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Republican voters are “meh” on the bathroom bill

From the inbox:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Results:

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

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

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

a. It is a discriminatory law.

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

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

d. Unsure

Results:

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

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

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

Dear business community: Dan Patrick is not your ally

Here’s the full Chron story about the latest group of business leaders to call for a stop to the bathroom bill. I want to focus on one key aspect of this:

A week after police chiefs from Houston, San Antonio and Austin joined in protest against the bill, Abbott said the legislation specifically attempts to avoid adding any added burden on local police.

“There is not a role for law enforcement to play,” Abbott said Monday at the annual Sheriffs’ Association of Texas Training Conference and Expo in Grapevine. “Enforcement of this law is done by the Attorney General.”

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Abbott said because it is a civil action and not a criminal one, police will not be part of the enforcement.

“So what I urge is for everyone to step back, calmly look at what the bill actually says, before they cast some misguided judgment,” Abbott said.

Patrick, another champion of the bathroom bill, blasted the partnership’s letter.

“The Partnership is out of touch with the majority of Houstonians who voted overwhelmingly in 2015 to reject the same kind of ordinance that Senate Bill 3 will prohibit. They warned of economic doom at the time, but there has been no negative impact on the City’s economy. In their rush to be politically correct this business group is ignoring the fact that companies continue to expand and new ones are moving to Houston. The people of Texas are right about this issue and they are wrong,” Patrick said in a statement.

Look at the language Patrick is using to describe business leaders whose companies employ hundreds of thousands of people in Texas. “Out of touch”. “Politically correct”. Patrick has been treating the business community with contempt and hostility since the beginning of this manufactured fight. He will never back down – if SB3 doesn’t pass and Abbott doesn’t grant his wish to have yet another special session, he’ll work to get more legislators like him elected and he’ll be back in 2019. The fight business leaders are putting up now is great, but unless they’re ready and willing to keep fighting, next March and next November, it will mean nothing. Actually, that’s not true. It will mean Dan Patrick will be totally vindicated in his belief that he cannot and will not be stopped by anyone, that there are no checks or limits on his power and his agenda. He’s going to keep doing damage until enough people stand up to him. There’s never been a better time for that.

I keep coming back to this because I keep seeing stories like the recent one about the NFL Draft in which it is implied or outright stated that business organizations may or will lack options if the bathroom bill passes. Which is ludicrous, of course, since their first and foremost option is to stop supporting politicians who oppose them on this very fundamental principle. Turn off the campaign contributions, for a start. Even if it’s too scary to back an opponent, everyone can do that much.

And again, remember that a win on this issue in the special session is not a final victory. Dan Patrick will be back, and it’s up to all of us whether he’s stronger than before or not. The good news is that it’s beginning to look like maybe he will lose this time around.

[House Speaker Joe Straus] may not even refer SB 3 to a committee, leaving it to die untouched by House members.

In addition, the author of two House bills to limit transgender bathroom policies acknowledged Monday that his legislation is at risk.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said he was promised a public hearing — but nothing more — on his bills by the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

“Chairman Cook said he going to give us a hearing. At the same time, he said he’s not going to move the legislation,” Simmons said during a downtown Austin event sponsored by the Texas Tribune.

“I think the prospects are not great, not because the (Republican) majority doesn’t want it … but because there are some key leaders who do not want it. That’s the way the system works,” he said.

Simmons predicted that his bills would pass if given a vote by the full House, and Abbott has been pressing House leaders to allow a floor vote.

Abbott also urged conservative Republicans last week to add their names as co-authors to Simmons’ bills as well as to other legislation pertaining to his special session agenda.

By Monday evening, 49 House Republicans had attached their names to House Bill 46, Simmons’ main piece of legislation. A somewhat similar bill had 80 co-authors — 76 votes ensures passage in the House — in the regular session that ended in May.

The special session bills take different approaches.

Here are those House bathroom bill sponsors again, which should be read as a starter’s kit of legislators who need to be voted out. Some of those legislators are in swing districts. Some will need to be taken out in a primary. Opposition to the bathroom bill is broad and diverse. Support for it is narrow and zealous. It’s time to change the culture. We can win, but we can’t let up. The Chron has more.

Maternal mortality bills pass the House

Good.

House lawmakers tentatively approved a series of bills Monday aimed at helping Texas curb its unusually high rate of women dying less than a year after childbirth.

The primary measure, House Bill 9, would direct the state’s Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity to continue studying pregnancy complications and maternal deaths until 2023. Last year, a study in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that Texas’ maternal mortality rate had nearly doubled between 2010 and 2014. State task force data shows that between 2011 and 2012, 189 Texas mothers died less than a year after giving birth, mostly from heart disease, drug overdoses and high blood pressure.

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale and the bill’s author, said giving the task force more time to make recommendations on how to prevent those types of health issues in pregnant women and new moms would help save lives and lower costs Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance programs for the poor and disabled.

“As in many things, prevention is better and often cheaper,” Burkett said.

HB 9 charges task force members with finding solutions to help Texas women struggling with postpartum depression; looking at what other states are doing on maternal care; and examining health disparities and socioeconomic status among mothers dying in Texas. The measure still needs one more House vote.

The Senate passed a similar bill on July 24. Both chambers will likely head into conference committee to reconcile the two measures.

See here and here for some background. Please note that the reason that this item is on the special session agenda is because bills like these were snuffed out at the end of the regular session as a result of stalling tactics by the House Freedom Caucus, whose pique at being treated meanly by Speaker Straus overrode their ever-present concern for unborn babies. I’m sure we can all appreciate the sacrifice they had to make.

Still more big businesses against the bathroom bill

It’s like there’s a strong, overwhelming consensus or something.

Top executives of big oil companies and other major Houston firms and organizations on Monday weighed into the political dogfight over the controversial bathroom bill, calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to block passage of the legislation that they warned will harm Texas’ ability to grow its economy.

That stance puts the Greater Houston Partnership in direct opposition to Abbott, who has championed the legislation.

[…]

In a two-page letter that followed similar pleas from executives at several Fortune 500 companies, Houston business leaders noted that Texas has worked for decades “to establish its reputation as a great place to do business.”

[…]

“We support diversity and inclusion, and we believe that any such bill risks harming Texas’ reputation and impacting the state’s economic growth and ability to create new jobs,” the letter from Houston business leaders states. “Innovative companies are driven by their people, and winning the talent recruitment battle is key. Any bill that harms our ability to attract top talent to Houston will inhibit our growth and continued success — and ultimately the success of our great state.”

The letter asks Abbott to “avoid any actions, including the passage of any ‘bathroom bill,’ that would threaten our continued growth.”

You can see a copy of the letter here. It has a few names on it you might recognize. Everyone is from Houston, and as we know Abbott doesn’t care about Houston or other cities, except to the extent that he can meddle in their business. So, you know, don’t expect too much from this. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Pushing the NFL Draft angle

Every angle is going to be needed, and this is one that ought to speak to some folks.

The Cowboys’ efforts to land the NFL draft and how it could be derailed by the legislative push for a bathroom bill is part of a $1 million ad buy that will begin to play on radio stations Tuesday.

The Texas Association of Business is behind the ads. The Cowboys aren’t associated with the campaign, but they are featured.

A woman describes herself as a lifelong Cowboys fan and talks about how she’s thrilled that the 2018 draft could be in North Texas. She then says the NFL could reject the club’s bid to host the festivities, costing Texas “millions of dollars in lost revenue and leaving a lot of Cowboys fans angry” if the bathroom bill passes in Texas.

The one-minute ad ends by asking fans to contact their legislators to tell them to reject the bill and bring the NFL draft to Texas. The spot, which will run on 26 stations in the Dallas area, is designed to expand the debate and spotlight potential consequences.

“The bathroom bill distracts from the real challenges we face and would result in terrible economic consequences–on sporting events, talent, on tourism, on investment, on growth, and on small businesses,” said Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business. “That’s why TAB and the Keep Texas Open for Business coalition are investing heavily in radio ads in DFW and focusing on potentially losing the NFL Draft and remain steadfastly opposed to this unnecessary legislation.”

[…]

Behind the scenes, multiple sources say the Cowboys are letting lawmakers know how passage of this bill could negatively impact the franchise’s ability to book sporting and entertainment events at AT&T Stadium and The Star in Frisco. One source described the club’s lobbying efforts against the bill’s passage as “quiet and aggressive.”

The club, like so many other businesses, finds itself in a delicate position. It doesn’t want to antagonize Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the bill’s primary proponent, since there will be a variety of bills down the road that can aid the Cowboys and officials will seek support from the two. But the Cowboys want to get across how they believe altering existing law will impact their bottom line.

Corporations outside the state can threaten not to build or move existing projects and operations out of Texas if the bill passes. The Cowboys don’t have that sort of leverage.

What will Jones do if the bill passes? Move the franchise to Little Rock?

No. But club officials can discreetly point out that the U2 concert that recently took place at AT&T Stadium would not have found its way to Texas if this bill had been law. It can question whether the Big 12 Championship Game and other marquee college matchups and events will be staged in Arlington going forward.

There’s embedded audio of the ad in the piece linked above if you want to hear it. The NFL Draft and the Cowboys’ efforts to bring it to Dallas next year has come up before; this is just a way to bring more attention to that. Whether this campaign will affect how any member of the House votes on bathroom bills I can’t say, but I can say this: AT&T Stadium is located in Arlington, and it is represented in Austin by a total of six people: Sens. Kelly Hancock and Konni Burton, and Reps. Jonathan Stickland, Matt Krause, Tony Tinderholt, and Chris Turner. All but Turner are Republicans, and all but Turner are Yes votes on potty-related legislation. In fact, Stickland and Krause and Tinderholt are all members of the lunatic House Freedom Caucus, whose bill-killing maneuvers at the end of the regular session allowed Dan Patrick to take the sunset bills hostage and force the special session we are now enduring. So, while I greatly appreciate the Cowboys’ lobbying efforts, which no doubt carry far more weight than most, there very much is something they can do afterwards, whether one of these bills passes or not: They can put some of that weight behind an effort to get themselves better representation in the Legislature. It’s not a high bar to clear in this case. Just a reminder that the fight doesn’t end at sine die. The Chron has more.

The bathroom bill would affect disabled people, too

Yet another problem caused by this harmful “solution”.

As lawmakers this summer debate yet another controversial measure regulating bathroom use based on biological sex, disabled Texans say they — like many transgender men and women — believe the Legislature is further complicating something that’s already difficult to navigate.

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate advanced Senate Bill 3, which would restrict bathroom use in local government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate or DPS-issued ID, and gut parts of local nondiscrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, argues her measure is meant to protect privacy in the bathroom and would dissuade sexual predators from taking advantage of trans-inclusive bathrooms policies.

But for many caretakers and disabled Texans, the issue goes much deeper. Rosanna Armendariz said she fears if a “bathroom bill” passes, people might think her [8-year-old autistic] son is breaking the law — even though the Senate’s version of the measure exempts people with disabilities.

“As my son gets older, someone might get upset and call the police if they see him in the women’s room,” she said. “It’s horrifying to think me or my disabled son could be subject to criminal prosecution just for using the toilet.”

In an effort to address this exact issue, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, tacked an amendment on to Kolkhorst’s bill on Tuesday exempting disabled Texans from having to use the bathroom matching their biological sex.

Advocates for the disabled say it’s not enough: Not all disabilities are obvious, and even with Lucio’s amendment, they say, a person with a disability would be forced to prove they have one.

