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Bob Deuell

Two GOP State Reps seek Senate promotions

Item One:

Rep. Cindy Burkett

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, launched a challenge Tuesday to state Sen. Bob Hall of Edgewood, setting up a Republican primary clash in North Texas.

“I am proud of what I have accomplished for Texas and for all people who share my conservative values,” Burkett said in a news release. “Serving in the Texas Senate will allow me to continue and expand this work.”

Burkett is serving her fourth term in the House, where she chairs the Redistricting Committee. She first won election to House District 101 in 2010. After HD-101 was altered by redistricting in 2011, Burkett successfully ran for House District 113, which she currently represents.

Hall, a Tea Party activist, won the Senate District 2 seat three years ago in an upset victory over Bob Deuell, the Republican incumbent from Greenville. Burkett was once an aide to Deuell in the Senate.

[…]

At least two candidates are already running for Burkett’s seat in HD-113. They include Garland Republican Jonathan Boos and Rowlett Democrat Rhetta Bowers, both of whom unsuccessfully challenged Burkett in 2016.

This race is of interest for several reasons. First and foremost, HD113 is a top target next year. Like all Dallas County districts, it was carried by Hillary Clinton, but it was also very close at the downballot level. Having it be an open seat is likely to be better for the Democrats, and may possibly be a signal that the Republicans don’t like their prospects. Bob Hall is a dithering fool, but much of SD02 is outside Dallas County, and some of that turf may not be very hospitable to a suburban establishment type, especially one who is already talking about playing well with others. If Burkett means what she says, she could be a marginal improvement on Hall – the bar is pretty low here, as Hall is awful – but Burkett was the author of the regular session omnibus anti-abortion bill, so don’t expect much.

Item Two:

State Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, is making it official: He is challenging state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

“They just desperately want somebody new,” Fallon said of voters in Senate District 30, which Estes has represented since 2001. “It’s been 16 years — it’s going to be 18 years. They want a change. They don’t see him around.”

Fallon had been seriously mulling a Senate bid for months, crisscrossing the 14-county district in North Texas since at least the end of the regular legislative session in May. He first shared his decision to run Tuesday with a newspaper in SD-30, the Weatherford Democrat.

In an interview with the Tribune, Fallon said he was “shocked” to learn in his travels how many local officials view Estes as an absentee senator. Fallon, who loaned his campaign $1.8 million in June, also said he was prepared to “spend every dime and then some” to get his message out in the race.

“It’s a moral obligation,” he said. “We simply need in this district to close one chapter and open up a new one.”

Not much to be said about this one. Estes is basically a waste of space, while Fallon is more of a new school jackass. Neither district is competitive. Someone will win the race, but no one will truly win.

Finally, along those same lines, Angela Paxpn – wife of you-know-who – has officially announced her candidacy for SD08, where she will face off against Phillip Huffines, brother of Sen. Don Huffines. We first heard about this a couple of weeks ago. With any luck, Huffines will spend a bunch of his money attacking Angela Paxton by attacking Ken Paxton. Surely that’s not asking for too much.

Chron overview of the AG race

Couple of interesting tidbits in here.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

A tea party darling with a dozen years in the state Legislature, Sen. Ken Paxton has avoided the media since admitting to a third-degree felony violation of state securities law in late April. Spokesman Anthony Holm serves as his gatekeeper – even once physically blocking a reporter from approaching the candidate – while Paxton refuses to release his public schedule or meet with newspaper editorial boards.

The McKinney Republican refused multiple interview requests for this story.

Democratic opponent Sam Houston is Paxton’s foil in almost every way. So eager to garner media attention and sow unease about his opponent’s past, the Houston lawyer holds press conferences with few or no attendees. He has never held office, though he came closer than anyone expected in a recent bid for the Texas Supreme Court, and only jumped in the attorney general’s race after finding that no other Democrat intended to enter.

The importance of the position cannot be oversold. The attorney general decides what legal battles to wage on behalf of the state, and what information should and can be released to the public by government officials and agencies. This year, Abbott steered the debate over abortion, gay marriage, voter identification and the disclosure of dangerous chemical information. His successor will help determine the future of public school funding and much more.

Paxton has said he would take up Abbott’s mantle to act as a bulwark between Texas and “federal encroachment.” Houston views the office differently. In an interview with the Chronicle, he said he disagreed with many of Abbott’s decisions, but none more than his repeated lawsuits against the federal government: “A lawsuit ought to be your very last resort, and it shouldn’t be a campaign slogan. It doesn’t do any dang good.”

Both men recognize the attorney general’s duty is to the law, but Houston said the office should be an advocate for the entire state and “not just certain interests.”

“I think there might be situations when you say, ‘the state’s acting unconstitutionally. Well, I’m going to take my role as a public official and I’m not going to defend that,'” said Houston. He called Abbott’s insistence that he can’t settle the state’s school finance lawsuit “a cop out,” and said as attorney general he would work on a settlement.

After 12 years in the Legislature, Paxton consistently is described by his Senate and former House colleagues as a soft-spoken, introspective lawmaker, a quiet ideologue. Never a bomb-thrower, he gained notoriety by remaining cordial with his colleagues while challenging moderate Republicans on policy and leadership. He is heavily endorsed by tea party groups and backed by divisive figures like conservative powerbroker Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose Empower Texans PAC helped give Paxton the financial upper hand against Houston by lending his campaign more than $1 million.

[…]

In his early years in the Legislature, Paxton spoke up on education and transparency issues, complaining in 2005 he had been “inundated by government lobbyists” during the session. He opposed tax increases, voted against equal pay efforts and co-sponsored Texas’ 2011 voter identification bill, which a federal judge ruled unconstitutional last week. He has been a leader on anti-abortion legislation, including the state’s pre-abortion sonogram requirement. He voted for requiring drug testing for welfare recipients and was one of only four senators to vote against the 2013 state budget that funneled billions back into public school funding “because it was too big.”

[…]

Paxton consistently is popular with tea party Republicans, but not with more moderate members of his party. Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas and a Branch supporter in the runoff, has thrown his support behind him despite concerns with Paxton’s media strategy and his refusal to debate his opponent. Bob Deuell, another long-time moderate Republican senator ousted by a tea partyer this year, said he could not support Paxton: “I’m just probably not going to vote in that race.”

“He’s not going to stick his neck out on any issues,” Deuell said. “But I don’t lose any sleep about him being attorney general. The world’s not going to come to an end.”

Deuell is a moderate in the same way that I’m an anarcho-syndicalist, but never mind that for now. Most of what’s in this section isn’t new, but it’s good to have a reminder that 1) the AG office is really important, 2) Ken Paxton is fully aware that he’s in deep doo-doo, no matter how hard is poor overworked spokesperson has to issue the same stale denials, and 3) Paxton is a stone ideologue who will continue Greg Abbott’s practice of representing the interests of the Republican Party over everyone else’s, regardless of the cost, correctness, or likelihood of success. I hope Bob Deuell has a lot of company here, because we’re going to need it to get Sam Houston elected.

Speaking of, here’s the smaller section of the story about Sam Houston:

Sam Houston’s name is certainly memorable, but it is not the one he claimed at birth. He was born Samuel Jones in Colorado City in 1963. His parents divorced soon after, and his father disappeared when he was a toddler, Houston said. His mother remarried and he took on his stepfather’s notable moniker.

The grandson of farmers and ranchers, Houston grew up working in his family’s auto shop. He first left the sleepy west Texas town to attend the University of Texas at Austin, after which he proceeded to Baylor for law school. He and Paxton overlapped by one year there, but their paths never crossed.

Houston married his college sweetheart soon after the two moved to Houston in the mid-1980s. But by 1993, she had developed colon cancer and died three years later. Houston said he spiraled emotionally, culminating in a 1997 arrest for driving while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty, served six months probation.

It was meeting and marrying his second wife that likely ended the cycle, Houston said: “I had a couple of really hard years. … I can say Jantha probably pulled me out of it, to be honest with you.”

I must say, I knew none of that before reading this story. That doesn’t happen to me very often these days. It would have been interesting to have seen how some of this information might have been conveyed and received if Ken Paxton had run an actual campaign instead of hiding under a rock. Too bad for him that being out in public and actually talking about things was a risk he couldn’t bear. The Trib, which covered a lot of the same ground as the Chron but with more of a focus on Houston’s campaign and Paxton’s non-campaign, and Texas Politics have more.

Teacher health insurance costs

Another thing on the list of things the Legislature needs to deal with but won’t.

Health care insurance costs for hundreds of thousands of Texas teachers and other public school employees are scheduled to go up again this fall, prompting renewed calls from educator groups for the state to pick up more of the cost of employee premiums.

The biggest increase will be experienced by those seeking basic coverage for themselves and family members. Their monthly premiums will jump $85 to a high of $1,145 a month, nearly two and a half times the national average of $472 a month. Similar coverage in the private sector would cost around $407 a month, according to a recent Bush Institute study on teacher health care costs.

“The current policy of imposing ever-greater costs on employees is not sustainable,” said Ted Melina Raab, spokesman for the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. “It is putting decent, affordable coverage out of reach for growing numbers of school personnel.”

More than 280,000 public school employees – roughly three in four teachers, principals, administrators and other staff – receive health insurance through the Teacher Retirement System of Texas. The insurance program, called TRS-ActiveCare, was created to provide a health care option to working teachers whose districts did not offer their own plans.

Last Friday, the TRS board agreed to increase monthly premiums across most TRS-ActiveCare plans.

Since 2002, the state’s share of premiums has remained at $75 a month. During that same period, some educators seeking coverage for just themselves have seen their premiums increase 238 percent.

Even with the state’s monthly contribution of $75 and a $150 base contribution required from school districts, some employees still will pay upwards of $920 a month for basic family coverage.

“These increases amount to pay cuts,” Clay Robison of the Texas State Teachers Association said, noting the average teacher in the Lone Star State makes under $50,000 a year. “It really has become a burden for some of these teachers.”

This is a feature and a bug of the employer-subsidized insurance model. As we know, employers that provide health insurance plans for their employees pay a significant fraction of the cost of the premiums. This makes health insurance a lot more affordable for many people, but it means many of them have no idea how much their insurance really costs, and it means that an ever-increasing percentage of their total compensation is going to health insurance and not to, you know, salary. But that’s the world we live in, and Robison is exactly right – if the state is not upping its share of the payments, then it is like a pay cut for the teachers, since they’re bearing the full brunt of it. That’s just not right.

The solution, educator groups and districts agree, lies with the legislature. Teacher groups point to the fact that lawmakers and other state employees are covered by the Employees Retirement System of Texas health insurance plan, which pays 100 percent of monthly premiums for individuals and half of dependent coverage.

“School district employees are conveniently thought of as state employees for some things, not thought of as state employees for other things,” said Texas AFT President Linda Bridges, citing increasing performance benchmarks placed on public teachers by state officials. “We think school employees should have health care as good as the governor.”

[…]

State Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, said state lawmakers have a clear role to play in reducing health care costs for teachers.

“Here is an area where clearly the state has a role to play,” said Villarreal. “Clearly, the legislature can take actions to reduce the costs for our teachers in a way that doesn’t interfere with the authority of superintendents and principals.”

State Sen. Bob Deuell, the Greenville Republican ousted by tea party candidate Bob Hall, thinks this will be a hard sell in a legislature keen on budget cuts.

“If you increase the premiums, you have essentially cut the salaries of teachers at a time when they’re not being paid enough already,” said Deuell. “I doubt very seriously the teachers are successful in getting this issue – or any other issue – through next year.”

This is where I point out that Texas’ revenue collections are going gangbusters, meaning the Legislature will have plenty of money to work with. The combination we have of unmet needs, neglected infrastructure, and available cash is one you’d think would be amenable to actually finding solutions to the problems we face. Unfortunately, that requires a level of rationality in the Legislature that doesn’t exist. Can’t do much about the Legislature but we can change direction at the top of the state. It’s the best hope we have.

Primary runoff results

So long, Dave.

So very sad

Riding a wave of conservative sentiment that Texas Republicans were not being led with a hard enough edge, state Sen. Dan Patrick crushed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff election for lieutenant governor, ending the career of a dominant figure in state politics for the last dozen years.

The Associated Press called the race shortly after 8 p.m., just an hour after polls closed in most of the state. As votes were still being counted, Patrick was winning by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent.

Patrick’s victory marked the end of a rough campaign for Dewhurst, who trailed Patrick, a second term senator, by 13 percentage points in the four-way March primary. The incumbent sought to define Patrick, who is far less well-known statewide, as an untrustworthy figure more given to self-serving publicity stunts than the meticulous business of governing.

[…]

Dewhurst, who built a fortune in the energy industry and entered politics as a big-dollar Republican donor, won his first election as land commissioner in 1998 which laid the groundwork for a successful run for lieutenant governor in 2002, twice winning re-election in 2006 and 2010.

But Dewhurst’s luck turned when he lost the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012 to Ted Cruz, a former solicitor general, who captured the spirit of the rising tea party movement in Texas. Cruz took advantage of an election calendar delayed by redistricting fights, holding Dewhurst to less than 50 percent in the primary and surging past him in the mid-summer runoff.

Dewhurst’s defeat at the hands of Cruz exposed Dewhurst’s vulnerability and when it turned out that he was going to try for a fourth term as lieutenant governor as the capstone of his career, Patrick, Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples proceeded with their candidacies to try to take him out.

