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Byron Cook

Runoff races, part 4: Republicans

Again, not going to spend too much time on this, but here are the US House and State House races for which there are Republican primary runoffs:


Dist  Candidate    March%
=========================
CD02  Roberts      33.03%
CD02  Crenshaw     27.42%

CD05  Gooden       29.97%
CD05  Pounds       21.95%

CD06  Wright       45.15%
CD06  Ellzey       21.76%

CD21  Roy          27.06%
CD21  McCall       16.93%

CD27  Bruun        36.09%
CD27  Cloud        33.83%

CD29  Aronoff      38.60%
CD29  Montiel      23.58%


HD04  Spitzer      45.78%
HD04  Bell         26.21%

HD08  Harris       44.99%
HD08  McNutt       39.39%

HD13  Wolfskill    38.47%
HD13  Leman        36.28%

HD54  Cosper       44.60%
HD54  Buckley      41.55%

HD62  Smith        45.84%
HD62  Lawson       34.35%

HD107 Metzger      45.32%
HD107 Ruzicka      27.34%

HD121 Beebe        29.56%
HD121 Allison      26.34%

We’ve discussed CD02 and CD21 in recent days. Bunni Pounds in CD05 is the Republicans’ best hope to bolster the ranks of female members of Congress from Texas. I mean sure, Carmen Montiel is still in the running in CD29, but I think we can all agree that winning the runoff would be her last hurrah. In any event, Pounds is outgoing Rep. Jeb Hensarling’s preferred successor, and she has the support of Mike Pence. Which, it turns out, has caused some drama in the White House, because everything these days causes drama in the White House. The two contenders in CD27 are also running in the special election. It would be funny if the runoff loser wound up winning that race, but my guess would be that the runoff loser withdraws from the special election.

In the State House races, HD121 is Joe Straus’ seat, while HD08 belonged to his deputy Byron Cook. Thomas McNutt and Matt Beebe are the wingnuts backed by Tim Dunn and Empower Texans who have run against Straus and Cook in the past, so if you hope to retain a touch of sanity in the lower chamber, root for their opponents. Scott Cosper is the lone incumbent in a runoff. Stuart Spitzer is a return customer in HD04 best known for his extreme love of virginity. HD107 is held by freshman Dem Victoria Neave, who like Rep. Oliveira had a recent brush with the law, and in part due to that may be the one truly vulnerable Dem in any legislative chamber this cycle. HD107 is also the latest example of Why Every Vote Matters, as primary runnerup Joe Ruzicka collected 2,070 votes in March, exactly one more than third place finisher Brad Perry’s 2,069 votes.

Finally, there’s the runoff for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 5 in Harris County, a race that will be decided by the Republican runoff as no Democrat filed for it. (There actually was a Dem who filed but he either withdrew or was disqualified late in the game, I don’t know which, and there wasn’t the time to collect enough petition signatures for a backup candidate.) The race is between normal incumbent Republican Jeff Williams and village idiot Michael Wolfe, backed by the likes of Steven Hotze and Eric Dick, the Tweedledum to Wolfe’s Tweedledumber. Go read Erica Greider if you want to know more about it.

Did Greg Abbott oppose the bathroom bill?

Color me skeptical.

Gov. Greg Abbott himself was opposed to the controversial “bathroom bill” that dominated debate at the Texas Capitol for much of 2017, according to a state representative involved in keeping the legislation from passing the Texas House.

State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs committee that blocked the bill from reaching the House floor for a full vote, said Tuesday that Abbott “did not want that bill on his desk.”

Cook’s comments on the bill, which would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, came alongside the long-awaited release Tuesday of a report from the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness. After months of discussion, a public squabble and several hours-long hearings, most committee members came to the conclusion many had anticipated: the “bathroom bill” is bad for business.

“Future legislators should focus on [low taxes, limited regulation and local control] to maintain a predictable and reliable business climate, avoiding legislation that distracts from critical priorities and is viewed by many as enabling discrimination against certain groups or classes of Texans,” says the committee’s report. “Texas policymakers must acknowledge warnings from leaders in the business community, academicians and law enforcement officials about the consequences of such discriminatory legislation to avoid endangering the state’s successful economy.”

Two of the committee’s Republican members, state Reps. Angie Chen Button of Richardson and Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, didn’t sign the final report. Neither Abbott, Button nor Geren immediately returned a request for comment Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick first unveiled a “bathroom bill” in January 2017, and for the first several months of debate, Abbott remained largely silent even as some cautioned that it would be bad for business. When an alternative form of the bill emerged in the Texas House in April, Abbott called it a “thoughtful proposal.” But he didn’t give the policy his clear support until later that spring, when he endorsed it as a legislative priority.

No bathroom bill made it to Abbott’s desk by the end of the legislative session in May — a block largely credited to Straus and Cook, who said in a hearing that “there’s no information” supporting the need for such a bill. But Abbott revived the controversial legislation in June, when he put it on his 20-item call for the summer’s month-long special session.

After that, he struck a delicate balance on the thorny issue, calling on legislators to pass all of his special session priorities but taking care not to emphasize the “bathroom bill” individually. Many observers speculated that Abbott was happy to stay out of the fight, letting Straus take the heat for keeping the bill from the floor.

The rest of the story is about that report, which looks like it says more or less what you’d expect it to. I guess the best argument for what Rep. Cook says to be true is basically that Abbott was too scared of getting primaried by Dan Patrick to say anything against a bathroom bill. He’s a weak leader, and I can believe he’d let Joe Straus take all the bullets for him on this, so I can’t completely dismiss Rep. Cook’s words. But how big a wuss does he have to be to put the bathroom bill on the call for the special session if he didn’t want a bill to be sent to him? There’s just no bottom to his fecklessness. The Chron has more.

No, the bathroom bill issue hasn’t gone away

Lisa Falkenberg tries to argue that the bathroom bill issue has faded away this election, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think she does, either.

But there’s one hot-button issue that’s been notably absent: the bathroom bill.

And actually, it has been notably absent from just about every Republican primary contest this season, as the Texas Tribune reported this week.

That is interesting, seeing as how the divisive provision regulating transgender bathroom use distracted from serious legislation and even triggered a special session. I asked those closely involved in fighting the bill for a ballpark figure on the hours wasted in hearings, negotiations, stakeholder meetings and floor debate.

Hundreds, they said.

The fact that the burning issue is now a non-issue is a bit surprising, seeing as how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned lawmakers who worked successfully to thwart it that they would face consequences, namely the wrath of their constituents.

“Let them go home and face the voters for the next 90 days,” Patrick was quoted saying on the last day of the special session in reference to bill opponents.

Certainly, plenty of political observers, myself included, expected that the bill that launched protests, hours of debate among lawmakers and stoked fear in the hearts of parents and transgender Texans would play a role on the stump, whether employed as a strict litmus test or a mere dog whistle.

Now, it seems all but forgotten. The question is why.

[…]

Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University, says the issue just didn’t have the staying power among the Republican base as issues such as illegal immigration, abortion and taxes. He said most GOP primary voters have largely forgotten about the issue, which was never a priority for them anyway.

Jones says he suspects one reason that potty politics have quieted is that “even for most conservative activists the bathroom bill was something of a manufactured issue, where some members of the GOP elite converted a relatively non-issue into an issue among the base, but one that absent a constant stoking of the fire by the GOP elite has for all intents been extinguished.”

He added, “Until such time that Dan Patrick decides to pour some gasoline on the remaining embers.”

Hold that thought for a minute. The Trib had an article along the same lines a day or two before Falkenberg’s piece.

For starters, its biggest champion, Patrick, is no longer promoting it with remotely the same level of enthusiasm he did before and during the 2017 sessions. In October, he declared bathroom bill supporters had “already won” by sending a message to any school or business thinking about providing the kinds of accommodations that led to the push for the proposal in the first place.

Furthermore, the two Republicans most closely associated with the legislation’s death — Straus and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee — are not seeking re-election, avoiding primary challenges that could have been shaped by their opposition to the proposal.

For some bathroom bill supporters, the Cook and Straus retirements are enough proof that the failure of the legislation had political consequences.

[…]

In a small number of cases, primary challengers have sought to appeal to more moderate Republican voters by providing a contrast with incumbents who supported the bathroom bill. In her debut ad, Shannon McClendon, who’s running against state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, said the incumbent “wants the government to intrude into our bedroom, our bathrooms and our boardrooms — I want to focus on our classrooms.”

That’s about as far as it goes among Republicans who weren’t keen on the bathroom bill, though. Even the political arm of the TAB, among the legislation’s biggest opponents last year, has kept talk of the issue at a minimum as it has sought to play a more aggressive role in the primaries. It snubbed a number of bathroom bill supporters in its primary endorsements, but it also backed some who unapologetically voted for it, like Campbell.

Hey, you know who’s a big bathroom bill booster that’s being challenged over that issue in the Republican primary? Dan Patrick, that’s who. His what-used-to-be-considered-mainstream Republican opponent is Scott Milder, who has gotten support from editorial boards and not much of a hold on the news pages. One reason why the bathroom bill isn’t getting much attention is precisely because this race isn’t getting much attention. Other reasons include the departures of Joe Straus and Byron Cook, and the big focus on federal races – Congress plus Beto O’Rourke – where bathrooms take a back seat to all things Trump. At the state level, there’s more attention on the Democratic gubernatorial primary than anything else.

But look, none of this really matters. What matters is what Mark Jones said. Dan Patrick doesn’t forget, and he doesn’t give up. The fact that there weren’t high profile fights over potties in the primary will be taken by him as proof that he was right all along, that Republican voters were on his side. And when you consider that there are no Republicans of prominence on the ballot who are disputing that, and that as expected the Texas Association of Business has been as toothless as a a newborn, why should he think otherwise? Republican primary voters are gonna do what Republican primary voters do, which over the past half dozen or so cycles has meant “nominate more and more unhinged lunatics”. You want to restore a little sanity and put things like bathroom bills in the trash can where they belong, vote Democratic. That’s a message that maybe, just maybe, Dan Patrick will have to listen to.

Speaker Straus not running for re-election

A bombshell no one saw coming.

Rep. Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election in 2018, a decision that has the potential to upend the political balance of power in the state.

Straus, who has lately been the most powerful moderate Republican in the Texas Capitol, said he will serve until the end of his term. That means there will be a new speaker when the Legislature next convenes in 2019.

His decision will immediately set in motion a scrum for control of the House, pitting arch-conservative members who have opposed Straus against more centrist Republicans. Within hours, one of Straus’ top lieutenants, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced that he had filed to run for the speaker’s post. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has already announced he is running. Other candidates are expected to jump in.

Straus has clashed with hardline conservatives in recent years, not least Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Tea Party leaders and their allies have blamed Straus for killing controversial measures backed by the far right, most notably a bill that would have regulated which bathrooms transgender Texans could use.

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime. And so I want you to know that my family and I have decided that I will not run for re-election next year,” Straus said in a campaign email. “My time as a State Representative and as Speaker will end at the conclusion of my current term.”

[…]

Asked if he planned to run for any other office in the future, Straus said he is “not one to close doors.” He acknowledged he has received encouragement to run for other offices and did not rule out the possibility of a gubernatorial bid. But he said he doubts he will be on the ballot in 2018.

As for the race to succeed him as speaker, Straus suggested he would not get involved.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who aren’t members in the Legislature in the next session to really register an opinion on that,” Straus said.

The announcement immediately set into motion speculation about the future of Straus’ top lieutenants. One of his closest allies, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who is chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said in a statement first reported by Quorum Report that he “will pursue other opportunities to serve our great state.”

Straus made his announcement on Facebook, which if you have a feed like mine immediately took over everything. This came as a big surprise, because just last month Straus was urging business leaders to keep up the fight against bathroom bills and other such harmful proposals, and two weeks ago he formed the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to push pro-growth policies. I doubt it had occurred to anyone that he himself might walk away at this time, but if a young, scandal-free first-term US Senator can say “screw it, I’ve had enough”, then nothing like this should surprise us. Indeed, as Ross Ramsey notes, this will almost surely presage a lot more retirements. Get ready for it.

As to what happens next, I’m not going to panic or despair, at least not yet. For one thing, like Christopher Hooks, I’m a little wary of the hagiography coming from my fellow travelers over Straus’ legislative career.

Liberals have never quite figured out what to make of the man. On one hand, it’s undoubtedly true that Straus was a bulwark against the new populist tendencies of the Texas GOP. He and allies such as Byron Cook, who is also retiring, stopped a metric ton of junk legislation that would have passed with a different speaker. When considering the question of why Texas has fared generally better than similarly red states like Louisiana and Kansas, which are on fire, Straus and the conditions that created Straus are a significant part of the answer. He’s the last person in state government who seems to care about governing as a concept.

But out of that fact emerged too a picture of Straus as a sort of Aaron Sorkin character, a paternal figure with an unnaturally rosy image and a passing resemblance to Gregg Popovich, typified by the mythic representation of Straus’ bathroom bill showdown with Patrick in a recent New Yorker article. There is an element of Stockholm Syndrome in that, as if Straus was the jailer who always asks about your kids. Among other things, the House of Straus passed many of its own pieces of junk legislation — voter ID, loads of anti-abortion laws, etc. — and served at times as a trough for the lobby. Straus and his lieutenants often declined to water down bad legislation, including, spectacularly the state’s “show your papers” law. The Capitol debate over what Straus personally wants, and when his hand is being “forced,” is as long and storied as it is useless to ordinary Texans.

Straus isn’t Jeff Flake or Bob Corker — he’s been staying true to some version of his principles since he was elected speaker, not just recently. But it’s also worth wondering why a person who places so much emphasis on good government is willing to abandon his post, possibly to another Republican in the mold of Dan Patrick or Donald Trump. A tremendous amount now depends on whether a Straus-type successor can be elected speaker.

