, director of public policy and general counsel for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

“I don’t think that you have to impugn the work that any investigators are doing currently to accept the fact that that skepticism itself is preventing people from coming forward,” Kaiser said. “It’s really clear the Legislature has a lot of work to do to build trust.”

See here and here for some background. I will just say, if there is an independent body to handle these complaints, it has to be truly independent, by which I mean free from any legislative authority or meddling. I mean, the Texas Ethics Commission is an independent body, but it’s hardly a good role model for this sort of thing. I have a hard time imagining that happening, but if there’s enough of a shakeup in the composition of the Lege, there might be a chance. First and foremost, it needs to be an issue in the campaigns. I’m asking every candidate I interview about harassment and the institutional policies that deal with it. The more we talk about it, the better.

RIP, Ruth Jones McClendon

She will be missed.

Ruth Jones McClendon

Ruth Jones McClendon, the former longtime state representative from San Antonio, has died. She was 74.

State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, McClendon’s successor, said she died this morning at her home in San Antonio.

“I think she’s best remembered by her candor, her ability to know what was needed in her community and to work with folks across the aisle,” Gervin-Hawkins said. “I am very proud to be part of what she’s left, and hopefully I can carry it on.”

McClendon resigned from the House last year after a years-long battle with cancer. She used a motorized scooter during the 2015 legislative session.

I’ve had some dealings with Rep. McClendon’s office, and I have nothing but good things to say about her. She was one of those people who worked hard, did what she could to make things better, and generally didn’t get much attention for it. I want to highlight this Statesman story that came out at the end of the 2015 session, as then-Rep. McClendon capped a long effort to get a bill that created a state panel to study wrongful convictions passed. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read about the Legislature.

Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, was helped to the front microphone Thursday to move final approval of her HB 48. A cancer survivor, McClendon now is struggling with health issues that have affected her mobility and speech. In December, she underwent surgery to remove water from her brain.

Supported on her left by Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, and her right by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, McClendon needed help to get the bill across the finish line.

“You move to concur in Senate amendments,” Bonnen said quietly into her ear, followed by an awkward pause as the House waited for McClendon to form the words.

“You can do it,” Bonnen told McClendon. “We got you.”

They did, literally.

“You’re going to say, ‘Members, I move to concur,’” Sheffield told McClendon.

“Members,” McClendon, surrounded by supportive colleagues, said slowly, “I move to concur with Senate amendments.”

The voting bell rang. Bonnen again assured McClendon, “We got you,” and HB 48 was approved, to applause, by a 137-5 margin.

His right arm around McClendon, co-sponsor Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, called the vote “a tremendous victory for this House, for the Legislature and for this lady right here whom all of us know and love.”

“This is a wonderful, wonderful lady and many, many lives are going to be saved and changed because of her work on this issue,” said Leach, adding that serving with McClendon, with whom he shares little political common ground, “has been the honor of a lifetime.”

McClendon then spoke about this legislation in particular and legislative life in general.

“I just want to briefly say that I appreciate those who stuck with me,” she said slowly as a legislative battle she began seven years ago headed to successful conclusion. “Some said it wasn’t going to work, that we couldn’t do it.”

A class act and a damn good legislator. All respect to Ruth Jones McClendon. May she rest in peace. The Current has more.

Senate has a hearing on its sexual harassment policy

The babiest of baby steps.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

There has only been one official sexual harassment complaint in the Texas Senate since 2001, the secretary of the Senate said Thursday.

The Senate Administration Committee debated possible ways to revise current sexual harassment policy Thursday. The meeting comes a week after online publication The Daily Beast reported on multiple alleged instances of sexual misconduct by Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio, both Democrats.

The news outlet based its accounts on interviews and communications with an unnamed female political consultant, current and former legislative employees and current and former journalists. An unnamed Democratic state representative corroborated one of the women’s stories, it said.

After the report, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the head of a Senate panel that handles internal matters, whether the chamber is doing all it should to shield lawmakers and Senate employees from lurid and “inappropriate behavior.”

Senators quizzed secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw and director of human resources Delicia Sams on what current policy dictates for people complaining of sexual harassment and people accused of sexual harassment.

Spaw confirmed that the single official sexual harassment complaint in the Senate she received did not involve a lawmaker. She also said she knows there have been instances where chiefs of staff deal with “inappropriate conduct” within a senator’s office.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is not a member of the Senate Administration Committee but attended Thursday’s hearing, expressed surprise at Spaw’s number. The Houston Democrat cited media reports that led her to believe sexual harassment was a bigger problem than official records may show.

“There’s got to be a flaw in our system if people feel more free to talk to the press than they do to us,” Garcia said. “And it has to be a process that’s open and that’s independent, and one that’s going to ensure fairness and accountability to anyone who’s accused no matter who they are.”

Senators who are accused of sexual harassment will be dealt with according to the severity of their actions, Sams explained. For instance, if a senator made an inappropriate comment, the secretary of the Senate would talk to him or her about it. If the offense was worse, the secretary would then take the complaint to the Senate Administration Committee and lieutenant governor to how to proceed.

While the recent reporting about rampant sexual harassment at the Capitol came up, no one was mentioned by name. The Chron adds on.

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers learned that while the Senate offers sexual harassment prevention training once every two years, not all Senators and their staffs get the training. It is mandatory training for the staff of the secretary of the Senate and for the lieutenant governor’s office. But individual senators and their staffs do not have to attend the training.

Also, lawmakers got assurances from the Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw that there is no secret fund to pay out sexual harassment claims in Texas as was the case in Congress. In addition, she said that as far as she knew, there have been no payments made to settle sexual harassment claims since she became the Secretary of the Senate in 2001.

Spaw assured lawmakers that her office takes any issues on the topic with sincerity.

“I know I have always taken it seriously,” Spaw said.

After the hearing, Spaw said some individual Senate offices may have handled sexual harassment issues on their own but she did not provide details. She said the only formal complaint handled by her office was in 2001, but she refused make public details of that case. She only said people lost their jobs and it was an issue between staff members and didn’t involve elected senators.

One of the problems with the current system is that there is no accountability or reporting procedure for how individual Senate offices are handling sexual harassment issues, Garcia said.

“No one is tracking those numbers,” she said.

That seems like a pretty obvious place to begin. You can’t hope to fix something that you can’t measure. Of course, you have to have a reliable reporting system to get good data first. The House just updated its policies, so maybe that’s a place for the Senate to start.

And for now at least that may be all we’re going to get. No one is willing to talk about the specific people who have been named as a part of the problem just yet. I can think of a variety of possible explanations for that, but the one I’m settling on is that there isn’t enough pressure on anyone to talk in anything but generalities. Our attention is split a million ways – I mean, the national scene is dumpster fires everywhere you look – and partly because of that our state scandals tend to have a much harder time penetrating the consciousness. I don’t know what exactly it will take for this to become a higher profile issue. I just know that at some point, perhaps when we least expect it, it will become one. The Observer and the Current have more.

So now that names have been named, now what?

Maybe some hearings? I don’t know.

Texas leaders called for a review of sexual harassment policies at the state Legislature following a Texas Tribune story detailing how current procedures offered little protection for victims and describing a wide range of harassment at the Capitol. The Texas House approved changes to its policy last week. The Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has asked state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to lead a review of the chamber’s policy, has yet to hold any public hearings on the matter.

“These are serious allegations that have been denied by the senators,” Patrick said in a statement responding to the calls for resignation Thursday, adding that he had asked Kolkhorst to “determine if there are additional steps we should take.”

“I know she has been meeting with senators and staffers over the past several weeks and I expect that she will post a hearing notice soon to be sure that we are doing all we can to make sure every staff member and every elected official is protected from sexual harassment and all other inappropriate behavior,” Patrick said.

Earlier today, state Sen. José Rodríguez, chairman of the chamber’s Democratic caucus, said the behavior alleged in the Daily Beast article is “unacceptable” in any situation, but especially so for an elected official.

“Any person in a position of power who engages in such deplorable conduct should be fired or removed,” he said in a statement before Annie’s List announced their call for resignation.

State Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, said in a statement that she finds the recent stories in the media “very alarming.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when people feel their only option is talking to the press,” she said.

Rodríguez and Garcia both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol. The Texas Tribune previously reported that those in charge of investigating and resolving sexual harassment complaints have little to no authority over lawmakers. Garcia said she is also calling for a hotline to report abuse.

“As this discussion continues at both the national and state levels, I applaud those who have come forward and encourage more women to continue shedding light on the culture of many of our industries and institutions, including the legislature, so we can create a culture shift where these incidents can be fully investigated, and hopefully, prevented,” Rodríguez said.

See here for the background. Since this story was published, Sen. Kolkhorst has agreed to hold a public hearing, on December 14. Details are here. According to Equality Texas, testimony is by invitation only, but the hearing is open. What if anything will come out of this is unclear, but it’s something.

I want to add that since that Daily Beast story was published, two friends of mine have posted on Facebook about their experiences with Sen. Miles. One reported that Miles “grabbed me and kissed me on the mouth”, the other said “I was “hugged” so closely, for so long and so…ummm….thoroughly (??) that I joked with one of my colleagues upon recounting the incident that I might ought to take a pregnancy test”. I’m not naming them because I didn’t ask them if I could name them here, but as I said they’re both friends of mine. I have no doubt that there are plenty of others with similar stories. This isn’t going away, and no number of complaints about anonymous allegations or “powerful enemies” will change the fact that there are real women out there with real stories to tell. What are we going to do about that? You know what I think. We need to know what our leaders think.

