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That’s our Lege

It’s bill-filing season

Here are some highlights from Day One:

  • House Bill 49, by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would get rid of daylight saving time in Texas. Some lawmakers have tried to do this in past sessions.
  • House Bill 63, by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would make it a civil offense — not a crime — to be caught with less than one ounce of marijuana. Moody’s bill was one of several filed Monday aiming to loosen marijuana laws in Texas.
  • House Bill 84, also by Moody, would repeal the section of the Texas penal code that lists “homosexual conduct” as a crime. The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that the section is unenforceable, but it remains on the books.
  • House Bill 222, by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, would prohibit Texas cities from adopting or enforcing ordinances that would require employers to offer their employees paid sick leave. San Antonio and Austin have passed paid sick leave ordinances this year. Soon after Austin passed its ordinance, state Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, announced that he would file legislation banning the ordinances, but Workman was defeated in Tuesday’s election.
  • House Joint Resolution 24, by Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, would propose a constitutional amendment requiring the state to fund at least half of the cost of funding public schools. If the amendment were approved by voters, local property tax collections would not apply to the state’s share.
  • Senate Bill 66, by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, would reduce and eventually eliminate the state’s franchise tax.

My reaction, in order: Oppose, favor, favor, oppose, favor, neutral. It makes me happy that the pro-sick employees faction had to find a new lackey after their original sponsor got tossed. I’ll be following this stuff as usual as we morph into the legislative season.

It sure looks like Dennis Bonnen will be the next Speaker

The Speaker’s race is over before it started, basically.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced Monday that he has support from 109 members to become the next speaker of the Texas House. That number, if it holds, is more than enough votes for him to win the gavel.

The Angleton Republican’s announcement comes after four other speaker candidates — Republicans Tan Parker, Four Price and Phil King, along with Democrat Eric Johnson — dropped out of the race in the last 48 hours. All four endorsed Bonnen upon removing their names from consideration. Bonnen said during a news conference at the Texas Capitol on Monday afternoon that his team plans to release the list of 109 members supporting his bid soon.

“We are here to let you know the speaker’s race is over, and the Texas House is ready to go to work,” said Bonnen, who was flanked by at least two members of the hardline conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus — Jeff Leach of Plano and Mike Lang of Granbury — and state Rep. Tom Craddick, a Midland Republican and former speaker, among other Republican and Democrats. When asked by reporters what the House’s No. 1 priority would be during the 2019 legislative session, Bonnen suggested school finance would be at the top of members’ lists.

[…]

During Monday’s press conference, Bonnen dumped cold water on rumors that there would be no Democratic chairs under his leadership — adding that he would adhere to the House tradition of being a “bipartisan chamber.”

“We are excited to bring the house together, to be unified and to do good work for the people of Texas,” he said.

See here and here for some background. All of the other Speaker wannabes have since withdrawn and gotten behind Bonnen as well. The dominoes really started to fall when Rep. Four Price dropped out on Sunday and endorsed Bonnen. Then the tweets started flying, with a 3 PM press conference announced, and Democratic Rep. Eric Johnson announced his withdrawal and endorsement of Bonnen an hour or so ahead of that, and the next thing you know Rep. Bonnen is announcing his 109 supporters and getting cautious kudos from Rep. Chris Turner, the House Dem Caucus leader. There may still be some bumps in the road from those who had previously committed to other candidates, but honestly that’s a bump on a log. Your average Alabama football game has more suspense about who’s going to win at this point. Look to see who gets named to Committee chairs, and then we’ll see how spicy this session may be.

Now how about that Speaker’s race?

It’s a little different now.

Rep. Eric Johnson

Democrats picked up 12 state House seats and are now confident they’ll have a stronger hand in electing the next leader. It’s an outlook even some Republicans agree with, although they’ll only say so privately. But while the GOP’s 95-55 stronghold shrank, they still appear to hold 83 seats — comfortably above the 76 votes a candidate needs to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Election night strengthened the Democratic caucus and a renewed commitment to taking our time,” said state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin. “We have time to be thoughtful. We mattered at 55, and we matter even more now at 67.”

But of the six declared Republican speaker candidates, two told The Texas Tribune that the state of the race hasn’t changed much — despite the fact that their party lost a considerable number of seats.

Republican Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, who launched his bid in August, said he didn’t think Tuesday’s results will impact his party’s role in determining who will replace Straus on the dais — and that he still has a “viable path forward” after Tuesday.

“I didn’t lose any supporters [Tuesday] night, by my calculus,” he told the Tribune. “I think it is going to prove to be helpful to me not because we lost Republican seats, but because we’re bringing in a new energy.”

Phil King of Weatherford, who filed to run for speaker before Straus announced his retirement, said the race will still be settled exclusively within the 150-member lower chamber even if it does have a new balance of political power. And King pointed to an upcoming GOP caucus meeting scheduled for Dec. 1, when members are set to rally around their preferred speaker candidate ahead of the full floor vote in January.

[…]

Rep. Eric Johnson of Dallas, the only Democrat to throw his hat in the ring to replace Straus, is bullish that his party’s 12-member gain means that a lawmaker from the minority party can win the speakership.

“My perspective on this is pretty straight-forward: Democrats should stop being defeatist in their mentality and start thinking about the speaker’s race in terms of us sticking together — we have 67 votes and are nine away from the majority,” Johnson said. “If we start thinking in terms of finding nine Republicans who will join with us, we can change the conversation from ‘which Republican is it going to be’ to whether we can elect one of our own as speaker. And there’s no reason we shouldn’t be thinking that way.”

I think the odds of Speaker Eric Johnson are extremely slim, but as a matter of strategy, Rep. Johnson has it right. The more united the Dems are, the more influence they will have. As the story notes, some Dems have met with Dennis Bonnen, which fuels my speculation that he was recruited by the Straus disciples for the purpose of garnering enough Dem support to win the job. That said, as the story also notes, the smaller Republican caucus means the number of them needed to form a majority and declare their choice is smaller. Assuming they all agree to support their majority-of-the-majority choice, of course. I suspect there will be plenty more drama and intrigue before it’s all over. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Four Price has dropped his bid to be Speaker and has endorsed Dennis Bonnen. I didn’t see this in time for this post. I’ll post about that story tomorrow.

Zerwas out, Bonnen in for Speaker

A harbinger of intrigue.

Rep. John Zerwas

State Rep. John Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, has withdrawn from the race for speaker of the Texas House, he confirmed to The Texas Tribune on Sunday evening.

“I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to engage with the members of the House. The honest conversations are critical to the relationships I have, and I am honored to work with such principled leaders,” he said in a statement to the Tribune. “While I believe that I could lead the House through a successful 2019 session, it has come time for me to end my bid for Speaker and wholly focus on writing the budget for the 2020-2021 biennium.”