Let’s be clear that while Dan Patrick is a terrible human being who should never be entrusted with political power, David Dewhurst deserves no sympathy for his plight. He brought it on himself, and no one should be surprised by what happened. I doubt Dewhurst could ever have been sufficiently “conservative” to satisfy the seething masses that Dan Patrick represents, and I doubt he could have been powerful enough to have scared Patrick and his ego from challenging him, but there was nothing stopping him from being a better and more engaged Lt. Governor. I’m sure his many millions of dollars will be an adequate salve for his wounds, so again, no need for sympathy.

Democrats were obviously ready for this result. I’ve lost count of the number of statements and press releases that have hit my inbox so far. This statement from Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, was the first to arrive:

“Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick are two peas in a pod when it comes to women’s health, having led the fight to block Texas women from their rights and access to health care. Both oppose access to safe and legal abortion, even in cases of incest or rape. And both have worked to cut women off from preventative health services, and to close health centers, including Planned Parenthood clinics, that offer affordable birth control and cancer screenings.

Abbott and Patrick have made clear that they do not trust Texas women to make their own health care decisions. But the decision Texas women make at the ballot box this November will decide the election. You can’t win in Texas by working against Texas women. We’ve had enough of politicians like Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, who want to impose their personal agenda on all Texas women – and between now and Election Day, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes will be working around the clock to make sure that Texas women know what the Abbott-Patrick ticket will mean for their access to health care.”

Others came in from Sen. Van de Putte, the Wendy Davis campaign, who wondered when we’d see Patrick and Abbott together, the Texas Organizing Project, and Annie’s List. The van de Putte campaign also released a statement announcing the support of “two prominent business leaders”: William Austin Ligon, the co-founder and retired CEO of CarMax, and Republican Louis Barrios, with whom we are already familiar. It’s a nice move to deflect a bit of attention, but I sure hope that list grows and grows and grows.

In other Republican news, the deeply unethical Ken Paxton won the AG nomination, the deeply unqualified Sid Miller won the Ag Commissioner nomination, and Ryan Sitton won the Railroad Commissioner nomination. As I’ve said before, this is easily the weakest Republican statewide slate in my memory. Doesn’t mean they won’t win, just that there’s no reason to be scared of them – as candidates, anyway. They should scare the hell out of you as officeholders, but they’re no electoral juggernaut.

On the Democratic side, the good news is that David Alameel won easily in his runoff for the US Senate nomination, with over 70% of the vote. All I can say is that I sincerely hope this is the last we hear of Kesha Rogers, and if it’s not I hope enough people know who and what she is so that she won’t be a factor in whatever race she turns up in. In other news – whether good or bad depends on your perspective – Jim Hogan defeated Kinky Friedman for the Ag Commissioner nomination. Hogan’s a zero, but I guess too many people weren’t ready to forgive Friedman for his prior offenses. I voted for Kinky in the runoff, but I understand the feeling. The main lesson here is that a first-time candidate in a statewide primary needs more than just endorsements to be successful. Either they get the funds they need to get their name out to a few hundred thousand voters, or you get a random result. Ask Hugh Fitzsimons, and ask David Alameel.

Dem statewide results are here and Republican statewide results are here. Bob Deuell lost in the SD02 runoff, making the Senate that much more stupid next year than it needed to be, while 91-year-old Congressman Ralph Hall appears to be finally headed for retirement. Some reasons for guarded optimism downballot: Ben Streusand lost in CD36, SBOE member Pat Hardy defeated the truly bizarre Eric Mahroum, and most of the Parent PAC candidates appear to have won. You take your victories where you can. Also, as noted below, Denise Pratt was soundly defeated in her runoff. So there’s that.

There will be plenty of time to talk about these races in more depth as we go. I may do some number-twiddling with them if I think there’s anything of interest in the county and precinct results. For now, it’s on to November, with a brief pause along the way in June for the SD04 runoff. For various reactions and liveblogs, see the Observer, the Trib, BOR, PDiddie, Juanita, and the always full of wit John Coby. And in closing, this may be the saddest thing I’ve ever read:

As the early voting totals rolled in, showing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst behind by nearly 20 percent, supporters trickled in to a small election watch party north of the Galleria.

Members of the press outnumbered the early crowd, but campaign staff said they expected nearly 200 people to arrive. Many were still working the polls, they said, hoping to eke more votes out of a rainy day.

Almost enough to make me feel sorry for him. Almost.

The Senate is likely to get stupider again

The cause.

Sen. Robert Duncan

The Texas Tech University System Board of Regents officially named state Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, the sole finalist to be the system’s next chancellor in a press release issued Monday afternoon.

Duncan is expected to start in his new position on July 1. A special election will have to be held to replace him, and at least one candidate — state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock — has already announced an intention to run.

“To be able to serve the great universities in the Texas Tech University System is a tremendous honor for me and my family,” Duncan said in a statement. “I love the people of West Texas and will devote all of my energy to continue to grow the reputations for excellence of all the universities in the system.”

Mickey Long, the chairman of the Texas Tech board, expressed delight that, though the regents undertook a national search for the replacement for outgoing chancellor Kent Hance, they ended up with a new chancellor with strong personal ties to the region and to Texas Tech University.

The effect.

If current trends hold, [Duncan] may well be replaced by a tea party fire-breather for a 2015 session that will be seriously deficient in “credibility, calm, and collegiality.” Here’s another way to think about that: The Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones created an ideological pecking order of the Texas Senate after last session. He compared votes and identified the most liberal (relatively speaking) and conservative senators.

There were 19 GOP senators last session. Of the six most moderate, only three will be left next session. It’s possible that there will be only two. Duncan is leaving, and state Sen. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) already left, each to take a university job. State Sen. John Carona, the most moderate according to Jones’ standard, lost a re-election bid.

State Sen. Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) faces a surprisingly competitive primary runoff against a challenger with an extremely problematic personal history; that contest will be resolved May 27. That leaves only state Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), who squeaked past a surprisingly competitive primary challenge of his own, and state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler).

If he wins next week’s lieutenant governor runoff, Dan Patrick has talked about ending the senate’s two-thirds rule and stripping all committee chairmanships from Democrats, which would turn the chamber, effectively, into his own private club. As if that weren’t enough, the bottom third of Jones’ chart—the small group of plugged-in, moderate Republicans—is fading away. In 2011, Texas Monthly wrote that “legislatures can’t function without members like Robert Duncan.” It looks like we’ll soon find out if that’s true.

You don’t have to buy Mark Jones’ ideology-identifying methodology to recognize that Sen. Duncan is in the increasingly smaller “let’s get something done” bucket on the Republican side of the Senate. We already know what we’re getting from some of the replacement Republican Senators, and the possible additions of Deuell’s completely unhinged challenger – who would be elected, it must be noted, by equally unhinged voters – and teabagger Rep. Charles Perry if he wins the future special election in SD28 – will only serve to make it worse. Duncan had long been expected to be the next head of Texas Tech and I will wish him well in his new job, but his good fortune will not be good for the rest of us.

Primary results: Legislature and Congress

Rep. Lon Burnam

The big news on the Democratic side is the close loss by longtime Rep. Lon Burnam in HD90, who fell by 111 votes to Ramon Romero Jr. I know basically nothing about Rep.-elect Romero, but I do know that Rep. Burnam has been a progressive stalwart, and it is sad to see him go. His district is heavily Latino, and he defeated a Latino challenger in 2012, but fell short this year. Congratulations to Rep.-elect Romero. Also in Tarrant County, Annie’s List-backed Libby Willis will carry the Democratic banner in SD10 to try to hold the seat being vacated by Wendy Davis. Elsewhere in Democratic legislative primaries, Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, who earned a Ten Worst spot this past session for a DUI bust during the session, was running third for her seat. Cesar Blanco, a former staffer for Rep. Pete Gallego, was leading with over 40% and will face either Gonzalez or Norma Chavez, whom Gonzalez had defeated in a previous and very nasty primary. I’m rooting for Blanco in either matchup. All other Dem incumbents won, including Rep. Mary Gonzalez in HD75. Congressional incumbents Eddie Berniece Johnson and Marc Veasey cruised to re-election, while challengers Donald Brown (CD14), Frank Briscoe (CD22), and Marco Montoya (CD25) all won their nominations.

On the Republican side, the endorsements of Rafael Cruz and Sarah Palin were not enough for Katrina Pierson in CD32, as Rep. Pete Sessions waltzed to a 68% win. Rep. Ralph Hall, who was born sometime during the Cretaceous Era, will be in a runoff against John Ratcliffe in CD04. All other GOP Congressional incumbents won, and there will be runoffs in CDs 23 and 36, the latter being between Brian Babin and Ben Streusand. I pity the fool that has to follow Steve Stockman’s act.

Some trouble in the Senate, as Sen. Bob Deuell appears headed for a runoff, and Sen. John Carona appears to have lost. Sen. Donna Campbell defeats two challengers. Those latter results ensure the Senate will be even dumber next session than it was last session. Konni Burton and Marc Shelton, whom Wendy Davis defeated in 2012, are in a runoff for SD10.

Multiple Republican State Reps went down to defeat – George Lavender (HD01), Lance Gooden (HD04), Ralph Sheffield (HD55), Diane Patrick (HD94), Linda Harper-Brown (HD105), and Bennett Ratliff (HD115). As I said last night, overall a fairly tough night for Texas Parent PAC. Rep. Stefani Carter (HD102), who briefly abandoned her seat for an ill-fated run for Railroad Commissioner, trailed Linda Koop heading into a runoff.

I’ll have more thoughts on some of these races later. I’d say the “establishment” Republican effort to push back on the Empower Texas/teabagger contingent is at best a work in progress. May open an opportunity or two for Dems – I’d say HD115 is now on their list in a way that it wouldn’t have been against Rep. Ratliff – but barring anything strange we should expect more of the same from the Lege in 2015.

What the future may hold for Wendy Davis

Patricia Kilday Hart has her take on the Wendy Davis phenomenon, including the reaction of some Republicans to it.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

For both proponents and opponents of SB 5, the legislation that would have banned abortions past 20 weeks of pregnancy and required costly upgrades to abortion facilities, one point was irrefutable: The filibuster created a new star for Texas Democrats.

“She’s the real deal. Humble beginnings … and she’s wickedly smart. The fact is, she does her best against the greatest odds,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. “Her future is whatever she wants it to be.” Agreed Sen. Rodney Ellis: “The sky is the limit.”

Republican campaign consultant Matt Mackowiak said Republican strategic errors carried a real cost for his party. “We now have a Wendy Davis problem,” he acknowledged. “We created an unbelievable opportunity to launch a first-tier Democrat.”

Still, given Davis’ liberal record and the state’s solid Republican bent, he said those who think a Democratic candidate can defeat Gov. Rick Perry or Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2014 are delusional. “I don’t think that person exists,” he said.

Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, a physician who challenged Davis’ position during Tuesday’s filibuster, agreed that better Republican planning could have prevented Davis’ moment in the limelight. He had advocated passing two other pieces of legislation, and adjourning, leaving the abortion bill for a second special session.

He also does not believe that Davis “will ever be governor of Texas.” In fact, she may have difficulty hanging onto her Texas Senate seat, when she runs in 2014 in a non-presidential year,” he said.

“Obama is not on the ticket,” he noted, and her last race was a tough, expensive ordeal.

Glad to know I’m not the only one who thought the Republicans’ strategy on Tuesday was nuts. But let’s knock down this idea that Davis necessarily has a harder time holding onto her State Senate seat next year because it’s not a Presidential year. You can find all the electoral reports for the State Senate map here – look for the RED206 Statewide files. Here are the best Democratic results in SD10 for each election going back to 2002:

Year Race R Vote D Vote R Pct D Pct ================================================ 2002 Lt Gov 92,324 81,771 53.0 47.0 2004 CCA 6 151,278 111,000 57.7 42.3 2006 Sup Ct 2 79,897 71,640 52.7 47.3 2008 Sup Ct 7 146,726 138,650 50.2 47.4 2010 Gov 90,897 76,920 52.7 44.6 2012 Sup Ct 6 143,816 128,484 50.8 45.4

2008 was less hostile to Dems than other years, but 2012 is basically on par with 2006 and 2002, in terms of margin of victory. 2012 was also a lot more challenging for Davis than 2008 was. John McCain won SD10 in 2008 by 15,000 votes and a 52.1 – 47.1 margin. Mitt Romney won SD10 by 23,000 votes and a 53.3 – 45.4 margin. Despite that, Davis won by 6,500 votes in 2012, which is almost as wide as the 7,000 vote margin she had in 2008, in a friendlier atmosphere. Turnout helped her in 2008, but it’s hard to argue it was much help 2012, as President Obama received 11,000 fewer votes in 2012 than he did in 2008 in SD10. Davis’ vote total, on the other hand, was nearly identical – 147,832 in 2008, 147,103 in 2012. She was one of only three candidates to win in a district that was not carried by her party’s Presidential candidate – Craig Eiland and Pete Gallego were the other two. She got 4,000 more votes than President Obama did in 2008, and a whopping 15,000 more votes than he did in 2012. That’s pretty strong evidence of her ability to attract crossover votes. Dismiss her if you want, but this is exactly the profile of someone who could be competitive statewide. Plus, as a plaintiff in the redistricting litigation, she offered to settle by accepting the 2012 interim map for the Senate. Maybe there’s some hubris in there, but if she thought she was doomed in 2014, I daresay she’d have continued to fight for more changes to the map. We already know she doesn’t back down from a fight, no matter how long and drawn-out it may be.