The Harvey effect on the state budget

You know what the solution to this is, right?

Senate leaders warned Tuesday that Hurricane Harvey could put a billion-dollar hole in Texas’ budget, an ever-growing number that could affect how much money is available for other state programs.

Only $20 million remains in the state disaster-assistance fund, Senate Finance Committee Chair Jane Nelson said at a public hearing Tuesday on the status of hurricane recovery efforts.

“Our state costs are escalating,” said Nelson, R-Flower Mound. “We need to be judicious. … If we, God forbid, had another disaster in the next 18 months, where would we get the money?”

The Legislature will not convene in a regular session until January 2019.

The state has spent more than $1.7 billion so far in state funds, along with billions in federal assistance, according to updated numbers provided to the committee on Tuesday. Legislative Budget Board officials said as much as $2 billion in additional state funds may be needed in 2019 to cover hurricane-related school costs.


[Land Commissioner George P.] Bush said that $1 billion in immediate state funding would allow temporary housing assistance to be speeded up. Those funds could be fully reimbursed later by the federal government, he said.

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, suggested those funds could be borrowed quickly from the state’s Rainy Day Fund – a savings account – to expedite the housing recovery for thousands of Texans, some of whom are living in tents.

“We’d need to have a special session” to approve that borrowing, West said, drawing silence from other committee members.

Yes, that is what the Rainy Day fund is for. Not specifically for disaster recovery – that was the bogus justification invented by Rick Perry in 2011 as an excuse for not alleviating cuts to the public education budget – but to help cover budget shortfalls in bad times. The choice is pretty simple, either we draw money from the Rainy Day fund to help the thousands of people who remain displaced by Harvey, or we decide they’re not worth our time and compassion. No wonder Sen. West got no response when he brought it up.

Lege updates sexual harassment policy

Good, and about time.

Rep. Donna Howard

Members of the Texas House approved a new sexual harassment policy Friday with significant changes, including language strengthening protections against retaliation and specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The revised policy, which was adopted during a Friday hearing of the House Administration Committee, offers more details on the actions that could constitute sexual harassment and describes various ways victims can get help, particularly how they may pursue an internal complaint.

It comes about two weeks after The Texas Tribune detailed flaws in the former policy, which often left victims to fend for themselves. The Daily Beast had previously detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature.

Following the news reports, several Texas lawmakers called for reviews of sexual harassment policies at the Capitol. State Rep. Donna Howard was among a group of female lawmakers in the House who had a conference call with House officials to discuss changes to the policy.

“One of the things the women were particularly concerned about is making sure this is a policy that shows the respect that this situation deserves,” Howard, D-Austin, said at Friday’s hearing. “That it gives enough information that a person feels comfortable in knowing that if they do find themselves the subject of harassment, that they have a policy that gives them clear guidance and also gives them some certainty that there will be action taken.”

House Administration Chairman Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, said the new policy would require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-sexual harassment and anti-discrimination training by January 2018. The training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune. But Geren said House leaders would keep records of who attended the trainings — and that those records would be subject to public information laws.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the policy. It lays out what is harassment and gives examples, because in the year of our Lord twenty-freaking-seventeen some people are too dense to figure it out for themselves, and it outlines the process for how to report it. Doesn’t look like it’s all that much, but what was there before was basically nothing, so it should be a step forward. Let’s hope it helps. The Observer and the Chron have more.

TAB wants the Lege to quit it with bathroom bills

The talk is good. We’ll see about the action.

Texas lawmakers spent too much time this year debating bathrooms and immigration, and took their eyes off some matters vital to economic growth, such as phasing out the business-franchise tax and easing road congestion, the head of the state’s top business lobbying group said Tuesday.

Texas Association of Business chief executive Jeff Moseley, releasing a scorecard that rates each lawmaker based on selected votes, said his group was pleased to help block a bill that would require transgender Texans to use restrooms that match their gender at birth. It was sorry lawmakers went too far in adding a “show me your papers” provision to a new law banning sanctuary city policies that prohibit police and sheriff’s deputies from asking people about their immigration status.

But Moseley said the business group would have preferred lawmakers pay more attention to things that could spur the Texas economy, such as repealing the franchise or “margins tax” and continuing the use of agreements under which private firms build toll roads. “We were very successful in making sure that a lot of bad ideas didn’t make it to the House floor,” he said. “A lot of those issues that we thought were unnecessary, that were a distraction, those didn’t make it forward to the floor.”


To prevent future legislation it views as discriminatory and bad for business, the association is upping its game, Moseley said. The group has state and federal political action committees, but they’ve been largely symbolic, handing out endorsements and sometimes $1,000 checks.

In September, the organization started actively fundraising to support business-minded candidates in the March primaries. In a matter of weeks, it raised $200,000, he said.

“The board feels like there’s more opportunity to be a voice for our members and to speak out on business issues in the primary election,” Moseley said.

The TAB scorecard for the 2017 sessions is here. Note that only the Senate was graded on the bathroom bill, because that bill never came to the floor in the House. One has to approach this sort of thing with a good deal of caution, as beyond the broad strokes like opposition to bathroom bills and “show me your papers” laws there are plenty of things that progressives will not care for in TAB’s priorities, and the devil is in the details of others. I could see fit to eliminating the margins tax, for example, as it is an ungodly and underperforming mess, but only if it is replaced by something worthwhile. In the meantime, I’m willing to join hands with them if they put some resources into defeating the likes of Konni Burton and Jonathan Stickland, both of whom scored poorly on their card. You gonna walk the walk, TAB? For related testifying-before-House-committee action, see the Chron and the Trib.

The Lege needs a sexual harassment process

This is unacceptable.

As sexual misconduct accusations pile up against men in power across the country, interviews with more than two dozen current and former lawmakers and legislative aides indicate sexual harassment not only is pervasive at the Texas Capitol but also regularly goes unchecked. Most of those interviewed described how men at the Capitol — some of them lawmakers — engaged in a wide range of harassment, including degrading comments and gestures, groping and unwanted sexual advances.

Yet not a single formal complaint of sexual harassment has been filed in either the House or Senate since 2011, according to a review of public records and interviews with officials responsible for fielding complaints. Even though sexual harassment policies have been in place for two decades, few employees interviewed by the Tribune even knew they could file a formal complaint.

The policies themselves are outdated — both reference a state agency that no longer exists — and rely on Capitol officials with little incentive or authority to enforce them, particularly in cases of harassment by lawmakers.

“Well, you know we can’t fire them. The people get to fire them,” said Patsy Spaw, of elected officials. As the secretary of the senate, Spaw’s duties include resolving complaints in the chamber.


The House and Senate have had a sexual harassment policies since 1995. Both generally state that sexual harassment will not be tolerated and lay out basic procedures for reporting any misconduct.

The House policy directs employees to make complaints to the chair of the House Administration Committee — an influential position set by the House Speaker and currently held by Republican state Rep. Charlie Geren — or to the manager of the House payroll and personnel department. Over in the Senate, complaints would be reported to Spaw, the Senate Human Resources office or supervisors in individual offices.

But those officials have little to no authority over lawmakers who are ultimately elected by voters back home. In the Senate, a legislator could be reprimanded privately or publicly if they were found to have sexually harassed someone, Spaw said. In the House, the state Constitution gives lawmakers “the power to punish a member for disorderly conduct and, in extreme cases, to expel a member,” Jon Schnautz, the chamber’s ethics adviser, said in a statement.

Several former staffers said they would not have reported their experiences with sexual harassment to House Administration because they had no confidence that the member-led committee would be objective.

“I probably would never even have felt like that was an outlet that I could trust, but I didn’t even know that was a process that existed,” said Genevieve Cato, a former House employee who has spoken publicly about harassment at the Capitol.

Another staffer said she didn’t feel Geren’s committee was a “safe place to report that.”

Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who’s served in the House for almost two decades, refused to answer questions from the Tribune about how his committee would handle a sexual harassment complaint because, he said, the committee had not received any.

“There’s nothing to talk about because we don’t have any,” Geren said. “I don’t deal in ifs. When there’s one I’ll handle it. And that’s it.”

Asked if the policy needed revision, Geren said he would not further discuss the issue. “I don’t have any more comments about it,” he said.

For her part, Spaw said any complaints filed in the Senate would be taken “really seriously,” though she said a resolution would also depend on the Senate Administration Committee and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to take action.

“Each situation would be individual,” she said. “But it is a conundrum … I’m thankful I’ve not had to deal with it.”

Yeah, having Dan Patrick be in charge of resolving your sexual harassment complaint. What could possibly go wrong? I don’t know what we should be doing, but I do know what we’re doing now isn’t worth a damn. Maybe we could start by listening to Cato and others who have been speaking out about this and learn from their experience about what might have helped them at the time? Just a thought.

This story came out the next day, and credit where credit is due.

Citing “disturbing accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct” by public officials in Washington, D.C. and Texas, state Rep. Linda Koop asked the state’s Republican leadership Tuesday to develop a new protocol to protect those working in the state Capitol.

In her letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and House and Senate leaders, Koop, a Dallas Republican, raised concerns that legislative personnel were not “fully educated as to where to report misconduct or harassment.”