His departure comes amid an effort among roughly 40 GOP House members to draft state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, into the race. Bonnen did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Texas Tribune.

On Sunday night, that group of 40 members was scheduled to gather in Austin to discuss recruiting him for the job. Bonnen previously had told The Texas Tribune in May that he was not interested in running for the top slot in the lower chamber. The Tribune was told Sunday night that Bonnen was not at the meeting.

There are still a lot of Speaker wannabes. Zerwas was the first among them, declaring his intent to run right after Joe Straus announced his departure. My speculation when I read this was that the various Straus-like candidates have concluded their best move is to consolidate behind one candidate that they think can win, someone who Democrats and enough Republicans can support, so as to pre-empt the non-Straus contenders. For that to happen, to assuage egos and whatnot, the compromise/consensus candidate would have to be someone who is not currently a candidate. And thus it was:

State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, said Tuesday he is officially running for speaker of the Texas House — two days after an Oct. 28 meeting in Austin, where roughly 40 GOP House members gathered to discuss recruiting him for the job.

“Throughout my career in the House, I have always emphasized my respect for the institution as a whole as well as the unique position each member has to serve their district,” Bonnen said in a statement. “I look forward to the many conversations to come with members across the state. My desire, which I believe I share with the vast majority of my colleagues, is that this process come to a conclusion with a House ready to do the people’s business with strength, resolve, and unity in the 86th Legislative Session.”

Clearly, they were sufficiently persuasive. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is more or less how Straus emerged as a contender for Speaker in the first place – the dozen or so renegade Republicans who were publicly gunning for Tom Craddick emerged from a meeting with him as their exemplar, and after that it was all a matter of counting noses. We’ll see if it works.

Schwertner claims sexually suggestive text did not come from his phone

His lawyers say that, anyway.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

Lawyers for state Sen. Charles Schwertner said Monday that the Georgetown Republican, under fire for allegedly sending lewd messages to a University of Texas at Austin student, submitted his phone to a forensic examiner who “determined that the photo and texts in question could not have come from the senator’s phone.”

“We are hopeful that the University of Texas will do the right thing and exonerate the senator immediately,” the lawyers, Perry Minton and David Minton, wrote in a joint statement. “The voters of Sen. Schwertner’s district deserve to have this information directly from the university.”

Representatives for the Austin flagship have declined to acknowledge or comment on the investigation, citing a need to protect the integrity of the process. A spokesman again declined to comment Monday. The examiner, R3 Digital Forensics of Austin, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The lawyers’ statement said Schwertner delivered his phone to a forensic examiner “to view the relevant contents,” but it did not provide more detail about how the examiner’s determination was reached or who retained the firm.

See here for the last update. It is possible to spoof caller ID in a text message, so it is possible that the grad student in question could have received a text that looked like it came from Sen. Schwertner but didn’t. However, as that link notes, it’s not something that the average person can do without installing a third-party app. What that says is that if this was a fake, it was a premeditated fake. You had to think about what you’re doing, maybe do some research first, to accomplish this. So that raises the question of who had that kind of grudge against Sen. Schwertner? It’s one thing to imagine someone, in a fit of pique and with access to Schwertner’s phone, doing something stupid. This is something else.

Assuming the claim is true, of course. We just have Schwertner’s attorneys’ word for it right now, and it’s possible they may not be telling the whole story. I’ll wait and see what UT and the respected former prosecutor they hired to investigate this before I consider the matter resolved.

Another Schwertner update

The investigation is happening.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The University of Texas on Monday acknowledged it has received a complaint about state Sen. Charles Schwertner from a student, and that it has collected evidence as part of an investigation into him, marking the first official acknowledgement of the school’s inquiry into whether Schwertner sent a sexually explicit photo and message to a graduate student he met this summer.

The American-Statesman reported two weeks ago that the school was investigating the allegation against the Georgetown Republican, and that it was considering banning him from campus if the allegation was proven true. The newspaper cited three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to discuss the situation.

A university spokesman at the time declined to answer questions about the investigation, saying UT does not confirm or comment on ongoing investigations. Monday’s confirmation came in a letter from the university to the Texas attorney general’s office that seeks permission to withhold records that the Statesman requested two weeks ago.

[…]

Schwertner, who could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon, has maintained that he did not send the message and image, though he hasn’t provided an explanation for what happened. He has not denied that the image and the message were sent to the student, nor has he explained how they could have been sent if not by him.

His lawyers’ statement last week included results from a polygraph test that appeared to show Schwertner was not lying when he said he did not send the message and image. However, the test left several significant questions unasked, including whether the image sent to the student was of Schwertner, and whether Schwertner knew who sent the image and message.

See here for the previous update. Schwertner’s attorneys had said there was an investigation, now we know that UT has confirmed that, and we know some more of the background. AG Ken Paxton will issue an opinion about what information UT is required to turn over to the Statesman about it all – my guess is he’ll say that most of what UT has is protected – and at some point we’ll know the results of this investigation. I would guess that everyone involved would rather have this wrapped up sooner and not later.

As for what Schwertner has and has not denied: Like I said before, it’s a pretty straightforward matter to determine whether or not a message was sent from a given phone. Even if stuff had been deleted, service provider records and basic forensic tools would provide the answer. The bigger question is, if Schwertner himself did not send the messages, who did? One presumes only so many people have access to his phone. Yes, his phone could have been hacked, but that’s harder to do than you might think, and anyone who wanted to break into his phone would probably want to steal information from it, not use it as a front for forwarding sexy pictures. Be that as it may, as before a competent IT security professional would be able to suss that out. I don’t want to speculate ahead of the evidence so I’ll leave it here. Let’s just say I’m eagerly awaiting the outcome of this investigation. Also, too, Meg Walsh.

Investigating Schwertner

Another update.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

Lawyers for state Sen. Charles Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican alleged to have sent lewd messages to a graduate student, said Wednesday that the University of Texas at Austin has hired former federal prosecutor Johnny Sutton to help investigate the accusation.

[…]

Schwertner is “devastated that the graduate student involved received any texts of this nature from anyone,” the lawyers, Perry Minton and David Minton, said Wednesday in a press release that also said the senator had taken a polygraph test and that the results backed his denial.

By hiring Sutton “to help resolve this matter, the University has engaged one of the most experienced and fair-minded investigators around,” the lawyers said. Sutton was recently contracted by UT to conduct an internal review, after a former employee of the law school was arrested amid a fraud investigation involving potentially millions of dollars.

See here, here, and here for the background. It would be nice to have some idea how long this investigation may take, but at least everyone agrees that the investigator is aces. One hopes this means he’ll actually talk to the woman who made the complaint.

