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December 10th, 2012:

The Lege does not need term limits

It’s a silly idea, and no time should be wasted on it.

Rep. Lyle Larson

State Rep. Lyle Larson has filed a proposal to let Texans vote on whether to limit to 12 years the time state officials may serve in one position.

“I’m a big believer that it’s good to have fresh blood and turnover in government,” said Larson, R-San Antonio. “I think it would be healthy to have new, fresh perspectives periodically.”


“Twelve years is a long time,” Larson said. “After that, we probably ought to get someone else in the office.”

Not everyone agrees.

“There’s no good that comes with term limits,” said Bill Miller, an Austin political consultant who works with Republicans and Democrats. “Term limits was a fad … that has proven to not work very well.

“It takes away competition … and destroys institutional knowledge,” he said. “I think term limits is one of the worst ideas in politics.”

Supporters say limits can help stimulate new approaches to solving government issues and prevent abuse of power from one person holding an office too long. Opponents say there’s no need for them because voters can remove someone from office in any election.

Larson filed House Joint Resolution 42 to put 12-year limits on all elected officials in government. If at least two-thirds of state legislators next year support the proposal, Texans would vote Nov. 5 on a constitutional amendment addressing term limits.

“I know some people say you don’t need term limits because you can vote people out of office,” Larson said. “But the reality is that most incumbents get re-elected unless they mess something up.”

I’ll stipulate that the top of Texas’ government is cluttered with people who need to move on, or be moved out, but the Lege is a different story. Here’s a complete list of all legislators who won elections in 2002, and would therefore be on their last term if Rep. Larson’s bill were already law. First, the Senate:

SD02 – Bob Deuell
SD04 – Tommy Williams
SD09 – Chris Harris
SD12 – Jane Nelson
SD13 – Rodney Ellis
SD15 – John Whitmire
SD16 – John Carona
SD20 – Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa
SD21 – Judith Zaffirini
SD23 – Royce West
SD24 – Troy Fraser
SD26 – Leticia Van De Putte
SD27 – Eddie Lucio, Jr.
SD28 – Robert Duncan
SD30 – Craig Estes

Fifteen Senators out of 31, or just less than half, would be on their way out after this session. Given that Senators only come up for a vote three times in a given decade, and given how safe their seats are, that’s a fair bit of turnover. Admittedly, most of it is voluntary – Kim Brimer, Frank Madla, and Jeff Wentworth are the only ones who lost elections during that time; the others retired or made successful (Todd Staples) or unsuccessful (Mike Jackson) runs at higher office. Still, that’s a decent bit of churn, and it’s nothing compared to the House. Here’s that full list:

HD02 – Dan Flynn
HD05 – Bryan Hughes
HD08 – Byron Cook
HD10 – Jim Pitts
HD13 – Lois Kolkhorst
HD21 – Allan Ritter
HD22 – Joe Deshotel
HD23 – Craig Eiland
HD30 – Geanie Morrison
HD31 – Ryan Guillen
HD37 – Rene Oliveira
HD42 – Richard Raymond
HD46 – Dawnna Dukes
HD49 – Elliott Naishtat
HD51 – Eddie Rodriguez
HD53 – Harvey Hilderbran
HD60 – Jim Keffer
HD61 – Phil King
HD64 – Myra Crownover
HD79 – Joe Pickett
HD82 – Tom Craddick
HD89 – Jodie Laubenberg
HD90 – Lon Burnam
HD99 – Charlie Geren
HD104 – Roberto Alonzo
HD105 – Linda Harper-Brown
HD108 – Dan Branch
HD109 – Helen Giddings
HD111 – Yvonne Davis
HD116 – Trey Martinez-Fischer
HD120 – Ruth Jones McClendon
HD123 – Mike Villarreal
HD124 – Jose Menendez
HD128 – Wayne Smith
HD129 – John Davis
HD132 – Bill Callegari
HD135 – Gary Elkins
HD139 – Sylvester Turner
HD141 – Senfronia Thompson
HD142 – Harold Dutton
HD147 – Garnet Coleman
HD148 – Jessica Farrar
HD150 – Debbie Riddle

Forty-three out of 150 members in the House would be facing term limits this time around. Putting it another way, 107 members, or 71.3%, are between their first and fifth terms. If that’s not a lot of fresh blood, I don’t know what would qualify. I estimate that 44 of the members who were elected in 2002 were subsequently defeated in either a primary or general election (Bill Zedler was defeated in 2008, then retook his seat in 2010), which again would seem to suggest there’s more to it than just the occasional screwup getting tossed. The rest left for the usual reasons – retirement, redistricting, higher office, problems with the law (Kino Flores) and in three cases, death (Glenda Dawson, Ed Kuempel, and Joe Moreno). Be that as it may, the number of fresh faces far exceeds that of the grizzled ones. Why do we need term limits when nature and the voters are doing a pretty darned good job of turnover by themselves?