“These disturbing reports make me concerned for the safety of our Capitol staffers, interns, reporters, lobbyists and all those who work at the Capitol,” Koop wrote. “Many of our staff and interns are young people and may be particularly vulnerable to those in positions of power.”

It’s a start. Greg Abbott had not replied to a request for a comment from the Trib, so we don’t have any idea yet whether this will gain traction. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Going beyond “thoughts and prayers”

There are things we could do to reduce the prevalence of gun violence, if we wanted to.

At a news conference organized by Texas Gun Sense at the state capitol on Wednesday, state Reps. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, and Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, urged state leaders to declare gun violence a public health issue and reform existing gun regulations.

Nevárez proposed limiting the ability of Texans to “walk around” with long rifles, such as the AR-15 variant used by the shooter Sunday. Texas has allowed long gun owners to openly carry their weapons for decades.

Collier urged state leaders to declare gun violence a public health issue, comparing it to other health crises such as obesity and the opioid epidemic. She also denounced those, such as President Donald Trump, who have focused on addressing mental health issues following the shooting rather than guns themselves. While acknowledging mental health plays a critical role in gun violence, she said focusing entirely on mental health is a “distraction” from the role of easy access to guns and “stigmatizes” those with mental health issues.

“If any other consumer product resulted in a fraction of the injuries and deaths [that guns do],” Collier said, “we would be scrambling to find solutions.”

State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, was also at the news conference and spoke briefly about a list she authored of steps to prevent gun violence. Her suggestions include increasing public education on safe gun usage and requiring a license to carry long guns.

The press conference came a day after state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, urged state leaders to create a bipartisan commission tasked with recommending “common sense” gun reforms ahead of the next scheduled legislative session in 2019.

Like Rep. Nevárez, I don’t think we need a commission to come up with reforms. There are plenty of good ideas already out there. If you can assure me that any reforms put forward by such a commission would get the support of the leadership in the next session, then sure, go ahead, but usually the creation of task forces like that are a substitute for action, not a catalyst for it. I don’t expect even weak sauce like that to get support as thing stand today, so the path forward, as always, is to elect more legislators like Collier, Nevárez, and Hinojosa. At the end of the day it’s a numbers game, and our numbers need to be bigger.

Speaker Straus not running for re-election

A bombshell no one saw coming.

Rep. Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election in 2018, a decision that has the potential to upend the political balance of power in the state.

Straus, who has lately been the most powerful moderate Republican in the Texas Capitol, said he will serve until the end of his term. That means there will be a new speaker when the Legislature next convenes in 2019.

His decision will immediately set in motion a scrum for control of the House, pitting arch-conservative members who have opposed Straus against more centrist Republicans. Within hours, one of Straus’ top lieutenants, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced that he had filed to run for the speaker’s post. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has already announced he is running. Other candidates are expected to jump in.

Straus has clashed with hardline conservatives in recent years, not least Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Tea Party leaders and their allies have blamed Straus for killing controversial measures backed by the far right, most notably a bill that would have regulated which bathrooms transgender Texans could use.

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime. And so I want you to know that my family and I have decided that I will not run for re-election next year,” Straus said in a campaign email. “My time as a State Representative and as Speaker will end at the conclusion of my current term.”


Asked if he planned to run for any other office in the future, Straus said he is “not one to close doors.” He acknowledged he has received encouragement to run for other offices and did not rule out the possibility of a gubernatorial bid. But he said he doubts he will be on the ballot in 2018.

As for the race to succeed him as speaker, Straus suggested he would not get involved.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who aren’t members in the Legislature in the next session to really register an opinion on that,” Straus said.

The announcement immediately set into motion speculation about the future of Straus’ top lieutenants. One of his closest allies, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who is chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said in a statement first reported by Quorum Report that he “will pursue other opportunities to serve our great state.”

Straus made his announcement on Facebook, which if you have a feed like mine immediately took over everything. This came as a big surprise, because just last month Straus was urging business leaders to keep up the fight against bathroom bills and other such harmful proposals, and two weeks ago he formed the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to push pro-growth policies. I doubt it had occurred to anyone that he himself might walk away at this time, but if a young, scandal-free first-term US Senator can say “screw it, I’ve had enough”, then nothing like this should surprise us. Indeed, as Ross Ramsey notes, this will almost surely presage a lot more retirements. Get ready for it.

As to what happens next, I’m not going to panic or despair, at least not yet. For one thing, like Christopher Hooks, I’m a little wary of the hagiography coming from my fellow travelers over Straus’ legislative career.

Liberals have never quite figured out what to make of the man. On one hand, it’s undoubtedly true that Straus was a bulwark against the new populist tendencies of the Texas GOP. He and allies such as Byron Cook, who is also retiring, stopped a metric ton of junk legislation that would have passed with a different speaker. When considering the question of why Texas has fared generally better than similarly red states like Louisiana and Kansas, which are on fire, Straus and the conditions that created Straus are a significant part of the answer. He’s the last person in state government who seems to care about governing as a concept.

But out of that fact emerged too a picture of Straus as a sort of Aaron Sorkin character, a paternal figure with an unnaturally rosy image and a passing resemblance to Gregg Popovich, typified by the mythic representation of Straus’ bathroom bill showdown with Patrick in a recent New Yorker article. There is an element of Stockholm Syndrome in that, as if Straus was the jailer who always asks about your kids. Among other things, the House of Straus passed many of its own pieces of junk legislation — voter ID, loads of anti-abortion laws, etc. — and served at times as a trough for the lobby. Straus and his lieutenants often declined to water down bad legislation, including, spectacularly the state’s “show your papers” law. The Capitol debate over what Straus personally wants, and when his hand is being “forced,” is as long and storied as it is useless to ordinary Texans.

Straus isn’t Jeff Flake or Bob Corker — he’s been staying true to some version of his principles since he was elected speaker, not just recently. But it’s also worth wondering why a person who places so much emphasis on good government is willing to abandon his post, possibly to another Republican in the mold of Dan Patrick or Donald Trump. A tremendous amount now depends on whether a Straus-type successor can be elected speaker.

For sure, we could have done much worse than Straus – we had already done much worse, under Tom Craddick – and we could do much worse going forward. I’m just suggesting that we maintain a bit of perspective here. Going forward, a Speaker Zerwas would be more or less the same as Speaker Straus was, while a Speaker King would basically be Speaker Craddick minus the Craddick Dems. The way to enhance the odds of the former is for more Democrats to win legislative races next year, especially against wingnuts in swing districts like Matt Rinaldi. Perhaps the Texas Association of Business, who helped give us Speaker Craddick in 2002, might get involved in a few Republican primaries if they’d like to see Straus’ legacy live on. There are concrete things that can be done to ensure a better outcome, is what I’m saying. That’s where I’d put my energy if this news is distressing to me. The Chron, RG Ratcliffe, the Current, and the DMN have more.

The lost Harvey tax break

I have mixed feelings about this.

Rep. Sarah Davis

Owners of nearly 300,000 homes damaged by Hurricane Harvey in Texas won’t see any break in their property taxes because of political wrangling this year in the state Legislature over completely unrelated issues – including, one Houston Republican says, the bathroom bill.

A property tax reform bill that would have required all local governments to reappraise damaged homes and businesses and lower the tax bills came within a single round of votes on four different occasions. If the mandatory reappraisal proposal had become law, it would have all but assured that the tens of thousands of homes and businesses damaged or destroyed statewide because of Harvey would have received a reduction in property taxes this year.

But it never passed, and according to the state lawmaker who came up with the idea, it’s because of the bathroom bill. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, lays the blame on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who she contends was trying to blackball her bills.

“I have little doubt its slow death in the Senate is because of social issues like the bathroom bill,” said Davis, whose district flooded badly during the 2015 Memorial Day storms and the 2016 tax day storms.

Currently, reappraisals after natural disasters are optional for local governments and most are like Harris County and Aransas County in saying they won’t do it because they cannot afford it.

A home in Houston that was valued at $200,000 before the hurricane, but worth just $30,000 after, would have seen a $700 cut just in school taxes, according to the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, which strongly backed the Davis proposal.

“It was really one of my No. 1 priorities,” said Davis, whose original bill would have taken effect Sept. 1.

But that is likely why the bill never cleared the Senate, she said. Davis was a vocal opponent of the so-called bathroom bill that was a top priority in the Texas Senate.


Texas law already allows counties, cities and other local governments to reappraise properties after a storm, but few ever do because of the lost revenues that it could result in and because of how expensive and time consuming the reappraisal process could be during a time governments are trying to finalize their budgets. If governments do the reappraisals, the full cost is on the local governments.

“It’s not a very workable solution,” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican, said about why he has not voluntarily called for the reappraisals in Harris. “It’s not that I don’t have sympathy for people and what they’ve lost.”

He said the problem is the reappraisals would cost $10 million in a county as big and urban as Harris County. Plus the county would lose revenue from tax collections at a time it most needs the money to address the natural disaster recovery.

He added that property owners still will get the benefit of the Jan. 1 appraisals for the next year’s taxes. That almost certainly will result in lower tax bills for homeowners with damaged properties next year.

Similarly, in Aransas County – where Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 and demolished 36 percent of all homes and businesses – there will be no reappraisal. Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills Jr. said there isn’t time or money to get it done and said it would only hurt tax revenues at a time when every source of funding the county relies on is in jeopardy.