“When you look at the word ‘disability,’ it covers a very broad scope of people — from mental illness to physical disabilities to someone who might be in a wheelchair,” said Chase Bearden, director of advocacy and engagement for the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

It should be noted that the version of SB3 that was introduced contained no exemptions for people with disabilities, not even the exemptions that had been in the bathroom bill that the Senate passed during the regular session. “Because of some of the signals we received from the governor’s office, we left [those exemptions] out” was how bill author Sen. Lois Kolkhorst described it. That’s some kid of compassion and empathy right there. The point here is that even with this exemption, the bill is still bad for people with disabilities because it further singles them out and increases the burden on them. It’s bad for a lot of people, in a lot of different ways. I keep thinking we’re going to run out of ways to say that, and then we keep finding new ones.

House takes a different direction on trees

Better than the Senate version, for sure.

The Texas House added a potential wrinkle to Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session agenda on Thursday, giving early approval to a bill that would allow property owners to plant new trees to offset municipal fees for tree removal on their land.

The initial 132-11 vote on House Bill 7, a compromise between builder groups and conservationists, is a replica of legislation from this spring’s regular legislative session that Abbott ultimately vetoed, saying the bill did not go far enough. His preference: barring cities altogether from regulating what residential homeowners do with trees on their property.

[…]

State Rep. Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont and the author of HB 7, said the bill was the result of months of negotiations between developers, conservationists and city officials. He said his bill and laws that go further to undercut local tree ordinances could coexist.

“This isn’t a Republican or Democrat bill, this isn’t a liberal or conservative bill, this is where people choose to live,” Phelan said at a Tuesday committee hearing. “They know it’s there when they decide to live there.”

See here and here for some background. I can’t see the Senate accepting this bill in place of the one it passed, a House version of which is in the House Urban Affairs Committee, whose Chair, Rep. Carol Alvarado, says there’s no need for it now that HB7 has been passed. The remaining options are a conference committee, in which we get to see which chamber caves to the other, and letting the matter drop. Good luck with that, Dan Patrick.

By the way, if you want to get a feel for how ridiculous that Senate bill and the whole idea of a glorious fight against socialistic tree ordinances are, here’s a little story to illustrate:

On Wednesday, during floor debate over SB 14, [bill author Sen. Bob] Hall answered a Democratic senator’s half-serious question about why he hated trees by saying, “I love trees … I also love liberty.” Hall has lived in Texas less than a decade and is perhaps best remembered as the guy who claimed that “Satan” had a “stranglehold” on his GOP opponent, former Senator Bob Deuell. In Hall’s statement of intent on SB 14, he played constitutional scholar, claiming that “private property rights are foundational to all other rights of a free people” and that “ownership gives an individual the right to enjoy and develop the property as they see fit.” Therefore, placing any restrictions on when a property owner can prune or remove a tree “thwarts the right to the use of the property.”

This absolutist formulation, which in casual speech is reduced to “I luv liberty,” would seem to disallow virtually any restrictions on what property owners can do to their property. What exception is possibly allowed here?

Well, plenty, if you’re a Republican who has very special trees in her district that must be protected from personal liberty. It was a minor moment on the floor on Wednesday, but it was a telling one: Senator Lois Kolkhorst, she of bathroom bill fame, got assurance from Hall that his bill wouldn’t touch Section 240.909 of the Texas Local Government Code, a statute that “applies only to a county with a population of 50,000 or less that borders the Gulf of Mexico and in which is located at least one state park and one national wildlife refuge.” That’s Lege-speak for Aransas County, whose beautiful and iconic windswept oak trees you may have seen if you’ve ever vacationed in Rockport.

In 2009, Representative Geanie Morrison and Kolkhorst’s predecessor, Glenn Hegar, passed a bill allowing the Aransas County Commissioners Court to “prohibit or restrict the clear-cutting of live oak trees in the unincorporated area of the county.” It seems some unscrupulous people were clear-cutting the oak trees, upsetting the locals, diminishing property values and harming the tourist economy. Something had to be done: Personal liberties were chainsawing the shared values of the community.

Hall assured Kolkhorst that his bill wouldn’t touch Aransas County, an apparent exception to Liberty’s purchase on the other 253 counties in the state that he didn’t bother to explain. But when Senator Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, asked if an exception could be made for San Antonio’s ordinance, which he said helps keep the air clean, Hall balked.

And thus, the important Constitutional principle of “my trees are better than yours” is upheld. God bless Texas, y’all.

The bathroom bill in the House

Mostly good news here.

Dangerous. Discriminatory. Chilling. Hurtful.

Those are words used by House State Affairs Chairman Byron Cook to describe bathroom legislation headed to his committee in the Texas House in the coming days.

The Republican from Corsicana said legislation that would force transgender people to use bathrooms in line with their birth sex “puts people at risk,” but stopped short of saying what he plans to do with the bills headed to his committee during the special legislative session.

“Requiring those people to go to the women’s restroom when they look like men, that can be dangerous. Requiring men who are trans women and wear dresses and makeup and look just like women, requiring them to go to the men’s room creates a dangerous situation,” he said.

[…]

The State Affairs Committee, considered the gatekeeper to control whether the bathroom bill advances to the House floor, will “try to do what is in the best interest in the state of Texas,” said Cook. “That’s what we always try to do.”

Cook on Wednesday walked a careful line on his stance on bathroom legislation in an essay on Texas GOP Vote, a Republican website that serves as a community forum on issues before the Legislature.

“As for my position on the ‘bathroom’ bill, I support legislation that limits admittance (based on gender at birth) to multi-stall bathrooms and locker rooms in our schools and requires local school districts to develop single-stall bathroom policies for its transgender students,” he wrote. “Beyond clarifying this policy for our public schools, we already have strong laws in Texas against sexual predators. Therefore, I do not condone duplicitous grandstanding on this issue and/or discriminatory legislation; nor do I support laws that will adversely affect our state’s economy.”

Like I said, mostly good news. There’s room in there for something like the watered-down bathroom bill that passed the House in the regular session to emerge, and if it does maybe this time the Senate agrees to take it to a conference committee and see what happens. It’s not over till adjournment, and you can be sure there will be attempts to attach something like the Kolkhorst bill to other legislation. At least the good news there is that the opportunities to do that are necessarily limited. Keep those calls to your legislators coming.

Abbott versus the cities

The continuing story.

If Gov. Greg Abbott has disdain for how local Texas officials govern their cities, it didn’t show in a Wednesday sit-down with three mayors who were among 18 who jointly requested a meeting to discuss legislation that aims to limit or override several municipal powers.

“Whether we changed anybody’s mind or not, you never know,” said Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough. “But I will say it was a healthy conversation.”

What also remained to be seen Wednesday: whether Abbott plans to meet with mayors from the state’s five largest cities — who were also among those who requested to meet with the governor. So far, Abbott hasn’t responded to the requests from the mayors of Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

[…]

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at a press conference Wednesday that when he was a member of the Texas House, Republican lawmakers repeatedly complained about government growing and overstepping its bounds.

“And now we find that the state government is really reaching down and telling local governments what they can or cannot do and pretty much trying to treat all cities as if we are all the same,” Turner said.

During invited testimony to the House Urban Affairs committee on Tuesday, several city officials and at least one lawmaker denounced what they said were overreaching and undemocratic attempts to subvert local governance.

“If people don’t like what you’re doing, then there are things called elections. I don’t see it as our job to overreach and try to govern your city,” said State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg testified that it felt like the state was waging a war on Texas cities.

“The fundamental truth about the whole debate over local control is that taking authority away from cities — preventing us from carrying out the wishes of our constituents — is subverting the will of the voter,” Nirenberg said.

At Wednesday’s meeting with Abbott, Yarbrough said he and his counterparts from Corpus Christi and San Marcos told the governor that local officials have a better finger on the pulse of city residents’ expectations and demands.

“We wanted to make sure we preserved the ability for local municipalities to be able to adjust and react to the needs of their community,” he said.

See here for some background. It’s mighty nice of Abbott to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule of threatening legislators to meet with these concerned constituents, but they shouldn’t have had to take time out of their busy schedules to try to persuade the Governor to leave over a century of accepted governance in place and butt out of their business. And not for nothing, but the cities whose Mayors Abbott has been ignoring are the reason he can make elaborate claims about how awesome the Texas economy is.

Let’s begin with population. The five counties that contain the state’s five largest cities have a combined 12,309,787 residents, which is 44 percent of the state’s total. If you want to talk about elections, the registered voters in those counties make up 42 percent of Texas’ electorate.

Those counties out-perform the rest of the state economically. Texas’ five biggest urban counties constitute 53.5 percent of total Texas employment. If you broaden it out to the metropolitan statistical areas, which include the suburbs as well, the proportion becomes 75.8 percent — and growth in those regions has outpaced growth in the state overall since the recession.

Not convinced Texas’ cities drive the state? Let’s look at gross domestic product: The state’s five biggest MSAs contribute 71 percent of the state’s economic output, a proportion that has increased by two percentage points over the past decade. Focusing just on counties again, workers in the ones that contain Texas’ largest cities earn 60 percent of the state’s wages.

If you look at the embedded chart in that story, you’ll see that the metro area that is doing the best economically is the Austin-Round Rock MSA, and it’s not close. It’s even more impressive when you take into account how busy the city of Austin has been systematically destroying Texas with its regulations and liberalness and what have you.

As I said in my previous post on this subject, quite a few of the Mayors that are pleading with Abbott to back off are themselves Republicans, and represent Republican turf. It’s good that they are trying to talk some sense into him, but I’d advise them to temper their expectations. Abbott and Dan Patrick and a squadron of Republican legislators, especially in the Senate, don’t seem to have any interest in listening. The one thing that will get their attention is losing some elections. What action do these Mayors plan to take next year when they will have a chance to deliver that message?

House committee hears largely pointless property tax bills

Something will probably come out of this, but it’s hard to understand why.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

A Texas House committee on Tuesday spent more than seven hours plowing through more than 30 bills that aim to tackle rising property tax bills — months after similar legislation died amid an intra-GOP war over how conservatively state officials should govern.

And while the Senate spent the past five days — including the weekend— tearing through the 20 issues Gov. Greg Abbott wants addressed in the special legislative session, the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday tackled property taxes from several angles that collectively go far beyond the upper chamber’s major property tax bill that’s poised to pass this week.

Among the legislation debated was House Bill 4 by state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, the committee’s chair, which includes a provision that requires cities, counties and special purpose districts to get voter approval if they plan to increase property tax revenues on existing land and buildings by 5 percent or more.

During the regular session, such an election provision died in Bonnen’s committee. Its absence from property tax legislation led to an impasse between the two chambers that — along with the House’s refusal to pass legislation regulating bathrooms that transgender Texans can use — eventually resulted in Abbott calling lawmakers back to Austin this summer.

The dozens of bills that House members discussed Tuesday aim to slow property tax growth, overhaul the appraisal process, simplify tax notices and increase or provide exemptions to some elderly and disabled Texans and military members.

Bonnen, R-Angleton, repeatedly asked fellow lawmakers how legislation that was introduced had fared during the regular session, highlighting how some of the matters died either in the Senate or at the hands of Tea Party-aligned House members.

He vehemently defended HB 4 against criticism from city and county leaders but also admitted it would do nothing to lower individual Texans’ tax bills. Instead, it would only allow them to slow the growth in property tax increases that are often largely driven by rising property values.

“None of this reduces property taxes at all,” he said. “It’s sort of ridiculous that there’s any level of suggestion … that there is.”

There’s more, but that quote sums it all up pretty well. It’s a Potemkin bill designed to allow Republican legislators to tell the seething hordes of primary voters that they Did Something About Taxes, without really doing anything substantive or beneficial about taxes. It’s probable that one of these bills will pass, and if it does it’s not the end of the world, but it will be another brick in the wall of stupid policymaking whose main goal is to shift the burden and deflect the blame from Austin to the locals. That goal, at least, it has a chance of achieving.

Law enforcement against the bathroom bill

Add another group to an ever-expanding list.

