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Celia Israel

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

Revisiting online voter registration

Camel’s nose in the tent alert.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas could be forced to create at least one narrow avenue for online voter registration after a federal judge ruled that the state is violating the National Voter Registration Act, a decades-old federal law aimed at making it easier for people to register to vote by forcing states to allow registration while drivers apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

Texas allows people renew their licenses online, but doesn’t allow them to register to vote at the same time. Last week, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia told the state to fix that.

And while the Texas Attorney General’s Office has said it will appeal that ruling, supporters of online voter registration are hoping that a court-ordered online system for drivers will open the floodgates to broader implementation in Texas.

Once such a system is in place for some, supporters ask, why not broaden it to everyone else?

[…]

Legislation has been raised several times — championed in recent years by state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin — but it has never made it to the governor’s desk.

In 2015, Israel touted bipartisan support for the bill after 75 other state representatives, including more than 20 Republicans, signed on. But in the most recent legislative session, Israel’s proposal hardly gained any traction, even with the endorsement of many of the state’s election officials — tax assessors and voter registrars, election administrators, county clerks and the Texas Association of Counties.

Now, Israel says she is eying a possible online system for drivers as a test run that could help make her case at the Capitol for full-blown online registration.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about online voter registration, and this is a step in the right direction,” Israel said. “The truth of the matter is that online voter registration is more secure than our current paper process, and it is going to save our counties precious time and money.”

The only real opposition to her proposal seems to come from detractors in the populous Harris County. Officials from the Harris County Clerk’s Office have warned that online voter registration could leave the state vulnerable to voter fraud.

See here and here for the background. Don’t get too excited about this, because even if this ruling survives appeal and isn’t put on hold for the duration of the case, it’s still a limited implementation of online registration that could be ordered. That’s unlikely to change the opposition that exists, though installing a new Harris County Clerk would help in that regard. We’re going to need a lot more change in the Legislature before we’re likely to get true online voter registration, or really anything to make it easier to register people. Progress is progress and it would be great if we get even this much. I’m just saying we need to keep some perspective on what that would mean.

Record number of LGBT candidates running this year

OutSmart does the math.

A record 40 openly LGBTQ people will run for public office in Texas in 2018, according to an extensive review by OutSmart. That’s roughly twice as many as in any previous election cycle in the state’s history.

The unprecedented field of LGBTQ candidates includes two for governor, one for Texas Supreme Court, three for Texas Senate, 10 for Texas House, eight for Congress, and 14 for various judicial seats.

Twenty of the LGBTQ candidates are female, and 20 are male. Five are transgender, three are African-American, and eight are Hispanic. Six are incumbents who are among the state’s 18 current LGBTQ elected and appointed officials.

“I think for many, the motivation to run is in sync with the adage, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,’” says Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy group. “We have recently been witnessing a continuous assault on our rights and freedoms. It is only by raising our voices and securing our ‘place at the table’ that we can ensure our constitutional rights to equal protection under the law are preserved.”

All but four of the LGBTQ candidates in Texas are running as Democrats. Kerry Douglas McKennon is running for lieutenant governor as a Libertarian. Republican Shannon McClendon is challenging anti-LGBTQ incumbent state senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) in the District 25 Republican primary. Republican Mauro Garza is running for the Congressional District 21 seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio). And New Hope mayor Jess Herbst, the state’s only trans elected official, is seeking re-election in a nonpartisan race.

[…]

The gubernatorial race is one of at least two in which openly LGBTQ canidates will face each other in the Democratic primary. The other is Congressional District 27, where gay candidate Eric Holguin and trans woman Vanessa Edwards Foster are among a slew of Democrats who have filed to run for the seat being vacated by U.S.representative Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi).

I missed Holguin and Foster when I noted the plethora of LGBT candidates in an earlier post; my apologies for the oversight. There are eight such candidates for State House who are not incumbents, plus two (Reps. Celia Israel and Mary Gonzalez) who are, and as the story notes about a third of all these candidates are from Harris County. Some of these candidates, like Gina Ortiz Jones and Julie Johnson, have already attracted significant establishment support. Others will likely follow after the primaries, and still others will fade away once the votes are counted in March. But as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play, and the increased number of players is a positive sign. I wish them all well. Link via Think Progress.

There’s also a companion story about Fran Watson and her candidacy in SD17. Like the DMN story about Mark Phariss, it identifies her as seeking to be the “first openly LGBTQ candidate elected to state’s upper chamber”, and also like that story it does not mention that she is not alone in that pursuit. Which, given that OutSmart listed Phariss in the cover story about all the LGBT candidates is a little odd to me, but whatever. The point is, there are two candidates with a legit shot at that designation.

There’s more than SB6 to watch out for

Keep an eye out for other anti-LGBT bills, because any of them might pass even if SB6 goes down.

With the media seemingly preoccupied by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, three Republican state senators have quietly introduced a sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” measure.

Senate Bill 651, filed last week, would bar state agencies that are responsible for regulating more than 65 licensed occupations from taking action against those who choose not to comply with professional standards due to religious objections.

Eunice Hyon Min Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, said SB 651 would open the door to rampant discrimination against LGBT people, women seeking reproductive health care and others. Rho said the bill could lead to doctors with religious objections refusing to perform medical procedures, teachers not reporting child abuse if they support corporal punishment, or a fundamentalist Mormon police officer declining to arrest a polygamist for taking underage brides.