“All of our income is in the toilet,” Mills said of a county that relies heavily on tourists to generate sales taxes and fill rental properties.

Let’s start with the obvious. Of course the bathroom bill was the reason why this bill never got a vote in the Senate. This is how Dan Patrick operates. You can admire his hard-nosed tactical consistency, or you can bemoan his willingness to sacrifice the greater good in service of his narrow partisan interests, but you can’t deny the premise.

I certainly get the impetus for Rep. Davis’ bill. Though all the activity on this came before Harvey, Davis represents neighborhoods that were hard hit by the floods of 2015 and 2016. Giving people whose houses have been greatly damaged or destroyed a break on their property taxes has a lot of obvious appeal. That said, I agree with Judges Emmett and Mills. The counties – and cities and school districts – that these houses are in will be facing large extra expenses as a result of the disaster in question, and they’ve built their budgets for the year based in part on the original values of those houses. When the houses are reappraised for the next year, everyone can plan their budgets based on the expected lower values. Is the benefit of an extra year’s lower tax bill for affected homeowners worth the cost?

There is, of course, a simple enough way to resolve this: Have the state cover the difference. We agree that homeowners whose houses have been devastated deserve a break. We agree (I hope) that the cost of that break should not be a burden on counties and school districts that are themselves recovering from the damage of the natural disaster. The amount in question would be a relative pittance for the state. Why not let the state budget make the affected local government entities whole? Because that’s not what we do. Dan Patrick and his buddies take from the locals, they don’t give back. They’d be more than willing to take the credit for the cut, but it’ll be a cold day in August before they’d be willing to bear the cost. I appreciate what Rep. Davis was trying to do with her bill, but without this I can’t quite support it.

What the Harvey needs are from the state

It’s not just about recovery. The long term needs, including mitigation against future events like Harvey, is where the real money will need to be spent.

More than one month after Harvey’s deluge hit, local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, testified at a state House of Representatives Appropriations Committee hearing that more than $370 million worth of debris removal and repair work on more than 50 government buildings has strained local coffers, necessitating quick aid and reimbursement from the federal or state government.

They also emphasized what likely will greatly exceed the costs of immediate recovery: how to prepare for the next storm. That could include billions of dollars for large-scale buyouts, a third reservoir on Houston’s west side, a reservoir on the Brazos River in Fort Bend County and hundreds of millions of dollars to jump start bayou improvement projects that have slowed in recent years without federal funding.

“There’s going to come a time where we have taken all the money from the feds, we have gotten all the money we’re going to get from the state, and we’re going to have to decide: What kind of community do we want to be?” Emmett said at the hearing.

Harvey’s record-smashing rainfall and floods damaged more than 136,000 homes and other buildings in Harris County and killed nearly 80 people across the state.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee and Urban Affairs Committee met at the University of Houston on Monday to understand public costs and where reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. Congressional appropriations were being directed in the storm’s wake.

Emmett, Turner and Fort Bend County officials testified, as did Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, who is coordinating the state’s recovery efforts. The heads of several other state agencies also testified.

The hearing came just three days after Gov. Greg Abbott visited Houston and presented Turner with a check for $50 million. The check almost immediately was spoken for, Turner said, mostly for debris removal and insurance costs.

Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Houston, said Harvey, in theory, qualified as the “perfect reason” to use the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund,” a savings account comprised of billions in excess oil and gas taxes.

Abbott had indicated as much last week but said he would tap existing state emergency funds and reimburse them from the Rainy Day Fund when the Legislature next meets in 2019.

“Before the Legislature acts, we need to ensure what the expenses are that the state is responsible for,” Zerwas said.

Yes, that would be nice to know. There were other hearings this week as well.

The first order of business, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told the House Natural Resources Committee, needs to be a flood control plan for the entire state — and the Gulf Coast in particular.

The Texas Water Development Board is already in the process of crafting a statewide flood plan, with the help of $600,000 state lawmakers gave them earlier this year. Lawmakers haven’t yet promised to back any of the projects that end up in the plan.

Emmett, a Republican and former state lawmaker, said Harris County intends to put together its own flood control plan in the meantime, add up the costs of its recommended projects, then see how much the federal and state government want to contribute. He said he’ll be the first to push for a local bond package to make up the difference.

Property taxes are “the most miserable tax created,” Emmett said. “But it’s what we’ve been given to work with so we don’t have a choice.”

Emmett said Harris County’s plan likely will include another major dam to catch runoff during storms and relieve pressure on two existing reservoirs, Addicks and Barker. Those reservoirs, which filled to historic levels during Harvey, flooded thousands of homes that may not have been inundated with additional protections.

Emmett and the city of Houston’s “flood czar,” Stephen Costello, suggested the state tap its savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to pay for such a project, estimated to cost at least $300 million. (Gov. Greg Abbott has said lawmakers can tap that fund in 2019 or sooner if they need it for Harvey relief; so far, he has written Houston a $50 million out of a state disaster relief fund.)

Costello said Texas should also consider creating a multi-billion dollar fund to support flood control projects similar to one the state’s voters approved in 2013 for water supply projects.

So far all of the talk is constructive, and even Dan Patrick is doing his part. The real test will be whether we follow up on any of this when the Lege reconvenes. Also, while this doesn’t directly answer my question about the SWIFT fund, but it does clearly suggest that it’s not intended for this kind of infrastructure. Which makes sense, given when it was created, but I had wondered if there was some flexibility built in. I would hope there would be plenty of support for a similar fund for flood mitigation.

The taproom bill is in effect

And it’s lousy, as expected.

The latest draft of beer legislation in Texas has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some craft brewers.

HB 3287, which lawmakers passed during their regular legislative session earlier this year, requires craft brewers that produce more than 225,000 barrels per year to pay a distributor to deliver their beer — even if the destination is inside their own facility.

Proponents of the legislation say it will maintain the state’s three-tier system — Prohibition-era regulations that legally separate brewers, distributors and retailers — and properly regulate large companies that purchase craft breweries. To opponents, though, the law targets newer craft breweries across the state, discouraging investment in their businesses while protecting larger and more established beer companies.


“When you get to a certain point, you’re no longer the little guy that needs the incentives,” said Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents distributors and supported the legislation. “Once they get to a certain annual production level, they’re really not new entrants into the marketplace.”

But [Charlie Vallhonrat, the executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild] says craft brewers weren’t asking for any help from distributors, who he charges will benefit most from the new law. Carve-outs written into the law allow three craft breweries recently purchased by larger breweries to avoid the 225,000-barrel cap: Karbach in Houston, bought by Anheuser-Busch InBev; Revolver in Granbury, purchased by Miller-Coors; and Independence in Austin, bought by a Heineken-owned subsidiary.

“They claim that this is to protect the three-tier system,” Vallhonrat said. “This has nothing to do with protecting the three-tier system.”

See here for the background. As you know, I think the three-tier system should be ashcanned, but it remains the case that no one has asked me. I don’t know why it is that we can’t have a truly open, consumer-friendly market for beer in Texas, but clearly we can’t. The success that microbrewers have had in this state has been despite the existing regulatory environment, not abetted by it.

Straus backs removing Capitol Confederate monument


Texas House Speaker Joe Straus requested on Tuesday that a contentious Confederate plaque be removed from the Capitol.

The plaque, erected in 1959, asserts that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery.”

“This is not accurate, and Texans are not well-served by incorrect information about our history,” Straus said in a letter to the State Preservation Board, which oversees the Capitol grounds.

Straus added in his letter that “confederate monuments and plaques are understandably important to many Texans” but stressed the importance of such landmarks being “accurate and appropriate.”

“The Children of the Confederacy Creed plaque does not meet this standard,” Straus wrote.

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, who has called for the removal of the plaque, told The Texas Tribune he was “pleased” that Straus agrees it should come down.

“I am confident that it will come down soon,” Johnson said.

See here for the background. As you know, I am objectively anti-Confederate monuments in general, though I will stipulate there is room for debate. But a Confederate monument that contains a blatant and obvious lie about what the Confederacy and the Civil War were about? In the state Capitol? I’ll be glad to drive to Austin with a hammer and pry bar and do the removal myself. Good on Rep. Johnson for bringing this up, and on Rep. Straus for doing the right thing.

House to study Harvey-related issues

Good to see.

Rep. Joe Straus

House Speaker Joe Straus is asking three House committees to wade into issues related to Hurricane Harvey, including how the state can maximize federal funds and whether to rethink how to grade schools affected by the storm this year.

Straus issued five interim charges Thursday, focused largely on education issues, like the scope of damage to schools and figuring out how to help districts absorbing students displaced by Harvey. He also wants lawmakers to look at student testing and accountability to “prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts.”


Straus’ other charges include taking a close look at the state’s infrastructure and use of state and federal funds during storm recovery and review the role of regional entities to developing flood control projects.

“Hurricane Harvey has devastated our state and upended the lives of millions of Texans,” said Straus said in a letter to House members asking for further suggestions of issues lawmakers should study leading up to the next legislative session that begins in January of 2019. “The importance of getting these issues right when we meet again demands that we start working on them now.”

As we know, the TEA isn’t inclined to cut school districts any slack at this time, so it’s nice for the Lege to look at that. I’ll be very interested to see what they come up with regarding infrastructure. As noted before, we authorized a fund for building reservoirs and the like. What are we doing with that, and can we use it for flood mitigation instead of drought mitigation? This seems like as good a time as any to find out. The Trib has more.