For sure, we could have done much worse than Straus – we had already done much worse, under Tom Craddick – and we could do much worse going forward. I’m just suggesting that we maintain a bit of perspective here. Going forward, a Speaker Zerwas would be more or less the same as Speaker Straus was, while a Speaker King would basically be Speaker Craddick minus the Craddick Dems. The way to enhance the odds of the former is for more Democrats to win legislative races next year, especially against wingnuts in swing districts like Matt Rinaldi. Perhaps the Texas Association of Business, who helped give us Speaker Craddick in 2002, might get involved in a few Republican primaries if they’d like to see Straus’ legacy live on. There are concrete things that can be done to ensure a better outcome, is what I’m saying. That’s where I’d put my energy if this news is distressing to me. The Chron, RG Ratcliffe, the Current, and the DMN have more.

Halfway through the session

The House is doing House things, and that’s fine.

Rep. Joe Straus

Brushing aside concerns that they are not moving swiftly enough to enact Gov. Greg Abbott’s 20-point agenda, Texas House members opened the second half of the special session Wednesday with a flurry of activity Wednesday.

“We made good progress, and we’re only half the way through,” House Speaker Joe Straus told the American-Statesman.

“I’ve been spending my time, the first half of the 30-day session, trying to get the House in a place to consider the items that the governor has placed on the agenda,” said Straus, a San Antonio Republican. “We work more slowly than the Senate does because we listen to people and we try to get the details right. And so the House committees have been meeting and have shown some good progress, moving many of the items that are on the call.”

[…]

Straus has indicated he opposes a measure — favored by Patrick — that would pre-empt schools and local jurisdictions from making their own transgender friendly bathroom rules.

But, its sponsor, Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said he considered that bill an “outlier” — the only one he knows of that Straus explicitly opposes, “and so it’s not surprising to me that that has not moved expeditiously.”

Simmons said there had been an effort to discourage members to sign on to his bill and so he only had about 50 members willing to do so, far fewer than in the regular session.

Of his other bill on school choice for special needs students — also part of Abbott’s agenda — Simmons said, “I’m not sure it will get voted out of committee.” He said he holds out a faint hope that it might advance if there is some “grand bargain” on education.

“The governor wants school finance and we’re going to do that; we’re going to pass our plan on Friday,” said Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, chairman of the Public Education Committee. “I think it’s very clear that the House has not agreed on the voucher issue, but we have a solution to help special needs students.”

“The House is doing what it should do, which is being deliberative, thoughtful and being sure that legislation that we would pass is sound policy that would benefit the citizens of the state of Texas,” said Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, chairman of the State Affairs Committee. “The House is not built for speed.”

“This is the House,” said Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, who chairs the House Republican Caucus Policy Committee. “We will use all 30 days. There’s plenty of time.”

Goldman said it looks like the bill he is carrying for the governor to pre-empt local cellphone ordinances is unlikely to make it out of committee.

“Nothing nefarious,” he said; there’s just too much opposition from local police and elected officials who hold great sway with House members.

Imagine that, listening to stakeholders. Who knew? The House will pass more bills, some of which will be amenable to the Senate and some of which will not. Expect to see a lot of gamesmanship, passive aggressiveness, and the occasional bit of decent policymaking, though that latter item is strictly optional.

Dear business community: Dan Patrick is not your ally

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The special session bills take different approaches.

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

The bathroom bill in the House

Mostly good news here.

Dangerous. Discriminatory. Chilling. Hurtful.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Paxton’s pastor sues Servergy case witnesses

My head is spinning.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s pastor has sued the lead witnesses against him in his upcoming criminal trials.

Last week, Prestonwood Baptist Church Executive Pastor Mike Buster filed a lawsuit against Rep. Byron Cook and Florida businessman Joel Hochberg, the two men named on Paxton’s fraud indictments. Paxton attends Prestonwood’s main campus in Plano.

Buster alleges that Cook and Hochberg bilked him out of about a half-million dollars, described as “a substantial percentage of his personal net worth.” Cook was manager of an energy asset management company that Buster says recommended he purchase mineral rights from Cook and Hochberg “at exorbitant markups and after very short holding times.”

The asset management company did not disclose that its own managers would benefit from the sale, Buster adds, omissions he said in part caused him “to lose virtually his entire investment.” Paxton, who was also manager of the company, is not mentioned in the suit.

[…]

Buster’s lawsuit is very similar to, and builds off, similar allegations lobbed against Cook and Hochberg earlier this year. That lawsuit was filed by Charles Loper III, who’s in charge of Paxton’s newly formed blind trust.

I haven’t read the lawsuit and don’t have any opinion on it. I don’t appear to have noted the Loper lawsuit, so I’ll pass on that as well. Does any of this have anything to do with the case against Paxton? I have no idea, but would anyone be surprised if this was an attempt to damage the main witnesses against him? I wouldn’t. Whatever it is, it’s a little weird and it’s worth noting for future reference, just in case.

House passes its “sanctuary cities” bill

Terrible.

After more than 16 hours of debate, the Texas House of Representatives early Thursday morning tentatively gave a nod to the latest version of a Senate bill that would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas.

The 93-54 vote on second reading fell along party lines and came after one of the slowest moving but most emotional legislative days at the state Capitol.

The vote came at 3 a.m. after state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, successfully made an what some Democratic members called an unprecedented motion to group all of the remaining amendments — more than 100 — and record them as failed. He said he made that suggestion so members wouldn’t be forced to pull their amendments. The motion passed 114 to 29, with about a third of Democrats approving the measure.

Members voted on the bill after adding back a controversial provision that extends the scope of the bill and allows local peace officers to question the immigration status of people they legally detain. The original House version of the bill only allowed officers to inquire about status during a lawful arrest.

That detainment language was included in what the Senate passed out of its chamber in February but was later removed by state Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, the bill’s House sponsor.

The amendment to add that provision back into the bill was offered by Tyler Republican Rep. Matt Schaefer, who was in the middle of a back-and-forth, deal-making struggle that stopped debate for more than hour. Both parties’ members caucused as they tried to hammer out a deal whereby Schaefer would pull his amendment and Democrats would limit the number of proposals they would offer.

But no compromise was reached, despite several high-profile Republicans, including Geren and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, telling members they would vote against the Schaefer proposal.

The intent of bill is “getting dangerous criminals off the street. That’s the mission. Shouldn’t be anymore than that,” Cook said.

The bill keeps a provision that makes sheriffs, constables and police chiefs subject to a Class A misdemeanor for failing to cooperate with federal authorities and honor requests from immigration agents to hold noncitizen inmates subject to removal. It also keeps civil penalties for entities in violation of the provision that begin at $1,000 for a first offense and swell to as high as $25,500 for each subsequent infraction.”

[…]

One point of major contention was a controversial amendment that moves the House version closer to the bill that passed the Senate.

The amendment would make police eligible to question the status of any person detained for an investigation of a criminal infraction, no matter how serious. The House had originally gutted that language and limited the questioning to police officers making an arrest.

The 81-64 vote came after key Republicans, including Geren, said came out against the change. Geren was one of nine Republicans joining Democrats in voting against the amendment.

SB4 was given final approval yesterday and will head back to the Senate for concurrence. Remember how the revised House version was supposed to be less awful than the original Senate version? Thanks to the Schaefer amendment, that is no longer the case. This bill was a top priority of the Republicans, and it was always going to pass. The only real question was how harmful it was going to be, and now we have an answer to that. I still don’t know what public policy goals the Republicans have in mind for this bill, but I’m confident they will not achieve them. What they will get is a bunch of lawsuits, so get ready for that.

Two more things. One, there’s this:

Legislation designed to limit the ability of cities for issuing ID cards to undocumented immigrants and onetime criminals was tentatively approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Supporters insisted Senate Bill 1733 was designed to standardize ID across Texas, and ensure that they meet federal homeland-security standards.

Opponents said the measure is designed to make it harder for minority populations to get access to services, and targets immigrants since many of them use locally issued ID cards for that purpose.

[…]

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, an El Paso Democrat who chairs the minority caucus in the Republican-controlled Senate, said he fears “various groups would be restricted from accessing services” because the bill appears to limit local officials from issuing cards and restricts the types of cards that can be accepted for identification by a government official.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, expressed similar concerns.

“They’re more worried about this being used for voting than anything else,” she said after the debate ended. “It’s all made up. It’s a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Many problems that don’t exist have been getting solved this session. I’d say it’s the Republicans’ core competency.

Two, I usually put statements I receive in email about this bill or that news item beneath the fold, but in this case I want it on the main page. So here are some reactions to the House passage of SB4.

From the ACLU, which had a press call with several Texas leaders:

The State of Texas is on the verge of enacting legislation that could make the state a pariah in the eyes of the nation.

Today, local elected officials and advocates gathered on a press call to condemn this legislation and outline the varied consequences, including: 1) promoting racial profiling based on appearance, background and accent that will affect U.S. citizens and immigrants alike; 2) hurting public safety policies that encourage all residents, including immigrants, to report crimes and serve as witnesses; and 3) dictating to elected officials and law enforcement that they must follow state mandates or else face jail time.

A recording of today’s call is available here.

When Arizona enacted draconian legislation in 2010, it resulted in boycotts, lost revenue and a devastating blow to the reputation of the state. Texas is on the verge of repeating that mistake.

As the United States courts continue to uphold the Constitution and block Trump’s overarching, un-American and anti-immigrant executive orders — including his attempts to cut funding from so-called sanctuary cities — legislation, such as this bill, allows states to circumvent the courts and enlarge Trump’s Deportation Force.

Greg Casar, Austin Council Member
“The Legislature is attempting to blackmail cities into violating our residents’ constitutional rights. We must not comply with this unconstitutional, discriminatory and dangerous mandate. We will fight this bill to the end — at City Hall, in the courts, and protesting in the streets.”

​Terri Burke, executive director for the ACLU of Texas
“I am deeply grieved but wholly unsurprised that anti-immigrant lawmakers in the Texas House have taken a wrongheaded, racist piece of legislation and made it a ‘show me your papers’ bill. They have stated as clearly as they can that they’re willing to target innocent children, break up families, encourage constitutional violations like racial profiling and endanger Texas communities solely to make immigrants feel unwelcome in Texas. But the members of our immigrant communities should know that you are welcome in Texas, and you’re not alone. The ACLU stands ready to fight the inevitable excesses and abuses of this inhumane, wasteful, hateful bill. We stand with Texas immigrants.”​

State Representative Victoria Neave
“This issue is very personal to me. It will impact families on a level some people just don’t understand. This bill will make us less safe and cause a chilling effect among communities in our state.”

Jose P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project
“Today, Texas officially became the front line of resistance against racist and discriminatory immigration policies. SB 4 will result in increased racial profiling, communities that are less safe and a more stagnant economy. On behalf of working families across the state, we vow to fight this policy in the streets, in the courtroom and at the ballot box until we prevail.”

Karla Perez, statewide coordinator for United We Dream UndocuTexas Campaign
“Anti-immigrant legislators in Texas have directed their hate at the immigrant children and families of this state, people of color and our LGBTQ community by criminalizing us and our families, and by passing legislation that will tear apart families like mine. They have shown that they do not care about dignity and respect for immigrants in our state. It is no surprise that under anti-immigrant leadership, Texas is advancing yet another proposal couched in discriminatory intent to the aide of their white supremacist agenda. We will hold accountable those causing pain and fear in our state, and history will not judge them well. Our fight does not end here. When our immigrant community is under attack, we unite and we fight back. Our diverse communities will continue to organize and build our networks of local defenses across the state to move us forward. This is our resilience, this is our strength, and this is our home — we are here to stay.​

Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice Education Fund
“Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the state Legislature are turbocharging the radical mass deportation strategy of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. If not reversed or resisted, the combination of ‘unshackled’ federal deportation force agents and state-mandated collusion with those agents by local jurisdictions could result in one of the darkest chapters in American history. Texas has a population of 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, second only to California. The prospect of a Trump-Abbott mass deportation strategy taking root is as terrifying as it is despicable. People of goodwill from throughout America, and from throughout the world, are not going to stand by in silence as the state of Texas unleashes a campaign of discrimination against people based on their color, national origin or accent. Nor are they going to continue embracing a state that is about to unleash a campaign of terror aimed at immigrant families with deep roots in the state.”

From the Texas Organizing Project:

The following is a statement from Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, on the passage of SB4 by the Texas House early this morning:

“This morning’s vote by the Texas House is disheartening and disgraceful, and puts Texas closer to passing a show-me-your-papers law that will promote racial profiling of Latinos. The amendments added during the debate that will allow police to question the immigration status ofr children and people detained, not arrested, are especially troublesome and cruel.

“If SB4 becomes law, it will also make Texas less safe by further driving undocumented immigrants into the shadows, afraid of all interactions with police, whether they’re the victims or witnesses. It will also hurt the state’s economy by making us a target for economic boycotts and the loss of productivity that an increase in deportations this law would surely cause.

“No one except Republicans in the state’s leadership wants this racist, divisive and inhumane bill to become law; not police, not local elected officials and certainly not a majority of Texans.

“This bill, combined with the voter ID law and redistricting maps that have been repeatedly deemed to be intentionally discriminatory by federal courts, prove that our state’s legislature wants to erase and marginalize people of color. But we will not succumb to their will. We will not disappear. We will rise up. We will vote. We will claim our power. This is our Texas.

“As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Justice will prevail. We will prevail.”

From State Rep. Gene Wu:

Today’s passage of Senate Bill 4 is a solution in search of a problem. This is a bill that has been crafted out of fear and hatred of immigrants. Not a single Texas city refuses to comply with voluntary ICE Detainers. Not a single Texas city can be called a “Sanctuary City.” The bill as passed, would not just detain criminals, but would target children, victims of crimes, and even immigrants who served in our armed forces. The Texas Legislature has, today, passed a Arizona-style, “Show-me-your-papers” law that will disproportionately affect communities such as those that make up District 137 — hardworking communities made up of native and non-native Texans, refugees, and immigrants both documented and undocumented.

This legislation is cruel. When it was made clear this bill would cause American citizens to be jailed and detained, the proponents of the bill shrugged it off as an unfortunate inconvenience. When Democrats offered amendments to exempt children and victims going to testify in court, those measures were repeatedly defeated on purely party lines. Democrats also asked to exempt religious-based schools who may object with deeply held beliefs; that too was defeated on partisan lines.

When I first spoke on this bill I couldn’t stop thinking about my boys. This bill and other laws like it are a constant reminder that, despite being born in this nation, they will be seen as outsiders because of the way they look; that the law will treat them with suspicion; and they will have to fight just to be treated equally. I was reminded that this is not the first time laws were passed against immigrants based on fear and hatred. And, it will not be the last.

