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May 11th, 2017:

Mayor Turner’s second budget

It’s about what you’d expect.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

With pension reform in sight, Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday proposed a combination of departmental cuts, one-time fixes, deferred payments and a dip into city reserves to close next year’s $123 million budget gap.

Turner aims to erase the deficit with $51 million in spending cuts – largely from police and fire overtime – $35 million in one-time revenues or deferred payments, and $38 million drawn from city reserves. The mayor said he anticipates eliminating vacant positions across departments and making fewer than 10 layoffs.

The proposed $2.38 billion general fund budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is about $35 million more than this year’s spending plan, due in part to a $51 million spike in debt costs.

“Like anything, there are limited dollars, and I think what the public expects for us to do is to operate in a very prudent fashion,” Turner said. “I think we have submitted a budget that can at least maintain our core city services.”

The city’s budget projection is predicated on the state Legislature’s passage of Houston’s pension reform deal with a two-thirds majority and Gov. Greg Abbott’s subsequent approval, which would put the changes into effect at the start of the fiscal year.

The mayor has said the budget gap would increase to roughly $234 million without pension reform, potentially requiring hundreds of employee layoffs.

The deficit also would grow if the Legislature passes the pension bill with some of the House’s amendments attached or with less than a two-thirds majority, which would delay implementation until September.

This year’s budget is similar in nature to last year’s, and I expect that the Mayor will have little tolerance for amendments that include any new spending. I assume he has a Plan B budget in his back pocket in case the Lege doesn’t fully cooperate, and I’ll be fine with never seeing it. From here, it’s on to getting the pension obligation bonds ratified and lifting the revenue cap, which if nothing else ought to make next year’s budget a little less painful. Here’s hoping.

Bill to allow discrimination in adoptions and foster care passes the House

Shameful.

Rep. James Frank

Under House Bill 3859, which advanced on a 94-51 vote, providers would be protected from legal retaliation if they assert their “sincerely held religious beliefs” while caring for abused and neglected children. The measure would allow them to place a child in a religion-based school; deny referrals for abortion-related contraceptives, drugs or devices; and refuse to contract with other organizations that don’t share their religious beliefs.

Rep. James Frank, the Wichita Falls Republican who authored the bill and an adoptive father, said repeatedly during a lengthy debate Tuesday that his legislation is not meant to be exclusionary but to give providers some certainty when it comes to legal disputes. He described opposition to the bill as “fabricated hysteria.”

“You can be successful, but it will cost you,” Frank said. “The bill declares a winner and says, ‘You are protected.'”

But Democratic lawmakers who lined up at a podium at the back of the House chamber to question Frank said the legislation would give religious groups license to discriminate against LGBT — or Jewish or divorced — parents who want to foster or adopt, or to avoid getting children vaccinated. A vast array of things could be classified as a “sincerely held religious belief,” they said.

“We’re further casting these children off,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston. “We’re making it more difficult for them to be adopted.”

See here for the background. The original sin here is the state accepting the idea that it’s okay for faith-based groups to treat children who don’t conform to their faith differently than those who do. By its very definition, it’s not acting in the best interests of the child, but of the providers, who last I checked were supposed to have the best interests of the child as their primary concern. And the “sincerely-held beliefs” dodge is just that, for as Chuck Smith said in that earlier story there are a lot of harmful beliefs out there. Remember this?

So check out the short exchange in the video clip above between Cohen and Becky Riggle, a pastor at Houston’s Grace Community Church. Riggle was testifying against [HERO], arguing that it violates the religious freedom of business owners and others in Houston who think LGBT people are sinful. If a business owner has the right to refuse service to LGBT people because the owner’s religious beliefs are offended, Cohen asks, then should business owners also be able to refuse service to other people — like, say, Jews — for the same reason?

Riggle, clearly realizing she’s trapped by her own argument, proceeds to trip all over her tongue in trying to respond. She ultimately suggests that yes, religious freedom would allow her to discriminate against Jews. But she insists “that’s not the issue” in the case of the Houston ERO.

Actually, that’s exactly what this is about — whether someone’s religious beliefs give them a free pass to discriminate against anyone they choose in civil society.

“Sincerely held” is not a synonym for “commendable” or “worthwhile”. This is a bad idea and it will be directly harmful to children who are already pretty damn vulnerable. ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Chron have more.

Oh, and on a separate note, there was this:

A foster care bill in the House turned into a heated debate on vaccinations for children on Wednesday.

The bill from Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, is part of the state’s attempt to reform its foster care system. Wu’s House Bill 39, which won preliminary approval, would limit on the number of kids a Child Protective Services worker could supervise. It would also require speedy medical evaluations of children entering the foster care system.