In the meantime, Schwertner has a complaint of his own.

Schwertner’s attorneys on Wednesday also called on the University of Texas to issue a statement exonerating Schwertner.

“The leak by three senior University officials is in clear violation of state and federal laws,” the Mintons said. “Additionally, these officials deliberately set out to leak these false allegations to the press in order to damage Senator Schwertner in the middle of a political campaign. There is no other plausible explanation.”

The attorneys said the administrators should be fired for compromising the integrity of their investigation.

Actually, another plausible explanation I can think of is that someone with knowledge of the investigation had leaked about its existence because they thought it was a sham that was on its way to becoming a coverup. They got the word out about it while they still could to prevent that outcome. I have no idea if this is remotely true – it is certainly possible that there was a political motive at play here, or maybe there was some other reason for what happened – but I can spin a hypothetical as well as Schwertner’s attorneys.

And so, the final word goes to Meg Walsh, from the inbox:

The investigation of Senator Schwertner’s inappropriate text must be fully investigated without threats or retaliation from the Dan Patrick, State Senators or any other person.

I call upon the State Senate to reverse its decision to take a “sit and wait approach” and also launch a full investigation into this matter.

Women must be believed and heard when these incidents occur, no matter if the offender is a boss, friend, U.S. Supreme Court nominee or Texas State Senator.

From my years of experience helping survivors of sexual assault, law enforcement and the University of Texas are doing the right thing to in keeping the survivor anonymous.

Speaking out about harassment is a courageous and vulnerable act in seeking justice. Women must be believed and supported, plain and simple.

“If these allegations are true, Senator Schwertner is unfit to serve in office.”

We’ve seen everything Meg Walsh is talking about right there in Washington. Let’s not have a repeat of it in Austin.

What should the Senate do about Schwertner?

There are two basic choices.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The circumstances surrounding the latest allegation are thorny: They involve a Republican state senator, Charles Schwertner, who is accused of texting a sexually explicit image and message to a graduate student. Reportedly, Schwertner and the student met at an event on the University of Texas at Austin campus — and not around the Capitol, as was the case in previous allegations against other senators — but the lewd messages that Schwertner allegedly sent came after the student indicated she was interested in working at the Capitol.

In the week since the Austin American-Statesman first reported that UT-Austin was investigating the allegation, Senate leaders have indicated they won’t touch the allegation, which Schwertner has firmly denied, until that inquiry wraps up.

“The Texas Senate is awaiting the conclusion of the investigation and expects a full report on this matter,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican who presides over the chamber, said in a statement.

It’s a wait-and-see approach that comes about four months after the Senate took steps to bolster the processes in place for addressing claims of sexual misconduct. Despite those changes and a stated commitment to zero tolerance when it comes to sexual misconduct, the allegation against Schwertner has further highlighted the complexity — and seeming hesitance by lawmakers to act — that still looms over the Capitol when it comes to responding to such wrongdoing by elected officials, who ultimately answer to voters back home.

“Many employers are concerned about their employees’ behavior outside the workplace,” said Malinda Gaul, president of the Texas Employment Lawyers Association. “But he’s not an employee. So basically you wonder why the Legislature wouldn’t feel obligated to look at it since we’re talking about a senator and constituent.”

[…]

The Senate’s anti-sexual harassment policy doesn’t appear to explicitly cover this situation — between a student and a senator at an on-campus event. Though the policy indicates that the Senate’s sexual harassment prohibition may apply outside the workplace, it is largely focused on interactions between senators, staffers and individuals, such as lobbyists and reporters, whose work requires them to regularly visit the Capitol.

And Senate leaders who have said they’ll await the results of the UT-Austin investigation have offered virtually no insight into what the Senate would do with the results of that investigation. Neither Patrick nor state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who oversaw the revisions to the chamber’s policy, responded to questions about what the Senate’s next steps could be or whether the chamber could initiate its own investigation into wrongdoing related to sexual harassment without a formal complaint.

Nothing precludes an investigation or inquiry of a senator without a formal complaint, but there appears to be little policy guidance for lawmakers at the Capitol on the “exact response here,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who co-chairs a House workgroup that is working on recommendations to address sexual harassment at the Capitol beyond the revisions members made to the chamber’s policy in December.

“That being said, we’ve already had three senators now mentioned by the media as having engaged in inappropriate behavior, and as far as I know no kind of inquiry has been done for any of them,” Howard said. “I would suggest it’s time that we start taking action.”

See here and here for the background. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the Senate to await the outcome of the UT investigation. The question is what will they do with it, if it shows clear evidence of wrongdoing on Sen. Schwertner’s part? I doubt they know, either, and that’s the problem. And while there’s nothing wrong with waiting for the UT report and using it as a base for whatever followup action may be needed (if any), there’s also no reason why the Senate couldn’t do its own asking around, as there will likely be questions it will be interested in that may or may not be addressed in the UT report. Basically, is there a plan, other than hope it all turns out to be nothing? It’s not clear to me that there is, and that needs to be fixed, if not for this time then for the inevitable next time. And in the meantime, get to know Meg Walsh.

Falling short on college readiness

Not good.

A majority of students at the top-rated high schools in Texas are likely to need remedial course work when they get to college because they don’t score well enough on entrance exams, a Hearst Newspapers analysis of newly released school accountability data shows.

More than 900 high schools in the state received the equivalent of an A or B rating from the state last month. But the analysis shows that at two-thirds of those schools, the majority of students are failing to score high enough on the SAT or ACT to be considered “college ready,” increasing the chances that they’ll need remedial course work in college and jeopardizing their chances of getting a college diploma.

The low number of Texas students who are adequately prepared for college has emerged again as an issue as state lawmakers study education funding this fall, in preparation for the Legislative Session, which starts in January. At a meeting Tuesday, education committee chairman Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, and Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, recommended giving more money to schools for each student who scores college-ready on the entrance exams.

Another group of lawmakers studying the performance of Texas schools, including Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, recommended that Texas do away with the STAAR test, the state standardized exam, and instead use the SAT or ACT to hold high schools accountable.

The state’s top education official says Texas is steadily raising the bar for what students are expected to learn, and schools are improving.

But education experts say the combination of high ratings and low college readiness scores exposes a major flaw in the state’s accountability system. They say the gap is proof that lawmakers are placing too much emphasis on improving scores on the STAAR and high school graduation rates, rather than on preparing students for what happens after they finish high school.

“To get an A means this school is doing a good job of getting an increasing number, and a majority number, of its students ready for the next stage in life,” said Sandy Kress, a former senior adviser for George W. Bush and one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, the law that brought accountability ratings to schools across the country. “You have no business getting an A if you can’t tell me that.”