Democrats were united in their opposition to the legislation because this felt like an attack on the diverse communities that we represent and that make Texas great. At the end of the day, all we asked for was mercy for our communities; mercy for our families; and mercy for our children. But no mercy was given.

From the Texas AFL-CIO:

Approval of a harsh, “show me your papers”-style bill that drafts local criminal justice officials into becoming an arm of the federal immigration system marks one of the saddest days I have ever spent around the Texas Legislature.

This bill will harm all working people. Immigrants do some of the hardest jobs in our state and are net contributors not just to our economy but to our future. SB 4 will not only make it easier for unscrupulous employers to deny important workplace rights to immigrants, but will also undermine important labor standards for all workers.

SB 4 is also bad for our Brothers and Sisters in law enforcement who depend on the trust of those who live in the communities they police. That trust could become all but unobtainable under SB 4.

Worst of all, SB 4 will broadly discriminate against minorities in Texas, regardless of immigration status. It will increase the number of times American citizens are asked about their immigration status because of their appearance or language. By making mere detention, rather than arrest, the threshold for questioning immigration status, the law will ensnare people who are not even suspected of committing a crime.

We believe there is broad consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. But SB 4 will simply increase discrimination and hardship rather than point toward comprehensive immigration reform.

The DMN, the Texas Observer, the Dallas Observer, and the Current have more.

Bathroom bill 2.0 gets its committee hearing

It’s the same old garbage in a new package.

Amid concerns about rolling back local protections for vulnerable Texans and dire economic fallout, a panel of House lawmakers considered a measure into the early hours of Thursday morning that some are hoping will serve as an alternative approach to regulating bathroom use for transgender Texans.

But if the large majority of testimony against the measure serves as any indication, the House proposal will likely continue to face fierce opposition from LGBT advocates and the Texas business community.

Setting aside a more restrictive Senate proposal, the House State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 2899 by Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton. As expected, Simmons revised his original bill in committee to narrow its scope to banning municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing trans-inclusive bathroom policies.

“This issue needs to be the same in Austin as it in Abilene. It needs to be the same in Houston as it is in Hutto,” Simmons told the committee. “What we’re saying is this needs to be handled at the state level.”

[…]

Unlike the upper chamber’s Senate Bill 6, Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in government buildings, public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it doesn’t include a general prohibition on municipalities adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language in Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public.

But because Simmons’ proposal applies to classes of people that aren’t already protected in federal or state law, opponents said it could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents and extend to protections enacted by some of the state’s biggest cities to cover residents based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status.

While Simmons denied that his legislation would have that effect, El Paso County Commissioner David Stout warned the committee that the bill could in fact undo protections for classes of people covered by expanded local policies.

“Currently, federal law does not provide for protection from discrimination on the basis of veteran status, familial status, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, and this bill puts all of those classes of people in danger but especially our constituents in the LGBTQ community,” Stout told the committee.

You know the drill by now, so go read the rest. I actually agree in a sense with Rep. Simmons that non-discrimination should be seen as a state issue, but only if by that one means that the state should have a robust non-discrimination law in place to ensure that people in Austin and Alice and Abilene and Arlington and Angleton and everywhere else is treated as a full and equal person. Until such time as the state is willing to do that, then the next best thing is for individual cities to do what they can to pick up the slack. That’s not what HB2899 is about, and as such it deserves no more respect or support than the properly reviled SB6. The bill was left pending in committee, and that’s where it should stay. The Statesman, the Texas Observer, and the Dallas Observer have more.

More on the House bathroom bill

Still a very bad idea.

After largely avoiding discussions so far on proposals to regulate bathrooms, the Texas House will wade into the debate this week with a measure some are hoping will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”

Setting aside the Senate’s proposal, the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday will take up House Bill 2899, which will be revised during the hearing to ban municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing local policies that regulate bathroom use.

That would invalidate local trans-inclusive bathroom policies, including anti-discrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people access to public bathrooms based on gender identity and some school policies meant to accommodate transgender students.

“We believe that those issues should be handled at the state level and if there is an issue that exists in the state that people need to come to the Capitol, they need to convince 76 representatives, 16 senators and one governor of what the policy needs to be,” said state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, who authored the bill. “Until then, it’s my opinion, we don’t need to change.”

Unlike Senate Bill 6 — a legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick which passed out of the Texas Senate in March — Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in governments buildings and public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it strays from SB 6’s blanket prohibition on “political subdivisions” adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language of Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public. But Simmons’ proposal could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents.

While Texas has no statewide public accommodation law, federal law protects people from discrimination in public accommodations based on “race, color religion or national origin.”

Some of Texas biggest cities have expanded the public accommodation provision of local anti-discrimination laws to include protections based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status. But it appears Simmons’ proposal would outlaw those sort of protections as applied to bathroom use because they go beyond federal protections.

Simmons’ focus on discrimination protections also differs from North Carolina’s law, which was recently revised amid public and economic backlash.

The North Carolina law was rewritten to no longer explicitly regulate which bathroom transgender people can use and instead more simply prohibits state agencies, municipalities and schools boards from regulating multi-stall bathrooms — leaving bathroom regulations to the state.

That revisions remain unacceptable to LGBT advocates. And the Simmons proposal — which only bans local measures that protect certain groups from discrimination — is still a no-go for groups advocating for LGBT Texans. They suggested the Simmons’ measure is actually worse than the alternative that was recently signed off on in North Carolina because they believe it leaves open the door for local policies that target marginalized groups.

“I recognize there are members in the House that are looking for some sort of alternative to Senate Bill 6, but this proposed committee substitute is not acceptable in its current form,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “This proposal literally codifies discrimination in Texas law by forbidding enforcement of policies that would protect people by preventing them from ever implementing protections in the future and by allowing discriminatory provisions to be written in.”

It remains unclear how far the Simmons proposal will go in the House and whether it’ll pick up support from Speaker Joe Straus who opposes the Senate’s proposal.

See here for the background. I repeat what I said before – this is a lousy “solution” to a non-problem. HB2899 is “better” than SB6 in the same way that the House “sanctuary cities” bill is “better” than the Senate version, which is to say it’s the difference between eating a turd sandwich on a fresh baked baguette and eating a turd sandwich on Wonder bread. We all know what the arguments are here, so let’s not waste our energy on that. The goal here is either to find something that will meet the grudging approval of the business lobby and the major sports leagues (which have already sold out in North Carolina), or to throw a bone to the Dan Patrick crowd by holding a committee hearing on something but not bringing it to the floor. I’d bet on the former before the latter, so call your House Committee on State Affairs member and let them know what you think of this. This will be heard tomorrow, so don’t wait.

Bathroom bill 2.0

Beware.

House lawmakers will debate a so-called “bathroom bill” next week that supporters hope will be less worrisome to business interests concerned the measure could hurt the Texas economy.

The decision to debate the House bill, and to set aside a more severe version passed last month in the Senate, marks the latest split the two chambers have endured during a particularly divided legislative session. The House bill will probably get the backing of the Dallas Cowboys, their lobbyist said, but the state’s largest business group is withholding its support at this time.

“It’s a bill that’s trying to strike a balance between all the interested parties,” Rep. Ron Simmons, the bill’s sponsor, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “It’s our belief that discrimination issues related to privacy should be handled at the state level.”

[…]

House Bill 2899 will be debated in the State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The amended bill would ban cities, school districts and any other “political subdivisions” from passing local laws that protect certain people from discrimination in an intimate space. This would render local nondiscrimination ordinances that protect the rights of transgender people to use bathrooms that match their gender identity unenforceable.

“Except in accordance with federal and state law,” the bill’s language reads, “a political subdivision, including school districts, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

While the language isn’t an exact match, Simmons bill looks quite a bit like the revised bathroom law recently passed in North Carolina. Both ban local governments from regulating use and access of restrooms, changing rooms and locker rooms.

Unlike the North Carolina law, Simmons’ measure would not affect colleges campuses. It also would not restrict bathroom use based on biological sex, which the Senate Bill does. The House bill is co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Dustin Burrows of Lubbock, Cole Hefner of Mount Pleasant, Jodie Laubenberg of Parker, Valoree Swanson of Spring and Terry Wilson of Marble Falls.

[…]

The fact that Simmons’ legislation appears similar to North Carolina’s law could be an issue for business, said Texas Association of Business president Chris Wallace, who added that his organization doesn’t think the laws passed there “are right for Texas.”

“We remain focused on stopping discriminatory legislation and keeping Texas open for business and inviting for all,” Wallace said. The TAB is still looking at the House bill, but was “focused on defeating” the Senate version “and other discriminatory legislation,” he said.

Sorry, but any bill that includes overriding local non-discrimination ordinances is a non-starter for me. Forget the local control issues for a minute, this is once again a bad solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. NDOs have been on the books in multiple Texas cities for almost 20 years. Yet we are led to believe that now this is something the Legislature needs to fix? No. The House has had the right idea up until now. Moving forward with this bill would be a terrible mistake.

State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook made the decision to hold debate on Simmons’ bill. In the past, he’s echoed Straus’ concerns that the legislation seems to be a solution in search of a problem. Last month, he said there’s “no evidence” Texas needs a bathroom bill.

But on Thursday, Cook said the House bill was the “appropriate” approach “for the issue before us.”

“It’s important that we contemplate the right kind of balance that speaks to the privacy issue and also ensures that we don’t do something that has a chilling effect on business,” Cook said. “What I’m hopeful is that this legislation will end up being something that people can be for, which I think is important.”

Asked about the Texas Association of Business’ choice not to throw their support behind the bill at this time, Cook said, “I think what you’ll find is that the business community will be supportive of what Mr. Simmons has put forward.”

Sorry, but the only people who are going to be for this are the people who were for SB6. The right answer here is to do what was already being done about that bill, which is to say, nothing. The Chron and Think Progress have more.

Beware the coming shenanigans on SB6

The full House may not get to vote on Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t get a chance to vote onwhat’s in the bill.

But speculation that SB 6 may not make it to the House floor for a vote by the 150-member chamber has left House Democrats on high alert for the possibility that some Republican members could attempt to attach bathroom-related legislative language to other bills that make it onto the House floor during the remainder of the session.

A small group of House members — particularly those who are anti-Straus and have organized as the Texas Freedom Caucus — are expected to repeatedly offer up portions of the “bathroom bill” as amendments to other bills in an effort to force a vote on the issues, according to sources familiar with the matter.

“It’s clear that the certain Republican members are going to try to add controversial bills to every piece of legislation that they can,” said one Capitol observer who asked not to be named in order to speak more freely.

James Bernsen, the Texas Freedom Caucus’ executive director, said that its members declined to comment. But caucus members have been clear in the past about their support for legislation like SB 6.

Echoing Senate Republicans’ defense of the bathroom legislation, one of the caucus’ legislative priorities is to “protect the privacy of women and girls in all publicly-owned settings.” One of its members — state Rep. Matt Shaheen of Plano – filed his own version of the “bathroom bill,” which was referred to Cook’s State Affairs Committee. And on just the second day of the legislative session, Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer, who leads the Freedom Caucus, unsuccessfully attempted to amend a routine resolution related to House administrative issues to require people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex and not their gender identity.

Since nearly the start of the legislative session, SB 6 has emerged among the most prominent disagreements between Straus and Patrick, with the lieutenant governor going as far as saying that Straus is “out of touch with the voters” on the bathroom legislation. The speaker for his part has emphasized that lawmakers must prioritize the state budget and pressing funding needs, including the state’s troubled child welfare system and school finance system.

Meanwhile, Patrick is turning to the religious community to help put pressure on Straus and the House. This month, he announced he was launching “Operation 1 Million Voices” to build support for the bill among Christians in Texas.

Religious groups are planning to host almost a dozen regional summitsbetween now and April to organize pastors in support of the bathroom legislation. The Texas Pastor Council is looking to recruit 3,000 pastors as part of their efforts to press Straus for a hearing and a vote on the legislation.

See here for the story about SB6’s likely fate in committee. These tactics are as old as the House itself, and while it’s more likely to cause the unexpected demise of a different bill than to work, the danger is definitely there. The thing to keep in mind here is that while a large number of Republicans in the House undoubtedly support SB6, only 22 of them need to oppose it – assuming there are no primary-needing turncoats in the House Democratic caucus – for it to fail. You can assume Joe Straus (who normally doesn’t vote anyway), Byron Cook, and Sarah Davis would oppose it, so the magic number starts at nineteen. Maybe they exist and maybe they don’t, but what Cook and Straus are trying to do is keep their fellow Republicans from having to take a side in public on it. There’s a reason why even our wishy washy Governor hasn’t expressed a definitive position on SB6, after all. The zealots want to force the issue, to clarify who’s with them and who they want to primary next year. Everyone else would prefer to let this cup pass them by. The rest of the session is about who wins that fight.

(By the way, for those who prefer to fight it out in November elections, Matt Shaheen’s HD66 is on the list of districts that need to be targeted next year. Just FYI.)

Athletes against SB6

From Athlete Ally:

Dear Texas,

The love of sport is in part what makes Texas great. The passion and competitive spirit that reverberates throughout the Texas athletic community is hard to match across the United States. It’s that passion – and the storied history of Texas athletics – that often makes the state a go-to destination for major sporting events and why we love to compete in the Lone Star state.

As members of the athletic community, we’re committed to upholding the very values that sport instills in each of us. Values like fair play, equality, inclusion and respect. We believe that everyone should be afforded the same access, opportunity and experience both in sport and under the law. This is why we’re joining together to speak out against Senate Bill 6 (SB6), and the dozen more anti-LGBT bills already filed, and the harm they would do to the state of Texas, to the transgender community, and to the sports we have come to know and love.

SB6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms based on “biological sex,” and would preempt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans and visitors to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Other bills filed would prevent same-sex couples from getting married, allow campus groups to reject LGBT members, nullify local non-discrimination protections, allow healthcare professionals and educators to discriminate against LGBT people, and more.