Police chiefs from three of the five biggest cities in the state gathered at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday to spurn proponents’ claims that such legislation is needed to protect privacy, arguing that proposals being considered by the Legislature are discriminatory, won’t keep people safe and would divert law enforcement resources.

“It may be great political theater,” said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, “but it is bad on public safety.”

The police chiefs were joined by public school officials, advocates for sexual assault survivors, representatives for the Harris County and El Paso sheriff’s offices, the Corpus Christi ISD chief of police and other members of the law enforcement community.

“If a bill like this were to be passed that would pull police officers’ time away from combating violent crime into enforcing a bathroom bill, it makes communities less safe,” said Austin Police Chief Brian Manley. “It is time not spent ensuring community safety.”

[…]

“I asked my department to go through the record. What we found is this: There were no known incidents of bathroom assaults performed by men posing as transgender women,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said Tuesday. “I am a believer that if you propose a bill to address a criminal justice concern, it is important to determine if there is an actual problem you are trying to solve.”

Corpus Christi ISD chief of police Kirby Warnke added: “School districts face multiple issues that the Legislature could help us with, but the bathroom bill is not one of them.”

As the story notes, this is the first time law enforcement has organized to speak out against the bill. I’m trying to think of any group that isn’t associated with professional conservatives who supports it, and I just can’t. In a sense, none of this matters, as the Senate went ahead and passed a bill that is basically identical to what they had passed in the regular session, by the same 21-10 vote as before (all Rs plus the insufferable Eddie Lucio), but that’s the wrong way to look at it. As I look at it, everyone who votes for this abomination is giving more and more people a good reason to vote against them next year, with a lot of those people being strongly motivated to see them get voted out. It’s also given a lot of people the chance to stand up and speak out for doing the right thing, which is always welcome. We’re going to lose battles along the way, but this is a fight we will win. The Press has more.

Senate has mostly completed the Abbott special session agenda

I’m just going to hit the highlights here because this stuff is happening quickly and often late in the day, but most of the Abbott 20-point special session agenda has been turned into bills that have as of this morning passed the Senate. Yesterday’s action included vouchers and still more unconstitutional abortion restrictions, while the weekend saw a lot more. Basically, if it hasn’t passed the Senate yet, it will in the next day or two. They’ll then sit around and wait for either more agenda items to be added or amended bills to come back to them from the House.

As for the House, they’re just getting started. They passed the sunset bill on first reading, which is the one thing they had to do. There are committee hearings scheduled for the week – unlike in the Senate, the House is going to follow its usual process, which means taking a certain amount of time rather than acting like they have ants in their pants while their hair is on fire. How many Senate bills they take up, and how many they vote on, remains to be seen. You can bet that the voucher bill is a non-starter, but most things after that are at least possible. That includes some kind of bathroom bill, though whether they pass anything more than the weakened form of the bill that the Senate rejected in the regular session is anyone’s guess at this point.

In the meantime, the threat of the bathroom bill as well as the reality of the “sanctuary cities” ban continues to cost the state business, and there’s more where that came from. Texas Competes had a small business-focused press conference yesterday, and in their release they totaled the damage so far at over $66 million in canceled conventions, with $200 million set to pull out if Dan Patrick gets his wish, and over a billion that may follow suit. The Charlotte News & Observer sums it up nicely:

The story now is well-known: Bill passes, business vanishes, national disgrace ensues, Republicans stumble through an amateur hour of near repeal and finally, thanks to intervention from business people, a settlement is reached that unfortunately allows Republicans to save a little face by limiting local governments’ rights to pass anti-discrimination ordinances for a period of time. But North Carolina did enough to bounce back and start landing business again.

Ah, but in Texas, pardners, the HB2 lesson has gone unlearned, as Republicans in the Texas legislature prove themselves to be – using a Lone Star expression – “all hat and no cattle.” They’re actually pushing their own version of HB2, even after many Republican states backed away when they witnessed what happened in North Carolina.

[…]

In this age of Republicans driven by the hard-right, or whatever it is, ideology of the “base” that elected Donald Trump, the Texas debate proves that anything (crazy) is absolutely possible. What’s astonishing is that Texas lawmakers had a perfectly clear view of the economic catastrophe that came to North Carolina after HB2 — tens of millions of dollars lost, including $100 million economic impact for Charlotte with loss of the NBA All-Star Game, and thousands of jobs gone, with companies deciding against establishing offices or expanding the ones they had.

It’s as if, pardon the Texas-sized metaphor, Texas lawmakers stood and watched North Carolina Republicans run full-face forward into a cactus, and then turned to one another and said, “Hey, that looks like fun.”

Yes, this is the world we live in these days. Call your representative and let them know you’d really rather we not slam our faces into a cactus.

The bathroom bill is a threat to Quidditch

How much more do you need to know?

It’s not quite time to get out the broomsticks in Round Rock. A national quidditch tournament headed to town next year has been put on hold while legislators consider the bathroom bill during their special session, said Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan.

U.S. Quidditch recently told the city that it wasn’t going to sign a contract to come to Round Rock until it finds out what happens with the bathroom bill, Morgan said. He said he couldn’t provide further details.

The city announced in early July that the U.S. Quidditch Cup 11 would April 14-15, 2018, at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex.

[…]

If the city starts losing big tournaments because of the bathroom bill, Morgan said, it could have an effect on taxpayers who voted to allocate a half-cent of the sales tax for property tax relief.

“If events start leaving I think we will have to increase taxes or cut services if it becomes a big enough impact,” said Morgan.

Here’s the news story of the announcement that the 2018 Cup would be held in Round Rock, and here’s the US Quidditch webpage about it. Note that Wichita Falls will host the Southwest Regional Championship in partnership with Wichita Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau on February 24-25, 2018, and also that Lubbock – specifically, the West Rec Grass and Turf Complex Fields at Texas Tech University – was the runnerup to Round Rock for the finals. (It was not mentioned in this story if the Wichita Falls event is also in peril, but one assumes so.) My daughters and I saw a Quidditch match at Rice a couple of years ago, with teams from colleges around the country. It’s maybe not quite as exciting as it is in the books and movies, but it’s got a following. And it’s in danger of being taken away by our ongoing potty wars. If you’re a Quidditch fan or a concerned Round Rock taxpayer, you should reach out to Rep. Larry Gonzales and Sen. Charles Schwertner and tell them not to kill off this event.

War on local control update

Example one:

Sen. Craig Estes’ Senate Bill 18 would require cities and counties to get voter approval if they plan to spend a certain amount more than they did in a previous year. His bill ties such an election trigger to inflation and statewide population growth.

“You ask people about that and they generally think that’s a good thing,” the Wichita Falls Republican said Friday.

But local government officials and advocates for municipal government say the measure will hinder their ability to afford services that residents expect. They also say it will make it hard to keep up with population growth — especially in booming suburbs growing much faster than the state as a whole.

“We’re planning our budgets multiple years in the future because we’ve got so many capital projects that we can’t just look at budgets from year to year,” said Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney, whose North Texas city grew almost four times as fast as Texas did from 2015 to 2016.

Estes’ bill, plus others aimed at giving voters more frequent say over their property tax rates, are on the docket for Senate committees this weekend. They fall in line with several items on Gov. Greg Abbott’s special session call that seek to limit powers cities and counties have long exercised. Other bills being considered Saturday and Sunday would change how and when municipalities regulate land use and annex land outside their borders.

State leaders say they are trying to both respond to Texans’ complaints about rising property tax bills and protect landowners’ rights from local regulations. But local elected officials say lawmakers and top state leaders are unfairly portraying cities and counties as irresponsible stewards of taxpayer money to score political points with voters ahead of next year’s primaries.

Such tensions highlight a growing divide over how much say city and county officials should have over local matters. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the proposed spending cap is another example of lawmakers trying to control officials who are elected to represent Texans at the local level.

“It certainly flies in the face of the very important democratic principle that we’ve adhered to for centuries in self governance,” Nirenberg said.

[…]

Estes couldn’t point to any examples of cities or counties dramatically increasing their spending in recent years. He said his office is currently collecting data from local governments on it. And he said he’s open to tweaking provisions in his bill as it moves through the Legislature.

But he shrugged off the notion that the state shouldn’t be telling local governments what to do. He said counties are extensions of state government, and that cities “reside in the state.”

“I don’t think that’s really an issue, that we don’t have any jurisdiction in what they’re doing,” he said. “We do.”

Don’t bother making the analogy to states and the country, because that’s Totally Different and Not The Same Thing At All, because it just is and that’s that. I would just point out that several of the Mayors who signed that letter opposing stuff like this are Republicans. This is not a partisan issue, it’s one of power and the belief of Abbott and Patrick, enabled by Patrick’s minions in the Senate, that they’re the only legitimate form of government. It’s crazy that we’ve come to this place, but here we are.

Example two:

A bill aimed at protecting property owners’ rights from changing local government regulations could undo years of safety and land use rules and create a building environment in Texas with the potential for bars to pop up in residential neighborhoods, critics say.

Some local officials are calling Senate Bill 12 the “hyper-grandfathering” bill that goes far beyond current state provisions by retroactively applying to each property the land use and safety codes that were in place the last time the property was sold. In the extreme, SB 12 could lead to broad land use possibilities for parcels of land that haven’t changed hands in decades, according to six local government and public policy experts tracking the bill.

[…]

The bill’s author, Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, said in a statement it would protect property owners from new county or city regulations that would upend the plans that people had when they bought the land.

“Since filing Senate Bill 12, I have been working with stakeholder groups across Texas, and I look forward to passing legislation that will protect the rights of Texans to develop their property,” Buckingham said.

In Austin, the passage of SB 12 would drastically undermine the city’s ongoing efforts to rewrite its entire land use code, known as CodeNext. If the City Council signs off next spring as planned on CodeNext, none of its provisions would take effect on a piece of property until the land changed hands, Planning and Zoning Director Greg Guernsey said.

“Let’s say CodeNext gets approved,” Guernsey said “It is not worth a whole lot if I have to deal with property codes from 10, 20 or 30 years (ago).”

I’ll bet the lawyers who specialize in land use codes will make a killing, though. Bear in mind, while the state would impose this requirement, it’s the cities and counties that will get stuck with the costs of implementing and enforcing it. I don’t even know what to say.

Example three:

A Texas Senate committee approved a bill Saturday that would outlaw local restrictions on using a cellphone while driving.

Senate Bill 15 would pre-empt local ordinances on mobile phone usage, effectively rolling back provisions in more than 40 Texas cities that currently post hands-free ordinances stricter than the statewide texting ban. That measure now heads to the full Senate. It was one of several items the Senate Business and Commerce Committee took up Saturday that target local regulations and ordinances.

That committee also passed a bill that would require women to pay a separate premium for insurance coverage of an abortion that is not considered medically necessary.

Gov. Greg Abbott has argued that stricter local cellphone ordinances make for a confusing “patchwork” of regulations across the state, leaving drivers confused as they navigate between areas with different rules. Opponents of SB 15, including police officers from San Antonio and Austin who testified against the measure on Saturday, argue that the state should not pre-empt city ordinances that make people safer.

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, the Senate sponsor of the statewide texting-while-driving ban that goes into effect in September, said SB 15 would be a “huge step back.”

“I’ve never cried as a senator,” said Zaffirini, a senator since 1987. If this passes, “I think I would cry.”

The committee vote on SB 15 was 7-2.

The Buckingham bill was not voted on in committee, with some comments from the author that it could get reworked. Call me crazy, but maybe this is the sort of thing that needs a more deliberate process, if only to see if there is any legitimate purpose for it. If there’s one bit of good news in all this, it’s that the general insider belief is that most of Abbott’s agenda won’t get passed. There’s still plenty of room for damage even if only a few of his items make it through. The House offers the better chance of non-action, so let your representative know what you think.

Anticipating the future bathroom-related litigation

It will be a matter of when, not if, should a bathroom bill passes.

