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March 7th, 2017:

Zerwas proposes using Rainy Day Fund

We’ll see if this goes anywhere.

Rep. John Zerwas

The chief budget writer in the Texas House on Friday proposed using $1.4 billion from the state’s savings account to pay bills coming due for a wide array of the state’s health and human services programs.

The proposal from state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, would continue pay raises for Child Protective Services workers that state leaders ordered last year. It would also pay for renovations at the state’s aging mental health hospitals and state-supported living centers for people with disabilities.

And it would partially reverse a sweeping $350 million budget cut to a therapy program for children with disabilities ordered by the Texas Legislature in 2015.

The funding would come from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, a savings account lawmakers may use in tight budget years. That fund currently has about $10 billion.

“Using a small portion of the Economic Stabilization Fund, combined with spending reductions, is the responsible way for us to close out the current budget cycle and respond to the slowdown in our economy,” Zerwas said in a prepared statement.

This is for the supplemental budget, which is to say the budget passed by the 2015 Legislature, not for the one this Lege is working on. It will free up some money for the current budget if Zerwas’ proposal is adopted, in the sense that current revenues would not have to be used to close out the previous budget. Given the emergency that everyone agrees CPS is and the outcry that followed the cuts to the therapy program for children with disabilities, you would think this would be a relative no-brainer, but don’t count on it. The Rainy Day Fund morphed from being a tool to use to smooth out economic bumps to a lump of gold buried in the backyard that is never to be touched unless there’s a natural disaster, with the 2011 session in which cutting $5 billion from public education was seen as the better choice as the turning point. A supermajority is needed to tap the Rainy Day Fund, and I have a hard time believing Dan Patrick and his Senate sycophants will go for that. But at least someone had the guts to bring it up, so kudos to Rep. Zerwas for that. Keep an eye on this, because it may be a precursor of the larger budget fight between the chambers. If Zerwas gets his way, that bodes well. If not, things could get ugly.

Eddie Lucio is the worst

Screw this guy.

The worst

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. on Monday came out in support of the so-called “bathroom bill,” giving Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick a Democratic supporter in his push for the high-profile legislation.

Lucio, who has previously bucked his party on social issues, announced he will vote for the legislation, Senate Bill 6, while appearing at a news conference with Patrick and other bathroom bill supporters. Lucio’s announcement kicked off a flurry of activity at the Capitol — both for and against the bill — ahead of its hearing Tuesday in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Lucio’s support means there are now 16 senators — 15 Republicans — on the record in favor of the legislation. At the news conference, Patrick insisted that before Lucio’s announcement, the bill had the support of the 19 senators it needs to be brought to the Senate floor. It’s unclear who the other three are.

[…]

“Children, youth and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity and respect without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security from other students and parents,” Lucio said at the news conference.

Those children and their parents, not to mention adult transgender people, will clearly get none of those things from you, Eddie Lucio. For shame. Lucio isn’t on the ballot again until 2020, but a high priority needs to be put on finding a primary challenger for him. There are plenty of legitimate issues on which it makes sense to work with Republicans in the Legislature. This is not a legitimate issue, and nothing good comes from being Dan Patrick’s patsy. We deserve better than this.

More on Mack Beggs

I like this kid.

In the wake of winning a controversial Texas state girls’ wrestling title over the weekend, Mack Beggs, a 17-year-old transgender wrestler, spoke to the need to “stay strong” while also calling on state policymakers to “change the laws and then watch me wrestle the boys.”

Beggs, who identifies as male, was dogged throughout the tournament by questions about whether his testosterone treatments made him too strong to wrestle fairly against girls. In an interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines on Wednesday, Beggs said he was unfazed by the boos that rained down on him en route to the 110-pound championship, which capped an undefeated season for the Euless Trinity junior.

“I just heard the boos, but I heard more cheering,” Beggs told OTL. “Honestly, I was like, ‘You know what? Boo all you want, because you’re just hating. You hating ain’t going to get me and you nowhere, and I’m just going to keep on doing what I’ve got to do.’

“That’s why I’ve always had that mentality. If you’re going to be negative, you know, whatever, that’s not going to faze me.”

Beggs, who says he has been taunted with slurs such as “f—-t” and “it,” cited the testosterone as a reason for the boos, as well as ignorance and a lack of understanding on the part of his critics.