As long as bills like these remain a possibility, Texas is sending a clear signal that LGBT players, fans, coaches and administrators are not welcomed or respected, both on and off the field. This should worry Texas, as the athletic community has clearly stood by its LGBT constituents and against discriminatory legislation. We have seen this story unfold in North Carolina, and we do not want it to be repeated in Texas.

Over the next year, Texas is slated to host the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, the World Golf Championships, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, and many more. A recent economic impact study showed that the local San Antonio economy will receive a boost of $135 million in direct spending as a result of hosting the Men’s Basketball Final Four. Additionally, the study predicts an influx of 71,000 out-of-town visitors to the San Antonio area, resulting in a rise in spending at local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores and entertainment venues. Texas will likely not have the honor of hosting such prestigious events should bills like SB6 become law. This would be a shame for the state of Texas, but it can be avoided.

Texas can choose to uphold the values of sport by rejecting SB6 and other anti-LGBT bills, and the negative impact they would have. These bills are answers in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. SB6 isolates, excludes, and others the transgender community and exacerbates many of the issues transgender Texans already face. The only solution that embodies the spirit of sport is to expand equality by embracing diversity. That diversity is inclusive of the LGBT community and is why we hope you will do the right thing and reject these discriminatory bills.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned Members of the Athletic Community

There are some 55 signatories, and if I have one complaint about this otherwise fine letter it’s that the large majority of them are not from Texas. Former Baylor star Brittney Griner is the most notable Texan, and I am delighted beyond words to see five people from my alma mater on there – three coaches, one administrator, and one current student. I wish there had been more, but let’s view this as a starting point and go from there. Link via ThinkProgress.

Of more immediate interest is this:

A top Republican in the Texas House has confirmed he will hold a public debate on the so-called bathroom bill, but he said he doesn’t see any reason for it to become law.

“In all the years I’ve been on [the House Committee on] State Affairs, we’ve never seen an issue that would indicate there’s a need to address a bathroom bill,” Byron Cook, the Corsicana Republican who chairs the committee that will next take up the measure, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “There’s no evidence of a problem.”

[…]

The bathroom bill has become one of the chief areas of disagreement this year between the House and Senate. Both chambers are dominated by Republicans, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the measure one of his top priorities, just as [House Speaker Joe] Straus said it wasn’t one of his. The House speaker said it’s more crucial that lawmakers grapple with how to fund public schools and an ailing child welfare system in a tight budget year.

“Clearly, I’m not a fan of the bill that they’re discussing in the Senate,” Straus said last week when a Senate committee debated the bill.”They have their agenda; we have ours.”

Hard to know for sure what that means in practice. As the story notes, we don’t know when – or even if – Rep. Cook will schedule this for a committee hearing and possible vote. That’s what you need to keep your eye on, and it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to the State Affairs Committee members and tell them what you think about SB6.

The “Man’s Right To Know” Act

This is some high-quality trolling.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, filed a bill Friday that would penalize men for “unregulated masturbatory emissions.”

The satirical House Bill 4260 would encourage men to remain “fully abstinent” and only allow the “occasional masturbatory emissions inside health care and medical facilities,” which are described in the legislation as the best way to ensure men’s health.

Farrar said she created the bill after feeling fed up with the various legislative bills introduced by men addressing women’s healthcare.

“A lot of people find the bill funny,” Farrar said in a phone interview. “What’s not funny are the obstacles that Texas women face every day, that were placed there by legislatures making it very difficult for them to access healthcare.”

A man would face a $100 penalty for each emission made outside of a vagina or medical facility. Such an emission would be considered “an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life,” according to the legislation.

The money would benefit children in the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

A registry would be created of non-profit organizations and hospitals that provide “fully-abstinent encouragement counseling, supervising physicians for masturbatory emissions, and storage for the semen.”

[…]

Her latest bill also seeks to provide men with a safe and healthy environment during vasectomies, Viagra uses and colonoscopies by creating “A Man’s Right to Know” booklet that should “exactly follow the rules and procedures of the informational booklet “A Woman’s Right To Know,” required to be given of women terminating pregnancies.

During the consultation, the physician would verbally review the booklet with men and would be required to “administer a medically-unnecessary digital rectal exam and magnetic resonance imagining of the rectum,” according to the bill.

Farrar said she included this part of the bill to mimic the trans-vaginal ultrasound woman have when they are seeking an abortion. She also described the doctor reading the “Woman’s Right To Know” pamphlet as a “guilt mechanism.”

“It’s to show how invasive this medically unnecessary procedure is,” She said. “When a woman has to have a trans-vaginal ultrasound, it has nothing to do with her healthcare. One of the state’s objectives is to guilt her into changing her mind.”

A doctor would also have the right to “to invoke their personal, moralistic, or religious beliefs” if they refuse to perform a vasectomy or prescribe Viagra.

And then you’d have to wait 24 hours to get it, because obviously. Other bills of this nature have been filed in other states; this as far as I know was a first for Texas, and in true Texas fashion it’s a lot bigger than anything like it. Needless to say, some people don’t get the joke.

Farrar has criticized several anti-women’s health bills that have been filed this session, primarily a measure filed by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, that would require Texas hospitals to bury or cremate fetal remains and another by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would charge both abortion providers and women who receive an abortion with murder.

At a House State Affairs committee hearing Wednesday, Cook was challenged by Farrar and other House Democrats who questioned how his bill would impact women’s mental health and how much it would cost. Cook said his measure would create a registry of organizations that can help pay for burial or cremation of fetal remains. That way, the cost associated with burials would not fall on women, Cook said.

“Let me be clear: this bill has nothing to do with abortion procedures whatsoever. It has everything to do with ensuring the dignity of the deceased,” Cook said Wednesday. “We believe Texas can do better than this.”

Cook did not immediately respond to the Tribune’s request for comment Sunday.

In a statement, Tinderholt said Farrar lacked “a basic understanding of human biology.”

“I’m embarrassed for Representative Farrar,” Tinderholt said. “Her attempt to compare [HB 4260] to the abortion issue shows a lack of a basic understanding of human biology. I would recommend that she consider taking a high school biology class from a local public or charter school before filing another bill on the matter.”

This is Tony Tinderholt. To steal from Molly Ivins, I’d say that being insulted by Tony Tinderholt is like being gummed by a newt, though in this case I’d say it would be an old, frail newt. I hope that the filing of HB4260 results in a lot of legislators who are suddenly unable to make eye contact with Rep. Farrar. Andrea Greer, who does get the joke, and the Austin Chronicle have more.

House hears “fetal remains” bill

Seriously?

Rep. Byron Cook

[House Bill 35] would create a registry of organizations that can help pay for burial or cremation of fetal remains. That way, the cost associated with burials would not fall on women, [bill author Rep. Byron] Cook said.

The measure would not apply to miscarriages that happen at home.

“Let me be clear: this bill has nothing to do with abortion procedures whatsoever. It has everything to do with ensuring the dignity of the deceased,” Cook said Wednesday. “We believe Texas can do better than this.”

Cook said he’s opposed to a current method of disposal that allows for grinding up fetuses and disposing of them in sanitary landfills.

“What we’re doing is removing a very objectionable method of disposal. The good news is I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks grinding would be an acceptable method [of disposal],” Cook said. “We’re just really taking off the books something that should be objectionable to everybody.”

However, Cook was challenged during the hearing by state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who said the Republican should revise his bill to outlaw the disposal methods he doesn’t like without mandating burial.

“I think if you want to delete that language, you can delete that language without creating a burial requirement,” Farrar said. “I think we can find a way that is, in some people’s minds, more humane without creating burdens for women.”

[…]

Wednesday’s hearing comes weeks after U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks ruled Texas cannot require health providers to bury or cremate fetuses.

Sparks wrote in January that a fetal remains burial rule the Texas Department of State Health Services planned to implement was vague and had the potential for irreparable harm.

Yes, that would be the main sticking point, I presume. I also presume that it would be possible to write a bill to address this never-considered-a-problem-before-HB2-was-struck-down issue in a way that complies with Judge Sparks’ order. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say if this bill might do that, but I do know that the lawyers who represent the clinics that would be affected by this law, as they would have been affected by the State Health Services rule that Judge Sparks blocked, will be able to say. And to do, if it comes to that.

Here come the anti-Texas Central bills

From the inbox:

[Tuesday], a group of key state lawmakers filed a slate of legislation to push back against Texas Central Railway’s controversial proposal to construct a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. Senators Birdwell (R-Granbury), Creighton (R-Conroe), Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Perry (R-Lubbock), and Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined with Representatives Ashby (R-Lufkin), Bell (R-Magnolia), Cook (R-Corsicana), Schubert (R-Caldwell), and Wray (R-Waxahachie) to file a total of 18 bills addressing a number of concerns ranging from protecting landowners threatened by eminent domain abuse to ensuring the state isn’t later forced to bail out the private project with taxpayer dollars.

[…]

The following bills were filed this morning:

SB 973 by Creighton/HB 2168 by Bell (Railroad Determination Before Surveys) – prohibits a private high-speed rail entity from entering private property to conduct a survey unless the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) first determines that the surveying entity is, in fact, a railroad.

SB 974 by Creighton/HB 2181 by Cook (Option Contract Protection) – voids any high-speed rail option contracts held by a high-speed rail entity upon a bankruptcy initiated by or against the entity.

SB 975 by Birdwell/HB 2169 by Schubert (Security Requirements) – provides a framework of minimum security requirements to be followed during the construction and operation of a private high-speed rail line. Requires the high-speed rail authority to coordinate security efforts with state and local law enforcement, as well as disaster response agencies.

SB 977 by Schwertner/HB 2172 by Ashby (No Taxpayer Bailout) – prohibits the legislature from appropriating new funds, or allowing state agencies to utilize existing funds, to pay any costs related to the construction, maintenance, or operation of a private high-speed rail in Texas.

SB 978 by Schwertner/HB 2104 Bell (Property Restoration Bond) – requires a private high-speed rail entity to file a bond with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sufficient to restore property used for the rail service to the property’s original conditions if the service ceases operation.

SB 979 by Schwertner/HB 2179 by Cook (Right of Repurchase for Non-HSR Use) – prohibits an entity that operates or plans to operate a high-speed rail from using property acquired for purposes other than high-speed rail. If the high-speed rail authority doesn’t use the property for that specific purpose, the original landowner must be given the opportunity to repurchase the land.

SB 980 by Schwertner/HB 2167 by Schubert (Put Texas First) – prohibits any state money from being used for any purpose related to a privately owned high-speed rail, unless the state acquires and maintains a lien in order to secure the repayment of state funds. Requires that the state’s lien be superior to all other liens, effectively making Texas a priority creditor.

SB 981 by Kolkhorst/HB 2162 by Wray (Interoperability) – requires an entity constructing a high-speed rail line in Texas to demonstrate compatibility with more than one type of train technology.

SB 982 by Perry/HB 2173 by Ashby (High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study) – upon request of a legislator, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) must generate a feasibility study of a proposed high-speed rail project. The study must indicate whether the project is for a public use, whether it will be financially viable, and what impact of the project will have on local communities.

The full press release is here, and a Chron story about it is here. I was expecting some bills to be filed for the purpose of throwing sand in TCR’s gears, but this was more than I expected. Still, the basic dynamics of this fight have not changed as far as I can tell. The legislators leading it are primarily rural – even the ones who are based in suburban areas represent a lot of rural turf as well – and there are only so many of them. I’ve yet to see any legislator from a big urban area sign on to this. Which is not to say that at least some of them won’t go along with their rural colleagues, especially the urban Republicans, but that’s the ground on which this battle will be fought and won. If these legislators can convince enough of their urban colleagues to join them, then TCR is in a world of hurt. If not – if TCR can hold on to the urbanites – then it can survive the session and maybe get to a point where actual construction begins. Getting one or more of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Joe Straus, and Ken Paxton to pick a side would help that faction greatly as well. Keep an eye on these bills as the committee hearings get off the ground. The DMN has more.

More Paxton-versus-SEC stuff

Keeping the lawyers busy.

Best mugshot ever

Lawyers for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton say the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cannot “shoot first and investigate later” as they seek to block 15 new subpoenas issued by the SEC.

It is the latest argument by Paxton’s attorneys in their effort to show the SEC is scrambling to save its civil securities fraud case against the attorney general, who is headed to trial later this year on similar criminal charges at the state level. Fighting the SEC charges, his team has already cast doubt on the credibility of a key witness in both cases, State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

The new subpoenas, issued Tuesday, largely seek communications Paxton may have had with any other investors in Servergy, the North Texas start-up whose investors Paxton is accused of misleading from a period before he was elected Texas’ top law enforcement official in 2014.

“The SEC cannot now attempt to bolster its faltering case … by fishing around in discovery for information about other potential investors whom the SEC has not pled with any particularity that Mr. Paxton defrauded,” Paxton’s lawyers wrote in their latest filing.

See here, here, and here for some background. This is all separate from the criminal trial that is now scheduled. Such busy days for our AG.

Paxton wants SEC’s documents on him

More twists and turns.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attorneys have gone to court, seeking to force the Securities and Exchange Commission to produce notes of their interviews with the investors whose allegations form the basis of the civil case against him.

Paxton’s attorneys filed the motion to compel the SEC to turn over the documents Wednesday. SEC officials have refused to turn over the documents calling them “work product.”

His attorneys contend an SEC attorney told him that turning over the interview notes would show “the direction that we steered (the witness) with our questions would give away our strategy,” the motion states.

[…]

The SEC’s amended filing claims that Paxton alleged that members of the group had a standing policy that “no member makes money or otherwise benefits off the investment of another member.” It states that “Investor 1 ‘informed and expressly’ told Mr. Paxton about supposed policies of the group,” the motion states. (Paxton’s attorneys contend that Investor 1 is a reference to Cook.)

The SEC’s prior filing did not mention the existence of any such policy.

In Paxton’s motion, lawyers for Paxton state that they received an email from Cook and Hochberg’s attorney stating that there “was no formal group,” but rather an “ad hoc arrangement for time to time, good friends might invest in the same transaction.”

“This is a dramatically different story than the tale the SEC has spun about a decades-old investment group with established policies and practices,” the motion states.

The motion says the attorney for Cook and Hochberg also stated that they did not consider Paxton to be their broker.

Paxton’s attorneys want notes of the SEC’s meeting with Cook and Hochberg to determine “where and how this divergence in stories occurred.”