[B]oth sides agree if any version of the bathroom bill becomes law, it will likely trigger a protracted legal battle that could have implications for the transgender community in Texas and nationwide.

“If it does in fact pass, it will be a big test for civil rights organizations,” said Anthony Kreis, an assistant professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Chicago-Kent College of Law. “It will also be a huge, landmark case in the courts to test the scope and limits of transgender rights in this county.

Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 91, authored by Brenham Republican Lois Kolkhorst, are nearly identical. They would both require public and charter schools to ensure that every multiple-occupancy bathroom, shower and locker room “be designated for and used only by persons of the same sex as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

A few schools in Texas allow transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, according to Joy Baskin, legal director for the Texas Association of School Boards. But Kolkhorst’s bills would force trans girls, for example, who are born male but identify as female to use either a private, single-stall bathroom or the boys’ restroom.

School districts would also not be able to protect athletes from discrimination, unless they are already covered under state or federal law, such as Title IX. Courts in other parts of the country have ruled Title IX’s prohibitions on sex discrimination against female athletes also apply to transgender students. But there’s been no similar decision that applies here in Texas.

The University Interscholastic League, which regulates most high school sports, already segregates competition based on the sex listed on an athlete’s birth certificate. This year, it famously barred a transgender boy from wrestling other boys; he went on to win the girls state title.

[…]

Legal experts agreed that while the legislation won’t create a state-funded “potty police,” it will likely land Texas in the courtroom if it becomes law.

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law professor at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, questioned the legality of Kolkhorst’s bills as well as two pieces of legislation pending debate in the House.

The House bills, pushed by Carrollton Republican Ron Simmons, are far narrower and seek to shift the power over regulating bathroom from municipalities and schools to the state government.

But TASB’s Baskin says Simmons’ schools bill won’t require them to change their current policies because it would not force trans kids out of the multi-stall restrooms that match their gender identity. Simmons disagrees, but understands most schools are already only providing single-stall bathrooms for trans kids.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has called the bathroom debate unnecessary and the legislation anti-business, but one of Simmons’ two bathroom bills already has more than 40 Republican co-sponsors in that chamber.

Carpenter said the Senate bills would be more susceptible to a legal challenge because they restrict rights based on biological sex and gender identity. The House bills don’t explicitly use these terms or limit bathroom use based on “birth certificate,” so they’d be tougher to fight in court, he said.

“The (Senate) bill, it seems to me, is directly aimed at preventing people from using restrooms associated with their gender identity,” Carpenter said. “But, no matter which of these laws passes, it will probably be challenged.”

Obviously, it would be best if it didn’t come to that, but best to be prepared for the worst. My assumption has been that there will be more than one lawsuit, as there will be multiple angles to attack this from. The fact themselves that the bills being considered seem to have a lot of loopholes and room for broad interpretation is also an invitation to litigate. Like so many other things the Lege and our Republican leaders have deemed to be top priorities, this will be tied up in the courts for years.

But first, there’s the hard work to try to stop these bills from becoming law, and a big part of that is the public testimony against them. One takeaway from the fight over HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually invalidated, was how much the public testimony contributed to the court case, by showing how indifferent and willfully ignorant the Republicans were to objective fact and contradictory evidence. I feel pretty confident the same sort of thing will happen here with the potty bills, if they make it to the finish line. There’s live coverage of the hearings in the Trib, and there’s plenty of activity going on outside and around the Capitol, as the Texas Association of Business runs anti-bathroom bill ads and the national Episcopal Church comes out against the bills. It’s never a bad idea to call your legislator and let them know how you feel, so make your voice heard. And remember, in the end, the one message every politician receives is losing an election. The Observer, BurkaBlog, the Current, the Rivard Report, and Texas Leftist have more.

UPDATE: In the end, SB3 passed out of committee, as expected. On to the floor of the Senate, then it’s up to the House.

Mayors to Abbott: Don’t mess with our cities

Good luck getting through.

Less than 24 hours after Gov. Greg Abbott blasted local government restrictions like tree ordinances as a threat to the “Texas brand,” city government leaders statewide are seeking a meeting with the Republican leader.

“We would like the opportunity to meet with you to discuss the role cities play in attracting jobs and investments to support the prosperity of the State of Texas,” a letter signed by 18 mayors, including Houston mayor Sylvester Turner to Abbott states.

[…]

The letter from the mayors makes clear that they fear the Texas Legislature is overreaching and doing too much harm to local governments.

“Harmful proposals such as revenue and spending caps, limiting annexation authority, and other measures preempting local development ordinances directly harm our ability to plan for future growth and continue to serve as the economic engines of Texas,” the letter states.

The mayors on the letter include those from Houston, Amarillo, Arlington, Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Worth, Frisco, Galveston, Irving, Lubbock, McKinney, Plano, San Antonio, San Marcos, and Sugar Land.

You can see the letter here. You might note that some of the cities in question are Republican suburban kind of places. It’s not just us smug urbanites that would like to have our current level of autonomy left alone. I’m going to say the same thing to these Mayors that I’ve been saying to the business folk that have been working to defeat the bathroom bill, and that’s that they are going to have to follow up all these words with actions, because Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t care what they have to say. If you’re not working to elect better leadership in 2018, which in this case means leadership that is not actively undermining and degrading Texas’ cities, then you’re part of the problem too, and your words have no meaning. The Current and the Press have more.

Senate will hold bathroom hearing tomorrow

They just can’t wait. From the inbox:

BREAKING: The Senate State Affairs Committee is pushing for a hearing on anti-transgender “bathroom bill” legislation this Friday at 9AM, Charles.

Intel from the Capitol tells us that Sen. Lois Kolkhorst will introduce a FOURTH discriminatory “bathroom bill” later today. That’s the bill that the Senate State Affairs Committee will consider Friday morning.

That only gives us 24 hours between when the bill is dropped and when it gets a Senate committee vote to stop this anti-transgender measure in its tracks.

With lawmakers moving fast and furious in efforts to ram through legislation that would blatantly legalize discrimination against transgender Texans—we can’t waste a single minute.

Rush a message to Texas lawmakers—right now—and make your voice heard loud and clear: I oppose anti-transgender “bathroom bills!”

 

You remember Sen. Lois Kolkhorst? She’s one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top cronies and the lead sponsor on SB 6—legislation from regular session that would have instated a blanket ban on transgender people in public bathrooms.

Texas’ SB 6 was the near twin to North Carolina’s disastrous HB 2.

And now, the mastermind behind that devastating legislation is coming back for a second shot at making anti-transgender discrimination state law in Texas.

We can’t know how far Sen. Kolkhorst’s new bill (expected to drop tonight) will go. But we know that the only way to defeat it is to mobilize a groundswell grassroots opposition—starting now.

Rush a message to your lawmakers right now and urge them to stand with you and an overwhelming number of Texans and reject discriminatory “bathroom bills.”

Your lawmakers answer to you. Hold them accountable.

You know, Patrick aimed to organize a bunch of wingnut pastors and their congregations in support of this atrocity, but to whatever extent he did that, the people who have been showing up en masse to express their view on this have been overwhelmingly against it. Maybe that effort was more talk than action, and maybe Patrick’s minions figure they don’t have to do any work to get what they want, it will just be done for them, I don’t know. What I do know is that if the Lege has been listening, they’ve heard loud and clear what the people do and don’t want. It’s up to them to act accordingly, and for us to reinforce that lesson at the ballot box next year.

Long read on the ongoing bathroom bill fight

From the Daily Beast. Covers a lot of ground, some of which is familiar but quite a bit of which is new or at least additive. A small sample:

Two bills, HB 46 and HB 50, have so far been filed for the special session, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Simmons. A further Senate Bill, SB 23, is aimed at prohibiting cities from introducing non-discrimination legislation above and beyond that which has been sanctioned at state level.

HB 46 would stop school boards from enforcing policies that allow transgender youth or staff to use the restrooms of their choice; HB 50 would undo any ordinances passed in specific cities designed to protect the rights of trans people to use the public bathrooms they want.

Simmons told The Daily Beast: “At least in Texas, for 170 years since we’ve been a state, bathroom usage was understood. People used the bathrooms… you know, male used male, female used female.

“All HB 46 and HB 50 does is says this is an issue that needs a lot of debate and a lot of discussion. Right now, we don’t need patchwork of ordinances around the state. We need to keep in place what is currently in place until there is a federal law or a state law change.

“We’re also protecting—just like a transgender woman might feel uncomfortable going into the biological bathroom of her choice; say she’s a biological man, but a transgender woman—a person who is not transgender who might feel very uncomfortable for someone who is biologically male to be in same shower or changing facility as them. We’re protecting their privacy as well.”

Simmons dismissed Speaker Straus’ concerns over trans suicide. “I don’t think there are any statistics that relate trans use in restrooms to suicide rates.” He added he would be happy to study such figures if they existed.

There are, in fact, many statistics showing the high levels of discrimination and prejudice experienced by transgender Texans.

In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 61 percent of trans Texans reported avoiding public restrooms because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience. Thirty-six percent limited what they ate or drank so they wouldn’t have to visit a restroom.

There’s a lot more, including further examples of ignorance and made-up statistics from Rep. Simmons. I actually don’t think he’s one of the true bad guys in all this, but he really needs to meet a few trans people and maybe do a little reading outside the right wing bubble. He could start with this article, and I commend you to do the same.

On a tangential note, kudos to Gromer Jeffers of the DMN for saying something that has needed to be said:

Business leaders have been criticized for not doing more to squash the bathroom bill proposals during the regular session. Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has added it to the call for a special session, there’s a likelihood that some sort of legislation will be passed, perhaps one that deals with schools.

The state is at this crossroads in part because business executives didn’t confront Abbott about the proposals with any gusto. They let his position evolve from public indifference to wanting a bill on his desk.

The governor, perhaps, found the arguments made by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and segments of the Republican Party base more persuasive than the faint objections of the business community. That’s extraordinary when you consider that Abbott’s robust campaign war chest includes money he got from influential donors who also oppose bathroom bills.

OK, he’s not the first person to bring this up, but still. Businesses have done an admirable job pushing back against this crap, but there’s a lot more they can do, and they don’t deserve full credit until they do it.

Special session starts today

It was a good summer before now, but all of that comes to an end today. In the best case scenario, the sunset bills get passed and nothing else happens. I don’t know what will happen, but at least the ongoing animosity between the House and the Senate gives the “nothing happens” scenario a chance. In the meantime, let us remember the reason, the real reason, why we are here. The Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune and The Rev. Stephanie Cooper call it what it is.

We are calling out the bullying behavior of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his ally Gov. Greg Abbott towards the most vulnerable among us. While the percentage of students who identify as transgender is small, many school districts have found caring ways to support families as they encourage healthy development of these children.

In most ways, these children are no different from any other. They are kids who go to school, get involved in extra-curricular activities, make friends and have hopes and dreams like other kids. And just like all other kids at their school, they simply need to use a restroom.

But like schoolyard bullies, Patrick and Abbott have chosen to pick on these most vulnerable victims and pressured others into joining their cause. May we remind you: These bullies are picking on children.

We are especially offended they have used our Christian faith to defend their bullying behavior. Nothing could be further from the Christian spirit of welcoming the stranger, defending the vulnerable and following the Golden Rule.

As far back as 1990, the people of our church — and many others in Texas — welcomed transgender persons and their families as equals in the household of faith and beloved of God. The signs on our restrooms read “God created and welcomes us in all of our diversity. At University Baptist Church, all are welcome to use the restroom that best fits their gender identity.”

The bullying “bathroom bill” targets the vulnerable in the name of protecting the public from a problem that does not exist. Our transgender congregants are far more likely than the public to be the targets of verbal and physical assault, not to mention exclusion and discrimination. We are offended that Patrick and Abbott use this bill to demonize our friends by creating public fear based on lies to consolidate their power. Their bill places our transgender congregants and their families in deeper danger of discrimination, slander and even violence.