The trans community is fully engaged now

One positive thing came out of this months-long anti-transgender legislative assault.

For more than a year, [Dan] Patrick pulled out all the stops for the bathroom bills, which would have restricted restroom use based on biological sex and undone local anti-discrimination ordinances protecting the rights of transgender Texans.

But rather than pushing them farther into the shadows, Patrick’s bathroom bills have galvanized the transgender community in Texas like never before. New friends have been made, activist networks formed and some are even running for office, all spurred by an effort they feared would only vilify and dehumanize them.

Patrick’s crusade, however, succeeded in further dividing his own party, whose fissures were laid bare as big business, big oil, police and teachers pushed back. The GOP found itself at odds with benefactors it has long protected, underlining the struggle between the traditional “open for business” Republicanism of the Rick Perry years and the culture war evangelism Patrick espouses.

The bathroom bill’s defeat was stunning. Patrick is, after all, considered by many to be the most influential conservative in Texas. But more astounding than this failure was its effect on the marginalized group it targeted.

The transgender community is now a new standard bearer for the civil rights fight in Texas. And now, they have more allies than ever.

And they know who those allies are. The greater visibility for the transgender community has helped make more people realize that trans people are just that – people, who want to live their lives and get the same basic deal the rest of us get. As it was with gays and lesbians, it’s a lot harder to demonize a group when you know members of that group. The show of support for the transgender community from a broad range of stakeholders really reinforced the message. Patrick and his pals will continue doing their dirty work, but I think their path is rockier now. We still have a long way to go, but we have made progress. Do keep that in mind as we go forward.

The case for calling a Harvey special session

Rep. Gene Wu disagrees with Greg Abbott’s decision.

Rep. Gene Wu

The historic level of damage and suffering caused by Harvey requires that we tap into our state’s Rainy Day Fund. Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to not call a special session of the Texas Legislature to access emergency funding will worsen the long-term economic effects of one of the most powerful storms to ever land on our shores.

Abbott has stated that there is no need for a special session, implicitly saying that there is no need to tap into the Economic Stabilization Fund — our state’s savings account, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund — and that existing resources are sufficient to deal with the widespread devastation caused by Harvey.

However, if there has been one lesson that I’ve learned in my three terms in the Legislature, it’s that existing resources are never adequate in Texas. Our schools continue to be some of the worst funded in the nation, half of our rural hospitals are on the verge of closing, and we barely maintain our existing infrastructure. Texas mostly skates by on a combination of luck and creative accounting. But more importantly, what we have budgeted for are common occurrences and normal disasters. The historic level of damage from Harvey is anything but common.


The Rainy Day Fund is available right now. The Texas Legislature needs to only meet for a few days and send a bill to the governor to access the funds. There is strong bipartisan support because members understand the desperate need for a quick response. In this past legislative session, conservative members argued that the fund should not be used for “reoccurring” expenses because we needed to save it for one-time emergencies. This is that emergency.

The state could provide immediate, low-interest or no-interest small loans to help businesses rebuild quickly. The money could go to help Houston ISD to repair the more than 200 schools that suffered flood damage, including 53 with critical damage. Harris County could use the funds to expedite repairs so that courts and the jury assembly center are not closed for the next three months. Outside of the Houston area, entire cities need to be rebuilt. Simply leaving local counties and municipalities on their own to rebuild means a slower recovery — possibly causing businesses to close or leave our state, and taking jobs with them.

See here for the background. I guess I’m not fully clear on what the Legislative Budget Board can and cannot do, and what gaps there would be if only the LBB gets to act. I do think Rep. Wu is right on about appropriating money to the schools and school districts that have been heavily damaged by Harvey. I can’t think of a better use of Rainy Day Fund money than to make schools safe and available for students again. Again, if the LBB can do this, great. It will be a lot less messy that way – I mean, if you think the jackasses of the Freedom Caucus won’t try to screw with an emergency appropriations bill for school repairs, I have to ask what Legislature you’ve been watching – but if the LBB can’t do that, then a special session it needs to be.

On when you should file a Harvey-related claim

It may or may not ultimately make a difference, but a new law that goes into effect on September 1 is about insurance claims and lawsuits.

For many Texans ravaged by the rain and winds Hurricane Harvey carried ashore this past weekend, filing an insurance claim for the damage their property sustained is probably the farthest thing from their minds right now. But waiting to submit a claim past Friday could cost them big.

A new law set to take effect Friday aims to crack down on frivolous insurance lawsuits. But House Bill 1774 also reduces the penalty interest rate insurance companies face for late payments if the policyholder files a lawsuit.

If insurance companies are late in paying claims as a result of a lawsuit, they must pay an additional penalty to policyholders. Under current state law, that penalty comes in the form of a fee that totals 18 percent of the claim. For claims filed after Friday, that rate will be determined by a market-based formula that is capped at 20 percent. Currently, the rate would be 10 percent.

While people filing claims by Friday would benefit from the higher penalty payouts in lawsuits, those same cases would be subject to provisions in the new law. Those provisions would decrease the chances insurance companies will have to pay the plaintiff’s attorneys fees in full and protect agents from being personally sued.

Jeff Raizner, a member of the Texas Trial Lawyers Association, which opposed HB 1774, said the law is a mixed bag.

“I want to be completely fair, there were some bad actors,” said Raizner, a Houston trial lawyer who has worked on insurance cases for 25 years. He added that some of what the new law requires addresses that problem – like the strengthened rules on communications regarding claims issues and the structure for paying attorneys’ fees.

But he calls the penalty changes an overreach.

“Much of this new law is a money grab by the insurance industry,” Raizner said.

“The intent of the bill was to cut off this ‘cottage industry’ that was happening around hailstorms after Hurricane Ike; lawsuits that didn’t need to be filed,” said Lucy Nashed, a spokesman for Texans for Lawsuit Reform. TLR supported the bill and argues that because the bulk of Harvey insurance claims will be flood-related, nothing will change.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’ve thankfully never had to file an insurance claim related to storm or flood damage. This explanation on Facebook from someone who is a lawyer strongly suggests that HB 1774 won’t affect the vast majority of people:

First and foremost, HB 1774 does not change the insurance claims process. A person making a claim with her insurance company after September 1, 2017 will go through the same process as a person making a claim before September 1, 2017.

The new law applies to a lawsuit that is filed against an insurance company by a policyholder when the policyholder’s insurance claim is not timely paid or is underpaid, or when the insurance company acts in bad faith in dealing with the policyholder’s claim.

Lawsuits are the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of Texans will go through the regular insurance claims process without needing to file a lawsuit.

Even under HB 1774, Texans continue to have the strongest consumer protections in the nation against insurance companies. This includes the full recovery of amounts owed under an insurance policy, plus penalty interest, court costs, and attorney fees. Additionally, if the insurance company acts fraudulently or in bad faith, Texans may recover triple the amount of their actual damages, which is unchanged by the new statute.

The only advantage to filing a claim before Sept 1 is that IF the insurance is slow to pay or underplays, their penalty interest will be a floating rate between 10-20%, rather than a stagnant rate of 18%. Lawyers may worry about that change in rate, but you shouldn’t. It doesn’t impact your coverage.

The primary purpose of the new statute is to require written notice of a dispute before a lawsuit is filed (so that the insurance company can adequately address the claim before a lawsuit is even needed). If a lawsuit is filed, it would happen months or years after the initial claim was made with the insurance company. Nothing in the new law passed by the Legislature earlier this year requires that the initial insurance claim be made in writing or by a specific date.

For what it’s worth, the new law will not apply to most claims or lawsuits arising from Harvey, as I understand it, because most of the policyholders’ claims will be for damage caused by flooding. These claims will be made under the federal flood insurance program and governed by federal law. The new law will not apply to lawsuits pursued against the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA), which is subject to an entirely different statute governing post-disaster lawsuits. TWIA provides insurance for many people affected by Harvey directly on the coast.

I guess I would say that if you do have a claim to file, and you can do it by Thursday, go ahead and do it then. It probably won’t matter, but it probably won’t hurt. RG Ratcliffe and Mother Jones have more.

The “run over a protester” bill

This was from a day or two after the racist violence in Charlottesville, which included the vehicular murder of a counterprotester.

Rep. Pat Fallon

Last month, Rep. Pat Fallon filed legislation to protect motorists who hit demonstrators “blocking traffic in a public right-of-way” if the driver exercises “due care.” House Bill 250 would protect drivers against civil liability only but would not lessen criminal penalties for deadly hit-and-runs, a second-degree felony in Texas.

Fallon’s bill has no chance of passing this summer. Lawmakers are scheduled to gavel out the month-long summer special session on Wednesday without even holding a hearing on the measure.

Nevertheless, by Monday morning, the Frisco Republican said he’d received “hundreds” of angry responses from people upset over the events this weekend in Virginia, especially the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old protester struck and killed by a driver who also injured at least 19 other people.

James Alex Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio man who rallied with white supremacist groups on Saturday, has been charged with her murder as well as malicious wounding and failing to stop at a crash site that resulted in a death. Fallon said his legislation would not have protected someone like Fields from criminal charges. He blasted the white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville.