The motion also notes that Paxton’s sworn statement was taken back in December 2014, yet the SEC did not take sworn testimony from potential investors in Servergy.

The SEC interviewed Cook and Hochberg before filing its original case in April, but did not take statements under oath.

See here and here for some background. “Cook” is State Rep. Byron Cook, “Hochberg” is another investor named Joel Hochberg. I have no idea what to make of any of this, but at this point I don’t expect much from this case. I’m waiting for the real trial, which will happen next year. The Chron and the Trib have more.

AG asked to investigate Hill County ballot irregularities

Weird, but we’ll see.

The Texas Attorney General’s office has been asked to launch an investigation into allegations that multiple people voted illegally in the 2016 Republican primary elections in Hill County, despite local officials’ claims that the discrepancies were caused by human error and would not have affected the results of any elections.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office made the request Thursday in response to a complaint from Aaron Harris, executive director of Direct Action Texas, a conservative political advocacy group. Harris noted that there were 1,743 more votes cast in the election than there were voters.

In the most hotly contested race involving the county, eight-term state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, eked out a victory in the House District 8 spring primary, receiving about 360 more votes than political newcomer Thomas McNutt, who is best known for his family’s ownership of the Corsicana-based Collin Street Bakery, a well-known fruitcake purveyor.

Cook did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and a spokesman for McNutt declined to comment. Even if the AG’s office finds evidence of misconduct, it would not change the election results. The time to contest the primaries has passed, said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office.

Six or seven primary voters are shown to have two ballot dates, and one voter appears to have voted as many as four times, Harris wrote in a letter sent to Hill County election officials in June.

“Our research in Hill County has revealed very significant discrepancies in the 2016 Republican primary election,” Harris said in a statement. “Given the magnitude of this issue, we must reform the election code to restore the integrity of the process.”

Hill County Election Administrator Patsy Damschen said the difference could be explained by human error. While most votes are counted by a machine, early votes and absentee ballots are tallied by hand. The early votes were accidentally counted more than once, Damschen said. They were added to the absentee ballot count, thus inflating the total number of votes.

But the mistake didn’t change the outcome of any elections, Damschen said. Removing the duplicated votes would lower the margin by which candidates won, but the winner in each of the county’s 22 precincts would remain the same.

You can see a copy of the letter here. I can’t reconcile the numbers mentioned with the figures I can see on the SOS webpage, which shows 8,929 votes cast in the GOP Presidential primary in Hill County, and 8,165 votes cast in Hill County, out of 22,300 voters. Cook won that race by 225 votes, per SOS figures, so as noted the total number of actual disputed votes is not enough to make a difference in the outcome. I agree with Mark Jones at the end of the story – this feels like sloppy bookkeeping by Hill County. We’ll see what the AG says.

AG opinion sought on eminent domain power for Texas Central

This could be a big deal.

State Rep. Byron Cook asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday to rule on whether a private company developing a high-speed train project in the state has the power of eminent domain.

Texas Central Partners has been developing a privately funded bullet train intended to travel between Houston and Dallas  in less than 90 minutes. While the project has garnered strong support in those cities, residents in the largely rural communities along the proposed route have voiced opposition. Cook’s request asks Paxton to determine whether the company has the right, under state law, to enter private property to conduct land surveys “and ultimately take” private land.

“This issue is of great importance to Texans, especially rural Texans, whose property is already being entered upon in preparation for the initiation of eminent domain proceedings,” Cook, a Republican from Corsicana, wrote in his request. “The issue upon which I request an opinion in one of statutory interpretation and the rules that govern your response are straightforward.”

There are currently hundreds of private companies afforded eminent domain authority in Texas, including dozens of private railroad companies, according to a list maintained by the state Comptroller.

Railroad companies have eminent domain rights in Texas, and as of today that includes high-speed rail companies, though Sen. Lois Kolkhorst tried to pass a bill last session that would have ended that. It seems likely she or some other legislative opponent of Texas Central will try again next year, but in the meantime Rep. Cook has asserted in his request for an opinion that TCR doesn’t qualify as a railroad company, at least not as intended by the law as originally written. That feels like legal hair-splitting to me, but these things happen when 19th century legislation is applied to 21st century reality. As we know, AG opinions do not carry the force of law, but it would carry some weight in the litigation that would be sure to follow. Keep an eye on this.

SEC files charges against Paxton

Bam!

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been charged in federal court with allegedly misleading investors in a technology company.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed the charges Monday in a Sherman-based court. They are similar to the allegations Paxton faces in a pending indictment handed up by a Collin County grand jury last year.

Paxton is named in the SEC’s complaint along with William Mapp, the founder and former CEO of Servergy Inc. Paxton is accused of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Servergy without disclosing he was making a commission. The case stems from when Paxton was a member of the Texas House — before he was elected attorney general in 2014.

“People recruiting investors have a legal obligation to disclose any compensation they are receiving to promote a stock, and we allege that Paxton and White concealed the compensation they were receiving for touting Servergy’s product,” Shamoil T. Shipchandler, director of the SEC’s Fort Worth regional office, said in a news release on the complaint.

See here for more on the Paxton/Mapp/Servergy relationship, and see here for a copy of the complaint, which as the Chron notes is a civil lawsuit, which may result in a fine for Paxton if he loses. The bit from the complaint that directly relates to Paxton begins on page 17. Here’s a key quote from that section, which is paragraph 78:

Among the people Paxton recruited were his friends, business associates, law firm clients, and members of an investment group to which he belonged. Despite a duty to do so, Paxton knowingly or recklessly failed to inform the individuals he recruited that he was being compensated to promote Servergy to investors.

Basically, this is saying that Paxton lied to his friends, colleagues (including Rep. Byron Cook), clients, and coworkers by exhorting them to invest in Servergy without telling them that he would get a kickback if they did. What a guy, right? We are very early in this story and there is sure to be much more to come, so stay tuned. One thing we can say, though, is that Paxton’s fellow Republicans really don’t want to talk about him.

Top leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have been mostly silent on the issue, giving Paxton the benefit of the doubt and allowing the legal battle to play out with the AG still in power.

What’s more, the people who were instrumental in his election don’t care about the charges against him. They support him because his conservative credentials are in line with the grassroots activists that now dominate the GOP.

In the past, donors like Bob Perry, Fred Meyer and Louis Beecherl had tremendous influence because their money could make or break candidates for public office.

Today, grassroots candidates who aim to shake up the establishment don’t need money from old-line political donors. They are boosted by folks like Midland oilman Tim Dunn and the billionaire Wilks brothers out of Cisco.

So candidates like Paxton have not only support at the ballot box from activists, but also a fundraising base to hold potential opponents at bay.

Fine by me. I’ll say again, I hope he’s on the ballot in 2018 as a convict. It would sum up the state of the state’s Republican party perfectly. Trail Blazers, TPM, the Lone Star Project, the Current, Newsdesk, PDiddie, and the Press have more.

2016 primary reactions and initial impressions

First, a couple of minor notes. Rep. Byron Cook ultimately pulled out a win in his nasty and high-profile primary. That’s good news for Speaker Joe Straus and the general forces of “government that isn’t like a three-year-old coming off a sugar high”. Rep. Wayne Smith was forced into a runoff but did not lose outright. Also forced into a runoff was Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 – I missed that one on Tuesday night – and on the Democratic side, Rep. Ron Reynolds in HD27. That one apparently happened after midnight; Reynolds will face Angelique Bartholomew in May.

With all 7,963 now having reported, Democratic primary turnout statewide was 1,433,827, with over 800,000 votes coming on Election Day. To put that into some perspective, since the only point of reference any news story I’ve seen lately seems to be the off-the-charts year of 2008, here’s was turnout was for every Democratic primary through 1992, which is as far back as the SOS archives go:


Year      Turnout
=================
2016    1,433,827
2014      554,014
2012      590,164
2010      680,548
2008    2,874,986
2006      508,602
2004      839,231
2002    1,003,388
2000      786,890
1998      654,154
1996      921,256
1994    1,036,907
1992    1,483,047

In other words, 2016 will have had the second highest turnout in any Democratic primary since 1992. Yes, I know, there are a lot more voters now than there were in 1992, but still. That’s not too shabby. Republican turnout with all precincts in was 2,832,234, so while it’s obviously a record-breaker for them, it falls short of the Dem number from 2008. So there.

One thing to touch on here is that in both primaries, well more than half the vote came on Election Day, which as a result meant that the final turnout projections were low. Over 1.6 million Republicans voted on E-Day, so in both primaries about 43% of the vote was early, and 57% came on Election Day. You may recall that the early/E-Day split was similar in 2008, whereas in 2012 the early vote was about 52% of the total. The two lessons I would draw from this are 1) Final turnout projections are always a guess that should always be taken with a healthy serving of salt, and 2) The more hotly contested and high-profile a race is, the more likely that people will wait till the last minute to decide. Someone with more resources than I have should take a closer look at the makeup of the early and late voters to see what percentage of each are the hardcore and the casual voters; my guess, based on a completely unscientific survey of my Facebook friends, is that more hardcore voters than you might think waited till Tuesday. There’s an opportunity here for someone with an enterprising spirit and some number-crunching skillz.

Also on the matter of turnout, 226,825 Democrats and 329,014 Republicans cast ballots in Harris County. 61.4% of all Democratic votes and 59.1% of all Republican votes were cast on Tuesday. See my previous paragraph for what that means to me.

On the matter of the Republican primaries for Court of Criminal Appeals, here’s what Grits had to say during early voting:

Statewide, I’ll be watching the Sid Harle/Sid Smith race on the Court of Criminal Appeals to see if Texas GOP voters have flat-out lost their minds, and the Keel-Oldner-Wheless race to see if Judge Wheless’ strategy of ignoring the establishment and seeking Tea Party, pro-life and generally conservative movement support is enough to win a primary in a low spending, low-profile race.

Well, of the four candidates running in the primary for Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5, Steve Smith and Sid Harle came in third and fourth, respectively. A couple of guys named Scott Walker and Brent Webster will be in the runoff. As for Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2, Raymond Wheless came in second and will face Mary Lou Keel in the runoff, while Chris Oldner of Ken Paxton grand jury fame is on the outside looking in. I’ll leave it to Grits to tell me What It All Means.

There were a few races on the Dem side that had people shaking their heads or their fists, but there weren’t any truly bizarre results. For sure, there was nothing on the Dem side that compares to this:

The newly elected chair of the Republican Party in the county that includes the Texas Capitol spent most of election night tweeting about former Gov. Rick Perry’s sexual orientation and former President Bill Clinton’s penis, and insisting that members of the Bush family should be in jail.

He also found time to call Hillary Clinton an “angry bull dyke” and accuse his county vice chair of betraying the values of the Republican Party.

“The people have spoken,” Robert Morrow, who won the helm of the Travis County GOP with 54 percent of the vote, told The Texas Tribune. “My friends and neighbors and political supporters — they wanted Robert Morrow.”

Morrow’s election as Republican chair of the fifth-largest county in Texas left several members of the Travis County GOP, including vice chair Matt Mackowiak, apoplectic. Mackowiak, a Republican strategist, immediately announced over social media that he would do everything in his power to remove Morrow from office.

“We will explore every single option that exists, whether it be persuading him to resign, trying to force him to resign, constraining his power, removing his ability to spend money or resisting any attempt for him to access data or our social media account,” Mackowiak told the Tribune. “I’m treating this as a coup and as a hostile takeover.”

“Tell them they can go fuck themselves,” Morrow told the Tribune.

All righty then. Morrow, whose comedic stylings are collected here, was a regular inhabitant of the comment section at BurkaBlog, back when Paul Burka was still writing it. He was also Exhibit A for why one should never read the comments. I’d feel sorry for Travis County Republicans, but as the story notes Morrow is now Greg Abbott’s county party chair, and that’s just too hilarious for me to be empathetic about. Have fun with that, y’all, because there’s not much you can do to make him leave before his term expires. Trail Blazers has more.

I’ll start digging into the data tomorrow, when I hope all the precinct results will be in for the SOS website, and when I get a draft canvass from the Harris County Clerk. The Trib has a graphical view for the Presidential race if you can’t wait for me. Any other results or tidbits you want me to look at? Let me know. David Collins lists the races that will go to runoffs, and Harold Cook, Marc Campos, PDiddie, the Obserer, and the Current have more.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Former Servergy CEO sues over Paxton-related costs

What a tangled web.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

The former CEO of the technology startup named in Ken Paxton’s indictments is suing the company he founded for costs associated with the attorney general’s criminal investigation and ongoing legal battle.

William Mapp III, the founder and ex-CEO of McKinney tech firm Servergy Inc., says he “incurred and continues to incur attorney’s fees and expenses and may in the future incur other liabilities” from “grand jury proceedings and criminal indictment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.”

Mapp also claims to have shouldered costs associated with an ongoing U.S. Securities and Exchange investigation into whether the company defrauded investors when he was CEO. Mapp is asking for more than $150,000, plus damages from Servergy for expenses he already has incurred and anticipates as Paxton’s court battle continues.

“It is routine for corporations to agree to advance and reimburse current and former officers and directors for legal fees in such circumstances, and Servergy is obligated through its bylaws to do so in this case,” said Kirby J. Smith, Mapp’s attorney. “Servergy has so far failed or refused to do so, leading to Mr. Mapp’s conclusion he had no choice but to file this lawsuit to obtain payments overdue to him.”

[…]

The SEC began investigating Servergy in 2013, and after the company failed to produce information demanded in multiple subpoenas, it sued in December 2014, to compel the production of records in an investigation of “possible misstatements and omissions related to Servergy’s purported business relationships and technology.”

At the same time, a group of investors, including House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, also sued the company for access to Servergy’s books and records. Both suits ultimately were dropped after the documents were produced, but Mapp’s lawsuit suggests the SEC investigation is ongoing.

“Mapp has incurred and continues to incur attorneys’ fees and expenses and may in the future incur other liabilities in connection with the investigation of Servergy by the Securities and Exchange Commission,” the lawsuit reads. “Mapp has retained the law firm of Greenberg Traurig to aid in his defense of the SEC investigation.”