I don’t know what the answer is for this, though I have a pretty good guess that it would involve spending more money up front and across the board. I do know that our state will suffer from the lack of truly college-ready students, and the students themselves are being poorly served by schools that aren’t doing what they could and should be doing. Meanwhile, Greg Abbott is busy running ads claiming credit for everything under the sun. Maybe someone should ask him about this.

Schwertner update

He has amended his statement.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

In the face of a sexual harassment allegation, state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, has hired two Austin attorneys and denied sending “any inappropriate texts as alleged” — “Period.” — in a new statement Wednesday from the attorneys.

[…]

Schwertner has hired attorneys Perry and David Minton to represent him, the Statesman reported. The attorneys said they have been in touch with UT-Austin to “resolve this matter.” The law firm did not immediately return a request for comment from the Tribune.

“The Senator is devastated over these allegations and is concerned for the unnamed victim,” the lawyers said in a statement to the Statesman. “Our statements regarding the Senator will be proven in the days and weeks to come. Until then, Senator Schwertner deserves the courtesy of holding judgment until he is afforded the opportunity for a fair process to occur.”

See here for the background, and here for that Statesman story, which has a lot more detail. That new statement implicitly acknowledges that Schwertner did text the grad student in question, though he continues to deny that there was anything inappropriate in them. As I said, the existence of texts means the existence of objective evidence. One way or the other, we should be able to know the truth of the matter. For now, Schwertner’s colleagues, as well as Dan Patrick, are mostly taking a wait-and-see attitude. Like I said, one way or the other we should know something real eventually.

In the meantime:

Meg Walsh

Schwertner, who has represented the district since 2013 and is the chairman of the powerful Health and Human Services Committee, is facing two female challengers in the upcoming midterm elections: Democrat Meg Walsh and Libertarian Amy Lyons.

“If these allegations are true, Sen. Schwertner is unfit to serve in office,” Walsh said in a statement released Wednesday. “These serious allegations deserve a full and thorough investigation.”

Walsh also noted in the statement that she has dealt with workplace harassment before and will “never stop fighting so that women and every single person is treated with the respect they deserve.”

In an interview with The Texas Tribune Wednesday afternoon, Walsh reiterated her assertion that Schwertner is unfit to serve and said that if the allegation is true, it is a “serious abuse of power.”

[…]

While Schwertner is unlikely to lose his seat in November, a soft showing for his re-election could potentially endanger other Republicans on the ballot whose districts overlap with Schwertner’s.

Bill Fairbrother, chairman of the Williamson County Republican Party, said state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park, is in a “purplish and competitive district” that overlaps with Schwertner’s. Clinton defeated Trump in that district by less than 3 percentage points in 2016, according to data from the Texas Legislative Council.

A the story notes, SD05 is pretty solidly Republican; Trump carried it by 20 points in 2016. The truth would have to be really bad, and probably need to come out quickly, to have a significant effect. There could be a trickle-down effect, however, with the likes of Rep. Dale as casualties. Which would be fine by me, of course. Maybe now would be a good time for Annie’s List to jump in and lend a hand to Walsh. They don’t normally play in a race like this, but if now isn’t time for them to get involved, when would it be?

UT investigating sexual misconduct case against State Sen. Schwertner

Noted for the record.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The University of Texas is investigating an allegation that state Sen. Charles Schwertner sent a sexually explicit image and text message to a graduate student he met at an on-campus event this summer, three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation told the American-Statesman.
If the allegation is deemed true, the university would consider banning Schwertner from campus, two of the officials said. The third official said the university is also considering hiring outside legal counsel to investigate further.

Through a spokesman, Schwertner on Tuesday said he “categorically denies any knowledge of the accusations” and plans to cooperate with UT’s investigation.

The student met Schwertner, a Georgetown Republican and a UT alumnus, at an on-campus event to which Schwertner was invited and told him she was interested in working at the Legislature, according to two of the officials. After the event, they exchanged messages on the networking site LinkedIn before moving to text messaging, the two officials said.

During an otherwise professional exchange on networking and career advice, Schwertner abruptly wrote, “I just really want to f—- you,” and sent her an image that appeared to be a picture of his genitals that was taken in the shower, according to a UT official who has seen the exchange and the photo. The image does not include his face, the official said. The Statesman has not seen the photo.

The student told Schwertner that she thought he had acted inappropriately, the officials said, and Schwertner did not respond. The student then reported Schwertner’s behavior to the school, prompting the investigation, they said.

All UT officials interviewed by the Statesman declined to reveal the identity of the student out of respect for her privacy and to honor the promise of confidentiality that the university made to her when she reported the incident. Student privacy laws also prohibit the university from disclosing the student’s name.

The officials, who declined to be identified because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, said that the investigation into Schwertner has not found any potentially criminal misconduct.

That’s all we know at this point. I suppose since the crux of this allegation involves text messages, there should be evidence one way or another, to support or refute it. We’ll see what UT finds out, including what if any action the Senate will take in the event the charges are corroborated. I’ll reserve judgment for now, but as someone who called for Sens. Miles and Uresti to step down after the stories about their alleged harassment were published, I’m not likely to be very sympathetic if these charges stick. Oh, and if you’re wondering, Sen. Schwertner is on the ballot in November. His opponent is Meg Walsh. Feel free to get to know her a little better. The Trib has more.

Four makes seven

Rep. Four Price files for Speaker, making him the sixth Republican and seventh member to do so.

Rep. Four Price

State Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, filed Thursday for speaker of the Texas House, making him the sixth Republican to enter an already crowded race to replace the retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

“Having successfully worked for the last four sessions with my colleagues from across our state to pass major legislation and focus on issues of importance to all Texans, I am eager to seek this leadership position in the Texas House of Representatives,” he said in a statement. “Looking towards the future, I truly believe the Texas House will play a leading role in making the decisions that keep Texas on the path to prosperity.”

Price enters a speaker’s race that already includes Republicans Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, John Zerwas of Richmond, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and Drew Darby of San Angelo, as well as Democrat Eric Johnson of Dallas.

As with the other Republicans, I have no official opinion on Rep. Price, though I will note that he was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC when he first ran for office. Honestly, at this point I’d rather see another villain type declare for Speaker, as that would help divide the bad-guy vote some more. The goal here is for the next Speaker to need Democratic help to get there, so the more division on that side, the better.

Ron Reynolds reports to jail

We’ll see how long a year lasts.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

State Rep. Ron Reynolds has turned himself in to authorities in Montgomery County to begin serving his year-long jail sentence.

Reynolds, a Democrat from Missouri City, was convicted in 2015 on misdemeanor charges for illegally soliciting clients for his personal injury practice and sentenced to a year in jail. He was out on an appellate bond for years while his case wound through the appeals process.