“I mean, I’ve been winning before when I didn’t have testosterone, but now that, you know, I’m actually winning winning, people want to go crazy,” Beggs said. He added that some people “just automatically want to call me a cheater.”

“Like that kind of makes me feel like they don’t care about my training or the work that I put in,” he continued. “Because I’ve been to [state] twice. And it’s not like I’m just doing this because I want to like call myself a boy and just dominate all these girls. What do I get out of that? I don’t get anything out of that.”

Given the choice, Beggs said he would “definitely” want to wrestle boys, “because I’m a guy. It just makes more sense.”

See here for the background. Maybe someone should ask Dan Patrick why he wants to make Mack Beggs use the girls’ bathroom, as would be required under SB6. Of course, we know what a coward Patrick is, so there’s no chance he’d ever consent to speaking with Mack Beggs. But make no mistake, this is what Dan Patrick wants.

ThinkProgress adds an interesting wrinkle.

In Beggs’ home state of Texas, a bill that would ban transgender Texans from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity is being heard this week. Nationally, President Trump rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance about trans rights, allowing states more flexibility in how much—or how little—they accommodate transgender students.

On Sunday, Beggs addressed Trump’s actions in an exclusive interview with ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“You know, people thought he was going to be an LGBT activist,” Beggs told ESPN. “That backfired on them. It just [sets] trans rights 10 times backwards. We’re just going to come back 20 times harder.”

Trump’s actions are particularly personal for Beggs, not only because of his own identity as a transgender boy, but also because his mother, Angela McNew, voted for Trump.

McNew has been supportive of her son’s transition, and in the past couple of weeks, has reportedly begun to wonder if voting for Trump was the right thing to do.

“I think on this journey [Trump] probably should step outside the box and think about all of these children and all of these people, that if you really look at them and the journey they’re taking, would you really put them in their birth certificate?” McNew told OTL reporter Tisha Thompson. “And honestly, who is going to be going by the bathrooms and checking I.D.?”

Beggs grew up attending an evangelical Christian church, and has been struggling to reconcile his upbringing with his current reality. His mother has defended her son to people in the church, some of whom have said she should go to jail for child abuse because God doesn’t make mistakes.

McNew is insistent that God didn’t make a mistake with Beggs — in fact, she believes that Beggs is fulfilling his purpose right now, as he fights for transgender rights on a national stage.

Yes, Dear Leader Trump is definitely a foe for transgender people. I hope Ms. McNew comes to recognize that, and that Dan Patrick is bad news for her and her son as well.

County approves defense attorneys for bail hearings

Long overdue.

Harris County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to develop a pilot program that would make public defenders present at bail hearings, a move aimed at reducing what officials say is the unnecessary jailing of thousands of defendants because they can’t afford bail or are unfamiliar with the legal process.

The pilot could lead to Harris County becoming the first county in Texas to make legal representation available at all hearings where bail is set. The majority of individuals are not represented by attorneys at the hearings.

Advocates for criminal justice reform heralded the county’s move, noting that research shows those jailed and unable to bail out are more likely to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit.

They also pointed to cases like that of Sandra Bland, who failed to make bail after a controversial arrest and committed suicide three days later in the Waller County jail, as examples of tragedies that could be prevented.

Roughly 80 percent of the Harris County jail’s population – some 7,000 to 8,000 inmates – are pre-trial detainees.

“In a jurisdiction that large, this is really a sea change about the way they are going to do business,” said Jim Bethke, executive director of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

[…]

The county public defender’s office is working with the budget office to develop the pilot program. It could make public defenders present at some or all bail hearings. Currently, Bethke said, only Bexar County has a similar program – and that is tailored to offenders with mental-health conditions.

The public defender’s office will present a pilot program to county commissioners on March 14, and it would go into effect, if approved, on July 1. The county is also implementing a new risk assessment tool for hearing officers to better determine whether people can be released prior to trial.

I consider this another positive outcome of the ongoing bail practices lawsuit. The time was finally right for the issue to gain salience and require some kind of solution, even before any intervention from the court. I want to see what the effect of this is on the jail population, because if it doesn’t have a noticeable effect then something is wrong. Think Progress, which offers an overview of the case, has more.