See here, here, and here for more on Servergy and William Mapp, who testified during the grand jury proceedings but has some potential credibility issues. His lawsuit was filed in Nevada, as that is where Servergy is incorporated, though its corporate office is here. I have no idea what if any effect this will have on the criminal case against Paxton – the possibility that the SEC is still investigating Servergy is intriguing but not necessarily relevant – I just thought it was worth noting.

Paxton reindicted

On the same charges, with slightly different wording.

Best mugshot ever

After re-filing indictments against Attorney General Ken Paxton in his securities fraud case, two special prosecutors are pushing back against criticism from Paxton’s attorney, who says the recent action shows that they “botched” the proceedings.

“It is not unusual in any felony case, particularly fraud cases, for prosecutors to ask the grand jury to re-indict so as to provide sufficient notice to the accused as to the nature of the criminal conduct with which he is charged,” Kent Schaffer and Brian Wice, the special prosecutors said in a prepared statement Tuesday evening.

On Tuesday afternoon, the prosecutors re-filed two of the three charges Paxton faces — two counts of first-degree felony securities fraud. The third charge — accusing Paxton of acting as an investment adviser or representative without registering – remained untouched.

[…]

In the charge naming Cook, for instance, prosecutors originally stated Paxton “had not, in fact, personally invested in Servergy.” The new charge states Paxton “had not, and was not investing his own funds” in the company.

Joe Kendall, Paxton’s attorney, criticized the re-indictment, saying it illustrated a process fraught with “troubling issues.”

“They had months to investigate and then rushed to indict,” Kendall said in a statement. “Now, the special prosecutors are back to clean up the botched indictments. It should make every fair-minded person question the process in this case.”

Not so, the prosecutors replied.

“Contrary to the assertion of Mr. Paxton’s criminal defense lawyer that the indictments charging his client with two counts of first-degree felony securities fraud were ‘botched,’ we obtained re-indictments to defuse the boilerplate arguments predictably advanced by the defense that the original indictments lacked specificity or were otherwise ambiguous,” Schaffer and Wice said in their statement.

Philip Hilder, a Houston-based criminal lawyer, said that while re-indictments don’t happen all the time in such cases, they are not rare.

“In this particular case, it’s clear that the prosecutors were trying to get out front and clean up the indictment before the defense had the opportunity to attack the pleadings,” he said after reviewing one of the re-filed charges.

You can see a copy of the indictments – there are two, one for each of the complainants in the first-degree cases, which are the ones from the expanded investigation – in the Chron story. I don’t know how often this kind of “cleanup” happens, but I can say that it happened in the Tom DeLay case. The fact that he was ultimately let off the hook by the Court of Criminal Appeals didn’t have anything to do with that. I’d be interested in hearing what any attorneys have to say about this, but beyond that it seems like a fairly mundane update to this story.

Ken who?

State Republican leaders don’t have much to say about our allegedly felonious Attorney General.

Ken Paxton

Texas’ Republican leaders Sunday continued their radio silence on the indictment of Attorney General Ken Paxton on three felony fraud charges.

Paxton, who was elected as part of a conservative GOP sweep that put Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick into office, will reportedly surrender to authorities Monday in North Texas on felony charges stemming from an alleged investment scheme into the McKinney-based technology company Servergy, as well as his failure to register as an investment advisor representative with the state.

Republicans’ silence comes in stark contrast to the support that followed then-Gov. Rick Perry when he was indicted on felony charges last year. Party leaders were quick to publicly decry those charges as politically motivated and insist Perry would prevail.

Paxton’s indictment could spell trouble for the state’s GOP leadership – generally with voters who may see it as symptomatic of ethics problems in Austin, and even among the conservative grassroots groups that helped elect Paxton but insist that elected officials should be squeaky clean.

Democrats and government-watchdog groups continue to blast the indictment Sunday as high-lighting cronyism among the state GOP leaders. Several called for his resignation.

Neither Abbott nor Patrick, who both championed ethics during the campaign and in the legislative session earlier this year, has commented on Paxton’s predicament.

[…]

The Texas Republican Party did not return calls and emails seeking comment since the news broke Saturday. Other Paxton supporters, including state legislators who count the same conservative groups among their supporters, remained silent over the weekend.

Calls to a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz were not returned Sunday.

But they have not always been so silent. During last year’s campaign, an array of GOP luminaries from Abbott to Cruz, now a presidential contender, were effusive in their praise for Paxton even after he admitted and was punished for violating state securities.

Cruz, a star among Christian conservatives and tea party activists, referred to Paxton as “a good friend” at campaign rallies and cited Paxton’s support of straight-line conservative causes from opposing Obamacare and federal overreach to support of voter ID and more border security.

“You’re a good, strong conservative leader,” Cruz said of Paxton in one speech.

Paxton, in return, ran heavily on Cruz’s support, a key proof of his conservative bona fides that some political observers said helped him clinch a victory in the GOP primaries against Rep. Dan Branch, a favorite among establishment Republicans.

Privately, some Austin insiders said the issue was Paxton’s to address. Since it did not involve allegations of wrongdoing in his role as a state official, and because the case involved private business dealings, they said state business was not involved.

No doubt, this is going to cause heartburn for some people, from Cruz to Abbott to Dan Patrick and on down. That will be one of the fun parts about this saga. It’s not like no one could have seen this coming – Dan Branch and Sam Houston both made an issue of it in the elections last year. There were enough voters who cared more about Paxton’s stances on social issues than his integrity or capability, and so here we are. Still, let’s not forget how much better we could have done in this department.

Paxton’s Democratic opponent from 2014, attorney Sam Houston, said when the November election rolled around there was a cloud of controversy hanging over the Republican nominee. By then, Paxton had already easily defeated state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, who had made Paxton’s alleged ethical lapses the centerpiece of his primary runoff.

“Dan Branch and I both talked about a pattern in the election. So I don’t think this is anything surprising or new,” Houston said. “I hate to say I told you so because that doesn’t make me feel better, but we were saying that it was likely that once he was elected that he could be indicted and sure enough, it’s happened. It’s just been even more counts than I even thought would happen.”

[…]

As word of the indictment spread, it was Tea Party activists who were the most willing to speak out about it. Writing for Empower Texans, an influential conservative group, its general counsel Tony McDonald questioned whether the investigations of Paxton had ties to the leadership of House Speaker Joe Straus.

Saying House leaders’ “motives are obvious,” McDonald wrote hours before word of the indictment spread: “Paxton rose to statewide prominence when he challenged Straus for the speakership in 2011. Further, the three are still stinging from Paxton’s defeat of their ally and Straus’s boyhood friend, Dan Branch, in the 2014 primary for Attorney General.”

Those voters who have sided with Paxton through the controversy, [SMU poli sci prof Cal] Jillson said, need to “blink hard twice and ask themselves what they were thinking.”

Some conservatives are taking a less defensive approach to Paxton’s legal troubles, though. North Texas Tea Party activist Mike Openshaw wrote on Facebook that Paxton should “step aside” if the reports about his indictment were true.

“Texas conservatives need to maintain a higher standard,” Openshaw wrote. “We aren’t Democrats.”

Yeah, we Democrats knew he was a crook a long time ago. Welcome to the table, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for your colleagues to come along with you. They’re all doing their best to pretend nothing has happened.

“Judge [George] Gallagher has specifically instructed both parties to refrain from public comment on this matter, and we are honoring the judge’s instructions,” Paxton attorney Joe Kendall, a former federal judge, said in a statement.

It was a far cry from the full-throated and indignant denials of other Texas leaders who have — on not entirely rare occasions — found themselves indicted. And it indicated that the state’s top law enforcement official is facing months, if not years, of his office and his stature being diminished under the weight of criminal charges.

“His situation is darkened,” said Republican political consultant Bill Miller.

The difficulties of Paxton’s defense are already stacking up: The investigation was run by the Texas Rangers; a hometown Collin County grand jury indicted him; and the charges spring from his questionable involvement in troubled financial deals, Miller said.

Paxton is accused of encouraging investors in 2011 to put more than $600,000 into a McKinney-based technology company, Servergy Inc. He is charged with failing to disclose to investors that he was making a commission on their investment. And he is alleged to have misrepresented himself as an investor in the company.

In the wake of the allegations has come a deafening silence from Republican colleagues.

“That’s the loudest noise in the room,” Miller said.

“The Democrats will yell for his resignation, and the Republicans will be silent,” he said. “However it’s resolved, he’s seriously wounded.”

They may have to say something now that Paxton has turned himself in for booking and a spectacularly ugly mugshot – seriously, where was Rick Perry’s stylist when Paxton needed him? The state Republican Party did issue a a perfunctorily snotty statement reminding us that even someone like Ken Paxton is innocent until proven guilty (and not subsequently cut loose by the Court of Criminal Appeals). Here’s one reason why at least some Republicans may not be out there standing by him: At least one, Rep. Byron Cook, is a complainant. Awkward! Several other Republicans lost money in a deal involving Paxton as well, though I don’t know if that one is part of the charges against him. Point being, as this is about money and not politics, the lines could get just a little blurry. Settle in and enjoy the ride going forward. Newsdesk, BOR, Hair Balls, Paradise in Hell, Texas Leftist, Trail Blazers, the Lone Star Project, the Observer, the full-of-ennui Burkablog, the Trib, and the Current have more.

UPDATE: Here’s the Republican Party of Texas’ statement on Paxton’s indictment. I did mention that they put out a statement in my writeup above, but there’s a pull quote from a story earlier in the cycle when they hadn’t yet put a statement out, so I’m putting this here for clarity.

Keffer to retire

The original Straus gang shrinks again.

Rep. Jim Keffer

State Rep. Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican who was one of the earliest supporters of House Speaker Joe Straus, has decided not to seek reelection next year, according to a statement he prepared for the Hood County News that was widely posted on social media Tuesday evening.

Sources familiar with his plans confirmed the news; Keffer could not immediately be reached for comment.

First elected in 1996, Keffer is finishing his tenth term in the Texas House. He chairs the Natural Resources Committee and previously led the committees on Energy Resources, Ways & Means, Property Tax Relief and Economic Development.

His departure leaves only three members of the original Polo Road Gang — the eleven Republicans who met privately at state Rep. Byron Cook’s house on Polo Road in Austin before the 2009 legislative session to decide who they would unite behind in the race for speaker of the House. The 2008 elections left the House split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats, destabilizing then-Speaker Tom Craddick’s coalition and setting the stage for a change in leadership. The eleven Republicans chose Straus, picked up some other Republicans and a majority of Democrats, and elected him that January.

Now, only Straus, Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Cook remain in office.

Keffer’s HD60 is ridiculously red (Romney 83.0% in 2012), so it’s all a matter of who survives the primary next year. Keffer is as conservative as anyone, but as a Straus backer and someone who’s more interested in governing than in burning crap down, he’s been a wingnut target for awhile and his seat will be high on their list. So, you know, same as it ever was. I wish Rep. Keffer the best in the next phase of his life, and I will hope that his successor isn’t a typical zombie robot idiot. It is what it is. PDiddie and Greg have more.

Ethics reform dies its expected death

The only surprise is that it took this long.

BagOfMoney

With no collective will to expose dark money contributions in Texas, a major ethics overhaul was snuffed out in the waning hours of the 2015 legislative session.

“It’s dead,” Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said Saturday afternoon. “When the Senate chose not to include campaign disclosure reform at all, there’s really no reason to go forward. That was the most important thing from the House’s perspective.”

Cook was referring to the dark money provision that would require politically active nonprofits, which have poured millions into state and federal elections in recent years, to disclose their donors.

Hoping to find a last-ditch compromise, Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, who pushed the reform effort through the state Senate, wrote a letter urging House members to strike a deal by passing what both chambers have already agreed on. But that didn’t include the dark money amendment — an idea that has pitted Republicans against each other.

Taylor, along with Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Senate, have been unwilling to embrace any restrictions on the anonymously contributed money, which influential conservatives have fought to keep secret. Last session, then-Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a bill requiring disclosure of dark money and Abbott applauded him for it.

“The fact that folks are championing dark money is amazing to me,” Cook said.

Taylor offered two different versions of a compromise to a joint House-Senate “conference committee,” made up of negotiators from each chamber. Neither had dark money restrictions in it, but they would have strengthened considerably the disclosures of legislative conflicts of interest, shed more light on lobbyist wining and dining, and required lawmakers to reveal more sources of their income.

“While we disagree on substance, it is our hope that the House shares our desire to be accountable to the people we serve,” Taylor wrote. “It would be an embarrassing failure of leadership if the House opts to let this important legislation die in conference committee, especially during a session [that’s] supposed to be devoted to strengthening the ethical standards of elected officials. Texans expect us to deliver.”

With a Sunday night deadline for bills to be passed looming, a handful of ethics proposals remain viable, including a proposal shedding more light on elected officials who make money from local governments and another bill closing the “double-dipping” loophole that longtime politicians can use — as Perry once did — to draw a salary and pension at the same time.

But those minor tweaks are a far cry from the sweeping reforms that Abbott called for on the campaign trail and again in February, when he told lawmakers during his state of the state address that he wanted to “dedicate this session to ethics reform.”

Remember when Greg Abbott was all about “major” ethics reform? Those were the days. Surely none but the most gullible among us believed it in the first place, but even if one held on to a thread of hope, surely his lack of any leadership on the issue during the session told us all the real story. The fact that “dark money” regulations got this far tells me that it is possible for real ethics reform to happen – Republicans are the bigger targets of this kind of campaign spending these days, so it’s not really a straight partisan issue – but in the absence of actual leadership from the Governor’s office, it will probably take a major (and well-timed) scandal for it to happen. Good luck with that.

Or maybe it is hopeless, at least as things now stand:

All that Republican infighting about revealing political “dark money” during the just-concluded session of the Texas Legislature was probably for naught.

Gov. Greg Abbott has come out firmly against the idea.

Speaking at a news conference Monday in the Capitol, Abbott said he had already written about the issue when he was on the Texas Supreme Court, telling reporters that legislation requiring secret political donors to come out of the shadows would violate the U.S. Constitution. Proponents of dark money disclosure dispute the claim.

“I’ve already written about it as a justice on the Texas Supreme Court,” Abbott said. “I wrote that laws like that are unconstitutional, and I based that decision on United States Supreme Court decisions, and I think it’s important for legislators not to try to pass laws that have already been ruled unconstitutional.”