“Any jackass that thinks they’re going to be cool because they’re a Nazi, are you serious?” Fallon told The Dallas Morning News. “There’s no room for that,” he added, calling Heyer’s death “horrific.”

Fallon added he was “incredibly offended” that people tied his bill to Fields and those like him.


Representatives with the ACLU in Texas and North Carolina, where similar legislation is being debated, said Fallon’s bill was intended to discourage free speech and assembly.

“The flavor and tenor of this is to quell protest,” said Karen Anderson, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “It is to essentially set up a structure where you protest at your own risk (and) there is a shield for motorists who choose, which happened just recently, to use their vehicle as a literal bludgeon.”

She expressed concern over why the proposal does not define “due care,” and questioned how protesters could prove they were hit intentionally if there was no video footage of the incident, like there was in Charlottesville.

Matt Simpson, a police specialist with the ACLU of Texas, acknowledged Fallon’s bill would not lessen criminal penalties for drivers who intentionally kill pedestrian protesters. But he said the bill would be difficult to implement if it became law and would send “a terrible message” to Texans.

“This is obviously more symbolic than meaningful,” said Simpson. He said he was unaware of anyone who had sued a Texas driver who accidentally hit protesters. “This seems like a solution in search of a problem.”

Seems like there’s a lot of that these days. Rep. Fallon pitched a fit when people pointed out his bill and the potential it had for making life easier for someone who might feel the need to dish out a little four-wheeled havoc. Maybe don’t file such morally vacant bills in the future? Just a thought. All I can say is that if he files the same thing in 2019, he’ll definitely have learned nothing from this experience.

The long view of the bathroom bill

The Chron considers the future of the bathroom bill.

Texas’ controversial bathroom bill, championed by Gov. Greg Abbot and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, may have been declared dead, but some say it could be revived soon enough.

“Like Frankenstein, the bathroom bill could come back to life,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist. “Because, in an election year, it’s an issue that appeals to the Republican base that turns out to vote.”

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said many lawmakers have kept their views on the controversial measure private, and there remains support.

“The bill may be dead, but the issue is not,” he said.

Chalk up the bill’s demise to Texas business leaders who support nondiscrimination laws and see the issue of which bathrooms transgender people use as a manufactured one. Nevertheless, both supporters and opponents agree the issue will be back — either in a future legislative session or in the Republican primaries next March, when bathroom bill proponents hope to oust House Republican moderates they blame for derailing its passage into law this summer.


“It was largely a manufactured issue that will evaporate over time,” said Rice University’s Jones. “There is no crisis on transgender Texans for most Texans. But for Republican primary voters, it will still be around.”

More than a dozen tea party and conservative Republican activists agreed, saying they plan to press Abbott to call the Legislature back into a special session early next year to remind GOP primary voters how much of the summer’s conservative agenda did not get passed – including the bathroom bill.

“It’s looking pretty dismal right now, all the priorities of Gov. Abbott that the House blocked, and I can assure you that people in Texas are not going to forget about that,” said JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America: We the People, an influential tea party group among conservative Texas Republicans. “An awful lot of bills have not been passed, and now they’re trying to cut deals in the House at the very end to make it look like they’re accomplishing something when they’re not.”

Other activists in Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio echoed that disdain, warning that the business leaders may end up sorry they fought the bathroom bill, when the Texans who support it successfully push it through in another legislative session.

Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business, the lobby group that for decades has wielded considerable clout at the Capitol and threw its weight behind derailing the bathroom bill, disagrees. He said his group, facing a growing amount of legislation that is bad for business, plans to continue its legislative momentum.

After remaining relatively low-key in some recent sessions, lobbying for criminal justice reforms as lawmakers fought about conservative social issues such as abortions, Big Business took a higher profile last spring in fighting attempts to place new restrictions on eminent domain, to cut tax-abatement incentives and to kill the state’s business-development fund – along with their fight against the bathroom bill that grew into a full-on throwdown this summer.

“We were ringing the bell during the regular session, and then the governor put it on the special session agenda, and we knew that our voice had to be heard strongly and loudly,” Moseley said. “For Texas to remain globally competitive, we have to remain open for business. And laws like this are a disregard for the Texas Miracle, which wasn’t some cosmic accident. It was a result of solid policies that encouraged business growth and economic development in Texas.”

I disagree with the assertion that the demonization of transgender people will fade over time. These GOP primary-driven issues don’t go away. Look at the history – voter ID, campus carry, and “sanctuary cities” all took multiple sessions, but in the end they all passed. Hell, they’re still fighting against same-sex marriage, SCOTUS be damned. The Lege overall is a lot more conservative now than it was before the 2010 wipeout, especially in the Senate where one mainstream Republican Senator after another has been replaced by a Dan Patrick minion, and that is what drives this. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Dan Patrick is not going to give up. He has no remorse and no conscience, and he doesn’t accept defeat. The business lobby that fought the bathroom bill need to internalize this or they’ll see a bathroom bill get passed over their objections just as the “sanctuary cities” bill was passed. The only way they can improve their odds going forward is to knock off some of the main proponents of the bathroom bill and whatever lunacy comes after it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like this lesson has been learned:

The intensity of the debate has raised questions about the future relationship between business groups and the state’s Republican leadership, which have shared a decades-long bond. Mr. Wallace, president of the Texas business association, said the bond would remain unbroken despite the differences in the current showdown.

“Ninety-plus percent of the time we are in agreement,” he said. “We just happen to disagree on this issue.”

This is a recipe for disaster. Either the business lobby needs to be more selective about which Republicans they support, and more willing to oppose the ones who push this crap, or they will live to regret it. I don’t know how else to explain it to you, Chris Wallace. I just hope you’re not really that naive. The Trib has more.

Let’s play two?

Oh, God, please, no.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday put blame on the House — particularly Speaker Joe Straus — for the shortcomings of the special session and left the door open to calling another one.

“I’m disappointed that all 20 items that I put on the agenda did not receive the up-or-down vote that I wanted but more importantly that the constituents of these members deserved,” Abbott said in a KTRH radio interview. “They had plenty of time to consider all of these items, and the voters of the state of Texas deserved to know where their legislators stood on these issues.”

The comments came the morning after lawmakers closed out the special session without taking action on Abbott’s No. 1 issue, property tax reform. Abbott ended up seeing legislation get sent to his desk that addressed half his agenda.

As the Senate prepared to adjourn Tuesday night, some senators said they wanted Abbott to call them back for another special session on property taxes. Asked about that possibility Wednesday, the governor said “all options are always on the table.”

“There is a deep divide between the House and Senate on these important issues,” Abbott said in the interview. “So I’m going to be making decisions later on about whether we call another special session, but in the meantime, what we must do is we need to all work to get more support for these priorities and to eliminate or try to dissolve the difference between the House and the Senate on these issues so we can get at a minimum an up-or-down vote on these issues or to pass it.”

In the interview, Abbott contrasted the House with the Senate, which moved quickly to pass all but two items on his agenda. The lower chamber started the special session by “dilly-dallying,” Abbott said, and focused on issues that had “nothing to do whatsoever” with his call.

Asked if he assigned blame to Straus, a San Antonio Republican, Abbott replied, “Well, of course.”

Such big talk from such a weak leader. I suspect there won’t be that much appetite for another special session (*), with the preferred strategy being to attack Straus and get the 2018 primaries up and running. Failure to pass certain bills is often as big a victory for the zealots as success is. Everyone has their talking points for the primaries, so why waste more time in Austin when you can be out raising funds?

(*) The one thing that might make House members want to come back is a court order to redraw the House map. Everyone will be keenly interested in that, especially if some districts are declared illegal. They’ll not want to leave that up to the court, so if it comes down to it, expect there to be pressure for a special session to come up with a compliant map.

Smell ya later, Senate

How about that?

The special legislative session is over — in one chamber, at least.

The Texas House abruptly gaveled out Sine Die – the formal designation meaning the end of a session – on Tuesday evening after voting to approve the Senate’s version of a school finance bill that largely stripped provisions the chamber had fought to keep.

Gov. Greg Abbott called lawmakers back for a special session on July 18. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days, which gave both chambers til Wednesday to work.

The House’s abrupt move came after days of difficult negotiations with the Senate on school finance and property tax bills — and leaves the fate of the latter in question.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen had been expected to appoint conference committee members Tuesday so that the two chambers could reconcile their versions of the bill.

But instead, shortly before the surprise motion to Sine Die, the Angleton Republican made an announcement.

“I have been working with members of the Senate for several days on SB 1, we have made our efforts, so I don’t want there to be in any way a suggestion that we have not, will not, would not work with the Senate on such an important issue,” he said.

So now the Senate can take it or lump it on SB1, which in the end was the bill Abbott was really pushing for. Dan Patrick has a press conference scheduled for today, and I expect it will be epic. I have no idea what happens next, but this is as fitting an ending for a stupid special session as one could imagine. Some things, including at least one really bad thing got done, but most of the petty attacks on local control, as well as the odious bathroom bill, got nowhere. We’ll see if Abbott takes his ball and goes home or drags everyone back out again.

From the “Actions speak louder than words” department

RG Ratcliffe of Texas Monthly speaks to former Railroad Commissioner and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams about his disapproval of bathroom bills.

RGR: You told me political parties over time curdle and spoil, but is there something about the debate over the bathroom bill that is particularly disappointing to you?