I couldn’t agree more. When I was a kid in Catholic school, we used to sing a song called “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”. Do you think anyone knows Dan Patrick or Greg Abbot or Ken Paxton by their Christian love? Maybe there are some policy items in their record they can point to that could be described as “loving”, but they’re not the first things you think of with these guys. And no, I don’t believe it’s necessarily the role of government to be “loving”, but if your brand is Extra Strength Christian, then maybe you could be, I don’t know, just a little Christ-like in your behavior? Just a thought. Yes, as we well know, a bathroom bill would be a job killer and businesses universally hate it, but the reasons to oppose this effort are much more fundamental than that.

On a related note, I would be remiss if I did not mention this.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott may have come to San Antonio on Friday to announce his intentions for a second term, but he also, unintentionally, gave one local activist the trolling opportunity of a lifetime.

After his speech Abbott stuck around to meet with supporters. Enter Ashley Smith.

Now, Smith is no supporter of Abbott, but she is someone who has a very vested interest in the outcome of one of Abbott’s pet pieces of legislation, the so called “bathroom bill.”

The longtime San Antonio resident and LGBTQ activist waited through the speech for an opportunity to meet Abbott.

It wasn’t so she could shout insults or spout off at the governor, it is because sometimes a picture is worth far more than words.

“I did not think it (shouting) would work, or that I would be heard and was more interested in the getting the photograph and not getting thrown out,” Smith said.

The picture she ended up taking was of a very happy looking governor next to a beautiful woman.

In large bright lettering in the photo, Smith captioned it with “#Bathroombuddy,” and identified the governor and herself as “Texas Governor Greg Abbott,” and “Ashley Smith Trans-Woman.”

She then posted the photo to her Facebook page where the humor and irony of it quickly caught on and took off.

Click over to see the picture, if you haven’t already. And just remember, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick want people like Ashley Smith to be in the men’s room with them. The DMN has more.

News flash: Businesses still hate bathroom bills

IBM hates them.

As state lawmakers return to Austin for legislative overtime, tech giant IBM is stepping up its fight to defeat legislation it says would discriminate against children and harm its Texas recruiting efforts.

In an internal email sent Monday to thousands of employees around the world, IBM’s human resources chief outlined the New York-based company’s opposition to what the letter described as discriminatory proposals to regulate bathroom use for transgender Texans. IBM sent the letter to employees the same day it dispatched nearly 20 top executives to the Lone Star State to lobby lawmakers at the state Capitol. A day earlier, it took out full-page ads in major Texas newspapers underlining its opposition to legislation that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a cadre of far-right lawmakers have deemed a top priority.

“Why Texas? And why now? On July 18th, the Texas legislature will start a thirty-day special session, where it is likely some will try to advance a discriminatory ‘bathroom bill’ similar to the one that passed in North Carolina last year,” wrote Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice president for human resources. “It is our goal to convince Texas elected officials to abandon these efforts.”

[…]

The email IBM sent to employees on Monday echoed concerns businesses voiced in their letter to Abbott earlier this year, saying the company — which has more than 10,000 employees in Texas — is focused on defeating the bathroom proposals because they’re detrimental to inclusive business practices and fly in the face of “deep-rooted” values against discrimination targeting LGBT people.

“A bathroom bill like the one in Texas sends a message that it is okay to discriminate against someone just for being who they are,” Gherson, the company’s HR chief, wrote.

As do other companies.

CEOs from 14 leading employers in the Dallas area, including AT&T, American Airlines and Texas Instruments, are taking a public stand against a “bathroom bill” that would discriminate against transgender people in Texas.

On Monday morning, they delivered a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus. A bathroom bill, the letter says, “would seriously hurt the state’s ability to attract new businesses, investment and jobs.”

“Our companies are competing every day to bring the best and brightest talent to Dallas,” the letter says. “To that end, we strongly support diversity and inclusion. This legislation threatens our ability to attract and retain the best talent in Texas, as well as the greatest sporting and cultural attractions in the world.”

The letter is signed by Randall Stephenson of AT&T, Doug Parker of American Airlines, Gary Kelly of Southwest Airlines, Kim Cocklin of Atmos Energy, Matthew Rose of BNSF Railway, Mark Rohr of Celanese, Harlan Crow of Crow Holdings, Sean Donohue of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Emmitt Smith of EJ Smith Enterprises, Fred Perpall of the Beck Group, David Seaton of Fluor, Thomas Falk of Kimberly-Clark, Trevor Fetter of Tenet Healthcare and Richard Templeton of Texas Instruments.

As the story notes, these efforts join other efforts by businesses to stop this thing. Such efforts have been met with an indifference bordering on hostility and contempt by Abbott and especially Patrick. I appreciate what all these companies and groups like TAB and the various chambers of commerce and visitors’ bureaus have done so far, which has been a tremendous help in keeping this awful legislation from reaching Abbott’s desk. But the big question remains what they will do after the special session gavels out, whatever the outcome of these efforts. I’ve had this question for a long time now. Between potty politics and the anti-immigration fervor of SB4, a lot of damage has already been done to our state’s reputation, and the men in charge keep wanting to do more. They’re not going to go away if they lose this session – they have the zealous will and a crap-ton of money powering them. Will these business interests, who have been getting so badly served by politicians they have generally supported, or at least tacitly accepted, in the past, put their money where their press conferences are and actively oppose Abbott and Patrick and their legislative enablers? Or will they bend over and take another lash from the paddle? One wonders at this point what they think they have to lose. The Chron has more.

This special session is going to be so much fun

So much repressed hostility

Starring Dan Patrick as Thelma, Greg Abbott as Eunice, and Joe Straus as Vint

Five days before the Texas Legislature is scheduled to open a special session, it is clear the relationship between the leaders of the House and Senate remains as strained as it was at the end of the regular session.

On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick used a press conference to blast fellow Republican and House Speaker Joe Straus, comparing his education funding proposals to a “Ponzi scheme,” accusing him of laying the groundwork for a state income tax, and complaining that Straus won’t even meet with him one-on-one to bridge their differences.

Those comments come almost exactly one month after Straus used a speech in San Antonio to demand the state’s school finance system be added to the special session call and took issue with the Senate’s focus on transgender bathroom issues. And earlier this year Straus had compared the Senate’s budget writing to Enron accounting methods.

Patrick said his news conference on Thursday was to roll out new education proposals, including a bonus system for teachers. But much of the focus of the first 10 minutes was on his counterpart in the House and his continued call to have public school finance added to the special session call.

Patrick said Straus’ was using education funding as “dangerous political stunt” and accused him of having no plan to pay for the billions of additional funding Straus has said the state should be committing to schools.

“Where does that money come from? The only way to do it is a state income tax,” Patrick told reporters.

Later Patrick was even more direct.

“I will not join the Speaker and lay the groundwork for a state income tax,” Patrick said.

[…]

“It’s encouraging to see the Lieutenant Governor’s newfound focus on school finance reform,” Straus responded in a prepared statement.

“Nothing could be more important in this special session than beginning to fix our school finance system so that we improve education, keep more local dollars in local schools, and provide real property tax relief, just as the House overwhelmingly approved in the regular session,” Straus said.

so little time.

“My position is very well known. And let me say this very clearly: I know how to govern without being an extremist,” Straus said. “I know how to govern, trying to bring people together to focus on issues that really matter to all Texans, and I think that’s where our focus ought to be in the special session. It’s where our focus should be in any regular session as well.”

The bathroom proposal would keep transgender people from using multi-occupancy restrooms of the gender with which they identify in government buildings, or at least in public schools.

Straus, along with advocates for transgender people and business groups, has voiced concern about the possible economic effect of boycotts because the bill is viewed as discriminatory. He also has expressed a worry that it could hurt transgender people.

“I see no good reason to promote a divisive bathroom bill when it does nothing but harm to the economy, and some very vulnerable people could be harmed,” Straus said.

[…]

Straus, who has been a thorn in the side of Abbott and Patrick on red-meat issues, said he considered it “actually encouraging” that Patrick was talking about school finance. Straus has said that issue is more worthy of attention than most of those on the special-session agenda.

On Friday, when Abbott was showcasing his record as he announced for re-election in San Antonio, Straus made his point about the need to focus on core issues by citing CNBC’s annual ranking of America’s Top States for Business. In it, Texas fell from No. 1 to No. 4. The No. 1 state was Washington. Its governor and both senators are Democrats.

“While No. 4 is not a terrible place to be, I don’t like the direction. And I think that our Texas political leadership ought to be focused on making Texas No. 1 and reverse that slide,” Straus said.

They’re putting the “special” in “special session”, that’s for sure. The Observer has more.

There is trouble with the trees

More to the point, there is trouble with the idea that municipal tree ordinances are somehow a bad thing, but that’s where we are, and it’s got some folks worried.

Never turn down an opportunity to reference a Rush song

More than 40,000 trees were lost to [Hurricane] Ike, according to the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy. A replanting campaign that began in 2010 has made significant progress: Volunteers have spent more than 17,000 hours planting more than 16,000 trees, including 250 live oaks and 60 palm trees on Broadway.

Now this effort faces a new threat – not from nature, but from politicians in the state Capitol. Gov. Greg Abbott wants the Legislature to strip cities of the authority to regulate – and essentially protect – trees on private property. It’s one of 21 items the Republican governor has placed on the agenda for a special session that begins July 18.

This action would weaken tree-protection ordinances in more than 50 Texas cities.

Local leaders across the state oppose the idea, but the issue has particular resonance in Galveston because of Ike’s devastating effect on its tree canopy.

In the storm’s aftermath, trees became precious jewels. Homeowners agonized for months, hoping in vain that their treasured oak or magnolia would somehow recover, before accepting the inevitable. Every dead tree that was felled and hauled away left the island a little barer, its people a little more sorrowful.

“Everyone was just so devastated by the loss,” said Jackie Cole, president of the nonprofit Galveston Island Tree Conservancy.

To bolster the recovery effort, the City Council passed a tree-protection ordinance in 2015. The measure requires property owners to seek a permit before removing trees considered significant based on their size or other factors. Trees that are unhealthy, that pose a hazard or that meet certain other criteria may be removed without penalty; others may be cut down only if the owner replaces them with trees of a specified size or pays into a local tree fund.

See here for some background. I would point out that for all of Abbott’s tree-hatred, his little vendetta will still require the consent of the Legislature. I hope the people of Galveston have been directing their concerns to Sen. Larry Taylor and Reps. Wayne Faircloth and Greg Bonnen. If local control still means anything, it needs to mean something to them.

By the way, story author Mike Snyder has a sidebar piece about the effort to defend local tree ordinances, which is being led by Defend Texas Trees. Turns out that most of the municipal tree ordinances in the state aren’t about what homeowners can and cannot do but about what developers can and cannot do, with restrictions and incentives in place to preserve mature trees. In other words, Abbott’s intended ordinance isn’t just an attack on trees, it’s a boon for developers. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

Special session officially set

Brace yourselves, it starts next week.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued a declaration for a special session of the Texas Legislature Monday, formally inviting lawmakers back to Austin to pass “sunset legislation” that will keep several key state agencies open.

The long-awaited procedural move allows lawmakers to begin filing bills for the special session set to begin on July 18.

In addition to the formal declaration, Abbott also released a draft version of 19 additional items he plans to add to the special session agenda later on. Last month, Abbott announced that lawmakers would consider 20 total legislative items during the special session.

[…]

Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw said her office received a copy of the proclamation around 11:00 a.m., which she forwarded to senators to alert them that they could begin filing bills. A physical copy of the proclamation was also delivered to senators’ offices in the Capitol building. Senators began filing bills Monday afternoon.