Abbott stopped short of saying that he would’ve vetoed a dark money disclosure bill if it had reached his desk, but his opposition makes any such legislation a remote possibility. Opposition from influential conservative groups that use dark money to fund their campaign activities hasn’t helped the pro-disclosure crowd much, either.

[…]

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, assistant professor at the Stetson University College of Law, wrote in a 2011 scholarly paper that Citizens United and another landmark case known as Doe vs. Reed give “considerable leeway” for legislators to require disclosure of money used to influence elections.

“In other words, the Supreme Court just expanded the constitutional bounds for requiring disclosure of the funding of election-related speech, and states should use this license to expand their disclosure laws accordingly,” she wrote.

Which only goes to show that Abbott was a lousy legal scholar who fit the law to his opinions. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

And just when you think it couldn’t get any more ridiculous:

It’s no secret that Texas legislators make poverty wages — $7,200 a year to be exact — so they generally must have some other source of income to make ends meet.

A look at Sen. Joan Huffman’s 2014 ethics disclosures, however, doesn’t shed much light on that: All she lists for “occupational income” is her Senate salary. Combined with some stock dividends, the grand total of disclosed income comes to no more than about $12,000 a year — even though the Houston Republican reported living in a River Oaks home appraised at $3.2 million.

One explanation for the gap might stem from something that’s not included in her ethics reports: any mention of the income or vast business holdings of her husband, nightclub owner and manager Keith Lawyer, who is tied to dozens of businesses with current or past filings at the office of the Texas secretary of state. Lawyer briefly became an issue in the Houston Republican’s 2008 Senate race, amid reports that Huffman received heavy support from interests tied to liquor, gambling and nightclubs.

Huffman says she has fully complied with state disclosure laws. And she lists interests in one business entity, a ranch partnership she owns with her husband, on her 2014 report.

But the Houston senator’s last-minute advocacy of controversial amendments widening the so-called “spousal loophole” — quietly slipped onto bills that were supposed to increase transparency — will make it even harder for voters to untangle the finances of their elected representatives in Austin.

Meanwhile, her role in pushing for the changes has sparked criticism from government watchdogs and her former Democratic opponent.

“This amendment does not suggest that she is interested in allowing constituents, Texans, or other legislators who are voting on bills she may bring or sponsor or champion, [to] know anything about areas in which she may have a conflict of interest,” said Rita Lucido, a Houston lawyer and Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Huffman last year.

Huffman said in an interview on Saturday night that she did not push the change in the law to shield her husband’s business interests from public view. And she said she has always disclosed what state ethics laws says she must.

“I think I report exactly what I’m required to report under the law, and I will continue to do so and follow the law utterly to its exact requirement,” she said.

Asked if she could afford to live on the limited income she reports on her ethics reports, Huffman said: “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

All together now: It’s what’s legal that’s the real scandal. Thanks for illustrating that so clearly to us, Joan. More here from the Trib and from the Lone Star Project, and a joint statement from TPJ and Public Citizen is here.

The fallout from the chubfest

Cleaning up some loose ends…The campus carry bill that was the subject of much chubbing passed on final reading.

130114152903-abc-schoolhouse-rock-just-a-bill-story-top

The battle over “campus carry” is headed back to the Texas Senate after House lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to legislation requiring universities in the state to allow concealed handguns on campus.

Senate Bill 11 from state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, narrowly avoided becoming a casualty of a key midnight deadline Tuesday before House members brokered a last-minute deal to accept several amendments limiting the measure’s reach.

Despite speculation that opponents would put up a fight before Wednesday’s vote on final passage, the measure sailed through in a 102-44 vote. Three Democrats — Tracy King of Batesville, Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City and Abel Herrero of Corpus Christi — voted with Republicans for the measure.

The language added in the House exempts health facilities, lets universities carve out gun-free zones, and states that private colleges would have to follow the same rules as public universities. It is a significant departure from the version that passed the Senate, where Birdwell rejected several amendments attempting similar changes.

If the Senate does not concur with the new language, lawmakers will then head to conference committee to iron out their differences. After that, both chambers will have to approve the final version of the bill.

Seems unlikely to me that the Senate will concur with the changes, which both weakened and broadened the bill. If I had to guess, I’d say they’ll take their chances in a conference committee. We’ll see.

Speaking on conference committee, that’s where the other carry bill is headed.

After outspoken opposition from the state’s law enforcement officials, the Texas House on Wednesday took a step toward removing a controversial provision from legislation allowing licensed Texans to openly carry handguns.

At the center of debate was language added to House Bill 910 in the Senate that limits the power of law enforcement to ask those visibly carrying guns to present their permits. Opponents say that provision amounts to a backdoor effort to repeal licensing requirements for handgun-toting Texans altogether, endangering the lives of police officers and the public.

The issue will now be hashed out by Senate and House appointees behind closed doors in a conference committee.

The move to negotiate in conference committee passed against the wishes of the bill’s author, state Rep. Larry Phillips. The Sherman Republican said the language was needed to clarify current law.

He found support from some unlikely allies, including state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, who said the provision was needed to prevent racial profiling.

“I’m not willing to give up my liberty in order for the police to go catch some criminal,” said Dutton, who unsuccessfully proposed the amendment when the bill first came up in the House. He gave a fiery speech on Wednesday in favor of keeping the language, which had been added in the Senate by Republican Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

[…]

The two former police officers in the chamber — state Reps. Allen Fletcher of Houston and Phil King of Weatherford, both Republicans — also teamed up to argue against it.

King urged lawmakers to give law enforcement officials the courtesy of at least allowing a committee to explore a compromise on the issue.

“I honestly believe that the unintentional result of the amendment … is to make it very difficult to do their job,” said King.

The partisan dynamics of this one are interesting, to say the least. I have no idea what will happen in committee. As the story notes, if the process takes long enough, the bill could wind up being vulnerable to a last-day filibuster. Who will put on the pink sneakers this time?

The other bill that generated a bunch of chubbing was the ethics bill. That passed, too, but not without a lot of drama.

After a passionate and sometimes raunchy Tuesday night debate, the Texas House on Wednesday gave final sign-off to a far-reaching ethics reform package that would shine light on so-called “dark money” while heavily restricting undercover recordings in the state Capitol.

The bill faces a potentially bruising showdown with the Senate over the details. A stalemate could torpedo the bill, and along with it a significant chunk of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the session. But the 102-44 vote in favor of the Senate Bill 19 keeps it alive as the 2015 session comes to its dramatic finale over the next few days.

State Sen. Van Taylor, a Plano Republican who has carried ethics reform in his chamber, quickly issued a statement on Tuesday night expressing “astonishment for the elimination of meaningful ethics reform” in the House version of the bill.

“Some in the House apparently don’t think elected officials are the problem and instead muddled the bill with a litany of bizarre measures that point the finger at everyone besides themselves, including a page from Hillary Clinton’s playbook to launch an assault on the First Amendment,” Taylor’s statement said. “This is one of those head shaking moments that rightfully raise doubts in the minds of our constituents as to the Legislature’s resolve to serve the people above all else.”

The bill author, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, said dark money has had a corrupting influence on politics in the United States and warned that without reforms those abuses will eventually visit Texas. In the 2012 election cycle, politically active non-profits spent more than $300 million in dark money to influence elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A dark money scandal in Utah also brought down that state’s attorney general.

Quoting from a message to Congress from President Ronald Reagan, delivered in 1988, Cook said the right to free speech depends upon a “requirement of full disclosure of all campaign contributions, including in-kind contributions, and expenditures on behalf of any electoral activities.”

[…]

There’s a deep split among Republicans — and between the House and Senate — over the dark money provision in the bill. It would require that large contributions of dark money — or anonymous donations made to politically active nonprofits — be disclosed.

Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, objecting to the dark money and other provisions, tried to gut the bill, which he said was “designed to protect us from the people. It’s not designed to protect the people from us.”

But his amendment failed 133-33.

That means a showdown is looming, and that could jeopardize SB 19 once it leaves the House floor.

Which could mean a special session if it fails, since this was an “emergency” item for Abbott, though he hasn’t really acted like it’s that important to him since then. Once again I say, I have no idea what will happen, but it should be fun to watch.

As noted in the previous post, the last minute attempt to attach Cecil Bell’s anti-same-sex-marriage-license bill to an otherwise innocuous county affairs bill was likely to come to nothing – late last night, Rep. Garnet Coleman sent out a press release saying the bill had been pulled from consideration in the Senate, which settled the matter – but that didn’t stop the Senate from thumping its chest one last time.

Following an emotional floor debate, the Texas Senate passed a resolution Wednesday evening reaffirming the state’s opposition to same-sex marriage, an action taken as it became clear that a bill to prevent such marriages in Texas was dead.

The body’s 20 Republican senators and state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, voted for Senate Resolution 1028, authored by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, that affirmed “the present definition” of marriage in the state.

“This resolution is intended by those of us who signed it to demonstrate that we continue to support what the people of this state have expressed,” state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said.

Whatever. I’m too tired to expend any energy on this. It has the same legal effect as me saying “Senate Republicans and Eddie Lucio are big fat poopyheads”, and about as much maturity.

Finally, here’s a look at criminal justice bills and where they stand – some good things have been done – and an analysis of how the rules were used as the clock waned. I’m ready for a drink, a long weekend, and sine die. How about you?

House chubfest kills several bad bills

Some good news, though as always at the end of a session, the outcome isn’t clean and the details are very murky.

Squalius cephalus, the official mascot of talking bills to death

As the clock struck midnight, the failure of an anti-abortion initiative — dear to the hearts of the far right — marked the end of a tumultuous day on the floor of the Texas House that saw the passage of sweeping ethics reform and a version of legislation allowing concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses.

On the last day that it could approve major legislation that began in the Senate, the lower chamber embarked on an all-day procedural waltz, with Democrats attempting to kill bills by delaying them past midnight, and Republicans looking for openings to move their legislation.

Early in the day, Democrats narrowly shot down an attempt to essentially change the order of the calendar, moving big-ticket items up for faster consideration. They then used every parliamentary trick in the book to slow the pace, delaying consideration of mostly uncontroversial bills.

But after huddling in a secret meeting in a room adjacent to the House floor, Democrats let the action get moving again.

For hours, the House debated an ethics reform bill, dissolving into angry tirades and raunchy debate about the reach of a drug-testing provision for lawmakers.

The passionate debate pitted Republicans against each other — over lifting the veil on “dark money” and restricting people from recording or videotaping politicians without their permission.

With the clock ticking, a few Republicans at one point even sought to postpone debate over ethics legislation — deemed a priority by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — so the House could take up campus carry and an abortion bill that would have prohibited coverage of the procedure on certain health insurance plans.

Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler asked state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the House sponsor of the ethics legislation, to temporarily pull down the measure so that it did not chew up the time left on the clock.

After Cook declined, Democrats took to the mic to reiterate that ethics reform was declared an emergency item by the governor and was supposed to be prioritized over the rest of the calendar.

The House eventually passed the ethics bill, including the dark money provision, then went back to an innocuous agency-review bill, also known as a Sunset bill, to reform the Department of Family and Protective Services.

[…]

The biggest victim of the midnight deadline was Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, which would have banned abortion coverage on plans sold on the federal Affordable Care Act’s marketplace.

Originally, SB 575 would have banned abortion coverage on both ACA plans and private health insurance plans. But the House State Affairs Committee amended the bill to mirror a measure filed in the House by state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, and approved by the committee this month before dying on a House bill deadline.

Republicans had said they intended to amend it on the floor to bring back the private insurance ban.

The bill — passed in the Senate earlier this month — died in the House after a turbulent ride in the lower chamber.

It was cleared by the State Affairs Committee on Saturday in a last-minute vote on the last day the committee could clear Senate proposals.

Killing SB575 was a big one, and one of the Democrats’ main goals for deadline day. They also succeeded in preventing an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families to a sunset bill for the Department of Family and Protective Services, another main goal. What did get passed was a somewhat watered-down version of campus carry that will allow university trustees to designate certain “gun-free zones” as long as there isn’t a blanket ban on carrying firearms by those with concealed handgun licenses. The campus carry bill could possibly have been stopped, though (this is where we get into the messy and murky stuff) that could have had effects that would make the victory a lot more pyhrric. The Morning News hints at some of what might have happened.

Late Tuesday, the House was debating the gun measure, though it was unclear if it would pass.

Several Republicans said that after the initial slowdown, Speaker Joe Straus intervened in the early afternoon, to get things moving. There were conflicting accounts, though, of precisely how Straus, a San Antonio Republican, did so.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Tan Parker of Flower Mound said that in conversations with individual Democrats, “the speaker was firm that he would use everything,” meaning parliamentary “nuclear options,” to shut down debate and force votes.

Straus, though, was coy.

“I didn’t talk to Democrats,” Straus told a reporter. “But I intend to get through this,” he added, referring to the House’s agenda.

One consideration may have been that the campus carry bill is part of a grand bargain on tax cuts, border security, guns and ethics. The deal may allow lawmakers to finish their work Monday, as scheduled, instead of having a special session.

As passed by the Senate, the campus carry measure would allow the licensed concealed carrying of handguns in most public university buildings. There were rumblings the House might restore a campus-by-campus opt-in provision, as it did two years ago, or let the measure die when the clock struck midnight.

Whether Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his GOP allies in the Senate would consider that a breach of the grand bargain remained unclear.

[…]

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said he was upset that some senior Democrats relented.

“We’ve given away too much leverage,” he said.

There was talk that Martinez Fischer and other long-serving Democrats were worried the minority might be asking for too much, especially after gaining key House GOP leaders’ cooperation in squelching bills aimed at unions and stopping hailstorm damage lawsuits.

[Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, though, called that too facile.

“You can’t view everything as a quid pro quo,” he said. “It’s not personal. It’s all about business.”

Martinez-Fischer had a point of order that could have killed the campus carry bill, but he pulled it down after some intense discussion, and thus it went to a vote. How you feel about all this likely correlates directly to your opinion of his dealmaking ability and trustworthiness in making such deals. It’s also the case that this isn’t the end of the story, as the Statesman notes.