Now, this doesn’t mean that she couldn’t lose in 2014. SD10 is still a red-leaning district. If 2014 is a sufficiently GOP year, the hill could become too steep for her. Her elevated profile could work against her as well in that it might make her look more like a partisan Democrat to her Republican supporters, thus making her less attractive to them. It’s usually not that hard to convince people to vote for the home team. I suspect her profile is already pretty high in her district and the voters there already know what team she plays for, after two high-profile Presidential year elections, but crossover appeal can be a fickle thing. On the other hand, if she thinks there may be reason to be concerned about her prospects in SD10, that would serve as incentive to roll the dice on a statewide run. Be careful what you wish for, Sen. Deuell.

I suspect the bravado about her never being Governor masks a certain nervousness, too. Republicans must know that what happened on Tuesday is something they can’t control. Forget the political junkies and their yapping about parliamentary procedures, and forget the Internet junkies and their incessant memes. Focus on the fact that Wendy Davis is getting positive attention from lifestyle columnists and Amazon shoe reviewers, all of which will contribute to making Davis a known and likable figure among the lower-information folks. Don’t underestimate the power of the shoes here to help get the word out. If I hear my mother-in-law mention the name Wendy Davis, I’ll know for sure this is working.

On a more basic level, the fact that Rick Perry felt the need to take a cheap shot at her is mighty telling. As Wayne Slater notes, Perry has just elevated Davis to his political level, implying that she is this fearsome adversary he must fight. Not to mention the fact that he sounded like an arrogant, patronizing jerk – exactly the sort of behavior Kyrie O’Connor was talking about in her column. Maybe no one has ever told Rick Perry this, but the vast majority of women really really don’t like that kind of crap. Remember Sandra Fluke? Or Clayton Williams? During the marathon #StandWithWendy filibuster on Tuesday, I saw a tweet from someone who wondered how long it would be before Rush Limbaugh called Sen. Davis a slut. That hasn’t happened yet, but there are a lot of Rush acolytes out there, and I find it impossible to believe that one of them won’t follow Perry’s insult with something really nasty sooner or later. That sort of thing didn’t work out very well for the GOP in 2012. Davis herself was a beneficiary of that in her 2012 race. It’s fine by me if the GOP wants to go there. I just don’t think they’ve thought it through if they do.

Anyway. Sen. Davis has responded to Perry, and I’m quite certain this is not the end of it. Sen. Davis is leaving the door open to running for Governor in 2014. There’s certainly a lot of interest in her walking through that door. She’d need some stars to align for her to take that risk, but right now at least it looks to me like they just might be moving in that direction.

UPDATE: And when someone says something vile about Sen. Davis, Roy will be there to document it.

UPDATE: Fantasy casting the Wendy Davis biopic. Yeah, this is bigger than you think.

So where does the school finance lawsuit stand?

Though Judge John Dietz issued a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs in the school finance lawsuit back in February, he still hasn’t written his full decision yet. That’s because he wanted to see what the Legislature did this session, so he could take it into account in his opinion. Well, the session is over and barring a veto or two, we know what we’ve gotten. How will that affect what Judge Dietz has to say? Probably not that much.

[W]ill a $3.4 billion increase in funding and a sharp reduction in high-stakes testing be enough to sway Dietz and ultimately the Texas Supreme Court?

Closing the chasm between districts may help with the issue of equity. The second issue, adequacy, is hotly contested, as education groups and others note that funding is, at best, where it was four years ago. And lawmakers did little to address the third major component of the case, the ruling that districts are locked into what is essentially an illegal statewide property tax.

Legislative leaders are nonetheless optimistic, while the plaintiff school districts see only a small impact.

“This should influence the final decision that Judge Dietz is going to write,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston. “With the combination of the reduction in STAAR testing and this infusion of cash into our schools, I believe the judge needs to revisit the issue. At the least, it could mean that the state may want to ask to reopen the case.”

In addition to the extra $3.4 billion in the coming two years — which erased a good chunk of the $5.4 billion funding reduction over the past two years — lawmakers also slashed the number of high school end-of-course tests required for graduation.

Instead of 15 exams, students will now have to pass just five — and the tougher tests like chemistry, physics, Algebra II and English III have been jettisoned. The testing requirements were a prominent part of the lawsuit against the state.

Attorney David Thompson, who represents Dallas, Fort Worth and dozens of other school districts, said the Legislature fell far short of what is needed to get the state out of its legal troubles.

“What they did this session was very significant and commendable,” he said, referring to the funding boost. “But you have to remember, it doesn’t even restore what was cut in 2011, not to mention increased costs for schools in the two years since then.”

[…]

David Hinojosa of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the plaintiff lawyers in the school finance case, said a major problem is that the state hasn’t responded to the needs of lower-income and limited-English students, who cost more to educate.

“All the money that was taken out of the system in 2011 still hasn’t been put back in,” such as funding for the remedial programs that targeted low-achieving students, he noted.

Hinojosa agreed that steering most of the new money to lower- and medium-wealth school districts helps the state’s position on equal funding.

“This is the first time I have seen the Legislature react to its school finance shortcomings without being ordered to do it by the Supreme Court,” said Hinojosa, a veteran of two long-running school finance court fights in Texas.

Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who proposed the original plan to eliminate funding gaps between districts, said the decision “will go a long way” in resolving the argument that the system is inequitable.

“Our lower-wealth districts will be getting a lot more and our higher-wealth districts won’t be getting much at all,” Deuell said. “That has been one of the primary issues in the lawsuit.”

But that still leaves the other major arguments. And in his initial ruling, Dietz seemed most concerned about schools not having enough money to properly educate all students and meet rigorous state standards.

The judge’s point was driven home in the National Education Association’s annual comparison of school spending this spring, which showed that Texas had slipped to 49th among the 50 states and District of Columbia in spending per pupil.

That’s a key point to consider. One of the plaintiffs’ arguments was that the Legislature had increased standards and curriculum requirements on school districts, but had not provided the means to pay for them. The Lege did restore some, though not all, of the funding they cut in 2011, but their response to the standards argument was to reduce the number of tests that students must take, though Rick Perry hasn’t signed those bills yet. Even if he does sign these bills, it’s an interesting question as to whether that was the better approach.

The state will get a chance to make that argument before Judge Dietz writes his ruling.

In a hearing in Dietz’s courtroom Wednesday, lawyers for both the districts and the state said that evidence should be updated following a legislative session in which Texas lawmakers made significant changes to public education policy. The judge asked all parties to return June 19 to present arguments over what the scope of those new hearings should be — including what issues they should cover and logistical questions, like limitations on discovery and other procedural rules.

Dietz warned lawyers against looking at the hearings as “a chance to clean up or make stronger” their arguments during the trial.

“I really think that the consideration is, was there a material change in the circumstances, was there a substantial change in circumstances by reason of” the most recent Legislature, he said.

[…]

On Wednesday, Dietz said he was still reviewing and making notes on a “densely packed,” 285-page written opinion, which he has not released and will once again be updated to include the results of the upcoming hearings.

After the hearing, Mark Trachtenberg, a lawyer for a group of school districts in the case, said he did not expect the legislative changes — one of which reduces the end-of-course exams that students must take to graduate — to substantially affect the judge’s ruling in favor of the school districts. He said new hearings were necessary to make sure that when the lawsuit reaches the state’s Supreme Court, justices there could issue a decision based on current circumstances.

Note that the briefing deadline is after the sign-or-veto deadline for Rick Perry; the fact that Perry may scotch the extra funding given to schools this year was brought up by the plaintiffs’ lawyers. My guess is that Judge Dietz will still opine that the Legislature has fallen short in many areas. Most school districts still have very little or no leeway in setting property tax rates. Equity is still an issue, and it’s hard to see how adequacy can have been achieved when funding levels are still down from four years ago. Dietz originally said that the Lege might need to come up with an addition $2000 per student per year. That number may be lower now after the regular session, but not by much. See here and here for some background, and EoW, the TSTA blog, and the Trib have more.

Legislative quick hits

This is the time of the session where there’s lots happening, and there isn’t always the time or space to stay on top of it all. So here are a few quick updates on things that are happening in an attempt to at least not be too far behind.

A bill to give Tesla Motors an opportunity to operate in Texas moves out of committee in the House.

The House Business and Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Tesla Motors to circumvent the state’s franchise dealer system and sell cars directly to Texans, giving a shot in the arm to the company’s efforts to operate in the state.

Tesla says an exemption from the franchise dealer system is the only way the company can operate successfully in Texas, but the owners of state auto dealer franchises have objected, saying the effort weakens a business model that has been key to their success.

House Bill 3351, by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was replaced by a committee substitute that offered auto dealers another layer of protection: If Tesla ever sells more than 5,000 cars a year in the state, it will become subject to existing regulation and must start to franchise its operations.

With Tesla projecting sales of only a few hundred cars a year in the state, the bill’s supporters, including Diarmuid O’Connell, the vice president of business development for Tesla motors, called this a workable approach.

“This would give us the space we need to introduce our technology in the state,” he said.

See here for the background. I’m rooting for this one.

A bill to allow online voter registration has passed the Senate.

[Tuesday] afternoon, the Texas senate approved SB 315, a bill proposed by State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) to allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs to register to vote online.

Currently, registered voters in Texas may change their addresses online if they move within the same county but must complete a paper application if they are registering to vote for the first time or have moved to a different county.

In testimony on the proposed bill, election administrators said the legislation would both save significant money by reducing the need to manually enter information and eliminate transcription mistakes that happen with the current process.

The version of the bill approved by the Texas senate differs slightly from the original filed version in that the passed bill no longer requires voters to use the address listed on their license or ID as their voter registration address.

A similar bill – HB 313 – by State Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) is currently pending in the state house.

See here for the background. Another bill I’m rooting for. BOR has more.

Sen. Dan Patrick’s charter school expansion bill had its hearing in the House

Lawmakers didn’t let on too much of their feelings about the bill—but Killeen Republican Jimmy Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he didn’t consider the bill watered-down, because it allows the state’s charter network to grow. Charter school officials seemed to agree.

The bill still gives charter schools priority access to unused public school facilities, which Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Charter School, said is the bill’s most important improvement. Zimmerman said she has to give up her office for tutoring sessions because unlike public schools, charters don’t get facilities funding.

Under the Senate version, the education commissioner would revoke charters of schools that performed poorly in three out of five years.

Zimmerman said she didn’t focus on those higher standards because she wanted to highlight the positives. But, she said, “as a charter operator, I don’t want poor performing charters either.”

Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) said she’s concerned that charters may have a hard time getting loans because some banks want them to plan to be open for more than five years.

Charles Pulliam, chief development officer of Life School charter in Dallas, said that prospect would undermine the flexibility charters need to test out innovative education strategies.

“It scares me a little,” Pulliam said. “To have one blanket way of determining if they are successful is a mistake.”

The bill is SB 2, and it easily passed the Senate after adding a bunch of mostly Democratic amendments. It is pending in the House Public Ed committee.

Speaking of charter schools, a bill to limit the role ex-SBOE members can play at one has advanced.

A measure to bar former State Board of Education members from taking a job at a charter school or related foundation within two years of serving on the board is headed to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 1725 by state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, is intended to close the revolving door between the SBOE and charter schools.

An amendment by Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, would allow former board members to take a job at a charter school within the two-year period so long as that member did not vote to create that particular school.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 6-3 late Tuesday.

The three nays all came from Republicans, which suggests this bill could have problems getting any farther.

The Lege has been trying to change the name of the Railroad Commission to something more reflective of reality for as long as I can remember. They’re still trying, and working on some other reforms as well.

The bill, SB 212 by State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, embodies a previous Sunset review of the Railroad Commission that didn’t pass in the last legislative session that would forbid certain campaign contributions. For instance, commissioners could not accept donations from a party involved in a contested case hearing. It would also limit campaign contributions to the 17 months before an election and 30 days after. Commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

A contested case hearing is the way citizens protest against an oil and gas company permit or action.

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Railroad Commission, said during testimony that the campaign restrictions were “tricky” because the commissioner position is elected statewide, the state is big, travel is necessary and commissioners must raise money.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sits on the committee, said the Sunset Commission had thought hard about how to put reasonable limits on the campaign financing.

“Sitting there for a six-year term, being able to raise unlimited amounts of money from the industry that they regulate, there clearly is a perception problem,” said Ellis.

The Railroad Commission should be subject to restrictions that differ from other statewide elected officials, like senators and representatives, because the nature of the commission is unique, Nichols said, because the commissioners have six-year terms, they regulate a specific industry and they set rates.

Similar Sunset legislation for the commission originating in the House, HB 2166 by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, recently passed out of committee, but largely stripped of the campaign and ethics reform, according to Texas Energy Report. That bill could end up competing with the Senate bill discussed Tuesday.

[…]

No one testified specifically against the name-change provision. [Commissioner Christi] Craddick suggested the more succinct Texas Energy Commission. State Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, who worked on the Sunset review that failed to pass in the last legislative session, also suggested a new name.

“I’d like to change it to Texas Department on Oil and Gas because it sounds cool … TDOG,” Hegar said.

The official name in the bill is Texas Energy Resources Commission. But I like Sen. Hegar’s suggestion.

We close with two from the inbox. First, from Equality Texas:

Moments ago, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence advanced House Bill 2403 by Rep. Mary González of El Paso on a committee vote of 5-3.

HB 2403 would remove existing inequity in Texas’ “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense law. The “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is a logical approach to the reality that adolescents sometimes make sexual decisions that adults wish they had not made, but that adolescents have been making since the beginning of time.