Meanwhile the House, which has had an e-filing system in place for years, received over two dozen bills before 1 p.m.

Robert Haney, the House chief clerk, said the first bill filed Monday, House Bill 41 from state Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, was received at 11:42 a.m. The bill aims to change how the state calculates the constitutional spending limit, which restricts how much the budget can grow from one biennium to the next.

Within an hour, dozens of other bills were filed including two pieces of bathroom-related legislation from state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton. HB 46 would forbid “political subdivisions, including a public school district” from adopting or enforcing measures to “protect a class of persons from discrimination” in regulating “access to multi-occupancy restrooms, showers or changing facilities.” HB 50 is identical except applying only to a school district board.

See here and here for the background. Special sessions are limited to the agenda the governor sets. That has never stopped anyone from filing bills on whatever other subjects they wanted, some good, some bad, and some utterly pointless, because you never know when the governor may exercise his power to add to that agenda. The real question for this session is what happens when some number of Abbott’s bills don’t get passed – indeed, don’t even get a vote. “Sunset and sine die” may be the battle cry, but nothing would stop Abbott from calling everyone right back, as Rick Perry did in the past. How much is enough for Abbott? We’re about to find out.

“America’s future is Texas”

Here’s that long story in the New Yorker that everyone is talking about. It covers basically the entire legislative session with a bunch of preliminary background info, most of which is very familiar to all of us, so I’m just going to focus on a couple of bits relating to Speaker Joe Straus and the bathroom bill battle.

Rep. Joe Straus

I met Straus in his office. He switched on a closed-circuit TV to watch a press conference by a new group of a dozen cultural conservatives, the Texas Freedom Caucus, which is led by Matt Schaefer, a state representative from Tyler, in East Texas. The group, which models itself on the similarly named body of far-right House Republicans in Washington, had formed, in part, because the term “Tea Party” had lost its meaning—in Texas, at least—as nearly every Republican in the legislature claimed to be unimpeachably conservative. What distinguished this group was that the members were all vociferously anti-Straus. The declared mission of the group is to “amplify the voice of liberty-minded grassroots Texans who want bold action to protect life, strengthen families, defend the Bill of Rights, restrain government, and revitalize personal and economic freedoms in Texas.”

As he watched the conference, Straus shot me a weary look.

We moved to the dining room, which had Audubon bird prints on the wall. “The thing that concerns me is the near-total loss of influence of the business community, which allows really bad ideas like the bathroom bill to fill the void,” Straus said, as we sat down to plates of delicious crab cakes. “C.E.O.s have stopped coming to the capitol to engage directly,” he continued. “They now work only through lobbyists.”

Straus comes from a longtime Republican family in San Antonio. One of his ancestors founded the L. Frank Saddlery Company, which made saddles, harnesses, and whips. Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders stopped in San Antonio in 1898 to equip themselves with L. Frank gear on their way to fight in the Spanish-American War. The company’s slogan was “The horse—next to woman, God’s greatest gift to man.”
When Joe Straus is not in Austin, he is an executive in the insurance and investment business. He entered that industry after a spell in Washington, where his wife, Julie Brink, worked in the Reagan White House and on George H. W. Bush’s 1988 Presidential campaign. During that period, Straus served in the Commerce Department.

He is trim and dapper, like an account executive on “Mad Men,” and is the most prominent Jewish politician in Texas history. In campaigns, his opponents have mentioned his religion, to little effect. This is his fifth term as speaker, which ties the record. It’s a surprise to many observers that the laconic and even-tempered Straus has persevered. Evan Smith told me, “All the things they said about him—‘He’d show up at a gunfight with a butter knife,’ ‘He can’t make a fist’—they were all wrong. Joe Straus is so much tougher than he appears.”

His speakership has focused on providing the workforce and the infrastructure that Texas businesses need, by protecting public education, building roads, establishing more top-tier universities, and expanding job training. Perhaps his biggest victory was in 2013: in the middle of a devastating drought, he ushered through a two-billion-dollar revolving loan fund for state water projects.

With each session, Straus has watched the Republican Party drift farther away from the “compassionate conservatism” of the Governor Bush era and become increasingly dominated by Christian ideologues, such as Patrick, for whom economic issues are secondary. Although Democrats and non-Tea Party Republicans alike see Straus as a brake on the controversial cultural agenda being pushed by Abbott and Patrick, he worries that his supporters have unreasonable expectations. “I can only do so much to keep the focus on fiscal issues and away from the divisive stuff,” he told me. “A few loud and fanatical people occasionally unsettle the majority of Republicans, who are really mainstream.”

Unlike Patrick, who decides which bills come to the floor in the Senate, Straus has to exercise influence by artfully appointing committee members, who can dull the fangs of fearsome bills (or let them languish until there’s no time to consider them). Sometimes he thinks that his moderation, along with the relative centrism of the Texas House, is being used as a foil for the Senate radicals. “The confidence that people seem to have in the House to serve as a stopper only enables the Senate to run hotter than it ever has before,” he said.

Straus believed that most Republicans in the House didn’t want to vote for the bathroom bill, but, like their conservative colleagues in Washington, they worried about being challenged from the right in primaries. “If it gets to the floor, it could be a close vote,” Straus observed. “I can’t imagine anyone really wanting to follow North Carolina’s example, but I can’t guarantee that’s not going to happen.” Meanwhile, he was pressing his own legislative agenda, which included securing additional funds for public schools, improving Child Protective Services, and devoting more resources to mental health—even though the state budget had been hit because of the fall in oil and gas revenues.

Before the session began, Straus spoke out against the bathroom bill. “I’ve become more blunt than ever,” he told me. He frequently urges business leaders to remain firm in their opposition to such legislation. “I try to be diplomatic but clear—that if you give in on the bathroom bill to preserve a tax break, there’s another equally awful idea right behind it.”

[…]

Speaker Straus was waiting in his chambers, seated on the couch in his shirtsleeves, under a painting of Hereford cattle. He looked far more relaxed than I thought was warranted, given that Governor Abbott was poised to call a special session that would likely focus on Patrick’s must-pass bills. But Straus seemed satisfied. He boasted that the priorities of the House—his priorities—had mostly been accomplished. “We did the Child Protective Services reforms, adding fourteen hundred new caseworkers,” he said. “We made tremendous progress on mental-health reforms and funding.” Texas’s decrepit hospitals were going to be upgraded. A health-care plan for retired teachers had been saved. Enormous cuts to higher education had been averted. “These were issues a little bit under the radar, because they’re not sensational, but they’re issues that are going to make a big difference in Texas lives,” Straus said. “What we didn’t achieve was to begin fixing the school-finance system, which everybody knows is a disaster.”

Straus said that some schools in districts that had been strongly affected by the downturn in the oil and gas economy might have to be closed. “We had a plan to bridge that,” he noted. “Unfortunately, the Senate had other priorities.” He attributed the failure to Patrick’s “fixation on vouchers.”

I asked Straus about the clash between business and cultural conservatives. He quoted William H. Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, who described the forthcoming Civil War as “an irrepressible conflict.” The prejudices unleashed by the election of Donald Trump had poured kerosene on the already volatile world of Texas politics. Straus, referring to the bathroom bill, said, “We came very close this session to passing a sweepingly discriminatory policy. It would have sent a very negative message around the country.”

“That’s still possible, right?” I asked. Couldn’t Abbott put forward his own bill in the special session and threaten to veto any amendments?

Straus agreed, but noted, “The legislature is not obligated to act upon his agenda items within the thirty-day period. And the Governor would have the option to call as many thirty-day sessions as he would like.”

“So the bill could stay in committee and not get voted out?”

Straus smiled.

The first quoted section is from March 2, the second from late in the session, right after the Matt Rinaldi/ICE kerfuffle. In between is a quote from Straus that has been widely shared about him not wanting to have “the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.” (The Trib has a brief audio clip with the story author talking about that quote.) You can take all of this for what it’s worth, and I’m not sure if one should feel more or less dread about the special session based on a story like this. I would point out that while the House has been a bit of a moderating force it’s still a place where SB4 and all kinds of unconstitutional anti-abortion bills get passed, so there’s a limit to how “mainstream” Straus’ Republican allies are. The Senate is the way it is in part because of Dan Patrick, but also in part because in every Republican primary for the Senate since maybe 2010, a Patrick acolyte has won and steadily replaced the more Straussian business-friendly types. Democrats have a couple of opportunities for gains next year, which would go a long way towards restoring some sanity, but it would be nice of the Straus wing of the party could do better in some March races as well. Anyway, read the (very long) whole thing and see what you think.

What West Texas can do to improve their schools

Here’s an op-ed from the Statesman about one educator in West Texas who has had enough.

My hero this week is Graydon Hicks, Fort Davis superintendent of schools.

A West Texas publication published his open letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raking them over the coals for “the lack of positive legislative action for public schools in Texas” at the most recent session, which adjourned at the end of May without passing a school finance bill.

Hicks is a West Point graduate and an experienced school administrator. He is no-nonsense guy who does not mince words. After detailing the effect of shrinking state financial support for public schools on Fort Davis schools over the past 10 years — combined with an increasing number of unfunded mandates and requirements — Hicks wrote, “How much more do you want to harm our children?

“If your intent is to dissolve public education (and your actions are more than a clear signal of such), then simply go on the record with that statement and remove the state’s authority to further overburden us without financial support. Quit pontificating about bathrooms. Quit hiding your intentions behind righteous statements about school vouchers and choice.”

Hicks accompanied his letter with a chart showing the annually declining amount of state funding available to the Fort Davis school district and the increasing burden on local taxpayers since 2008. That year, state funding amounted to $3.9 million, or 68 percent of the school district’s budget. Local property taxes provided $1.8 million, or 32 percent. In 2017, the state will contribute $378,000 — about one-tenth of its 2008 commitment, or 15 percent of the total budget. Local taxes this year will provide $2.2 million, or 85 percent.

“The Fort Davis ISD has 226 students,” Hicks wrote. “It has no cafeteria, has no bus routes, has dropped our band program, has eliminated (or not filled) 15 staff positions, has cut stipends for extra-curricular activities, has frozen (or reduced) staff pay for one year, has cut extra-curricular programs, has no debt, and has increased our local tax rate to the maximum allowed by the law.

“We have nothing left to cut.”

I agree that Superintendent Hicks sounds like a fine fellow who is speaking truth to power. That said, I feel compelled to point out how Jeff Davis County (*), which is where Fort Davis ISD, voted in the last gubernatorial election:


Governor
			
Greg Abbott             623  60.54%
Wendy R. Davis          366  35.57%
Kathie Glass             31   3.01%
Brandon Parmer            9   0.87%


Lieutenant Governor
			
Dan Patrick             560  56.62%
Leticia Van de Putte    375  37.92%
Robert D. Butler         48   4.85%
Chandrakantha Courtney    6   0.61%

Hold that thought. Now here’s a similar story about the school funding woes in West Texas:

Educators were excited to hear Gov. Greg Abbott announce he would call lawmakers back to Austin for a special legislative session to consider $1,000 teacher pay raises.

But Donna Hale, superintendent at 200-student Miami ISD in rural Roberts County, is wondering where the money is going to come from. An unfunded mandate, she said, could throw a wrench into their already difficult budgeting process.

“That’s the last thing we really need – the state saying you’ve got to do this when they’re not offering any support for us,” said Hale, who already doubles as the district’s librarian and said she was considering taking over as principal to cut payroll costs.

A wind farm and a sea of oil and natural gas wells in Roberts County has been good to Miami ISD, giving the district a flush tax base to pay for teachers and buildings. But its $1 billion dollar tax roll was cut in half this last year amid tumbling oil and gas prices. A state aid provision that it has relied on in recent years to guard against economic downturns expires in September and will take more than a third of the district’s budget with it.