Cutting off debate ended a daylong Democratic effort to avoid a floor vote on the campus carry legislation before a drop-dead midnight deadline to have an initial vote on Senate bills.

After the vote, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Democrats voluntarily pulled down their amendments after winning a key concession with an approved amendment allowing colleges and universities to have limited authority on banning guns in certain campus areas.

In addition, he said, Republicans were prepared to employ a rarely used maneuver to cut off debate with a motion that had already lined up agreement from the required 25 House members.

[…]

The bill-killing tactics appeared headed for success late Tuesday, until Speaker Joe Straus abruptly called for a vote on SB 11 about 20 minutes before the deadline.

The move avoided a bitter blow for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Based on assurances from House leaders that campus carry would get a floor vote in their chamber, Patrick and Birdwell declined last week to add the school gun bill as an amendment to House Bill 910, a measure to allow openly carried holstered handguns that is now one small step away from Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Before approving SB11, the House voted overwhelmingly to allow each college and university to regulate where guns may be excluded, as long as firearms are not banned campus-wide. Each plan would have to be approved by two-thirds of the board of regents under the amendment by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, that was approved 119-29.

The House also adopted an amendment by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, to exempt health care-related institutions and the Texas Medical Center from campus carry.

“Never assume the Democrats gave up on campus carry. Democrats did not give up on campus carry,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “The Zerwas amendment waters it down. The bill will go to conference and we will continue to have our input in the process.”

Here’s a separate Trib story on the campus carry bill, an Observer story about the ethics reform bill that was a main vehicle for Democratic stalling tactics, and a Chron story on the overall chubbing strategy as it was happening. Newsdesk, RG Ratcliffe, and Hair Balls have more on the day overall, and for the last word (via PDiddie), here’s Glen Maxey:

LGBT people are finally, FINALLY free from all types of mischief and evilness. The Senate gets to debate the Cecil Bell amendment by Sen. Lucio put on a friggin’ Garnet Coleman bill tomorrow. It’s all for show. Garnet Coleman is one of the strongest allies of the LGBTQ community. They could amend all the anti-gay stuff they want on it and he’ll strip it off in conference or just outright kill the bill before allowing it to pass with that crap on it. This is for record votes to say they did “something” about teh gays to their nutso base.

And lots of high stakes trading to make sure that other stuff didn’t get amended onto bills today (labor dues, TWIA, etc.) and making sure an Ethics Bill of some sort passed. We didn’t want that to die and give Abbot a reason to call a special session.

Campus carry got watered down… no clue what happens in conference. And the delaying tactics kept us from reaching the abortion insurance ban.

Four good Elections bills passed today. Three on Consent in the House, three in the Senate all will be done by noon Wednesday.

And Lastly: Pigs have flown and landed. HB 1096 the bad voter registration bill is NOT on the Calendar for tomorrow and is therefore DEAD. I am one proud lobbyist on that one. With it’s demise, no major voter suppression bills passed (well, except for Interstate Crosscheck which is only bad if implemented badly, and we have to stay on top of it to make sure it’s not), and over forty good ones survived.

Just a few technical concurrences, and we’re done. Thank the goddess and well, some bipartisanship for once.

As someone once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. See the next post for more on that.

There’s still time for bad bills to be passed

Bad bill #1:

Never again

Never again

After four hours of debate and more than a dozen failed amendments offered by Democrats, the Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to far-reaching restrictions on minors seeking abortions in Texas without parental consent.

On a 21-10 vote, the upper chamber signed off on House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria to tighten the requirements on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows minors to get court approval for an abortion if seeking permission from their parents could endanger them.

The vote was along party lines with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, joining Republicans to pass the measure.

[…]

After it reached the Senate, [Sen. Charles] Perry did some rewriting on HB 3994 to address two of the bill’s most controversial provisions on which both Democrats and some conservatives had raised concerns.

As expected, he gutted a provision that would have required all doctors to presume a pregnant woman seeking an abortion was a minor unless she could present a “valid government record of identification” to prove she was 18 or older.

The ID requirement — dubbed “abortion ID” by opponents — raised red flags because it would apply to all women in the state even though the bill focused on minors.

Under Perry’s new language, a physician must use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s identity and age, but could still perform the abortion if a woman could not provide an ID. Doctors would also have to report to the state how many abortions were performed annually without “proof of identity and age.”

Perry said the revised language “gives physician more latitude” to determine a woman’s age.

But Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who spoke in opposition to the bill and questioned Perry for almost an hour, questioned the ID requirement altogether.

“I can’t think of another instance where we presume women are children,” Watson said. “I certainly can’t think of any situation where we presume a man is a child.”

Perry also changed course on a provision that would have reversed current law such that if a judge does not rule on the bypass request within five days, the request is considered denied. Under current law, the bypass is presumed approved if a judge does not rule.

Perry cut that denial provision from the bill, saying it is now “silent” on the issue. But that did little to appease opponents who pointed out a judge’s failure to rule effectively denies the minor an abortion.

“In essence, the judge can bypass the judicial bypass by simply not ruling,” Watson said, adding that the appeals process is derailed without a denial by a judge.

HB 3994 also extends the time in which judges can rule on a judicial bypass case from two business days to five. Perry said this was meant to give judges more time and “clarity” to consider these cases.

But Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, who also offered several unsuccessful amendments, questioned whether Perry’s intentions were rooted in a distrust of women and judges.

“I’m not really sure who it is you don’t trust — the girls, the judges or the entire judicial system?” Garcia asked.

See here for the background. The Senate version is not quite as bad as the original House version that passed, but as Nonsequiteuse notes, it’s still a farce that does nothing but infantilize women. It’s a cliched analogy, but can anyone imagine a similar set of hoops for a man to jump through to get a vasectomy or a prescription for Viagra? The only people who will benefit from this bill are the lawyers that will be involved in the litigation over it. Oh, and Eddie Lucio sucks. Good Lord, he needs to be retired. TrailBlazers, the Observer, and Newsdesk have more.

Bad bill #2:

In a dramatic turn of events, the House Calendars Committee on Sunday night reversed course and sent a controversial bill prohibiting health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace from covering abortions to the full chamber for a vote.

Earlier in the night, the committee voted not to place Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor on the lower chamber’s calendar for Tuesday — the last day a Senate bill can be passed by the House. After fireworks on the House floor instigated by a lawmaker who believed he had entered into an agreement to get the bill to the full chamber, the committee reconvened and reconsidered its vote.

Under SB 575, women seeking coverage for what Taylor has called “elective” abortions would have been required to purchase supplemental health insurance plans.

On Saturday, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, had threatened to force a House vote to prohibit abortions on the basis of fetal abnormalities by filing an amendment to an innocuous agency review bill. But Stickland later withdrew the amendment, telling the Austin American-Statesman that he had agreed to pull it down in exchange of a vow from House leadership that they would move SB 575 forward.

The bill did make it out of the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. But when it got to Calendars, that committee voted it down, leading Stickland to go after Cook on the House floor. Stickland had to be separated from Cook, and House sergeants immediately ran over to prevent a lengthier tussle.

Again, infantilizing women. And speaking of infants, what more can be said about Jonathan Stickland? I know there’s a minimum age requirement to run for office. Maybe there needs to be a minimum maturity requirement as well. Hey, if we can force doctors to assume that women seeking abortions are children, we can assume that any first-time filer for office is a callow jerk. We sure wouldn’t have been wrong in this case.

Bad bill #3:

Senate Republicans on Monday voted to move the state’s Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The action was spurred in part by last year’s indictment of former Gov. Rick Perry.

The legislation by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would move key decisions about investigating public officials to the Texas Rangers and away from the Democratic-controlled Travis County District Attorney.

The bill was approved in a 20-11 vote, with Democrats casting all the no votes.

[…]

Under the proposed law, any district attorney looking at suspicious activity by a state official would refer the matter to new Public Integrity Unit within the Texas Rangers. That office would then use a Texas Ranger to further investigate the allegation, with expenses handled by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

If confirmed, the recommendation for further action would be sent to the district attorney in the home county of the public official. That district attorney could pursue or drop the investigation.

See here for the background. As I said before, I don’t think this is the worst bill ever, but I do think it’s a guarantee that some future scandal will result from this. And as others have pointed out, it sets up legislators to be treated differently than every other Texan in this sort of situation. That’s never a good precedent to set.

And finally, bad bill #4:

Gays and same-sex couples could be turned away from adopting children or serving as foster parents under an amendment filed by a social conservative House member and expected to be heard Tuesday.

The measure also would allow child welfare providers to deny teenagers in foster care access to contraception or an abortion under a wide umbrella of religious protections for the state contractor.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, has filed the measure that gives state contractors for child welfare services the right to sue the state if they are punished for making decisions based on their religious beliefs.

The state could not force contractors to follow policies providing for contraception or allowing same-sex couples to adopt, for instance. If the state tried to terminate a contract or suspend licensing for the state contractors’ failure to abide by such polices, the contractor could sue, win compensatory damages, relief from the policy and attorneys fees against the state, according to the proposal.

Sanford tried to pass as separate bill earlier in the session, but it failed. The proposal now has resurfaced as an amendment to the sunset bill that would reconstitute the Department of Family and Protective Services.

I’m just going to hand this one off to Equality Texas:

TUESDAY, MAY 26TH, Rep. Scott Sanford will try again to pass an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families

Tell your State Representative to oppose the Sanford amendment permitting discrimination in Texas’ child welfare system.

Rep. Scott Sanford has pre-filed an amendment that he will seek to add to SB 206 on Tuesday, May 26th. This cynical “religious refusal” amendment would authorize all child welfare organizations to refuse to place a child with a qualified family just because that family doesn’t meet the organization’s religious or moral criteria.

If enacted into law, the Sanford Amendment would allow child welfare providers to discriminate against not just gay and transgender families, but also against people of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom a provider objects for religious reasons.

The only consideration of a child welfare agency should be the best interest of the child – not proselytizing for a single, narrow religious interpretation.

SB 206 is not objectionable. However, adding the Sanford Amendment to SB 206 must be prevented.

Urge your State Representative to OPPOSE the Sanford Amendment to SB 206.

Amen to that.

Anchia birth certificate bill passes out of committee

Good news.

House Bill 537, by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), would allow same-sex parents to have both names on the birth certificates of adopted children.

[…]

On Monday, the committee quietly voted 7-4 to advance HB 537, with Cook and Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring) joining five Democrats who voted in favor of the bill. Four Republicans voted against it, while two others were absent.

“This is a simple, common-sense bill that helps children,” Equality Texas legislative specialist Daniel Williams said. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it passed with bipartisan support.

“At this point it will be a challenge to get the bill to the House floor before the deadline next week, but it’s still a realistic possibility,” he added.

See here and here for the background. This is a big achievement, even if the bill has long odds of even coming up for a vote on the House floor. Kudos to Rep. Anchia for his persistence and to Rep. Cook for giving the bill a fair chance.

Two anti-gay bills advance

Look out.

RedEquality

Gay rights advocates began sounding the alarm Wednesday after two anti-LGBT bills cleared House committees and another received a favorable hearing.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said if LGBT groups and their corporate allies don’t work quickly to generate the type of backlash seen over a religious freedom bill in Indiana last month, it could soon be too late.

Miller made the statement on a day when separate House panels advanced bills that would bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses and allow state-funded adoption agencies to turn away gay couples based on religious beliefs. The two bills, which breached a dam that had kept a record number of anti-LGBT measures at bay for the first 100 days of the session, now head to the Calendars Committee.

“My fear is that if the Indiana-style outrage doesn’t happen now, before these bills make it to the floor of the House, it will be too late, because the membership of the House will pass these bills, and then the Senate will fly them through, and Gov. [Greg] Abbott will have no choice but to sign them in his mind,” Miller said.

Miller and others said with the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage Tuesday, moderate Republicans in the Legislature are feeling the heat from social conservatives.

“I feel like the Republican base is desperately afraid of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage this summer,” Miller said. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the leadership in the House to pass anti-LGBT legislation. I think some of Speaker [Joe] Straus’ lieutenants are more likely to cave in to that pressure than others.”

[…]

The House Committee on State Affairs voted 7-3 along party lines to advance House Bill 4105, which would prohibit state or local funds from being used to license or recognize same-sex marriages.

Among those voting in favor of the bill was Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), a moderate who chairs the committee and has come out in support of one pro-LGBT bill.

“For me, I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, so that’s why I voted for it,” Cook said.

All due respect, and I do respect Rep. Cook for his support of the birth certificate bill, but he’s not a moderate. As I noted before, he received an F on the 2013 Equality Texas report card. His support of Rep. Anchia’s bill is great and appreciated, but it doesn’t change who he is.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, has come out against two proposed religious freedom amendments that critics say would enshrine a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people in the Texas Constitution. But the TAB has remained silent on the bills that cleared committee Wednesday.

“We have not taken a position and doubtful (with timing of the session) that we will be able to,” TAB President Chris Wallace said in an email. “We will continue to monitor the business-related implications.”

Late Wednesday, the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Affairs voted 6-1 to advance House Bill 3864, by Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), which would allow state-funded child welfare providers to discriminate based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, dozens of pastors gave hours of testimony in support of House Bill 3567, also by Sanford, which he said is designed to prevent clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages. Critics of HB 3567 say it’s so broadly written that it could allow any religiously affiliated organization—from hospitals to universities and homeless shelters—to discriminate against LGBT people.

None of this is good, so now would be an excellent time to call your State Rep and ask him or her to vote against these bills. It would also be nice if the TAB and its other corporate allies would remember that not only are these bills bad for business, they will inevitably lead to expensive litigation (that the state will lose) because they’re clearly unconstitutional. The cheaper and safer route is to keep them bottled up in the House.

It’s hard to overstate just how out of step with public opinion all of this is. I can only conclude that the GOP is more in thrall to its zealot wing than it is to the business lobby. Maybe this will finally help cause a bit of a schism. As far as those “Christians” that were there to lobby for these bills, they don’t represent all people of faith. Not by a longshot. And finally, if Indiana and Arkansas weren’t object lessons enough for Republicans, just keep an eye on Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal has decided that the best strategy is to double down. Imitating Arkansas is bad enough – do we have to do what Louisiana does, too? The Trib has more.