On Friday morning, he had a hearing in Montgomery County after all his appeals were denied, and he turned himself in, according to a court clerk. He has not resigned his seat and state law does not force resignations for misdemeanor convictions, meaning it’s likely he’ll be in jail when the next session of the Texas Legislature convenes in January.

Reynolds has won several elections since his conviction, including his primary in March. He faces no opposition in the general election this November.

The exact length of time he will spend behind bars, however, remains uncertain. Though he was sentenced to one year, county jails will often allow “good time credit” which can drastically cut time served in some cases. Joel Daniels, the main prosecutor in Reynolds’ trial and chief of the white collar division in the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, said that decision is left up to the sheriff.

“The sheriff can have him serve day-for-day, he can give him credit for two days for every day that he serves or three days,” he said. “It’s really just on the discretion of the sheriff and it depends on Mr. Reynolds’ behavior.”

If Reynolds served only one day of every three of his sentence, he could conceivably get out of jail just one or two days before the next legislative session starts on Jan. 8.

[…]

On Friday, a Texas Democratic Party leader said Reynolds was taking responsibility for his actions.

“No politician is above the law,” said Manny Garcia, the party’s deputy executive director. “Today, Rep. Reynolds took responsibility for his actions and is facing the consequences, when will indicted Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton do the same?”

Paxton is facing a criminal trial for securities fraud charges, but has not been convicted of a crime.

Garcia said he had “no further comment at this time” when asked if the party saw any need for Reynolds to resign or face disciplinary action. State Rep. Chris Turner, head of the House Democratic Caucus, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

See here for the previous update. You know where I stand on this, so I will just note that there’s an excellent chance Reynolds will be absent when the next Speaker is chosen. Given how Democrats are working to be in position to affect the election of the next Speaker, being shy a member diminishes their influence, even if only at the margins. I sympathize with Manny Garcia, as the TDP has zero power to make Reynolds do anything, but until Ken Paxton is convicted of something, this is not an apt comparison. Reynolds should have taken responsibility for his actions a long time ago. And judging by the press release I got in my inbox shortly after this news hit, the Republicans are already making hay about it, as well they should. We wouldn’t be in this position now if Reynolds had stepped down or declined to run again this year.

And then there were six

Five Republicans for Speaker, six in total.

Rep. Drew Darby

State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, filed on Friday to run for speaker of the Texas House.

“After prayerful consideration, discussions with my family, and at the urging of my House colleagues, today I filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to start a speaker campaign for the 86th Legislative Session,” Darby said in an emailed statement. “In the coming weeks, I plan to visit with every House member to discuss the priorities of their district and how the Texas House of Representatives can work together to put forward good policies to keep Texas the number one state to live, work and raise a family.” 
 


Darby, who’s been in the House since 2007, joins four other Republicans in vying for the top slot in the lower chamber: state Reps. Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches and John Zerwas of Richmond. Dallas Democrat Eric Johnson has also declared he is running.

[…]

When the Texas House convenes for its legislative session in January, picking the next House speaker will be one of its first acts. Ahead of the vote from the full chamber, House Republicans last year agreed to hold a non-binding vote to pick a speaker candidate within the GOP caucus. And ahead of this year’s primaries, the Republican Party of Texas urged candidates and incumbents running for House seats to sign a form pledging to back whoever the caucus picks as their speaker candidate. Parker and King have signed the form, while Darby, Clardy and Zerwas have not.

See here for some background. What I said about Rep. Clardy’s candidacy holds true for Rep. Darby’s. Not sure how some of these guys will distinguish themselves from their rivals, but that’s their problem.

This will be your last year to vote a straight party ticket

Whether you like it or not. The linked story looks at how this upcoming change, to go into effect in 2020, may affect judicial elections.

Texas elects its judges, leaving the nearly anonymous people in charge of the third branch of state government in the hands of voters who have only the vaguest idea of who they are.

It’s one of the built-in problems of running a big state. Ballots are long. Attention spans are short. Judges are almost as invisible as they are important — a critical part of government located a long way from the noisy and partisan front lines of civics and politics.

The top of the ballot gets the attention. The bottom of the ballot gets leftovers.

When a party’s candidates at the top of the ticket are doing well, it bodes well for that party’s candidates at the bottom — for the time being anyway. For at least one more election, Texans will be able to cast straight-party votes — choosing everybody on their party’s ticket without going race-by-race through sometimes long ballots.

Texas lawmakers decided last year to get rid of the straight-ticket option starting in 2020. It’s a Republican Legislature and governor and straight-ticket Democrats in Dallas and Harris and other big counties have been making early retirees of Republican judges in recent elections.

[…]

When straight-ticket voting comes to an end in Texas, judges will to win by figuring out how to drag their supporters to the bottom of long ballots. For now, they have to worry about how their fellow partisans are doing at the top of the ticket — and whether the big blue counties will spoil their chances.

See here and here for thoughts I have expressed on this subject in the past. No question, turnout for downballot races – not just judicial, but for things like County Clerk and Railroad Commissioner and whatnot – will decrease when the one-button option disappears, though I expect both parties will put a lot of energy into convincing people to vote all the way down. I just want to point out that there’s already more variance than you might think in judicial race vote totals. We’ll see how much that increases in two years, assuming the Lege doesn’t undo itself next year.

And now we’re going to fight about when elections can be

I have thoughts about this.

School districts and other local governments are intentionally holding elections at odd times this summer to drive down turnout in hopes it will help them win voter approval for tax increases and bond issues, state lawmakers say.

Local government leaders say they don’t set elections on odd days in hopes of a more favorable outcome at the ballot box, but the issue is fast becoming a new tension point in the sometimes adversarial relationship between local government agencies and the Republican-led Texas Legislature.

“There will be a response from the Legislature,” pledged State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican.

Just last month the Klein Independent School District in Harris County held a tax increase election on June 16 — a Saturday. That was three weeks after Texas voters took to the polls for statewide runoff elections on May 22. And three weeks before that, the city of Houston held a special election on May 5 to fill a city council vacancy.

Next up: South San Antonio Independent School District is holding an election on Aug. 14 in an attempt to raise the district’s property tax rate by 13 cents per $100 of taxable value, which would increase school taxes by $130 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

And on August 25, Harris County will ask voters to approve a $2.5 billion bond issue to cover the cost of flood control projects. That same day, voters in Floresville ISD, just outside of San Antonio, are being asked to approve a tax increase.

“It is preposterously bad public policy to spend taxpayer money to hold special elections in the dog days of summer that almost always have a low voter turnout,” Bettencourt said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett shot back. “People who live in Senator Bettencourt’s senate district were affected by the flooding. He should be doing more to help them instead of worrying about election dates,” he said.