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington and vice chairman of the staunchly conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, authored an amendment to the bill that would have restricted doctors from including vaccinations in initial medical examinations for children. Zedler said children could be removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, and then given an unwanted vaccination.

On the floor, Zedler told lawmakers that vaccines don’t protect public health and should not be considered an emergency medication. “The vaccination is only for that child to protect that child,” he said.

[…]

Zedler’s amendment had both Democrats and Republicans up in arms. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, attempted to change Zedler’s amendment to allow doctor’s to distribute a vaccine if it has been proven to prevent cancer. Davis, who has previously been an advocate for vaccinations, said she was “dumbfounded” that lawmakers would vote against preventing cervical cancer.

“My amendment empowers doctors to practice medicine,” Davis said during a testy exchange with Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. “I think this is so important that we can eradicate cervical cancer.”

Leach said he was concerned that Davis’ amendment would revoke parental rights who do not believe in vaccination, and “rip that decision from the parents and the child and give it to the doctor.”

Emphasis mine. Zedler’s amendment passed, while Davis’ attempt to modify it was defeated. Here are the 2016 election numbers in Zedler’s district and in Leach’s district. Sure would be nice to have some better representatives in those two districts, wouldn’t it? The Trib has more.

Mike Floyd gets his due

The newest star of Texas politics gets a nice profile in the Chron.

Mike Floyd

[Mike] Floyd’s stunning victory made national headlines. While school boards have had student representatives for decades, Floyd is the youngest person in recent memory elected to a school board in Texas.

His candidacy also reflects the increasing competitiveness of school board races in Houston’s suburbs as the districts become more diverse, as well as the rising political engagement of millennials since Donald Trump’s election in November.

“It is kind of funny to think about it – an 18-year-old just got a spot on the school board,” Floyd said. “I think people are excited to see a change here in Pearland.”

Much of Floyd’s platform focused on making Pearland ISD’s school board more transparent by live-streaming meetings and scheduling public-comment periods after traditional work hours. He also staked out a strong position on transgender issues, insisting that such students be able to use the restroom of their gender identify. That put him at odds with Superintendent John Kelly, who has been outspoken in arguing that students use the restroom that corresponds to their birth certificates.

Floyd described himself as someone who could better represent students’ and teachers’ interests because he had seen firsthand how district-level decisions affect local classrooms.

[…]

Deep dimples add to his youthful appearance, but Floyd speaks with the maturity of someone older, gesturing to emphasize nuances in the district’s 2016 bond package or Texas’ reviled school funding formula. Both of his parents are attorneys, his mother with the Department of Veterans Affairs and his father with his own firm. He has four siblings.

He said he ran in an effort to close the gap between district policies and classroom realities. He was also upset by Kelly’s stance on transgender issues. Kelly was unavailable for comment, and a district spokeswoman said it does not comment on school board election results.

Pearland ISD, by most measures, is a prototypical Texas suburban school district. It serves about 22,000 students between Beltway 8 and the yet-to-be-completed Grand Parkway, about a 30-minute drive south of Houston’s downtown.

While it used to be a Republican stronghold, voting trends are beginning to shift, particularly on its east side.

Pearland ISD has gone from a predominately white, semi-rural area to an ethnically and economically diverse suburb on the edge of an ever-expanding urban core.

Jay Aiyer, an assistant professor of public policy at Texas Southern University, said the area’s changing population has brought a fundamental shift to the left in Brazoria County, and in Pearland specifically.

“Often we think of that profile as an urban phenomenon,” Aiyer said. “But now we’re seeing places like Fort Bend County – and now in Brazoria County – with an increased diversity that has led to profound political changes.”

Those changing attitudes and demographic shifts apparently helped lift Floyd, a self-described liberal, to victory.

See here for an earlier story on Floyd. Aiyer is right that this is a big deal in a place like Pearland, and we saw a few hints of the change in voting patters last November. In this case, we have a candidate who worked really hard and clearly impressed a lot of people with his grasp of the issues and his ability to speak about them. A late-breaking controversy involving some stuff Floyd’s opponent posted on Facebook didn’t hurt his chances, either. Floyd ran a great campaign, he had a lot of people believing in him, and from all I’ve seen he’s got his priorities straight. I look forward to seeing what Mike Floyd can do as a Pearland ISD Trustee, and I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about him going forward.

Texas blog roundup for the week of May 8

The Texas Progressive Alliance thinks lacking human decency should be considered a pre-existing condition as it brings you this week’s roundup.

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