Under current law, if teen sweethearts are of opposite sexes, consensual intimate contact remains a matter between parents and their children. However, the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is not currently available to dating teens of the same gender. The state should not intrude on the right of parents to instill their values about sex into their children. Nor should the state interfere if teenage sweethearts make decisions that their parents believe are not what is best for them.

This needs to be a conversation between parents and their children. Not between parents, their children, an arresting officer, a prosecuting attorney, and a trial judge. That is why the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense exists.

HB 2301 will ensure that it applies equally to straight & gay teens.

Today’s House committee action follows advancement of identical legislation by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. On April 9th, Senate Bill 1316 by Senator John Whitmire of Houston was advanced by the committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 1316 is on the Senate Intent Calendar for Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

See here for more. As far as I can tell, the full Senate has not taken up SB1316 as yet.

Last but not least, a non-good bill from Empower the Vote Texas:

HB 148 by Rep. Burkett is scheduled to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, April 25th. Please contact your State Representative and tell them to vote NO on this bill. If you are not sure who is your State Rep, you can use the “Who Represents Me” lookup tool. Emails addresses for all House members are firstname.lastname @ house.state.tx.us, however phone calls are much more effective.

Attached are the letter ETVT sent to all Representatives opposing this bill along with supporting documents. The original text of the bill as introduced, the new text of the committee substitute, witness list, and bill analysis can be found here.

A copy of the letter is here. The hearing is today, so we’ll see how it goes.

Zaffirini and Uresti stand against needless abortion restrictions

Good to hear, but given their histories it’s wise to be vigilant.

Texas Republicans are one vote short of passing a controversial abortion bill in the Senate — and the fate of the legislation now rests squarely on the shoulders of two South Texas Democrats.

Sens. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, oppose the bill, and without their votes it won’t have the supermajority needed under Senate rules to get to a floor vote.

Both senators occasionally have sided with Republicans to pass anti-abortion measures, voting as recently as 2011 for a contentious bill that requires women to have a sonogram before an abortion. But if they maintain their opposition to Senate Bill 537, which would increase regulations for abortion clinics, the bill is stuck.

The measure has been on the Senate’s calendar for nearly two weeks but has yet to be considered. The Senate requires a two-thirds majority, or 21 votes, to consider legislation. SB 537 has 20 supporters — 19 Republicans and a lone Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.

[…]

Zaffirini said she is “strongly pro-life” but opposes this bill because it “does nothing to make abortions less necessary” and “has the potential to limit access to critical health care services for thousands of Texas women.”

“Instead of attempting to address problems that do not exist, the Texas Legislature should focus on making women’s health care and prenatal care more accessible and affordable,” she said.

Uresti, who voted against the measure in committee, said it would reduce health care services, including abortion, for women in his district, specifically in rural areas.

“I don’t want to create barriers for women to access health services,” said Uresti, noting that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the bill.

They’re saying the right things, but believe me, I have not forgotten their role in letting the awful sonogram bill pass in 2011. All we needed was one of them plus Lucio to say no, since Jeff Wentworth was also a No vote, but in the end Uresti sold out for a small modification to the bill that somewhat exempted his own district from its reach. Ultimately, Uresti and Zaffirini need to hear from Democrats, around the state but especially in their district, thanking them for holding fast on this, with at least the vague hint of a threat to be primaried if they cave in. They have it exactly right on what it is that SB537 will do. All they need to do is stick to that.

And before anyone says “Kermit Gosnell”, read this and this and this and this. Kermit Gosnell is what happens when women don’t have access to reliable abortion providers. It’s called the back alley, and it was supposed to have been banished forty years ago. Take away enough other choices, however, and it’s what’s left, just like it was before 1973.

Businesses say they want Medicaid expansion, too

This really comes down to two things.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Chambers of commerce representing companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and Kimberly-Clark Corp. (KMB) are challenging Texas Governor Rick Perry and lawmakers to expand health care for the poor in the state with the highest percentage of uninsured people.

The chambers of five cities are sending lobbyists to press Republican leaders to increase Medicaid coverage under President Barack Obama’s health-care law.

Businesses are often allied with Perry, a failed contender for last year’s Republican presidential nomination. The chambers, however, argue Texas shouldn’t pass up $100 billion over the next decade to cover 1.5 million adults. Obama’s plan would pay all costs until 2016, then the state’s share would gradually increase to 10 percent in 2020. Perry says that’s too expensive.

“This may be the only time that we have taken an actual formal position that is opposite that of the governor,” said Richard Dayoub, chief executive officer of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t know of any issue that has created so much concern across the state and has amassed so much support across party lines and throughout the business sector.”

Chambers supporting expansion in Dallas, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Arlington include members ranging from publicly traded companies to small shoe stores and family restaurants, many of them strained by health costs.

[…]

About 29 percent of Texas citizens lack insurance, according to a March 8 poll by Gallup Inc. The state ranked 40th in health last year because 30 percent of residents are obese and one of every four children lives in poverty, according to United Health Foundation, affiliated with UnitedHealth Group Inc. (UNH)

Hospitals have urged expansion because it will reduce expensive and ineffective emergency-room visits, said Stephen Mansfield, chief executive of Methodist Health System in Dallas and next year’s chairman of the 2,100-member Dallas Regional Chamber.

“The eight other Republican governors were just as opposed to this initially as Rick Perry,” said Mansfield, who met with him in February. “They came to understand the economics.”

Chamber lobbyists from Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio have discussed Medicaid with legislators during the current session in Austin, officials said. Dayoub of the El Paso chamber spoke with Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus, both Republicans, and about 35 legislators of both parties.

As a reminder, Progress Texas‘ list of all the groups that have endorsed Medicaid expansion is here. I keep harping on this theme, but it all comes down to whether any elected official feels like they might lose support for their position, and I just don’t see the evidence for that. Chambers of commerce don’t necessarily speak for their member businesses, as anyone who has followed the exploits of the increasingly hard-right US Chamber of Commerce can attest, so it’s not clear how much pressure they could apply to the likes of Rick Perry or Greg Abbott if the wanted to. Maybe they can put some heat on certain individual legislators, but I’m not holding my breath for that, either. People are going to have to lose elections over this, and that’s much easier said than done right now.

Business groups “are looking short term,” said Republican Senator David Duell (sic), a Greenville physician who met with chamber representatives. He said he doubted the Obama administration’s commitment “with the long-term viability of the federal government in question.”

Such opposition is “idiocy,” said Margaret Jordan, a former Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas director who is president of Dallas Medical Resources, a consortium of hospital executives and businesspeople headed by billionaire oilman Ray Hunt. “Medicaid expansion is a win-win for everybody.”

[…]

The tension is evident 330 miles (531 kilometers) west of Dallas in Lubbock, a wind-swept city of 230,000 that is the hometown of 1950s rock ’n’ roll pioneer Buddy Holly and Texas Tech University. Medicaid divides the chamber of commerce, which favors expansion, and Republican Senator Robert Duncan, a lawyer who has served in the legislature since 1989.

After officials at the city’s UMC Health System explained how Medicaid expansion could cushion cost increases, chamber directors unanimously approved a resolution, said Chairman Carlos Morales.

“It’s a lot of money we’d be missing out on,” said Morales, who is executive vice president of Caprock Home Health Services Inc., a company that employs 2,200 in 12 Texas offices.

Duncan, however, says Texas can’t afford the deal because Medicaid crowds out spending for education, parks and other priorities.

“It’s not a free lunch,” Duncan said. He said he was unconvinced by studies by former deputy State Comptroller Billy Hamilton and Waco economist Ray Perryman suggesting expansion would boost the state’s economy by increasing business activity and productivity.

So on the one hand, you have people like Sen. Bob Deuell, who thinks we’re going bankrupt despite trillions having already been cut from the deficit, Medicare costs trending downward, and the entire basis of our medium-term debt-to-GDP ratio being a function of a temporary glut of old people. On the other hand, you have Sen. Robert Duncan, who doesn’t care what a bunch of high-falutin’ economists think when he just knows in his gut that spending money can only be a zero-sum game. Yeah, good luck changing that dynamic. In the meantime, the fanatics at TPPF present their never-gonna-happen case for Medicaid block grants so they can more efficiently deny access to health care to all those shiftless poor people, and the Democratic Congressional delegation chides Rick Perry for his continued mulishness on this topic. EoW and BOR have more.

The Arkansas way

The state of Arkansas will move forward with a plan to expand Medicaid, except that it’s not really Medicaid even though it will cover all of the Medicaid-eligible population. Here’s the explanation.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Gov. Mike Beebe met with about twenty lawmakers this afternoon to announce the results of his meeting with Sec. Kathleen Sebelius last Friday.

The feds have given Arkansas permission to pursue a plan that would provide private health insurance to anyone between 0-138 percent of the federal poverty level, giving coverage to more than 200,000 of the currently uninsured. The government would pay for the entirety of the premium, though consumers might be subject to some co-pays.

Beebe brought questions and ideas from legislators to his meeting with Sebelius and “basically they’ve agreed to give us about everything we’ve asked for,” he said. “What that really amounts to is take the Medicaid population that would be expanded…and use those federal Medicaid dollars and purchase insurance through the exchange. So they would buy private insurance through the exchange for the entire population, and [the feds have] given us permission to do that.”

This isn’t “partial expansion.” The full pool of folks that would gain coverage under full expansion of Medicaid would still get it. But Arkansas is the first state to publicly get a deal that accomplishes this not via the Medicaid program but via the exchange (Florida will be allowed to send some Medicaid recipients to private insurance through their managed care system).

Just as with Medicaid expansion, the feds would foot the entire bill for the first three years. Thereafter, the state would have to start kicking in a little bit, eventually settling at 10 percent in 2020. (Technically, these are Medicaid dollars, but they would be flowing to private companies and consumers would be interacting with private companies, not with the Medicaid program.)

Such a deal would potentially be a windfall for insurance companies, as well as hospitals, who would likely see higher reimbursements from private insurance on the exchange. For low-income citizens without health insurance, the deal would be similar to expansion, they would just get private insurance instead of Medicaid.

Gov. Beebe also announced that, prompted by strong support from House Speaker Davy Carter, the state will likely use the “sunset provision” idea from Florida, which would require the legislature to re-approve the deal in three years time, after the full federal match rates run out. States are already allowed to opt in or opt out at any time, but Beebe got approval from Sebelius on the sunset idea as well, just in case. Carter told reporters that a sunset was a prerequisite to any deal.

As for costs, buying private insurance for citizens is likely more expensive than providing Medicaid. That almost certainly means that this deal will have a higher price tag for the feds. And it could mean higher costs for Arkansas once the state has to start chipping in. Beebe acknowledged that possibility but said the sunset will allow lawmakers to analyze the question with hard data in three years time.

[…]

Beebe did not offer an opinion on whether this approach was better than simply expanding Medicaid. One way or the other, he believes accepting federal money to cover the uninsured is a good deal and his focus now is on closing the deal.

“My main objective is to make this legislature as comfortable as I can make them,” he said. “With a three fourths vote requirement in both houses, that’s a steep, steep burden….If the majority would prefer to go this way to get this done, I’m happy with that. If they want to go the other way, I live with that as well. The cost to the taxpayer for the first three years in the state of Arkansas is going to be the same.”

Beebe said that for some legislators, subsidizing folks to buy private insurance was preferable to directly covering people through a government program for “philosophical” reasons.

Let’s pause for a second to consider that last paragraph. I’m writing about this story because the main objection to Medicaid expansion here in Texas is the oft-stated belief that “Medicaid is broken”, seen most recently here. I don’t particularly agree with that statement, but I’m not the majority in the Legislature. But whatever you think about this solution, it completely addresses that concern. The federal Medicaid funds would be used to buy private insurance through the insurance exchange instead. Don’t want to expand Medicaid because you think Medicaid doesn’t work? Fine, here’s a way to serve the vast uninsured population that doesn’t use Medicaid? What’s your objection to that?

Now, just because I think this is an interesting option doesn’t mean I think it’s awesome. Ed Kilgore points out the obvious:

So let’s be clear: using the exchanges will be more expensive, and perhaps less generous to beneficiaries, than traditional Medicaid, but because Republicans prefer private insurers for “philosophical reasons”.

[…]

This draws attention to two pretty important national issues: the first is the persistent gap between the faith conservatives place in the “efficiency” of private-sector health insurance and all the available evidence. And the second is the emerging long-term conservative strategy of undermining Obamacare by limiting its “public” elements as much as possible and then chipping away at the regulations that make it available and the subsidies that make it affordable. This is precisely what Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Avik Roy called for in their much-discussed recent op-ed on how conservatives should adjust to the enactment of Obamacare.

Note that providing coverage by this method will ultimately be more expensive to Arkansas as well, once the federal subsidy drops to 90%. The potential for states like Arkansas, Florida, and Texas if they go a similar route to drop the expansion at that time is sure to be a thorny issue down the line. Still, there is some upside to this, as Kevin Drum observes.

I’m a little more willing to wait and see how it works out. In particular, I happen to think this may solve a legitimate problem. Here’s the tail end of [that article in the Arkansas Times]:

Department of Human Services Director John Selig speculated that things would actually run more smoothly. “The most difficult part of the exchange was going to be people going from Medicaid to private insurance, back and forth as they went up and down [the] income line,” he said. “Now, you just keep [the private insurance company] as you go up or down. In a lot of ways this simplifies what happens on the exchange.”