[…]

Klein ISD superintendent Bret Champion said the district wasn’t playing games with the June election. The district was looking for the earliest possible date in order to have time to prepare for the next school year budget, whether the measure passed or failed.

If the district had waited until November, he said, the election would have been two months into the budget year and its failure would have forced adjustments with the school year already well underway.

“It was a budgetary reason, not a political one,” Champion said.

As a matter of principle, I too would rather see elections generally held in November and May, when people expect them to be. It’s what I wanted for the flood bond referendum, as you may recall. It’s not just a matter of being more democratic, it’s also that I believe higher turnout is generally better for issues and candidates I care about. Not all the time, of course (Exhibit A: the year 2010), but more often than not. There’s a reason I care about things like registering voters and making it easier and more convenient to vote. I’ll admit it can be a tossup for things like the Klein ISD tax ratification election, where only the most interested will participate and it’s not obvious who those people will be, but give me a choice and I’ll take the higher turnout scenario.

That said, I have some sympathy for school districts that are only holding these dumb elections because legislators like Paul Bettencourt forced them to as a way to impose a low-tax low-revenue orthodoxy on them, and I can understand the rationale for the August flood bond election date even if I disagree with it. It’s especially rich to hear Bettencourt sing the praises of higher turnout, given his long career in the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office of purging the voter rolls as a tool of voter suppression, not to mention his party’s enthusiastic embrace of voter ID. Tell you what, Paul I’ll support your push for May and November-only elections if you’ll support online and same-day voter registration. You want to encourage higher turnout in elections, put your money where your mouth is.

Metal detectors

They’re like magic.

More than a month after a deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School left 10 dead and 13 injured, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is taking steps to tighten security in the southeast Texas school district, part of an effort by the state’s Republican leadership to “harden” schools as targets.

Patrick announced Monday that he’ll donate “up to 10” metal detectors to the Santa Fe Independent School District, a Galveston County district of about 4,700 students. A private metal detector company, Garrett Metal Detectors, has also agreed to donate metal detectors to the district, as well as perform a security analysis and train staff at no cost, Patrick said.

Those new security protocols will be in place before the start of the school year, pending district approval, Patrick said.

“Santa Fe parents have asked for immediate action to secure the entrances to their schools and I want to make sure that if the Santa Fe ISD School Board wants to install metal detectors they can do so,” Patrick said in a statement.

And I’m sure if those metal detectors detect that someone is trying to bring a gun into a school, the security guards there will be empowered to confiscate it, because guns are dangerous and we can’t just let anyone walk around with them. Or maybe I’m overlooking something. I’m sure Danno has thought it all through.

But hey, if installing metal detectors at school is the key to keeping them safe from gun-toting evildoers, then why stop there? Let’s install metal detectors at all of the other places where gun violence has been a problem: Churches, nightclubs, hotels, movie theaters, shopping malls, post offices…you get the idea. Heck. let’s install metal detectors at every streetcorner in the state. I don’t know about you, but I’d feel much safer. Again, I’m not sure that Danno has taken this to its logical conclusion, but I’m sure we can work out the details.

(One place we won’t have to do this is at the Capitol, because they already have them there. Priorities, you know.)

Senate considers mostly symbolic ideas on school safety

Once again, see if you can tell what’s missing from this discussion.

Nearly three weeks after a shooter killed 10 people at a high school southeast of Houston, lawmakers gathered at the Texas Capitol on Monday to discuss new school safety measures that might prevent another tragedy — and stopped short of rallying behind ideas like adding metal detectors to schools or updating school architecture.

“It’s going to be very difficult to stop every incident,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, discussing the variety of situations in which students could be harmed.

Monday’s meeting came after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, created the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools & School Security to study ways to limit violence in Texas public schools before they reopen in August. Prior to those orders, Abbott had released a 40-page school safety plan with dozens of proposals of his own in response to the shooting at Santa Fe High School.

Lawmakers studied many of Abbott’s ideas Monday, including ensuring that teachers are trained through Mental Health First Aid, a day-long course that trains individuals on how to spot and respond to mental illness and substance abuse. State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, said around 25,000 school staff members in Texas have already been trained through the program.

[…]

In addition to metal detectors, lawmakers discussed designing schools to prevent threats, like by keeping administrative offices at the front of schools. Legislators also briefly discussed monitoring cameras, limiting school access points and improving locks.

It’s better than blaming everything on doors and video games, but not much more productive. I will take all the usual mutterings about mental health seriously when there’s a real proposal on the table to expand Medicaid, since expanding Medicaid will be by far the single most effective thing we can do to actually help many of the people who have mental health issues in Texas. As for the rest of it, I’m sure they could have some marginal benefit, but it all has the feel to me of talking about installing new windshield wipers when there’s smoke coming from the car engine and you have two flat tires. When are we going to address the real problems?

State Senate finally updates its sexual harassment policy

We’d been waiting.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

The Texas Senate has adopted a new sexual harassment policy that mandates in-person anti-sexual harassment training for senators and offers more details on specific steps for reporting inappropriate behavior.

The Senate’s policy, which was sent out to Senate staffers on Wednesday, was expanded from a one-page document to a more extensive set of guidelines that provide detailed examples of what constitutes sexual harassment and more thoroughly explain the ways victims can get help through internal and external complaint processes.

The revisions come months after the The Texas Tribune detailed a wide range of harassment in state politics and the scant protections offered to victims through the chambers’ policies, and after The Daily Beast detailed accounts of sexual assault in the Legislature. Those accounts included specific allegations against Democratic state Sens. Borris Miles of Houston and Carlos Uresti of San Antonio. Both have denied the allegations.

Like in the House — where lawmakers revised the chamber’s policy in December — the Senate’s training can’t be required of individual lawmakers, some of whom were behind the worst behavior recounted to the Tribune.

In a letter to her colleagues obtained by the Tribune, Senate Administration Chair Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, indicated a list of lawmakers who have completed the training would be available to the public. But the chamber’s policy does not appear to set any sort of immediate deadline for current elected officials.

Instead, the revised policy indicates that in-person training will be offered every two years and that new employees must complete an online training within the first 30 days of their employment.

The policy was also revised to specifically state that senators will not be involved in investigating other senators, leaving investigations to the chamber’s human resources director and “impartial attorneys.”

But questions remain about how senators, who ultimately answer to voters back home, could be disciplined if they are found to have sexually harassed someone.