Many rural schools like Miami ISD, the only school district in the county, are facing a similar dilemma and pleading with the State Legislature to act. Lawmakers return to the Capitol next month for a legislative overtime period, but school finance reform has taken a back seat to bills regulating bathroom use and creating a school choice program.

Again, I sympathize, and again, I wonder how did Roberts County vote in 2014?


Governor
			
Greg Abbott             324  93.91%
Wendy R. Davis           15   4.35%
Kathie Glass              5   1.45%
Brandon Parmer            1   0.29%


Lieutenant Governor			

Dan Patrick             320  93.29%
Leticia Van de Putte     12   3.50%
Robert D. Butler         10   2.92%
Chandrakantha Courtney    1   0.29%

I think you get where I’m going with this. Now, I will stipulate that in 2014, one might have been able to believe that Greg Abbott, who was touting an expansion of pre-K, and Dan Patrick, who had served as the Senate Education Committee chair and had passed some bipartisan bills during that time, could at least have been okay on education and school finance issues. Here in June of 2017, after a session that included the Senate refusing to consider HB21 and a special session that includes vouchers on the agenda, it’s really hard to believe that now. Further, both counties are represented in the Lege by pro-education members. Roberts County is served by Sen. Kel Seliger, who was the only Senate Republican to oppose the main voucher bill, and by Rep. Ken King, who was endorsed by Texas Parent PAC in the 2012 primary. Jeff Davis County has two Democrats, Sen. Jose Rodriguez and Rep. Cesar Blanco, in the Lege. Both were unopposed in 2016, and Blanco was unopposed in 2014, but in all three cases they drew a comparable number of votes to Republicans on the ballot. In addition, former Rep. Pete Gallego carried Jeff Davis County in 2010, even as Rick Perry and the rest of the Republicans were also winning it. The voters there do vote for pro-education candidates. Will they – and other counties like them – recognize in 2018 that “pro-education” does not describe Abbott or Patrick? I for one will have a lot more sympathy for their plight if they do.

(*) Yeah, I know.

House still opposes vouchers

Keep on keeping on, y’all.

The top House education leader said Sunday that “private school choice” is still dead in the lower chamber.

“We only voted six times against it in the House,” House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty said. “There’s nothing more offensive as a parent of a special-needs child than to tell me what I think I need. I’m prepared to have that discussion again. I don’t think [the Senate is] going to like it — because now I’m pissed off.”

Huberty, R-Houston, told a crowd of school administrators at a panel at the University of Texas at Austin that he plans to restart the conversation on school finance in the July-August special session after the Senate and House hit a stalemate on the issue late during the regular session. Huberty’s bill pumping $1.5 billion into public schools died after the Senate appended a “private school choice” measure, opposed by the House.

Huberty was joined by Education Committee Vice Chairman Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, and committee member Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, on a panel hosted by the Texas Association of School Administrators, where they said they didn’t plan to give in to the Senate on the contentious bill subsidizing private school tuition for kids with special needs.

[…]

VanDeaver said educators have two options: They can give in to the Senate’s attempts to attach school finance and private school choice, or they can vote against legislators who want those issues linked.

“If you don’t stick up for yourselves in a real way … we are going to lose,” Bernal added.

Amen to that. The real question is why do so many Senators serve Dan Patrick’s interests instead of their districts’? You know what I say, nothing will change until the people who get elected change.

Beyond that, one wonders how this will play out. Does the House simply refuse to vote a voucher bill out of committee, or do they let it come to the floor and then vote it down? Would Greg Abbott call another special session to force the issue? How big a hissy fit does Dan Patrick throw when he is thwarted? (Spoiler alert: very big.) Bring on the tantrums, I say.

The anti-vaxxers had another good legislative session

Sure would be nice if we could put a stop to this.

It was mid-April, more than halfway through the legislative session, and Texans for Vaccine Choice was finally getting the fight it had been spoiling for. On April 11, a bill to require schools to report the number of unvaccinated kids had been heatedly debated in a House committee. Doctors, public health experts, parents and others had testified in favor of House Bill 2249, calling it a transparency measure that would simply provide information about vaccination rates at individual schools. The matter was pressing, they said, because more and more parents were opting their kids out of vaccinations using a “reasons of conscience” exemption created by the Legislature in 2003. Without action, recent high-profile outbreaks of mumps and measles in Texas would only grow worse.

But Texans for Vaccine Choice has a radically different frame. While the pro-vaccination crowd appeals to legislators on the basis of science and public health, the anti-vaxxers have their own funhouse mirror version. Vaccines contain toxic chemicals, they say. They cause autism. They overwhelm the immune system. But more than that, the activists, many of them mothers, framed their position as one of parental choice and personal freedom — a message that commands attention at the Texas Legislature.

“The responsibility for my son does not fall on the state or any other family,” said one woman at the committee hearing. “And I would never rely on the herd to keep my son safe.”

Two days later, Texans for Vaccine Choice held a “Freedom Fight” rally on the South Steps of the Capitol. The event featured two prominent members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, Jonathan Stickland and Bill Zedler, close allies of the anti-vaccination activists.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Why do you associate with those crazy vaccine people?’” said Stickland. “I said, ‘Because I am one’.”

Stickland went on to lay out a case for “choice.”

“Where there is risk, there must be choice,” he said. “It’s not government’s job to try to influence our behavior. … The state of Texas doesn’t own our kids. They should be looking for ways to protect parents because we know what’s best for our kids.”

[…]

In the final days of the 85th legislative session, it looked like the pro- and anti-vaccine lobbies were going to have to make do with a draw. But at the 11th hour, a discussion over a bill authored by Representative Gene Wu, D-Houston, requiring Child Protective Services to give new children in its custody medical exams, suddenly turned into a feverish argument about vaccines.

Urged on by Texans for Vaccine Choice, Zedler proposed a surprise amendment that would exclude vaccinations from those checkups. Vaccines, he insisted, “do not qualify as emergency care.” He was joined by several Republican members of the Freedom Caucus, with Representative Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, arguing that it was an “issue of liberty.”

A plea from Representative Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, a cancer survivor, failed to move the majority of Republicans. Davis proposed a measure that would at least require foster children to be vaccinated against cervical cancer. Her proposal was defeated in a 74-64 vote. Zedler’s amendment, meanwhile, was adopted 74-58.

Though Wu’s bill died in the Senate, a similar version of Zedler’s amendment found its way onto another child welfare bill and was signed into law by Governor Abbott.

Texans for Vaccine Choice considered the session a win. In early June, the group held a victory party that featured a fajita buffet and “chips fried in a dedicated gluten free frier.“) Photos on the group’s Facebook page show Tinderholt posing with an American flag hat while Zedler opted for a crown.

Pro-vaccine lobbyist Jason Sabo is anxious that mainstream Republicans, who might ordinarily have voted against potentially harmful anti-vaccination legislation, now see it as a primary issue.

“Only the extreme of the extreme show up to vote in the primaries: the anti-vaxxers, the pro-gun people, and the anti-annexation guys. Get four or five of these groups together and you have a bloc. And it’s really smart,” Sabo told the Observer. “So next session we have a choice: We either do the same thing and get the same results, or we come back with a different strategy.”

See here for some background. Rep. Wu’s bill was HB39, and the record vote on the Zedler amendment is here. You will note that only Republicans voted for the Zedler amendment. All Democrats, and a half dozen or so Republicans voted against it. If this isn’t a partisan issue by now, it’s pretty close. I think the “different strategy” that is needed here is to recognize that this is a campaign issue, for both March and November, and to treat it as such. Follow the model of the Texas Parent PAC, recruit and support some pro-vaccination Republicans in strong-R districts, and support Democratic candidates in competitive districts, for which there ought to be more than usual this cycle. Bill Zedler won with 57% of the vote in 2016, Stickland with 55.6%; Tinderholt didn’t have a Dem challenger in 2016, but won with 56% in 2014. None of these districts are unassailable, and maybe – just maybe – making vaccinations an issue might swing a few votes away from these guys, none of whom have anything but hardcore Republican brand loyalty to recommend them. Perhaps there’s a better strategy to stem these losses in the future, but if so I don’t know what it is. I can’t guarantee that pro-vaccination forces will be successful if they try to win a few elections, but I can guarantee they’ll have a much better time of it in the 2019 legislative session if they do.

Texas Central survives the session

It looked bad for awhile there. but in the end no significant bill that would have obstructed the high speed rail line was passed.

In the recent Legislature, over 20 bills were filed that took aim at a high-speed rail project between Dallas and Houston, including some that may have killed the plan. Ultimately, just two bills passed — one ensuring the state won’t pick up any costs for the train and the other requiring adequate safety measures.

Texas Central Partners, the group developing the rail line, didn’t object to the bills.

[…]

[Texas Central has] always pledged to not seek state or federal grants, a key selling point. That’s one reason conservative groups have praised the project and warned against government overreach.

The state has an opportunity to innovate and lead the nation, wrote a chief strategist for the American Legislative Exchange Council.

“To realize a boon to taxpayers, Texas merely has to allow the free market to operate by not expanding government in the form of discriminatory legislation,” Bartlett Cleland wrote in an April report.

There’s still a long way to go before we can travel from Dallas to Houston in a 90-minute train ride. Federal regulators are working on a draft environmental impact study, expected to be finished this year. More public meetings and revisions will follow, and when construction of the 240-mile line begins, that’s expected to take about five years. That would make the train operational by around 2023.

Long beforehand, Texas Central has to raise billions, and Austin represents a potential roadblock.

“We talk to investors all the time, and one of their questions is, ‘What’s going to happen in the Legislature?’” said Holly Reed, managing director of external affairs for Texas Central. That question has been answered, she said. But only for now.

Some landowners along the potential routes have opposed the project all along, insisting that a bullet train would disrupt their rural way of life and bring few benefits. They’re well organized and have clout with their elected representatives.

They pushed for eminent domain limits and a financial bond from the rail company. While those bills died, opponents aren’t backing off, said Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail. They plan to fight all along the route, especially attempts to use eminent domain to acquire right of way. “They have to win every case — all we have to do is win one,” Workman said. “They’re gonna have to fight the battle in all these rural counties. Good luck.”

The number of landowners opposed to the train is dwarfed by those who could benefit from it. But opponents are more energized, said Mark Jones, political science fellow at Rice University. And that enthusiasm gap matters in local elections. “That small vocal minority is intensely opposed and more likely to vote in the Republican primary — and vote against anyone who’s not working to stop the train,” Jones said. “Until it’s built, Texas Central is gonna have to worry about this every two years.”

See here for the last update I had during the session. I suppose the death of the anti-high speed rail bills wasn’t newsy enough to draw attention, or maybe I just missed it. In any event, nothing bad happened for TCR, so barring a late addition to the special session agenda, they can move forward for now. The draft environmental impact study will be a big deal, as will the ongoing eminent domain litigation. With a bit of luck, Texas Central will be far enough along in construction in the spring of 2019 that there will be fewer opportunities to cut them off at the knees legislatively. That part is up to them.

Next round of bathroom bills getting prepped

Meet the new bills, same as the old bills.

Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, is expected to introduce two bills in the upcoming special session of the Texas Legislature that would regulate which public bathrooms transgender Texans, including schoolchildren, can use.

The first bill, which will closely resemble his bill that failed during the regular session, will be a broad attempt to prohibit cities, counties and public school districts from enforcing non-discrimination ordinances involving multi-occupancy restrooms or locker rooms.

It is expected to allow exceptions for people already protected under state and federal anti-discrimination laws, which do not include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Simmons’ bill would effectively invalidate local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender people to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity, as well as school district policies that make accommodations for transgender students.

That proposal, House Bill 2899, had 79 co-sponsors, all Republicans, before lawmakers left Austin in late May. A bill needs to win a simple majority, or 76 votes, on the House floor to pass.