MW: Yes, there is. Where the legislature left it was that the burden and the onus of dealing with this whole transgender issue, they were going to leave to the most vulnerable and youngest members of Texas—children. Not adults. Somebody had warned that issue, to put that burden on adults, might have adverse economic impact on Texas, I agree with that, mind you. So we’re not going to do anything about adults. What we’re going to do is put the burden on the Texans who are coming into their own and first dealing with this stuff, about who they are and how they deal with other folks, the youngest Texans, the most vulnerable Texans. Now to me, you know, if you’re going to do this stuff, you don’t put the burden on children.

I don’t know jack about being transgender, obviously. I do have transgender friends. But I can imagine, if I was having to deal with issues of just ‘Hey, what’s it like to be a boy at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen,’ and what all that means, I can imagine that they’ve got a whole bunch of other stuff that they’ve got to go through in their head and now we’ve got to make them go through some other hoops? Not the adults in Texas, the children.

Look. Ain’t no transgender boy going into the bathroom to beat up little girls. That ain’t happening. If anything, [transgender] people are the one’s that are going to get jacked up. There’s just no problem here, on our campuses, our school officials have demonstrated that they are more than capable, on a case-by-case basis, to deal with these issues, because they’ve done that. So there is no problem that requires some kind of statewide solution. Those kids aren’t posing a problem to their fellow students. Local school officials in their own way. What’s to me unsavory is that we’re putting the burden of this issue on the backs of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society, which is children. Not the adults because, you know, I think we realize there could be a real financial consequence to this shit.

RGR: I’m just a tad younger than you, and I have a distinct memory of segregated bathrooms and segregated water fountains. I spent the early part of my career working in Georgia and Alabama and got assigned to cover a lot of white supremacist rallies, and the one phrase I kept hearing over and over again was you know, ‘We have to protect our daughters.’ And I hear a lot of similar connections in this debate. Is that justifiable?

MW: I have a mother who is still in my life, thankfully. I have a wife. I have two sisters. And I have a bunch of nieces. So yes, we want to protect the women in our lives. But the reality is, help me understand what the threat is to them. Show me evidence that some transgender woman is posing a threat to them. I’m an old prosecutor, I was a prosecutor for ten years, we’ve got laws against sexually assaulting someone. So someone will say to me, ‘But Michael, we want to prevent that person from going into the bathroom in the first place.’ If somebody is bound and determined to go to a bathroom and do harm, that person will do it. This law ain’t gonna stop it.

What we haven’t learned over the course of society is that we as society, we’re not very capable of truly preventing crime. What we can do is load up the punishment on the backend and say that if you jack up and do something stupid, then we’ll drop a load on you. I think there’s all sorts of officers who told you that [on Wednesday] when they were in Austin. This law ain’t gonna stop anybody who’s bound and determined to do something. So if you want to have enhanced penalties, for instance, that says, you know, if you go into a bathroom looking like a woman, but you’re really a man, and you go in there for the purpose of doing harm to women, then boy we’re going to enhance your penalty. That might be the right thing to do. But this ain’t.

I don’t agree with his criminal justice prescriptions, but on balance, Williams is clearly making a lot of sense. He has compassion for transgender people, he respects the role and authority of local officials, and he speaks in a manner we would recognize as Republican, at least from a bygone era. Kudos to him for that.

The problem, which is something I’ve been harping on, is in what Williams doesn’t say. Ratcliffe doesn’t ask, and Williams doesn’t volunteer, if any of “this shit” will cause Williams to not vote for some or all of the Republican incumbents who are pushing it. Williams is still a Republican to the core, and he expresses his disdain for the Democrats later in the article, which is certainly understandable given who he is. But I’m not saying he needs to vote for any specific candidate, I’m just saying he needs to make it clear that a candidate who supports a bathroom bill won’t get his vote. I want to hear Michael Williams say “I can’t vote for Dan Patrick (or his State Rep or State Senator if it applies) and I urge other Republicans who agree with me to not vote for him as well”. Because while saying what he did in this interview is laudable, if in a year or two Williams follows it up with “well, I disagree with Dan on that but I support him otherwise”, or “I don’t like the policies that the Republicans in charge are pursuing but I can’t bring myself to vote for someone else”, or “I hate what they’re doing but as a Republican in this town I’ve still gotta make a living”, then the appropriate description is “craven”. Surely Williams, as a veteran politician himself, recognizes that the one sure way to get through to a politician is to tell him that he has lost your support. In this matter, it is the very least, as well as the most important thing, we can do.

And then there’s the birth certificate issue

Just another problem that would be exacerbated by a bathroom bill.

In order to modify a birth certificate in Texas, the Department of State Health Services requires transgender individuals to present a certified court order stating the recorded sex on a birth certificate should be changed.

But a transgender person’s ability to obtain that court order is largely determined by where they live and their socioeconomic status, according to transgender individuals, advocates and lawyers who have worked with transgender Texans on the process.

Some county judges — even in more liberal urban areas — are less eager than others to grant the court order that’s required by the state, particularly when it comes to children. That forces some transgender individuals to travel to counties like Travis, Bexar or Dallas, where such court orders can be easier to obtain.

It can also be an expensive process. Court filings fees can reach $300 even before adding on attorneys fees or travel requirements. The process can be even more cost-prohibitive for transgender individuals because they must also obtain letters from both a doctor and a mental health provider certifying they are transgender and under their care to present to the court. For some, that also presents a geographic barrier because Texas faces a shortage of doctors and therapists “who do this kind of work,” said Claire Bow, an Austin-area attorney who helps transgender people obtain updated documents.

But for Bow, there’s a bigger flaw with Republicans’ proposals for bathroom restrictions and the expectation that transgender people could immediately take steps to obtain updated documents.

“The important thing to understand is it’s never the first step in the process,” Bow said of amending birth certificates or IDs. Bathroom bills assume that every transgender person has “gone all the way through the process” or have reached the point in treatment at which their doctors and therapists will sign off on the letter needed for court.

“That’s why this is hard,” she added. “Nobody wakes up one day…and changes their sex.”

The outcome of this complex process is that many transgender Texans live with birth certificates that don’t align with their gender identity for years if not their entire lives.

This is not the first time this issue has been brought up. Getting one’s birth certificate amended can be expensive and time-consuming, and if you happen to have been born in the wrong state, legally impossible. One way Republicans could address this issue would be to make it less cumbersome to amend a birth certificate, with some provision for the folks whose home states have no such mechanism. Of course, if they were inclined to do that, it might lead them to the conclusion that the bathroom bill is ridiculous and harmful and serves no purpose.

Ethics, schmethics

This little exchange says so much about our weak and insecure Governor.

Rep. Sarah Davis

The fireworks began with a press conference called by GOP Rep. Sarah Davis, chair of the House Committee on General Investigating and Ethics. Davis, flanked by both Democratic and Republican members of the committee, noted that Abbott had made ethics reform an “emergency” priority in the past two regular sessions. Though it’s not currently on the agenda for the special session this summer, she said the need for reform is greater than ever.

As an example, the Houston-area Republican said she is moving forward this week with ethics legislation — including a bill that would close a major loophole allowing state lawmakers during special sessions to hit up contributors for campaign cash at the same time they’re considering legislation that could affect those donors’ interests.

“I think we need to go ahead and close that loophole,” Davis said.

Such fundraising is illegal during regular sessions, under the theory that lawmakers shouldn’t be simultaneously casting votes and taking campaign money. But there is no such ban during these 30-day special sessions called by the governor. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans, have voluntarily pledged not to fundraise during this summer’s special session, but Abbott continues to seek donations in email solicitations.

Davis was joined by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, who took a more direct slap at the governor. He said he is again pushing a bill attacking what he calls a “pay for play” system in the governor’s office when it comes to appointments to state boards and commissions.

Larson’s legislation would limit the amount of money an appointee could give a governor. Donors who give more than $2,500 would be ineligible to serve, though Larson said he’s considering raising the amount to $5,000 and putting the effective date as 2022 in a bid to garner Abbott’s support.

Larson said donors who give amounts well into six figures can receive the most prestigious appointments — such as spots on a major university’s board of regents. He said Abbott and his predecessors, both Republican and Democratic, have used appointments to attract huge sums for their campaigns.

“I think it’s imperative that if we control both the legislative and the executive branch of government that we should reform the most egregious ethics violations we’ve got in the state, and that’s where people have to pay large sums of money to get appointed to highly coveted seats,” Larson said.

Speaker Straus agrees with Reps. Davis and Larson. What about Greg Abbott?

Abbott spokesman John Wittman, minutes after the press conference concluded, blasted the two lawmakers in a written statement.

“Instead of working to advance items on the special session agenda that could reform property taxes, fix school finance, increase teacher pay and reduce regulations, Reps. Davis and Larson are showboating over proposals that are not on the Governor’s call,” Wittman said. “Their constituents deserve better.”

So very touchy. Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that these proposals are perfectly reasonable on their merits and focus on the fact that Greg Abbott, who controls the special session agenda, says we can’t talk about them until the Lege passes the entire 20-item agenda he has already laid out. Which means that Abbott is saying that his bizarre obsession with trees and his insistence on overriding all kinds of local ordinances is more important than ethics reform, which by the way was something that he had once labeled an “emergency” priority. I’d be hypersensitive about this, too.

House passes school finance bills

I doubt they’ll meet a different fate than they did in the regular session, but kudos anyway.