The Senate had a hearing on this back in December, to give you some idea of the time frame. The House had made some alterations to its policy a few days before that, and then rolled out a training video in January. A House workgroup was convened in mid-May to do some more stuff, though at this point I have no idea what to expect. It’s easy to make fun of all this, but it’s hard for me to say what a sufficient policy looks like. I’ve been asking every candidate I interview about sexual harassment policies, and for the most part I get responses that include things like better transparency, fuller protections for people who report harassment, and of course not using government funds to pay off harassment claims, in the manner of Blake Farenthold. Is that enough? I honestly don’t know, and as someone who has been lucky enough to have never experienced any harassment, I’m not really the right person to judge. I will note that Annie’s List put out a statement complaining about the lack of guidelines on disciplinary action for offenders, including – and one must admit this gets thorny – officeholders. The House is still working on this, and maybe the Senate will be as well, so there’s still a chance to make progress. From where I sit, there’s still a lot to be made.

From doors to video games

See if you can tell what’s missing from this discussion.

While Democrats clamored for stricter gun regulations and Gov. Greg Abbott discussed measures to tighten school security following Friday’s mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick set his sights on another target: the makers of violent films and video games.

Patrick spent the weekend on national television talking about what was to blame for the tragedy in southeast Texas that left 10 people dead, the latest in a spate of mass shootings across the country. It wasn’t the ready availability of guns in this country, Patrick said. Instead, the bloodshed was the result of a “violent culture where we’ve devalued life,” Patrick told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

“We have devalued life, whether it’s through abortion, whether it’s the breakup of families, through violent movies and particularly violent video games, which now outsell movies and music,” he said. “Psychologists and psychiatrists will tell you that students are desensitized to violence, have lost empathy for their victims by watching hours and hours of violent video games.”

But many of those games are at least partially produced in Texas — including “Prey,” a first-person shooter horror game rated for mature players age 17 or older, and “Doom,” another mature-rated first-person shooter that depicts “mutilated corpses with exposed organs/viscera strewn in the environment,” according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board. And the state government has given millions of dollars in incentives to some of their creators.

Patrick has supported those state-funded incentive payments to lure film, television and video game creators to Texas, but on Wednesday he said those payments should be barred from certain projects or he would withdraw his support for the incentives program.

“The lieutenant governor does not support using state taxpayer dollars to make violent films or video games that are harmful to our children,” spokesman Alejandro Garcia said in an email, noting the Texas Film Commission may decide which projects get reimbursed. “If this is the direction they are going, the lieutenant governor will not support their funding requests in the future.”

Hey, you want to cut the film incentive fund, I’m fine with that, and I bet you could get a majority in the Lege for it. But that’s not what Patrick is proposing here – he’s saying that only films and video games that meet his standard for artistic merit should be eligible for those funds. Putting aside the ridiculousness of Dan Patrick as the official state movie and video game critic, there’s also the fact that the idea that violent films and video games lead to gun violence is even more ridiculous.

Pretty much everything Patrick said here is wrong. He also went on to blame abortions and broken homes and suggest arming teachers, but I’ll stick to his claims about video games.

Here are the facts. The evidence is abundantly clear at this point: Violent video games do not cause violence.

Longitudinal studies of youth have not found evidence that early game playing is associated with later violencedecreased empathy or conduct problems. In fact, the release of popular violent video games like “Grand Theft Auto” are associated with immediate declines in societal violence, and long-term relationships show that increased violent game consumption is associated with reduced youth violence — and we have to remember that youth violence is down by more than 80 percent from 25 years ago.

Also, playing games like “Grand Theft Auto” does not appear to decreaseempathy toward women. Internationally, the countries that consume the most video games per capita are among the least violent.

And analyses of school shooters have found that they appear to consume unusually low levels of violent media for males their age.

Villanova University professor Patrick Markey and I discuss much of this in our book “Moral Combat: Why the War on Violent Video Games is Wrong.”We note that, contrary to the lieutenant governor’s claims, most psychologists who study the issue do not link violent media to violence in society.

Indeed, across studies, only about 10 percent to 30 percent of scholars agree with him, making it a decidedly minority view. Just this year, the Media Psychology and Technology Division of the American Psychological Association (APA) released a policy statement asking politicians to stop making exactly the kinds of claims Patrick made about video games and violence.

Dan Patrick has a long record of not being interested in anything that doesn’t further his own political agenda. Nothing will change until Dan Patrick and others like him are voted out of office.

Stadiums and sports betting

Sheryl Ring at Fangraphs adds another dimension to the SCOTUS sports betting decision story.

But there is another incentive for states to legalize sports betting aside from just basic tax revenue. We’ve talked about ballpark deals, particularly in the context of the Marlins. If states legalize betting at games and tax those bets, they can guarantee themselves a potentially large revenue stream out of the baseball stadiums they subsidize for teams — which suddenly makes ballparks a much more interesting investment for local governments. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see some ballparks look a little more like racetracks in the future, with the ability to place bets at the park itself. The idea of ballparks as entertainment centers, rather than simply sporting venues, is one which lends itself particularly well to this model.

But remember the potential for a patchwork we discussed. Let’s say that Pennsylvania and New York legalize sports betting and allow it at ballparks, and Missouri and Wisconsin don’t. Now you have a situation where big-market teams like the Phillies and Yankees have access to another revenue source, while smaller-market teams like the Brewers and Cardinals don’t. In an era of superteams, state laws could suddenly have a big impact.

On the other hand, sports gambling already happens all the time — and I’m not just talking about racetracks and off-track betting. I’m talking about websites like FanDuel. Many states, partly in response to PASPA, already either make gambling illegal or tightly regulate it, and that has led to a series of lower-profile cases arguing that daily fantasy sports are actually gambling — a proposition which courts have been debating for years. We’ve seen New York settle a case for millions of dollars against FanDuel and DraftKings, and this issue has arisen over and over again in courts throughout the Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. This constant legal limbo has led to financial trouble for daily-fantasy companies. But the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to grant FanDuel and its industry peers a new lease on life.

Fangraphs is a baseball website so its focus is only on that sport, but there’s no reason to think that the “let’s have sports betting at sports venues” idea would be so limited. I mean, football is the 800 pound gorilla of sports betting, and I have to imagine the idea of creating that kind of enhanced revenue stream will have occurred to Jerry Jones and Bob McNair as well. If they can pitch the idea as being mutually beneficial to the local governments they have fleeced out of taxpayer dollars received stadium deals from, that could make for a strong lobbying team at the Capitol. I’m not saying this will happen – I don’t even know what the NFL’s official position on the SCOTUS ruling is – but it could happen, and if it does it will be a lot more formidable than the usual collection of casino and horse racing interests, which are usually at odds with each other. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

State House remembers it was going to do something about sexual harassment

It’s something.

Rep. Joe Straus

Months after reports detailed a pervasive culture of sexual harassment at the state Capitol, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday announced another measure to address the issue.