This really is an issue with the Medicaid expansion, and it’s a well known one. If you’re at 130 percent of the poverty level this year, you qualify for Medicaid. If you get a raise and go up to 140 percent next year, you no longer qualify and instead have to navigate the exchanges. If your hours are cut back and you fall to 130 percent again the year after that, it’s back to Medicaid.

How big a deal is this? That’s hard to say. But it’s not a made-up issue, and it’s possible that the Arkansas approach could legitimately be better. What’s more, I’m OK with allowing states to experiment within limits. It’s the only way to find out whether or not the exchanges really are more expensive, and whether or not the Medicaid ping-pong really is a serious problem. The ideology behind this decision might be misguided, but there’s a good chance we’ll get some useful data out of it regardless.

If the Republicans are willing to consider this, I’m willing to see how it goes, too. Providing the coverage to those who don’t have it is Goal #1. If a minor sacrifice has to be made at the altar of ideology in order to achieve that goal, fine. For all of the background chatter about the possibility of a “deal” on Medicaid expansion, predicated on the federal government willing to be flexible, it should be clear by now that the feds will be flexible if the objective of covering the uninsured population is met. Florida, Ohio, and now Arkansas have all found ways to make deals with the feds. As it happens, there is now a Republican “plan” for expanding health care access, but it’s pretty darned skimpy, and even more ideologically driven.

[State Sen. Bob] Deuell said he was considering a plan that would have Texas request a waiver from Medicaid officials in Washington. The request would include asking for $50 billion over 10 years, which is about half the funding the state would otherwise get from Washington over that period to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The state then would use that $50 billion to cover the roughly one million Texans who don’t get Medicaid today but could if the state expanded it up to 138 percent of poverty. (138 percent of poverty equals about $31,000 for a family of four.) The state would give those one million folks the equivalent of what they otherwise would get from Medicaid, which he says is $4,800 per person in Texas.

I admit this is technical, but bear with me for a few more details:

Recipients could use that $4,800 to purchase private insurance, buy into the state health plan that legislators like Deuell use or buy into the state’s Medicaid plan. As part of this waiver, he said, the state would set up health exchanges that would allow the eligible population to shop for health insurance.

Here’s more on the Deuell concept – it’s not really developed enough to be called a “plan”.

[Deuell would] force everyone who benefits to work, even if it’s volunteer work, unless they’re disabled or stay at home parents or caretakers of the disabled. He’d force hospital districts to cut their property tax rates; and health care providers and insurers, their charges and premiums, once more of the 6 million uninsured Texans got private insurance coverage, thereby squeezing down uncompensated care. He’d force all new recipients to be “locked in” to a primary care physician — such as himself. That doc would serve as gatekeeper, and would have to flash the green light before the newly insured people could tap into care from other providers. Children now on government health care would be wrapped into new, family coverage policies. Low-income people with high deductible coverage, and who “act as if they’re uninsured,” would be able to apply the subsidies to their copays and deductibles. And Deuell would encourage healthier lifestyles by charging newly covered Texans more if they smoke or are obese.

His four-page letter, though, is more of a sketch than a blueprint. He speaks of how Texas should negotiate with the feds to use the block grant money to “form group or individual policies in conjunction with insurance companies and/or a health system. The recent joint venture of the Baylor system and Scott & White comes to mind.” But no matter how he and others debunk the federal law’s exchanges, his federal counterparts’ conservative template blithely says there will be “guaranteed access and minimum benefit standards” in the non-Obamacare exchanges. And that requires some serious regulation of health insurers, which critics say has not exactly been a Texas bragging point. (For the blithe reference, see question No. 5 on this Paul Ryan FAQ sheet.)

The “exchange” in question is modeled on the Coburn/Ryan “Patient’s Choice Act”, because of course we can’t have the taint of anything Obama-related in Texas. I see this as pretty much a non-starter, since block grants aren’t going to happen and it’s clear that maximizing coverage is not a priority. I give Deuell partial credit for at least coming up with something, however half-baked and impractical, though I will point out again that Deuell has been in office since 2003, which is to say for as long as the Republicans have had complete control of state government, and this is only being proposed just now, because the Republicans have been embarrassed by a Democratic President they hate. It’s something, in the sense that it’s not nothing, but it’s not any more than that. Call me back when they really mean it. Wonkblog has more.

UPDATE: Hope?

“From the standpoint of looking at how Texas could possibly expand coverage for this group of individuals, it fits very well with what my philosophy is,” said State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, an anesthesiologist and former hospital executive who called the plan a “private sector remedy.”

“I don’t know if it’s something the governor would particularly smile upon,” he added, “but certainly from my perspective this would be something worth looking at.”

It’s a start.

The war on women continues apace

Honestly, I’m surprised that it’s taken as long as it has for this to happen.

Right there with them

Abortion clinics in Texas may soon face harsh new state requirements that pro-choice advocates say could greatly reduce access to abortion.

Sens Bob Deuell (R-Greenville), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) filed a bill this morning that would require abortion clinics to meet the same conditions as ambulatory surgical centers.

The measure, Senate Bill 537, would force abortion clinics to follow the Texas Administrative Code for surgical centers, a 117 page document outlining everything from laboratory, nursing and anaesthesiologist requirements to radiological and construction procedures. Most of this code has little to do with the services provided by abortion clinics.

Filed by three pro-life doctors, legislation like this has been viewed as an underhanded tactic, which, in other states (like Alabama), has been criticized for threatening to close abortion clinics that don’t have the capacity or funding to meet such strict new requirements.

However, Sen. Deuell contends that the legislation is simply a method of increasing safety and health among Texas women. “Just as a medical doctor,” he said, “it came to me that they’re not under the same standards as any other surgical clinics and that we need to put them under that just for the safety of the patients.”

Deuell was adamant that the bill isn’t a pro-life tactic to close abortion clinics or make abortion less accessible. “It has nothing to do with abortions being done or not done.” He continued, “They’re legal, so they’re being done, and it is a surgical procedure, and it needs to be done in a place that has the same standards as a surgical center. Simple as that.”

He also asserted that the legislation would actually improve women’s health and accessibility to abortion providers. “The pro-choice movement talks about wanting to take abortions out of the back alley so they can be done properly. If you’re not certified as a surgical center, then that gets more toward the back alley and not in mainstream medicine, which is where it needs to be,” Deuell said.

Yes, I’m sure this just now came to Sen. Deuell. Of course, by his own reasoning, if he’s so concerned about women’s health, this should have been the very first bill he ever filed in the Senate. I mean, just think about all those poor women, having to get abortions in clinics that don’t measure up to his standards for cleanliness and safety for all these years. It’s scandalous, really. Of course, anyone who is content to let thousands of people die through his or her inaction or out of political spite really has no standing to claim “concern” for anyone’s health. The term “pro-life” is such a travesty these days, Jonathan Swift would be embarrassed to use it.

Not that any of that matters, I suppose. If this passes the Senate it will easily become law, and I have no reason to believe the courts will block it. As such, there are three people in the state that can prevent this from happening: Senators Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini. It was their support of the awful sonogram bill that allowed it to clear the two-thirds bar in the Senate and make its way to Rick Perry’s desk. It took all three of them to enable its passage, since Jeff Wentworth stood with the other nine Democrats to hold this off. Depending on whether this abomination comes to the Senate floor before or after the SD06 special election is resolved, we may need two or all three of them to say no, this is going too far. This would be an excellent time to call their offices and make your voice heard, especially if you live in their district. It’s up to them to decide who they want to stand with.

Somewhat ironically, that news story cam out at the same time as this one.

Doctors, hospitals, clinics, health care groups, faith organizations and family planning associations urged lawmakers Wednesday to restore funding cut from women’s health programs for contraceptives and health screening.

At the forefront of their fight are two women who serve on the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Rep. Sarah Davis, of West University Place, and Democratic Rep. Donna Howard, of Austin. Both appeared at a Capitol news conference hosted by the Texas Women’s Healthcare Coalition.

Howard cited state estimates that thousands more unplanned births to low-income women as a result of family planning cuts will cost Texas millions more in Medicaid payments.

The state has projected 6,480 more Medicaid births at a cost of $33 million in the current fiscal year due to the reduction in family planning expenses. In the next two-year budget period, an extra 24,000 births are anticipated at a cost of $103 million.

Davis, a breast cancer survivor who is on an Appropriations subcommittee overseeing health and human services, said, “It’s really no longer the time to be playing politics with women’s health.”

In the Statesman, Rep. Davis is quoted saying that some of her Republican colleagues who voted for the cuts “didn’t realize they would hurt other kinds of clinics”, which is a polite way of saying that they’re deeply ignorant. They were told at the time exactly what would happen, they just chose not to believe it. It’s nice to hear that they may be slightly less willfully dumb this time around, but their concern for women’s health remains at best highly selective.

Then YOU fix it!

Stuff like this really pisses me off.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On Wednesday, the [Senate Finance] committee heard testimony from state officials on the proposed health budget, which grew 2 percent from the current biennium budget to $70 billion. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, expressed the need for fiscal conservancy but said the decisions lawmakers make this session will not be “whether we’re going to serve that population or not — it’s going to be about how they are served.”

Bee Moorhead, the executive director of Texas Impact, an interfaith group that commissioned a recent report on the benefits of expanding Medicaid, said taxpayers deserve to have money they paid returned to their communities through the Medicaid expansion. “I think taxpayers deserve a serious answer from lawmakers on why the state doesn’t want to give them this kind of relief when its so easily available to them,” she said.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, agreed with testimony that even if Texas does not expand Medicaid, there will be continued costs for caring for the uninsured. “The costs would be born usually by local governments,” he said.

But Republican lawmakers challenged the testimony provided by advocates of the Medicaid expansion.

“You’re going to create a new class of uninsured people at higher income levels,” said Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, adding that employers will choose to drop employee health coverage if the state expands Medicaid, causing the pool of private insurance to shrink and premiums to rise. “I want everybody to have health care, but I think there are better ways to do it.”

What are those “better ideas”, Senator Deuell, and why haven’t you implemented them yet? Republicans have been in full control of Texas’ government for ten years now, and in that time they have not done a damn thing to improve access to health care. We lead the nation in uninsured residents, and at no time has any Republican, from Rick Perry on down, made a serious proposal to try and do something about that. What they have done is cut CHIP, cut family planning funds, overseen a spectacular fiasco of outsourcing HHSC functions that never saved a dime, made a complete hash of the Women’s Health Program – for which Sen. Deuell can claim partial credit, since he was the one who asked AG Abbott if the state could bar Planned Parenthood from the WHP – and resisted efforts to make Medicaid enrollment an annual process instead of an every-six-months process. One might reasonably conclude that they just don’t care about caring for the sick and disabled. And then when someone else finally solves this longstanding, intractable problem for them, what do they do? Whine, stomp their feet, file lawsuits, and obstruct, obstruct, obstruct. Thanks for nothing, Sen. Deuell. You know what you can do with those “better ideas” you claim to have.

For more of the same, see this example of excuse-making and responsibility-ducking.

Waco-area legislators said Friday they remain wary of expanding the state’s Medicaid program, in comments highlighting their division with local government leaders on the issue.

Top officials with the city of Waco and McLennan County support the Medicaid expansion envisioned as part of national health care reform, saying it would cut the area’s uninsured rate by more than half and bring $58 million a year in new federal funding to the area.

But those benefits are far from certain because there is no guarantee the federal government — facing rising debt and budget deficits — would sustain its funding, area lawmakers told a crowd of more than 100 people at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce’s “Waco Day” breakfast.

“It’s smoke and mirrors, folks,” said state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, referring to the $58 million estimate. “It would be nice if we’d get that money and be able to solve some legitimate problems that hospitals and other folks are dealing with, but that’s not dedicated funds. There’s no guarantee that money will be there.”

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, voiced similar concerns. Medicaid continues to grow as a percentage of the state’s budget, and expanding the program could squeeze money from other priorities such as public education, transportation and water, he said.

No answers, no solutions, just complaints about the one option we do have. But of course they’re not interested in a solution, because if they were they would have offered one by now. After all this time with them in charge, there’s no reason to believe otherwise.

Where are the doctors?

The Morning News tries to verify that the Dallas-area providers listed for the new Texas Women’s Health Program are in fact providing health care services to the women in this program as advertised. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

Right there with them

A Dallas Morning News survey of 336 contacts listed online for the program showed that 18 percent of the 55 unrepeated physicians and offices surveyed knew they were a part of the program and are accepting new patients. Two listings point people to businesses with no connection to the program — a sports medicine clinic and a title company.

A spokeswoman for the Health and Human Services Commission, which operates the new program, acknowledged that the list has problems.

“It’s not that it’s a list that they shouldn’t be using, it’s that there are addresses on that list that shouldn’t be there, so we’re going to have to do some work to clean that list up,” said Linda Edwards Gockel.

Gockel said the list, which has been available on the program website for more than three months, is not the same list of 3,500 approved providers the state has touted. It represents all the locations a potential provider billed from in the past.

She said the commission hopes to have the list corrected by next week. Gockel could not say why it was not removed sooner, but that women can always call the 1-800 number listed on the website. After The News pointed out the list’s failings, subsequent press releases from the commission avoided mention of the website.

In fact, if you go to the Texas Women’s Health Program website now and click the Find A Doctor link, you will not see any providers listed at all:

According to Trail Blazers, the site “will be fixed sometime this week”, though it looks now like that has been pushed out a few more days. Reps. Donna Howard and Lon Burnam had previously found the same problems that the DMN reports on here in Austin and Fort Worth. Now other Democrats are getting in on the action.