From the “Babies and other hazards of sex” department

Rep. Donna Howard has more tact than I do.

Who knew?

When state lawmakers passed a two-year budget in 2011 that moved $73 million from family planning services to other programs, the goal was largely political: halt the flow of taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood clinics.

Now they are facing the policy implications — and, in some cases, reconsidering.

The latest Health and Human Services Commission projections being circulated among Texas lawmakers indicate that during the 2014-15 biennium poor women will deliver an estimated 23,760 more babies than they would have as a result of their reduced access to state-subsidized birth control. The additional cost to taxpayers is expected to be as much as $273 million — $103 million to $108 million to the state’s general revenue budget alone — and the bulk of it is the cost of caring for those infants under Medicaid.

Ahead of the next legislative session — where lawmakers will grapple with another tough budget, including an existing Medicaid financing shortfall — a bipartisan coalition is considering ways to restore some or all of those family planning dollars, as a cost-saving initiative if nothing else.

“I know some of my colleagues felt like in retrospect they did not fully grasp the implications of what was done last session,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, who said she has been discussing ways to restore financing with several other lawmakers in both parties.

“A lot of us are talking about this,” she said. “I think there is some effort they’ll be willing to take to restore whatever we can.”

In other words, some of Rep. Howard’s colleagues are just now beginning to grasp the idea that more babies are the inevitable result of a public policy to restrict access to birth control. I’d suggest that we add the subject to the STAAR tests, but it’s too late for these august members of the Texas Legislature. Before you ask, this dawning revelation will not lead to any letup in the anti-Planned Parenthood jihad, because providing family planning funds to the leading provider of family planning service is beyond the pale. If we’re lucky, perhaps there will be another great epiphany in two years’ time.

City wins Census recount

It’s official: The city of Houston really did have 2.1 million people as of the 2010 Census.

The U.S. Census Bureau has adjusted the city’s 2010 population from 2,099,451 to 2,100,263. The difference is only 812 people, but it’s enough to push the city over the 2.1 million mark, a threshold for adding City Council members.

City officials protested the count shortly after the census figures were released in February 2011. They argued that officials did not use the correct boundaries and, therefore, missed several geographical areas within the city limits. All of the housing units in those areas, except for one, are located in the northeast part of the city.

Census officials agreed after reviewing the boundaries and contacted the city last week.

See here for the background. The total difference is trivial, and we went ahead and expanded Council anyway despite some initial resistance, so this is mostly of academic interest. But still, it’s nice to get it right, and to prove once and for all that expanding Council was the correct call.

The dollar coin is an idea that just won’t die

It keeps turning up like a bad penny, as it were.

I have still never seen one of these

American consumers have shown about as much appetite for the $1 coin as kids do their spinach. They may not know what’s best for them either. Congressional auditors say doing away with dollar bills entirely and replacing them with dollar coins could save taxpayers some $4.4 billion over the next 30 years.

Vending machine operators have long championed the use of $1 coins because they don’t jam the machines, cutting down on repair costs and lost sales. But most people don’t seem to like carrying them. In the past five years, the U.S. Mint has produced 2.4 billion Presidential $1 coins. Most are stored by the Federal Reserve, and production was suspended about a year ago.

The latest projection from the Government Accountability Office on the potential savings from switching to dollar coins entirely comes as lawmakers begin exploring new ways for the government to save money by changing the money itself.

The Mint is preparing a report for Congress showing how changes in the metal content of coins could save money.

The last time the government made major metallurgical changes in U.S. coins was nearly 50 years ago when Congress directed the Mint to remove silver from dimes and quarters and to reduce its content in half dollar coins. Now, Congress is looking at new changes in response to rising prices for copper and nickel.

The bit about changing the composition of existing coins in order to save money makes sense and is something I’d support. The rest is a story we’ve heard before, so I’ll just refer you to the points I made the last time this report was in the news. Brad Plumer echoes my arguments and adds some further information. As I’ve said before, I doubt anyone’s mind will be changed by any of this, so as always we’ll see what if anything comes of this.