A second proposal Simmons plans to introduce would apply only to public school districts.

Despite Speaker Joe Straus’ disinterest, I have a hard time imagining a scenario where most of Abbott’s special session wingnut agenda, including a bathroom bill, doesn’t pass. There’s no place to hide, and with the session tucked in between July 4 and Labor Day, there are no holiday weekends to eat up time. Abbott has decided to get involved, which ought to give his items a push. I suppose anything can happen, and for sure we should engage and resist to the max, but I strongly suspect the real opportunity to deliver a message will be next year.

Even the SBOE opposes vouchers and the bathroom bill

A rare bout of sanity.

The Texas State Board of Education is known for its conservative ideals, but a majority of its Republican members said Tuesday they oppose GOP Gov. Greg Abbott’s demand that lawmakers pass a school voucher program and a bathroom law in next month’s special session.

Most of the education issues Abbott wants lawmakers to consider during their 30-day special session should be left to local school districts rather than dictated by the state, six Republican members of the board told the Houston Chronicle Tuesday. The six board members all said vouchers were a bad idea. Two members said they supported the Legislature taking up the issues and two others were unavailable for comment.

“Overwhelmingly, each and every member of the board looks at public education in a light that says, ‘We’re doing everything we can to promote, protect and serve the interests to some extent of public education,'” said Marty Rowley, a Republican member from Amarillo who said he opposes school vouchers and contends school leaders can manage student bathrooms. “Everyone’s perception of what school vouchers do is it doesn’t serve public education in the best manner.”

[…]

The governor also wants the Legislature to pass a bill regulating which bathrooms transgender students should use in schools — another issue considered by Patrick as a top priority.

Board members said few, if any, of their constituents or school leaders have expressed concern over how to handle bathrooms, and said schools should continue to have the flexibility to made accommodations on their own.

“There are ways for districts to deal with that,” said David Bradley, a Republican from Beaumont who votes with the board’s conservative faction. Studies have found fewer than 1 percent of Texans are transgender, and “the 1 percent does not drive policy making for the other 99 percent,” he said.

I mean, if even David Bradley thinks the bathroom bill is a waste of time, what more do you need to know? I literally can’t think of anything to add to this.

Ten best and worst 2017

This is always the most anticipated part of a legislative session.

Around the Texas Capitol this year, it wasn’t unusual to hear the 85th Legislature described as the worst anyone could remember. While we wouldn’t go that far, this session had more than its fair share of dispiriting moments. Quite a few of those came courtesy of the bathroom bill and the misleading public-safety rhetoric its supporters used to justify restrictions on where transgender Texans could relieve themselves. The bill died in the House, but the issue hasn’t gone away. Lawmakers also took a simple bill to ensure that Texas cities comply with federal immigration requests and amended it to allow police to inquire about immigration status when they merely detain someone. Democrats argued that the “show me your papers” provision could lead to racial profiling of Latinos, and police chiefs said it would result in an increase in crime. On the other hand, the Legislature did provide a major funding increase—$509 million—to the Child Protective Services department, which desperately needed it.

But otherwise, not much got done. This Legislature passed the fewest bills in years, and while some might argue that’s a good thing, the biggest issue facing Texas—the crumbling school-finance system—went unaddressed. Instead of action, we got grandstanding over school vouchers, property taxes, and, as ever, abortion.

Most bills fell victim to a standoff between the House and Senate. The differences between the chambers have never seemed greater, mostly because the two men leading those chambers represent opposing sides of a divided Republican party. Speaker Joe Straus led a moderate, business-friendly coalition in the House; Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick steered the more right-wing Senate.

In February, we declared Patrick the state’s most influential politician, and much of what happened this session reinforced that view. It’s true that his three prized proposals—on bathrooms, property taxes, and vouchers—all failed to pass. But there’s no denying that Patrick controlled the narrative of the session. He bullied the Senate to bend to his will and deftly used the bully pulpit to dominate news coverage and pressure the House. In the end, his killing of certain must-pass bills forced a special session.

For his part, Straus played skillful defense against Patrick’s agenda, but he too failed to pass his top legislative priority, school-finance reform. He also lost control of his chamber during the sanctuary cities debate, which resulted in the “show me your papers” amendment.

Meanwhile, Greg Abbott was largely a nonpresence at the Capitol. You’d have to go back decades to find a governor who engaged less with lawmakers. Abbott waffled repeatedly on the bathroom bill. He did little to aid the sanctuary cities measure he wanted but then took credit for it during a Facebook Live bill signing at which none of the lawmakers who actually passed it were present. A question often heard around the Capitol: Why did Greg Abbott want to be governor?

In the end, this session featured too much noise and too little done to improve the lives of Texans. All of which made compiling our biennial list of the best and worst legislators especially challenging. How do you judge a session in which so little was accomplished? Well, we talked to journalists, lobbyists, and many of the lawmakers themselves. We weren’t interested in ideology but rather who tried to solve problems and who created them. Politics is not just about conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. It’s about working cooperatively to make Texas a better place. That has been the standard for the Best and Worst list since its inception in 1973 and remains so four decades later.

You can see the lists for yourself. Suffice it to say that I agree with some of the choices and disagree – strongly – with some others. I get that the intent of these lists is to be policy-agnostic, focusing instead on process and results, but I have a hard time with rewarding legislators (one in particular) who are successful in pursuing what even the authors freely state is bad policy. That just seems, I don’t know, a bit nihilistic to me. But these are the lists, and you can make of them what you will. As always, Harold Cook provides the template for legislators to respond to their inclusion in either place.

Signings and vetoes

Greg Abbott does his thing.

Gov. Greg Abbott has vetoed 50 bills that were passed during the regular legislative session, his office announced Thursday.

That’s several more than he vetoed following the last session and the most a governor has doled out since 2007.

Abbott offered a number of common explanations for his vetoes, calling the bills unnecessary, too costly or too burdensome. He vetoed at least five bills for the same reason: The House bill’s author asked for a veto because he prefers the Senate companion.

[…]

Another measure he vetoed Thursday was Senate Bill 790, which would have kept in operation an advisory group that makes recommendations to the state on its women’s health services.

Abbott said in his veto statement that SB 790 “does nothing more than extend the expiration date of a governmental committee that has already successfully completed its mission.”

“Rather than prolong government committees beyond their expiration date, the state should focus on programs that address more clearly identifiable needs, like my call for action to address the maternal mortality rate during the special session,” Abbott said.

Janet Realini, vice chair of the women’s health advisory committee, said wrapping up the group was premature.

“There’s 1.8 million women who need publicly subsidized services, family planning in particular, and right now we’re serving less than a quarter of those, so I think we have a long way to go,” she said.

You can see a full list of the vetoed bills at the story. A couple of bills relating to topics that will be on the special session agenda were among the casualties. SB790 was probably the bill whose rejection drew the strongest reaction; Sen. Borris Miles and Rep. Donna Howard vented their frustration, with Howard noting that “at no point during the past six months had the governor’s office expressed any concerns to me over the legislation”. We knew going in that Greg Abbott was a weak leader. Everything that isn’t on the veto list will be enacted (a few will become law without Abbott’s autograph), including the Sandra Bland Act and the driverless car bill. Click over and see if anything you liked got the ax.

The special session could get a little testy

Sow a little discord, Joe. We approve.

Speaking to educators Wednesday, House Speaker Joe Straus took some jabs at the Senate for focusing on a bill to regulate public bathroom use instead of putting more than a billion dollars into public schools.

The lower chamber’s leading politician spoke about the upcoming special session to hundreds of school board members and superintendents in San Antonio on Wednesday evening at the Texas Association of School Boards’ annual summer leadership institute. He urged educators in the room to keep speaking out for the issues important to public schools — and to act.

“There have been a few of you who would make good members of the Texas Senate,” he said, a joke that got him a round of laughter and applause.

Straus’ appearance comes as Texas legislators prepare to return to the Capitol for a July-August special session, with a packed agenda of 20 pieces of legislation Gov. Greg Abbott wants to see passed. Several of those bills would directly affect public schools, including a bill to regulate public bathroom use for transgender Texans.

“I don’t know what all the issues are with bathrooms in our schools, but I’m pretty sure you can handle them, and I know that you have been handling them,” Straus said. He said the “bathroom bill” sends the wrong message about Texas, instead of “making decisions that attract jobs, that attract families.”

[…]

Straus said Wednesday that even if the House had compromised on private school choice, the Senate stripped about $1 billion in funding for public schools. “Even if we approved vouchers, they still cut out the vast majority of the funding we had proposed for public schools, so there was hardly anything left,” he said.

He said the school finance reform study was too little, too late. “The Texas House has been studying this for years. We already passed a bill that’s a very strong first step,” he said. “We can’t keep kicking the can down the road.”

You tell ’em, Joe. One wonders what might happen if we make it to the end of this session without any of the red meat stuff passing, possibly without getting out of committee. Would a weak leader like Greg Abbott keep calling them back? I have no idea. Don’t get me wrong, I have no reason to be optimistic about anything here. But if nothing else, a little pissing contest could make things interesting. I think we can hope for that much. The Statesman has more.

Greg Abbott’s war on trees

This is just bizarre.

One of the 20 items Gov. Greg Abbott has asked lawmakers to consider during the upcoming special session, which will begin July 18, is outlawing local tree regulations. More than 50 cities and towns in Texas have ordinances aimed at protecting trees; many of the local rules require property owners to either pay a fee for removing trees or replant trees after they cut some down. Municipalities often design them to prevent the type of branch slashing Beatty said occurred on the property near her Dallas home.

But Abbott — joined by a number of Republican lawmakers and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank — are calling for the end of those local protections. They argue that the tree ordinances are an unconstitutional violation of private property rights, and Abbott, who grappled with Austin tree regulations as a homeowner, calls the rules a “socialistic” infringement on a landowner’s freedom.

“I feel like those who own their trees have the right to do with their trees what they want,” said state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville.

[…]

Keith Mars, who enforces Austin’s tree regulations as the city arborist, said trees are an important reason why Austin is a growing destination known for its quality of life. He points to the environmental and economic benefits of trees.

“We know about the quality that this urban canopy provides for our citizens and why so many people are moving here from all over the country,” he said. “There will be a real economic impact to the vitality of Austin and other cities.”

To Robert Henneke, the general counsel at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, though, the tree regulations hamper economic growth in Texas cities.

“The compliance cost of these tree regulation ordinances is harmful because it drives up the cost of housing,” Henneke said. Henneke said the foundation worked with lawmakers who filed bills on the topic during the regular session.

Those efforts will run up against the Texas Municipal League, an organization that advocates for Texas cities and towns in the Legislature. Bennett Sandlin, the group’s executive director, said the organization plans to resist bills that nullify local tree regulations. He says municipalities have the constitutional power to protect trees.

“If you take that argument to the extreme — that you can do anything you want on your property in an urban area —then you wouldn’t have zoning,” Sandlin said. “You could have a strip club next to a home or you could have a liquor store next to a school.”

See here for the roots (sorry not sorry) of Abbott’s tree tirade. I find this just so petty and vindictive. I mean, maybe Austin’s tree removal ordinances and processes are byzantine and life-sucking – it happens, I have no idea. A normal person might view that as a city problem, since it was the city that put in these requirements, presumably for some justifiable reasons. One could complain to one’s Council member or the Mayor, one could form an organization devoted to reforming or repealing these rules, one could run for city office on a tree-regulation-reform platform – there are many options. To decide that all tree-related regulations in all cities are uniformly terrible and must be destroyed is some kind of special snowflaking right there. Also, some people refer to “driving up the cost of housing” as “enhancing property values”. Maybe talk to a realtor? I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know how Texas ever got to be such a wonderful place when so much of it is clearly a dystopian hellhole. Thank God we have Greg Abbott and his million-dollar donors to set us straight.