“It is unacceptable that thousands of Texas women may be cut off from access to the program due to the program’s inability to meet demand,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, the House Democratic Caucus chairwoman, in a prepared statement. “My main concern is to ensure that women may be given the opportunity to affordable and accessible health care.”

Using the Texas Public Information Act, Farrar requested that the agency release a list of the available providers enrolled in the Texas Women’s Health Program along with the number of patients they anticipate serving, the number of patients served by the former Medicaid Women’s Health Program and the geographical areas in the state where provider enrollment does not meet demand.

Good on you, Rep. Farrar. What all this says to me is that the list that had been given on the website was complete and unadulterated junk and that they have taken it down in a desperate attempt to fix it. Remember that the state has been bragging for months about how they’re all fired up and ready to go without Planned Parenthood and with a list of 3,000 providers all set to step in. Is there any reason now to believe that was anything but a lie? Further, given the obvious problems and the complete disconnect between what the state has been saying and what everyone who has bothered to check has discovered, is there any reason to think the state will get this fixed any time soon? I say no and no.

I also say it’s time to get the people primarily responsible for this mess on the record about it. That includes State Sen. Bob Deuell, who requested the AG opinion that declared the state could sever ties with Planned Parenthood while still receiving federal money for the WHP (and how has that turned out so far?); Kyle Janek, the chair of the Health and Human Services Commission; and of course Rick Perry himself. Good on the DMN and Reps. Howard, Burnam, and Farrar for uncovering this lie, but it’s time for everyone else to get in the game as well. Rick Perry isn’t going to care about this until he’s forced to care about it.

More districts will join in school finance lawsuit

Coming soon to a courtroom near you.

School districts will throw everything short of the kitchen sink into their upcoming lawsuit against the state of Texas for shortchanging public education, a lead attorney in the case said Tuesday.

“We are going to try to cover the water front because the system is so out of whack,” school finance lawyer Randall “Buck” Wood said.

The suit, which he expects to file within the next two weeks, will claim that state leaders have created an “arbitrary, irrational and inequitable” funding system.

The suit also will claim that the state is responsible for the inequitable funding of school facilities, he said, while also alleging a violation of the state’s ban against a statewide property tax.

Nearly one-quarter of the state’s school districts are already levying the maximum $1.17 tax rate for maintenance and operations, resulting in a statewide property tax, Wood said, which the Texas Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in a school finance case six years ago.

[…]

Per student funding in Texas now ranges from less than $5,000 per child in some school districts to more than $10,000 in others, according to the Equity Center, which represents 690 school districts.

“We believe litigation is the only way to ensure taxpayer equity and a quality education for Texas children,” said Wayne Pierce, executive director for the Equity Center.

See here and here for some background, and here (via EoW) for a press release on the matter from the Equity Center. You may recall that during the regular session, State Sen. Bob Deuell released an eye-opening list of disparities in per student revenue for school districts in each State Senate district; the exact range is from $3,732 to $12,979. I can’t wait to see the state try to argue that there’s nothing inequitable about that. The Statesman has more.

Senate not inclined to accept Amazon’s bribe

Good for them.

It looks like the Texas Legislature is likely to say no — at least for now — to Amazon.com’s proposal to bring 5,000 jobs to the state in exchange for a temporary break on collecting sales tax.

State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, said this morning that the odds were slim the deal with Amazon would survive in the legislative conference committee report that would have attached the language to Senate Bill 1.

SB 1 is the fiscal matters bill being debated in the Legislature’s special session, and is a must-pass measure essential to balancing the state’s 2012-13 budget.

Deuell is a member of the conference committee working to iron out differences between the House and Senate on SB 1.

“I don’t think this offer from Amazon is going to be on the conference report. I don’t see us accepting that offer on the Senate side,” Deuell said. “I’m just speaking for myself, but I think the consensus on the Senate side of the conference committee is not for it.”

[…]

Deuell said he doesn’t see a reason the state should allow Amazon to avoid collecting sales tax.

“That’s why we have a sales tax,” Deuell said. “We don’t have an income tax — and I’m not advocating for that – so we have to have (sales) tax. That’s a mainstay of our economy.”

[…]

Deuell also said he was skeptical of Amazon’s ability to deliver on its promise of 5,000 jobs and $300 million in capital investments by the end of 2013.

“I don’t see how in the world they can provide 5,000 jobs at distribution centers. Those operate very efficiently, with computers and mechanized things,” Deuell said. “I don’t want to doubt their word and their intentions; I just don’t see how they bring 5,000 jobs to the state.”

See here for the background. I’m glad to see someone besides me express skepticism about the job creation claims. We’ve already seen with the Texas Enterprise Fund that such promises of jobs for kickbacks are written on sand. Why should we take Amazon’s word for it and complicate our tax structure for their benefit? Much simpler to do what we wanted to do in the first place and make them follow the law and pay their fair share.

UPDATE: If we were skeptical of their claim about creating 5,000 jobs, why would be any less skeptical about a claim of creating 6,000 jobs? Or 10,000? Hell, let’s make it ONE MILLION JOBS! When we get to that, let me know.

Bradley and Lowe fail to get confirmed

Time for some new chairpersons.

Gov. Rick Perry’s appointments of John Bradley as head of the Forensic Science Commission and Gaile Lowe as State Board of Education chair are officially toast, Senate Nominations Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville said.

“They’re sine die with the rest of us — except they won’t have to come back for a special session,” Deuell said Wednesday after submitting his last round of Perry appointees for Senate consideration.

Since they weren’t confirmed, the appointments of the two chairs will end when the regular session draws to a close Monday.

In the case of John Bradley, that’s almost certainly a good thing. Perry can replace him with another hack, of course, but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing more damage to the Forensic Science Commission than Bradley did. As for Lowe, well, there is still another level of absurdity that can be achieved. And two years from now, we’ll go through this again. Grits has more.

It’s always been about controlling women

Sadly, there’s nothing new about this.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said Monday afternoon that budget negotiators will likely adopt a 2012-13 family planning budget that is “pretty close” to the House’s proposal — $37 million for low-income women under the Department of State Health Services — compared to the $100 million proposed by the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, and Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, agree that the Medicaid Women’s Health Program, operated under the Health and Human Services Commission with a 9 to 1 federal match, is likely dead.

Both pots of money are a casualty of GOP lawmakers’ efforts to keep Planned Parenthood or any other clinic that provides abortions in some of its affiliate branches from getting state dollars for family planning. (No clinic that provides abortions may receive state or federal funds.) But Coleman and Deuell said it’s something more: lawmakers’ increasing desire to link contraception to abortion.

“Apparently the anti-abortion movement has morphed into the anti-contraception movement,” Deuell said.

Added Coleman: “The objective to end contraception funded by the state is another religious intrusion into the lives of individuals.”

With all due respect to Sen. Deuell, there’s been no metamorphosis. The anti-abortion movement has always been about controlling women’s sexuality. This has nothing to do with the motives of sincere individuals who oppose abortion on principle, it has to do with a reactionary and radical political ideology that unfortunately got a huge boost last November despite being at best a stealth item on the political agenda. It’s also unfortunate that Sen. Deuell, who recognizes this movement for what it is, however belatedly, has nonetheless played right into it with his own legislative attacks on Planned Parenthood. Perhaps he and others like him who do distinguish between opposing abortion and promoting a fanatically misogynistic worldview through legislation might learn something from this. If so, that would at least be a tiny sliver of daylight to emerge from this terribly dark session. It’s up to those of us who have seen this coming for years to make sure they realize it.

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/falkenberg/7574416.html

School finance still to be done

We may have a budget deal, but what we still don’t have is a school finance plan.

The Senate’s long-stalled plan to apportion a $4 billion reduction in school aid had been suddenly resurrected, passed and zipped over to the House.

But when Senate Bill 1581 hits the House floor Monday for debate, state Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, the bill’s sponsor, said he will have to overhaul it or kill it.

“My intent will be to heavily change this bill … especially the (school) finance piece,” Aycock, R-Killeen , told his colleagues on the House Public Education Committee at a hastily called late-night meeting that ended early Saturday morning. The bill also includes other education-related budget changes, such as a reduction in the state’s contribution rate to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas.

With one week left in the legislative session, the school finance measure is one essential piece of the elaborate budget puzzle that is still up in the air after the House and Senate finally agreed on Friday to spend $80.6 billion in state money over the next two years.

It is a complicated mix of politics and math that will determine how the state divvies up the $32.5 billion pot of aid among the nearly 5 million students in Texas public schools.

[…]

At issue is how various school districts were treated under the 2006 school finance reform package, a widely panned change enacted in the wake of a Texas Supreme Court ruling.

The court said lawmakers had enacted an unconstitutional statewide property tax. Lawmakers responded by reducing local school property tax rates by one-third and dedicating more state money to the schools to replace the local money.

So no school district suffered as the balance of state and local money changed, lawmakers essentially froze the level of per-student revenue at what each school district was getting in 2005-06. It was supposed to be a short-term solution but has persisted for five years.

That snapshot captured some districts at an ideal moment, while others were not so lucky. Small and rural districts believe they got a bum deal while many suburban and urban districts have been living high on the hog.

State Sen. Bob Deuell had the numbers to show just how unequal the funding formula has been for different school districts.

[L]awmakers have allowed the system to deteriorate to the point where a child’s school funding largely hinges on the zip code of his or her parents’  home. It would be interesting to see how the state defends that as a rational system for funding public education.

Deuell noted that the top 100 best funded school districts have property tax rates of $1, while the lowest 100 school districts levy an average tax rate of $1.16.

The physician-senator read a list highlighting the lowest and highest revenue per student in each senatorial district.

Senate District 1 (Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler):  Lowest, $3,926; Highest, $6,981; Disparity, $3,055 per student.

Senate District 2 (Sen.  Bob Deuell, R-Greenville): Lowest, $4,576; Highest, $6,261; Disparity, $1,694.

Senate District 3 (Sen.  Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville): Lowest, $4,407; Highest, $7,367; Disparity, $2,960.

Senate District 4 (Sen.  Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands): Lowest, $4,615; Highest, $7,064; Disparity, $2,449.

Senate District 5 (Sen.  Steve Ogden, R-Bryan): Lowest, $4,694; Highest, $8,646; Disparity, $3,952.

Senate District 6 (Sen.  Mario Gallegos, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,668; Disparity, $778.

Senate District 7 (Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston): Lowest, $4,772; Highest, $6,024; Disparity, $1,252.

Senate District 8 (Sen.  Florence Shapiro, R-Plano): Lowest, $5,194; Highest, $7,418; Disparity, $2,224.

Senate District 9 (Sen.  Chris Harris, R-Arlington): Lowest, $4,836; Highest, $5,706; Disparity, $870.

Senate District 10 (Sen.  Wendy Davis,D-Ft.Worth): Lowest, $4,797; Highest, $6,880; Disparity, $2,083.

Senate District 11 (Sen.  Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte): Lowest, $4,863; Highest, $5,984; Disparity, $1,121.

Senate District 12 (Sen.  Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound): Lowest, $4,770; Highest, $7,050; Disparity, $2,280.

Senate District 13 (Sen.  Rodney Ellis, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,890; Highest, $5,292; Disparity, $402.

Senate District 14 (Sen.  Kirk Watson, R-Austin): Lowest, $5,102; Highest, $6,282; Disparity, $1,180.

Senate District 15 (Sen.  John Whitmire, D-Houston): Lowest, $4,887; Highest, $6,459; Disparity, $1,572.

Senate District 16 (Sen.  John Carona, R-Dallas): Lowest, $4,780; Highest, $5,856; Disparity, $1,076.

Senate District 17 (Sen.  Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place): Lowest, $4,804; Highest, $6,876; Disparity, $2,072.

Senate District 18 (Sen.  Glenn Hagar, R-Katy): Lowest, $4,710; Highest, $7,935; Disparity, $3,225.

Senate District 19 (Sen.  Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,831; Highest, $12,400; Disparity, $8,569.

Senate District 20 (Sen.  Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen): Lowest, $4,678; Highest, $9,548; Disparity, $4,870.

Senate District 21 (Sen.  Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo): Lowest, $3,732; Highest, $10,908; Disparity, $7,176.

Senate District 22 (Sen.  Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury): Lowest, $4,118; Highest, $7,750; Disparity, $3,632.

Senate District 23 (Sen.  Royce West, D-Dallas): Lowest, $4,884; Highest, $5,430; Disparity, $546.

Senate District 24 (Sen.  Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay): Lowest, $3,896; Highest, $6,864; Disparity, $2,968.

Senate District 25 (Sen.  Jeff  Wentworth, R-San Antonio): Lowest, $4,426; Highest, $6,109; Disparity, $1,683.

Senate District 26 (Sen.  Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio): Lowest, $3,759; Highest, $5,573; Disparity, $1,814.

Senate District 27 (Sen.  Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville): Lowest, $4,304; Highest, $7,321; Disparity, $3,017.

Senate District 28 (Sen.  Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock): Lowest, $4,390; Highest, $12,979; Disparity, $8,589.

Senate District 29 (Sen.  Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso): Lowest, $4,614; Highest, $5,083; Disparity, $469.

Senate District 30 (Sen.  Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls): Lowest, $4,425; Highest, $7,488; Disparity, $3,063.

Senate District 31 (Sen.  Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo): Lowest, $4,432; Highest, $12,387; Disparity, $7,955.