Rep. Dan Huberty

The Texas House on Friday passed a package of bills that would put $1.8 billion into public schools and help out struggling small, rural school districts.

House members voted 130-12 to approve the lower chamber’s main piece of school finance legislation, House Bill 21, just as they did during the regular session. The House also voted 131-11 to pass House Bill 30, which would fund the school finance bill by putting $1.8 billion into public schools. Once the House gives the measures final approval, they will head to the Senate.

The funds cited in the legislation would come from deferring a payment to public schools from fiscal year 2019 to 2020, and would allow an increase in the base funding per student from $5,140 to $5,350 statewide.


The House Public Education Committee’s chairman, state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, the author of HB 21, has pushed his bill as a preliminary step to fixing a beleaguered system for allocating money to public schools.

“You cannot have property tax reform unless you have school finance reform. That is just a fact,” he said Friday. “We have the time to get this done. We just have to have the will to get this done.”

HB 21 would increase the base per-student funding the state gives to school districts, in part by increasing funding for students who are dyslexic and bilingual. It would also gradually remove an existing financial penalty for school districts smaller than 300 square miles, which was originally intended to encourage them to consolidate.


The House voted 67-61 Friday against approving House Bill 22, a separate measure that would have continued ASATR for two years before letting it expire in September 2019. Some school districts have warned they might have to close without the program, which totaled about $400 million this year.

See here for the first go-round on HB21, and here for the ASATR story. I don’t expect anything to happen with any of this, but I suppose a surprise is possible. The House and the Senate are on such different pages that it seems unlikely in the extreme, though.

Halfway through the session

The House is doing House things, and that’s fine.

Rep. Joe Straus

Brushing aside concerns that they are not moving swiftly enough to enact Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20-point agenda, Texas House members opened the second half of the special session Wednesday with a flurry of activity Wednesday.

“We made good progress, and we’re only half the way through,” House Speaker Joe Straus told the American-Statesman.

“I’ve been spending my time, the first half of the 30-day session, trying to get the House in a place to consider the items that the governor has placed on the agenda,” said Straus, a San Antonio Republican. “We work more slowly than the Senate does because we listen to people and we try to get the details right. And so the House committees have been meeting and have shown some good progress, moving many of the items that are on the call.”


Straus has indicated he opposes a measure — favored by Patrick — that would pre-empt schools and local jurisdictions from making their own transgender friendly bathroom rules.

But, its sponsor, Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said he considered that bill an “outlier” — the only one he knows of that Straus explicitly opposes, “and so it’s not surprising to me that that has not moved expeditiously.”

Simmons said there had been an effort to discourage members to sign on to his bill and so he only had about 50 members willing to do so, far fewer than in the regular session.

Of his other bill on school choice for special needs students — also part of Abbott’s agenda — Simmons said, “I’m not sure it will get voted out of committee.” He said he holds out a faint hope that it might advance if there is some “grand bargain” on education.

“The governor wants school finance and we’re going to do that; we’re going to pass our plan on Friday,” said Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, chairman of the Public Education Committee. “I think it’s very clear that the House has not agreed on the voucher issue, but we have a solution to help special needs students.”

“The House is doing what it should do, which is being deliberative, thoughtful and being sure that legislation that we would pass is sound policy that would benefit the citizens of the state of Texas,” said Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, chairman of the State Affairs Committee. “The House is not built for speed.”

“This is the House,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the House Republican Caucus Policy Committee. “We will use all 30 days. There’s plenty of time.”

Goldman said it looks like the bill he is carrying for the governor to pre-empt local cellphone ordinances is unlikely to make it out of committee.

“Nothing nefarious,” he said; there’s just too much opposition from local police and elected officials who hold great sway with House members.

Imagine that, listening to stakeholders. Who knew? The House will pass more bills, some of which will be amenable to the Senate and some of which will not. Expect to see a lot of gamesmanship, passive aggressiveness, and the occasional bit of decent policymaking, though that latter item is strictly optional.

Republican voters are “meh” on the bathroom bill

From the inbox:

The Texas Association of Business conducted surveys in five GOP-controlled legislative districts across the state the week of July 24th.

“Texas business has long opposed the bathroom bill because it is unnecessary and will have significant negative economic impact on Texas.  The significance of these surveys, is the voice of individual Republican primary voters echoing the business perspective with over 60% of the opposing respondents saying that the bill is unnecessary and distracts from the real issues facing Texas today,” said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business.

The purpose of the surveys was to test general voter sentiments on a range of issues, including views on the so-called ‘Bathroom Bill’ legislation.

“There was remarkably little variation from district-to- district and the cumulative statewide results mirrored the individual district results. The number of interviews (1,500) was very large and we are quite confident that the combined results are a very accurate reflection of Republican Primary voter sentiments on this issue,” said political consultant and pollster Joe Counter. “The survey results were essentially the same in every region with overwhelming opposition and/or indifference to the legislation.”

The districts represented a cross-section of districts from around the state: SD8 in Collin County in North Texas, SD22 in Central Texas, HD15 in Montgomery County North of Houston, HD106 in Denton County in North Texas, and HD136 Northwest of Austin.

The surveys were conducted by Counter Consulting in Plano, Texas. Each of the legislative surveys was an n=300 with a margin of error (MOE) of +/-5.77%.

That sounds promising, but it’s also very vague. I mean, we don’t even know from this what the wording of the questions and responses were. So I emailed the person who sent out that release and asked for more data. This is what I received in response.

To: Jeff Moseley
FM: Joe Counter
DT: July 31, 2017
RE: Legislative Surveys / Bathroom Bill Results

Counter Consulting (in conjunction with Conquest Communications in Richmond, VA) conducted five surveys the Week of July 24 th in GOP-held legislative districts on behalf of the Texas Association of Business. The surveys sought the opinions of ‘likely Republican Primary voters’ on a host of issues including the so-called ‘Bathroom Bill’. Each survey was an n=300 with a MOE of +/- 5.77%.

The districts represented a cross-section from around the state: SD8 in Collin County in North Texas, SD22 in Central Texas, HD15 in Montgomery County North of Houston, HD106 in Denton County in North Texas, and HD136 Northwest of Austin.

As you will see from the results and topline/crosstab sheets related to those questions, there was very little variation in the results from district-to- district or in the cumulative totals (which included 1,500 completed interviews). While these cumulative results cannot be assigned a MOE (that would normally be around 2% for an overall sample size this large), it is safe to say given the similar results in the different districts, that these views do in fact reflect those of ‘likely GOP voters’ statewide.

Specifically, two questions were asked about the ‘bathroom bill’ legislation.

Q. The Texas Governor has called a Special Session to address issues that he felt went unresolved in the Regular Session. Among these is the so-called ‘Bathroom Bill’ for which there are a number of competing versions. Can you tell me which of the below statements comes closest to what you think will happen if this legislation is passed?

a. It will make Texas a better, more pro-family state.

b. Texas families will suffer from immediate job loss due to discrimination being legalized in the minds of many corporate leaders who will take their businesses elsewhere.

c. Nothing much will change—Texas already has laws to punish people who misbehave in bathrooms and public place.

d. I don’t really have an opinion on this.


  • a minority (25%) of likely GOP voters are in favor of a bathroom bill passing
  • a slightly smaller percentage (20%) cite ‘negative ramifications’ from job loss due to perceived discriminatory laws
  • a plurality (40%) feel ‘nothing much will change’ if some version of the bathroom bill is passed

A follow-up question was asked of the three-quarters of respondents who were NOT in favor of the legislation.

Q. What would you say is the main reason why you oppose the so-called ‘Bathroom Bill”?

a. It is a discriminatory law.

b. If passed, it will cause our economy to suffer, as there is evidence that some businesses will relocate out of Texas, some out-of-state organizations will stop coming to Texas for their conventions, and there are threats that major sporting events would be moved out of Texas.

c. This law is a distraction from the real issues that Texans face, as Texas law already punishes people who harass or assault people in bathrooms.

d. Unsure


  • only 12% cited ‘discriminatory concerns’ as the reason they are opposed to the legislation
  • only 12% cited ‘economic repercussions’ as the reason they are opposed to the legislation
  • the overwhelming percentage (61%) stated that the “law is a distraction from the real issues facing the state”

You can see the tables in the linked document. I think the key to understanding this is in how one interprets the plurality “nothing much will change” response. One could take that to mean that the respondent thinks the bathroom bill is such common sense that who could possibly find it objectionable, or that what is being proposed is so weak as to be meaningless, or that they agree with the assertion about existing laws and thus find the whole exercise to be a waste of time. Or maybe it’s just a bit of good old fashioned denial. I think the near-equal amounts of clear support and opposition, coupled with this large if muddled middle ground, suggests that if nothing else there isn’t much of a burning desire among Republican primary voters for a bathroom bill, contra Dan Patrick’s claims. But one could also say that a sizeable majority of GOP voters think either nothing bad will happen or Texas will benefit from passing a bathroom bill. There’s plenty of room for competing claims.

That said, this is a decent template for peeling away voters who are not already onboard with the idea. For some, you can play up the negative consequences, and for the others you can stress how out of touch Patrick and Abbott and their minions are. That’s a strategy that could work in a primary as well as in November. If the TAB wants a better Legislature in 2019, this is a roadmap for them on how to achieve it. The rest of us can and should take note, too.