Straus, a Republican who will retire early next year, created a work group to recommend additional steps to “prevent and eradicate” misconduct in the Legislature. The appointment of the group comes months after the House updated its sexual harassment policy following reports from The Texas Tribune detailing 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.

“This is the next step in our effort to make sure that sexual harassment is not tolerated at the Texas Capitol,” Straus said in a news release.

In a news release, Straus said the group will review existing policies and research best practices from other states to ensure a safe environment. The co-chairs of the new group are state Reps. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, and Donna Howard, D-Austin. Other members are: state Reps. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson; Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park; Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Lina Ortega, D-El Paso; Abel Herrero, D-Robstown; Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress; Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston; and Gene Wu, D-Houston.

The House revised its policy in December to require all House employees and staff to undergo anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training. House leaders cannot require lawmakers to complete the training, but all current lawmakers took the online course this year.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, the House has still done more than the Senate has done. Putting this group together to do something is good. Having that group actually do something, something constructive, will be better. The Chron has more.

Rep. Eric Johnson declares for Speaker

It’s not as crazy as it sounds.

Rep. Eric Johnson

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, filed Wednesday to run for speaker of the Texas House, making him the first Democrat to enter the race to succeed retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

In a statement sent to The Texas Tribune, Johnson pointed out that, if elected, he would be the first speaker under the age of 45 since former House Speaker Price Daniel Jr. in 1973 and the first person of color to ever serve as speaker of the Texas House.

Johnson enters a speaker’s race that already includes three Republicans: Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Phil King of Weatherford and John Zerwas of Richmond.

“I’m in it, and I’m in it to win it,” Johnson told the Tribune.

[…]

“I am deeply troubled by the far rightward shift in our state government and the excessive partisanship and the poor legislation this shift has spawned,” Johnson said in a separate statement. “Texas has become a one-party state, and this has been to Texas’s detriment.”

As a Democrat, Johnson would need bipartisan support to be elected speaker in the Republican-dominated House. Ahead of the next regular session, House Republicans agreed to select a speaker in their caucus and then vote as a bloc on the floor — a move that could completely cut out Democrats from picking the chamber’s next leader. Prior to the March 6 primaries, House Republicans pushed incumbents and candidates to sign a form promising to ultimately support the caucus pick. While Parker and King have signed the form, Zerwas has not.

Let’s state up front that Republican members are not going to vote for a Democrat for Speaker, at least not as long as they have a majority in the House. Let’s also state that it is…unlikely…that the Republicans will lose the majority in the Texas House. So, barring something very unexpected, Rep. Eric Johnson will not be the next Speaer of the House.

What could happen is that Republicans fail to coalesce behind a single one of their Speaker candidates, so that none of them can get a majority to become Speaker. In that case, Eric Johnson and his Democratic supporters can make a deal with one of them to push him over the top in return for some concessions. This is a more likely scenario with Democrats numbering in the mid-to-upper sixties (or higher, of course), but it could still happen with something more like the current caucus size. This is not unlike how Joe Straus became Speaker himself in 2009; I trust you will find the irony of that if it happens to be as delicious as I will. Having Johnson file as Speaker should mean that the Dems will be unified behind him, rather than making their own individual deals a la Tom Craddick in 2003.

And that’s the key. Being able to elect a Democratic Speaker would be awesome, of course, but the way the House map is drawn they’d need not just to win the statewide vote, they’d need to win it with some room to spare. That just isn’t going to happen. But being in a position to get a seat at the table, that’s a fine consolation prize. The more seats we do win in November, the closer we can get to that.

Many more school districts are feeling the pinch

Not just HISD. Not by a long shot.

For eight-straight years, Cypress-Fairbanks and Conroe ISDs earned the Texas Smart Schools Award, bestowed on school districts with prudent financial practices and high academic achievement.

Now, Cypress-Fairbanks faces a $50 million deficit next school year, and Conroe is projected to face its first deficit in nearly a decade in the next two to four years.

They are not alone.

As the Texas Legislature studies potential changes to the state’s school funding mechanisms, the majority of large Houston-area school districts are facing budget shortfalls they say stem from a lack of state aid. Of the 10 largest Houston-area school districts, all but three approved budgets last summer that included deficits of more than $1 million, according to a Chronicle review. At least nine say they may have to dip into reserve funds within the next three to five years if revenues do not increase.

For some, it is more dire. If nothing changes at the state or local level, district officials say Spring Branch ISD in west Houston will be financially insolvent in three years. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will use up all its reserve funds in four or five years. Pasadena ISD only avoided a $20 million shortfall for the next school year by passing a tax hike referendum, and multiple districts are considering similar measures to keep their schools afloat.

That pain is felt in large and small districts across the state. North East ISD in San Antonio expects to cut $12 million from its budget next year, likely leading to teacher layoffs, according to the San Antonio Express-News. By 2020, budget documents in Ysleta ISD near El Paso show the district likely will draw down its reserve funds by $12 million. Friendswood ISD, which educates roughly 6,000 students in a sliver of southeast Greater Houston, is facing a $1.9 million budget shortfall next year.

“If we’ve been one of the most efficient districts in the state, and we’re facing this crisis, imagine what other districts are dealing with,” Cy-Fair ISD Chief Financial Officer Stuart Snow said.

[…]

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who sits on the Commission of Public Education Funding, said districts should expand their revenue streams to include sources other than local property taxes and the state. He pointed to Dallas ISD, which pulls in about $10 million annually from philanthropy. United Airlines also staffed one of DISD’s schools with 25 full-time employees, a partnership Bettencourt said should inspire districts elsewhere.

“It’s not going to be one-size fits all — there are many, many ways to do it right,” Bettencourt said. “At end of the day, we want the education system to get students the best educations they can get for best deals taxpayers can support. But we need to look for all the ways we can do it right.”

First of all, to Paul Bettencourt: You cannot be serious. Philanthropy? Are you kidding me? Dallas ISD’s 2017-2018 general revenue expenditures were over $1.4 billion. That $10 million represents 0.7% of the total. You gonna suggest everyone search their couch cushions, too? Oh, and I don’t know about you, but I’m old enough to remember when two of the biggest philanthropic entities in Houston were Enron and Continental Airlines. Good thing HISD didn’t make itself dependent on them, you know?

This is entirely the Legislature’s responsibility. We are here because they refuse to adequately fund schools, and because they use the increases in property valuations to fund the rest of the budget, while blaming local officials for their shortfalls and tax hikes. As with everything else in this state, nothing will change until the people we elect change. If you live in one of these districts, don’t take your frustrations out on your school board trustees. Take it out on the State Reps and State Senators who skimp on school finance, and the Governor and Lt. Governor who push them to keep doing it.

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.