A difference of $1,000 per student can pile up quickly. That kind of disparity amounts to at least $25,000 per classroom.

No one disputed or discounted Deuell’s case. But the prevailing attitude is:  ”We’re doing the best we can do this session.”

And if the Lege were a school district, they’d be rated academically unacceptable. Doing your best isn’t good enough if your methodology sucks. This is where the rubber meets the road, and as PDiddie notes, we’ve been down this road before. The Lege isn’t going to fix this problem until it is made up of members that actually care about fixing it in a just, equitable, and adequate fashion. The best we’re going to get out of this Lege is clarity for the next school finance lawsuit.

How little do the Republicans care about women’s health?

They don’t care at all.

An innovative women’s health initiative is heading toward oblivion over a legislative impasse between abortion rights opponents and supporters even though the program has nothing to do with abortions.

Unless renewed by law, the 5-year-old Medicaid Women’s Health Program will expire in December, ending contraceptive care and disease screening for 120,000 low-income women.

Sen. Bob Deuell , sponsor of the renewal bill, said Monday that he does not have enough support to bring the measure to the floor for a vote.

The sticking point is a provision designed to ensure that Planned Parenthood never participates in the program, which is intended to provide birth control to women who would qualify for taxpayer-supported Medicaid coverage if they were to become pregnant.

Deuell’s bill not only bans Planned Parenthood’s participation, it would also cancel the Women’s Health Program if the organization successfully sued to overturn the ban.

“It won’t pass the House without that in there,” said Deuell, R-Greenville.

But the so-called poison pill has also killed the bill’s chances in the Senate, Deuell added. “The Democrats here just can’t vote for it,” he said.

[…]

More than 120,000 low-income women participate in the health program, and state health officials say the effort saves state money — $21.4 million in 2008 — by reducing the number of Medicaid-financed births.

In addition to contraceptive care, participants are screened for cancer, diabetes, hypertension, anemia, sexually transmitted diseases and other conditions that could shorten their lives.

“I think it is a sad lack of leadership from the Texas Legislature that there’s no way to renew a program that is incredibly successful,” said Sarah Wheat with Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region.

You might think $21.4 million is a lot to waste on spite, but the Republicans in the legislature clearly don’t. I don’t even know what else to say. Perhaps now that a budget deal has been reached, there will be some resolution for this, though I don’t know what I’d root for. Lisa Falkenberg has more.

Fight over family planning funds coming

It’s a small piece of the difference between the House and Senate budgets, but it will surely be a big part of the fight over how the two are reconciled.

The Senate budget approved by the Finance Committee would spend $11 billion more than the House version, and members of the upper chamber seem unwilling to leave family planning drastically underfunded. The Senate is expected to vote on a final version of the bill this week and clear up the details.

The money that the House slashed helps needy women get physical exams, birth control pills and tests for sexually transmitted infections, as well as other health disorders.

Republican Sen. Bob Deuell of Greenville , an open opponent of abortion and a practicing physician, sees the wisdom in finding money for low-income women who need the services. “These programs prevent unwanted pregnancies and prevent abortions by allowing women to plan their pregnancies,” he said. “I would dare say (the Senate) is willing to put more into family planning.”

[…]

In a show of power, the House’s Republican supermajority used a series of amendments to strip the budget of more than $60 million in family planning services and shift it to other programs for poor and disabled children. Some of the money was moved into anti-abortion-rights programs and crisis pregnancy centers.

The conservatives were relentless in their efforts, which some see as part of a nationwide attack on Planned Parenthood, the most widely known family planning program. This larger conservative movement to defund Planned Parenthood, and groups like it, is intended to reduce access to abortion nationwide.

Houston Rep. Jessica Farrar , leader of the House Democrats, said the fight is about ideology, not fiscal prudence. “It’s not about policy; it’s not about women’s health — everything is about abortion for them,” she said.

Farrar and others say that gutting services that help women and children stay healthy and avoid unintended pregnancies will yield skyrocketing long-term Medicaid costs. Women who can’t get birth control are more likely to stay trapped in poverty at the cost of the taxpayer, family planning advocates contend.

There’s no question that Rep. Farrar is right. The question is which side will blink first. There’s a middle ground between spending X dollars and spending Y dollars. There isn’t between believing something is good and believing it’s evil. The anti-family planning zealots do have an ace in the hole, and that’s Rick Perry’s line item veto power. They can give if they need to and still win.

More on the effects of cuts to health and human services

Most of this should be familiar to us by now.

Deep spending cuts in the recently passed House budget would profoundly change the state’s medical system, placing tens of thousands of Texans in the difficult position of finding alternate care from a dwindling list of prospects, health care advocates warn.

Much of the impact would be on elderly Texans, adults with disabilities, those in need of mental health care and low-income families in search of obstetricians, pediatricians and general practitioners. Private insurance rates and hospital-provided care also might be affected.

Even the still-developing Senate budget, which seeks to mitigate many of the deepest cuts, carries a measure of pain that several Republicans rue but feel powerless to prevent.

They control every statewide office, they have a supermajority in the House, and they feel powerless? Even if I believed that, I’d feel no sympathy for them. They made this mess, and it is entirely within their power to fix it. But they don’t want to, and they also don’t want to be held responsible for that. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.

Keeping up with population growth and maintaining current health and human service programs would have cost about $31 billion in state money in 2012-13.

The House set aside $22 billion.

About $1.6 billion was saved with a 10 percent cut in Medicaid reimbursement rates for doctors, hospitals and nursing homes that serve 3.5 million Texans with disabilities or low incomes.

An additional $4.3 billion was cut from projected cases. But because Medicaid-eligible patients cannot be turned away, the Legislature is expected to return in 2012 or 2013 to pass a supplemental budget to fill the gap.

This is an important fact to keep in mind. Much like the payment-delaying accounting tricks, making cuts to Medicaid doesn’t mean those obligations go away. They’re just being deferred. The bet is that sales tax revenue will exceed expectations, and the extra money will be there to take care of this. Sales tax revenues are up, but not nearly to the point where they were before 2008. Expect there will be the need to scrape up more funds in a year’s time or so.

A study by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation projects unsustainable growth for Medicaid, which might consume almost 47 percent of the state budget in 2014-15, up from 28 percent in 2008-09.

“We have some hard choices to make,” said Arlene Wohlgemuth, executive director of the foundation. “But we also have a responsibility to keep our economy in as healthy a shape as we can. That affects all Texans.”

Already-struggling families cannot be asked to pay more taxes, said Wohlgemuth, a former House member. “I have a lot of sympathy for our legislators, but the message last November continues to be strong that people want reduced spending.”

Still, Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville , said recently that “even in my very Republican, conservative district,” he’s heard support for tapping the state’s rainy day fund and raising the gas tax and state fees to cushion the impact of health care cuts.

I’ll take Sen. Deuell’s word for it over that of a lobbyist. As noted before, that’s what the 2012 election will be all about. Or at least, that’s what it needs to be all about. It’s up to the candidates and the party to figure out how to make the case in an effective manner.

Bradley’s mission nears its completion

John Bradley won’t get confirmed by the Senate as the Chair of the Forensic Science Commission, but that’s all right. The purpose for which he was put on the Commission by Rick Perry is about to be fulfilled.

Perry, who refused to block Cameron Todd Willingham’s lethal injection in 2004, appointed Williamson County prosecutor John Bradley to take over the forensics commission and the Willingham case in 2009, just days before the panel was to hear a fire expert’s critical report of the original investigation.

[…]

Once in charge, Bradley took steps to slow down the panel’s work and has pushed members to find there was no misconduct by fire investigators in the original 1991 investigation.

The forensics panel is scheduled to meet April 14-15 to consider its final report on the case. GOP Sen. Bob Deuell, chairman of the nominations committee, told The Associated Press that he has been holding Bradley’s doomed nomination without a Senate vote in part to allow him to preside over that meeting.

Bradley doesn’t have enough Senate support for confirmation, and he’d be immediately forced out of his job on the forensics panel if he was called up for a vote and lost, Deuell said. If there is no vote, Bradley serves until the legislative session ends in May.

“Right now he knows he’ll get busted,” Deuell said. “The thinking is even from most of his critics, if not all, is that he needs to chair that meeting. We don’t want a new person to have to start over like he did.”

This critic thinks Bradley deserves the public dope slap that a failed confirmation vote would represent. So does Sen. Rodney Ellis, who was quoted as such later in the story. That said, I do understand Sen. Deuell’s position, and let’s be honest, if the Willingham case remained unresolved Rick Perry would just name another hatchet man to finish the job. Hell, for all we know he’d name David Bradley to fill that slot as well. Nobody has any illusions about Bradley’s role on the Commission, and nobody with any integrity will accept a whitewash from him, regardless of what the record will say. Let’s get this over with and move on. Thanks to Grits for the link.

Senate pushes back on House efforts to redirect family planning funds

A little sanity is always nice to see.

State budget cuts taking aim at Planned Parenthood may limit the availability of family planning services for many poor Texans and have the unintended consequence of increasing unwanted pregnancies, two key lawmakers said Monday.

State Sens. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, and Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said they hope a conference committee will restore funding to the State Department of Health Services Family Planning program. Both are members of the Senate Finance Committee and focus on health issues.

“I don’t care for Planned Parenthood, (but) I don’t want to cut access to family planning. I don’t want to decrease access,” said Deuell. “One way to stop abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.”

Nelson agreed, saying, “We need to help women who need our assistance with family planning or contraceptives to not have a baby when they can’t care for it.”

Sure seems obvious, right? Women who aren’t pregnant don’t get abortions. But the so-called “pro-life” crowd has always been more about controlling women than about sound public policy, so here we are.

Fran Hagerty, the chief executive officer of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas, predicted the family planning cuts ultimately would cost taxpayers.

“The rule of thumb is, it costs $180 a year” for a woman to receive a physical exam and receive a year’s supply of birth control, Hagerty said, while a baby born on Medicaid will cost taxpayers $10,000 in its first year.

“When you compare that, it’s a no brainer,” Hagerty said. “The number-one factor for low-income women becoming welfare dependent is an unwanted pregnancy. If birth control is not available, they are more likely to stay in poverty and become dependent on the state.”

As long as they can’t get an abortion, the “pro-lifers” don’t care. They can always cut the funding for programs that would help these women so the budget balances in the end. See how easy it is?

It’s Bradleys all the way down

Me, March 15, on the subject of SBOE Chair Gail Lowe’s confirmation issues in the Senate:

I feel the same way about this as I did with Don McLeroy’s ultimately scuttled confirmation back in 2009. I have nothing good to say about Gail Lowe, but I have absolutely no illusions that her successor would be any better. In fact, I’d bet money that should Lowe fail to get confirmed, Perry will nominate David Bradley as the next Chair, which will not only ratchet the crazy factor back up to 11, it will also be a big, ironic middle finger aimed at every Democratic Senator. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should vote on this one – the game is rigged, and the choices all suck – but I do think everyone should give it a lot of thought.

Peggy Fikac, March 28, same subject.

It looks like speak-his-mind prosecutor John Bradley’s appointment as head of the Forensic Science Commission will end with this legislative session.

But Bradley’s brother, the equally blunt David Bradley, may benefit if Senate Democrats also block State Board of Education Chairwoman Gail Lowe’s appointment.

What’s more, if Gov. Rick Perry were to name David Bradley to replace Lowe after this regular session ends, senators might not get a chance to weigh in on the appointment until the 2013 regular session (barring a special session).

Perry’s appointments of Lowe and John Bradley are in trouble because a two-thirds Senate vote is needed to confirm nominees. There are 19 Senate Republicans and 12 Democrats.

A couple of Republicans have joined Democrats in opposing John Bradley. Senate Nominations Committee Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, said all the Republicans would vote for Lowe. But that’s not enough. Without a Senate vote, the appointees’ terms end when the session does in May.

David Bradley, a State Board of Education member from Beaumont, is a possible Lowe replacement. He’s a leader of conservatives who’ve made controversial social studies changes that even a conservative group said exaggerates Biblical influence. Bradley once tried to insert President Barack Obama’s middle name, “Hussein,” in a reference to him in history standards.

Lowe, while conservative, is credited with an even hand in presiding over board meetings. Bradley acknowledges he doesn’t have her patience.

I’m just saying.

Lowe has confirmation issues, too

John Bradley isn’t the only Rick Perry appointee who is having trouble getting confirmed by the Senate.

State Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, who chairs the Senate Nominations committee, says Gail Lowe has not been scheduled for a hearing as chairwoman of the State Board of Education because she lacks the votes for a confirmation on the floor.

Gov. Rick Perry nominated Lowe, who currently serves in the position, on Feb. 1. Democrats in the Senate have been unhappy with her performance — especially in light of a recent report that blasted the state’s social studies standards.

Deuell said that while he believes the Lampasas Republican’s nomination has the votes to get out of committee, she currently does not have the support of any Democrats — meaning she would not survive a vote of the full Senate.

[…]

In blocking Lowe, who, while a member of board’s social conservative bloc, is known for a balanced management style, Democrats run the risk of a more controversial member as her replacement.

I feel the same way about this as I did with Don McLeroy’s ultimately scuttled confirmation back in 2009. I have nothing good to say about Gail Lowe, but I have absolutely no illusions that her successor would be any better. In fact, I’d bet money that should Lowe fail to get confirmed, Perry will nominate David Bradley as the next Chair, which will not only ratchet the crazy factor back up to 11, it will also be a big, ironic middle finger aimed at every Democratic Senator. I’m not going to tell anyone how they should vote on this one – the game is rigged, and the choices all suck – but I do think everyone should give it a lot of thought.

Two Republican Senators oppose Bradley’s nomination to the Forensic Science Commission

Excellent.

The confirmation of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley as chairman of the state Forensic Science Commission appears to be in deep trouble, as two Senate Republicans confirmed today that they will vote no.

That would leave Bradley four votes short of the required 21 needed to bring his name up for a Senate vote.

[…]

“At this point, his nomination not going anywhere,” said Nominations Committee Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville. “Unless something changes, it’s over.”

[…]

Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said he is against Bradley’s nomination because of his controversial tenure as chairman of the commission. The exchange with [Sen. Rodney] Ellis is “only the latest example,” he said.

“This is no longer about him, it’s about the need for a change,” Eltife said. “Once a situation becomes this volatile, sometimes you need to make a change. That’s what I think the commission needs.”

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said he also opposes Bradley’s nomination, and has no intention of changing his mind.

“I watched his disrespect for members of the Legislature on this and many other occasions, and based on that issue alone I will vote no,” he said. “His sheer dismissive attitude toward questions, toward the Legislature, that he has demonstrated time and time again, cannot be overlooked.”

Bradley’s Republican supporters said they hoped to persuade Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, to vote for the nomination. But Lucio said he is not switching.

“I don’t like the way he treated me on my life-without-parole bill last session, the way he talked down to me and treated me during that discussion,” Lucio said. “He was the biggest opponent of that bill . . . There was no common courtesy.”

I’m not sure which is my favorite part, the fact that he’s going down or the fact that he has no one to blame for it but himself and his arrogant, obnoxious attitude. The only bad news in this is that as the story notes Bradley would still be chairing the Commission on April 15, when it next meets to possibly take action on the Willingham case. As such, Bradley would have one last chance to fulfill the mission he was given by Gov. Perry, to permanently undermine any effort to examine and fix what went wrong in that case and set standards for arson investigations in the state. If he had any honor, he’s recognize the position he’s in and step down now, so that someone who could be confirmed can be nominated. But then if he had any honor he wouldn’t be in the position he’s in.

Bradley’s nomination to Forensic Science Commission may be dead

Peggy Fikac brings the good news.

It’s not looking good for John Bradley, the tough-talking prosecutor named by Republican Gov. Rick Perry to head the Forensic Science Commission – and not just because of Democratic opposition to his appointment.

“The Democrats are not going to vote for him, and there are two Republicans that are not,” said Senate Nominations Committee Chairman Bob Deuell, R-Greenville. It takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate to confirm the governor’s appointees. There are 19 Senate Republicans and 11 (sic) Democrats.

“He probably thought he could talk a couple of Democrats into voting for him. I don’t think he can talk four” into it, Deuell said.

[…]

If there aren’t enough votes to confirm Bradley, Senate leaders expect to let his nomination linger without a vote. His appointment then would be valid through the end of the session.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer, more deserving guy. I don’t have any illusions that Perry will pick anyone better to replace him, but as he doesn’t currently have an election to win it’s at least theoretically possible that he’ll name someone a little less hackish. We can hope, anyway. Grits has more.

How about those tax exemptions?

There’s a lot of them, and they cost the state big bucks.

A 68-page report released by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs on Monday offers a detailed look at billions of dollars in state tax exemptions and could fuel renewed discussion on rolling back certain tax breaks as lawmakers deal with a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.

Exemptions from sales, franchise, and gasoline and motor vehicle sales taxes for the 2011 fiscal year that ends on Aug. 31, 2011, will amount to $32.2 billion, Combs reported. In addition to state revenue, exemptions to local school district property taxes will amount to additional $6 billion, Combs said.

Exemptions to the state sales tax, the state’s biggest source of revenue, will total $30.8 billion for the current fiscal year, Combs said, although some items exempted from the sales tax are taxed from other sources. Gasoline tax exemptions will amount to $113 million. Motor vehicle sales tax exemptions will total $125 million.

“While sales and use tax collections totaled $19.6 billion in fiscal 2010,” Combs said, “the tax is limited in scope when compared with the total number and kind of transactions in the economy, because of various exemptions and exclusions,” Combs said.

[…]

The report shows that sales tax exemptions for the upcoming 2012-13 biennium would total $66.2 billion, outpacing the $42.9 billion the tax is expected to generate during that period.

Sales tax exemptions include food and food products, water, child day care, healthcare supplies as well as most professional services.

I’d love to point you to the report, but I’ve looked on the Comptroller’s website, and I don’t see anything that looks like it. If we collected all the revenue lost to these exemptions, we would entirely wipe out the budget shortfall, accounting for growth as well. Obviously, some of these exemptions are more justifiable than others, though for sure all of them have an army of lobbyists set to defend them to the death. It would be nice to at least have a periodic review of the existing tax exemptions to see which are still serving a viable policy purpose and which are little more than an undeserved perk for some group that no longer needs it. HB 1308, by State Rep. Mike Villarreal would establish a Select Commission on Periodic Tax Preference Review to do that; there are other bills out there relating to tax exemptions that should be given strong consideration as well. If we’re going to insist on looking everywhere for possible savings, we should also insist on ensuring we’re collecting all the revenue we should be as well. I’m pleased to see that there’s at least some Republican support for this.

State Sen. Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, would rather raise taxes a little bit than make the cuts lawmakers are considering now, he said this evening.

Deuell has been a proponent of a 10-cent increase in gasoline taxes for some time — since before his Republican primary and general election victories last year — and said he would support a broader sales tax, too. He also said the state should use “most” of the $9.4 billion Rainy Day Fund.

“I think it’s raining, and I would hate to make cuts this session and come back in two years and find out we didn’t have to make those cuts,” he said.

Deuell is on the Senate Finance Committee and sits on its subcommittee on Medicaid; that panel will vote Wednesday morning on that part of the budget and send it up to the full committee.

“We’re the 45th-lowest tax state,” Deuell said. “I’m not chomping at the bit to be number 44, but we’re a low-tax state and we’ve got people in need.”

It’s a start, and I commend Sen. Deuell for being realistic about what we’re facing. I should add that there’s a lot of these opportunities at the federal level, too. EoW and Abby Rapoport have more.

Bradley’s confirmation delayed

Good.

In a bid to diffuse a partisan showdown, the name of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley was temporarily stricken this morning from a list of nominees to be submitted to the full Senate for confirmation.

[…]

Nominations Committee Chairman Robert Deuell, R-Greenville, said [earlier] that he plans to submit the list of Monday’s nominees to the Senate for approval — possibly as early as tomorrow — but without Bradley’s name.

“I’m pulling him off the list for now, yes,” Deuell said. “I want to let things settle down, and then see where we are. If we put him out there now, they (Democrats) would sever him (from the rest of the nominees) and block him.

“There’s no reason to let that happen right now.”

Though pulled off of the current list sent to the Senate, Deuell said Bradley’s name could be submitted for confirmation at any time. Three other nominees to the Forensic Science Commission that were approved by the committee on Monday will be forwarded on for Senate confirmation now, Deuell said.

More here. Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is lobbying for Bradley, but there’s not enough lipstick in the world for this pig. Block away, Democrats. Burka has more.

If not Planned Parenthood, then who?

That sound you hear is another can of worms being opened.

State Sen. Bob Deuell wants Planned Parenthood’s clinics out of the state’s Women’s Health Program, which provides family planning services — but not abortions — to impoverished Medicaid patients. And he says a 2005 law should exclude them already.

But for years, the state’s Health and Human Services Commission has allowed those clinics to continue participating, disregarding the legislative mandate for fear that barring them might be unconstitutional. Deuell has asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to clear up the matter, hoping it will free up the agency to push Planned Parenthood out.

“My primary motivation is for the money to go to the 400-plus comprehensive care clinics in the state that provide more than just birth control and STD testing,” said Deuell, R-Greenville. “People say, ‘You just don’t like Planned Parenthood.’ That’s right, but it doesn’t take credibility away from what I’m trying to do.”

[…]

While some Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas do perform abortions, those that provide family planning services under Texas’ Women’s Health Program do not — they screen Medicaid patients for breast and cervical cancer, STDs, and prescribe birth control, among other services. Since 2007, 40 Planned Parenthood clinics have received a combined $17.6 million through the Women’s Health Program, according to HHSC records.

A decision isn’t imminent. It could take Abbott months to hand down an opinion, and if he says the provision is constitutional, HHSC officials will likely enter a lengthy rule-making process. But state health officials have a lot riding on the outcome. If they adopt and follow the rule lawmakers intended — and it doesn’t align with federal Medicaid policy — they could risk losing big bucks: $18 million of the $20 million the state spent on the Women’s Health Program in 2009 came from the federal government, according a brief HHSC sent to the attorney general.

Planned Parenthood advocates say the clinics provide stellar reproductive health care and that they’re often the only family planning outfits available in Texas communities. And by all accounts, the program — launched in 2007 as a five-year pilot for impoverished women aged 18 and 44 — is effective. With just a fraction of eligible women currently enrolled, the program prevented 10,000 unplanned pregnancies in 2008 (through contraception and other family planning methods, not abortion), and it saved the state roughly $40 million a year, according to a recent HHSC study.

“There are so many real pressing problems facing this state,” said Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston, an advocate for reproductive health clinics. “Why, when this has been working, and no state money has been going to any abortion services, are we spending the state’s time and resources researching this?”

That’s a good question. One might also ask who will step in and provide these services if Planned Parenthood is pushed out? Is Sen. Deuell going to provide replacement funds in the event his little crusade succeeds? Or is the cessation of this service an acceptable outcome for him as long as Planned Parenthood gets the screw? This is so typical of most Republican legislative priorities: It doesn’t solve any problems, but it sure has the potential to create them.

Why we can’t just cut our way out of the budget deficit

For one thing, there’s very little fat, and not much discretionary spending in the biggest budget items like health and human services.

Of the $23 billion in state dollars appropriated in the current budget for health and human services programs, $20 billion is “restricted” because of state law, constitutional provisions or federal laws and regulations.

That restricted money is not necessarily off-limits. But trimming from the biggest pieces — the $17 billion in state dollars that goes to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program — could exacerbate the effects of the budget cuts because some of the $30 billion in federal dollars would be lost as a result.

Legislators also will not be allowed to reduce the rolls of those programs by making eligibility criteria or application rules more stringent, as they did in 2003 when the state faced a similar budget conundrum. This year’s federal health care overhaul prohibited such moves, said Anne Dunkelberg , associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income Texans.

[…]

Another vulnerable area of the budget could be the state programs that seek to protect children and elderly people from abuse and neglect, said state Sen. Bob Deuell .

“I’m not telling you I want to; I’m just giving examples” of areas that aren’t restricted, said Deuell, a Greenville Republican . “It’s going to be painful. I pray every day the state tax revenue goes up.”

And he worries that beds at state mental health hospitals could be eliminated. For the first round of trims, state officials considered cutting hospital capacity at four locations but decided against it.

“They don’t have enough beds as it is,” said Deuell, a member of the Senate budget-writing team who is also vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services.

With all due respect to Sen. Deuell and his concerns, which I have no doubt are genuine and heartfelt, he does have the power to do something about revenue. Just pushing back against the head-in-the-sand mindset of some of his Senate colleagues about eliminating tax expenditures and sales tax exemptions would be a start. I mean, if you think it’s preferable to allow tattoo parlors and bottled water to be tax-free than it is to provide basic levels of service to sick and needy children and elderly folks, well, that’s your right, but don’t expect me to light a candle for your soul. What bugs the crap out of me in all of this is the impression that many legislators want to create that their hands are tied, they have no options, etc etc etc. Bullshit. They chose to carve a huge hole in the budget four years ago with that ginormous irresponsible property tax cut (by the way, revenues from the business margins tax are falling short of projections again), they can choose to do something to fix it.

I don’t mean to pick on Sen. Deuell, who I believe does care about this, unlike some of his Republican colleagues. But having your heart in the right place only carries you so far. There’s been an awful lot of concern expressed by just about everyone in office or running for office about how big a tax burden people have during these tough economic times, and how much of a hardship it would be to get anyone to pay anything more. Well, budget cuts impose burdens on a lot of people, too. The burden on them is often far greater than a $200 hike to Dan Patrick’s property taxes would be, too. Yet they’re expected to shoulder that burden entirely, to the point where even mentioning the possibility of an alternative is an abomination. That’s just wrong.

Senate approves stimulus funds for unemployment insurance

Good.

The Texas Senate tentatively approved Sen. Kevin Eltife’s bill to change the state’s unemployment laws so that Texas can accept an estimated $555 million in federal stimulus dollars.

[…]

Eltife’s bill was supported by 22 senators and opposed by nine. It faces a final vote before going to the House for consideration.

SB 1569
would make several changes to Texas law to drawn down the funds, including adopting unemployment insurance benefits for part-time employees and for workers forced to quit their jobs for compelling family reasons.

The record vote isn’t available yet, so I don’t know who the nine are. Sens. Deuell and Carona are listed as coauthors, so presumably they voted in favor. I guess Sen. Eltife had the numbers he needed. Kudos to him for getting this done.

Now of course, Governor Perry will surely veto this. The question is whether the House can pass it with enough votes to override, and if it can be passed in time to try to override it. Perry can sit on it for three weeks before issuing a yay or nay, so unless the House acts quickly, it’ll be a moot point. No clue when they might get to it.

A statement from the Texas AFL-CIO in praise of this vote is beneath the fold.

(more…)