“This is incredibly broadly written,” said Rho, who monitors religious freedom legislation across the country. “It’s just really alarming. There are no limitations to this bill.”

Rho said only one state, Arizona, has passed a similar law, but unlike SB 651 it includes exceptions related to health care and law enforcement. She also warned that anti-LGBT state lawmakers may be trying to use the bathroom bill as a distraction.

“I think because some of the bills are receiving more attention than others, it’s a way for them to sneak some stuff through with a little bit less fanfare,” Rho said. “This is a tactic we’ve seen in countless states.”

[…]

As of Thursday, nine anti-LGBT bills had been filed in the 2017 session, according to Equality Texas, compared to at 23 in 2015. But there were indications that additional anti-LGBT “religious freedom” proposals are coming before the March 10 filing deadline.

Take a look at that Equality Texas list, and if you’ve gotten yourself into the habit of calling your legislators, add the bad bills there to your recitations. There’s nothing subtle about any of this, but with SB6 taking up all the oxygen, there’s cover for those bills. They would allow discrimination of the Woolworth’s lunch counter kind, and they cannot be allowed to pass.

More on the cost of a bathroom bill

Whatever one thinks of the Texas Association of Business, you have to hand it to them for their lobbying focus on the great potty issue.

With the legislative session just weeks ahead, the Texas business community is digging in its heels in opposition to Texas Republicans’ anti-LGBT proposals, warning they could have dire consequences on the state’s economy.

Representatives for the Texas Association of Business said Tuesday that Republican efforts to pass a bill to keep transgender people from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity and another that would shield religious objectors to same-sex marriage could cost the state between $964 million and $8.5 billion and more than 100,000 jobs. Those figures are part of a new report from the prominent business group.

“The message from the Texas business community is loud and clear,” Chris Wallace, president of the Texas Association of Business, said at a press conference at the Texas Capitol during which he was joined by representatives for ad agency GSD&M, IT company TechNet and SXSW. “Protecting Texas from billions of dollars in losses is simple: Don’t pass unnecessary laws that discriminate against Texans and our visitors.”

Those figures — based on an economic impact study conducted by St. Edward’s University and commissioned by the business group — depict the possible economic fallout in Texas if lawmakers move forward with legislation similar to North Carolina’s so-called bathroom bill and Indiana’s so-called religious freedom law.

[…]

Though the Texas Association of Business and Republicans are regularly legislative comrades, the business group has long warned lawmakers against moving forward with anti-LGBT efforts and it has picked up its lobbying against those proposals as Republican leaders, namely Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have vowed to push more extreme measures.

A copy of the report is here. We first heard about it a month ago. Here’s the bullet-point summary from the intro:

In summary, the studies demonstrate that discriminatory legislation could:

  • Result in significant economic losses in Texas’ GDP, with estimates ranging from $964 million to $8.5 billion
  • Result in significant job losses with estimates as high as 185,000 jobs
  • Substantially hamper the state’s ability to attract, recruit and retain top talent, especially among Millennials
  • Drastically impact convention and tourism industry, which has a direct economic impact of $69 billion, generates more than $6 billion in state and local tax revenues, and directly and indirectly supports more than 1.1 million Texas jobs (Economic Development and Tourism, Texas Governor’s Office, 2015)
  • Serve as a catalyst for domestic and global companies to choose other states over Texas to start or expand their business.
  • Alienate large, globally recognized businesses, including Apple, Google, Starbucks, British Petroleum, Marriott, IBM, PayPal and the National Football League, which have opposed this amendment and similar ones
  • Allow for an expansion in discrimination, which is counter to prevailing public opinion and conflicts with corporate policies that prioritize diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

As we know, Dan Patrick does not believe that passing a bathroom bill, which is one of his top priorities for this session, will have any negative effect on Texas. He finds it “ridiculous” and “more than offensive” that anyone would boycott Texas (as they have done in North Carolina) over it, and he says he’d consider losing the 2018 election over passing this bill to be an acceptable risk. He can believe what he wants, but the evidence is right there.

Patrick has shrugged off suggestions that major sporting events would stay away from Texas if his proposal became law. But those fears have been heightened in San Antonio, which is set to host the NCAA Final Four in 2018.

After North Carolina passed its version of a restroom law, the NCAA moved seven college basketball championship games out of the Tar Hell State, the NBA canceled its All Star Game and the Atlantic Coast Conference withdrew its college football championship and woman’s college basketball tournament, along with other events. Large companies such as PayPal and Deutsche Bank also dropped expansion plans in the state.

“I think the evidence is crystal clear that the NCAA will not host anymore championships in Texas if we were to pass a law similar to North Carolina,” said state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. “I don’t need anymore proof than seeing what they did in North Carolina. Why would they treat Texas differently? Whey would they give us a special pass?”

I don’t think it’s possible for them to make it any clearer that they wouldn’t. And by the way, there are a lot more events than just the Final Four – the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship finals will be right here in Houston, at BBVA Compass Stadium, this Friday and Sunday, possibly for the last time if Patrick gets his way. Which gets me back to the question I keep asking, which is at what point does the TAB take him up on that and work to make Dan Patrick the next Pat McCrory? Because losing an election is the only language Dan Patrick will understand, and the lesson he will learn if TAB rolls over and endorses him as usual in 2018 is that he is not accountable to them, or to anyone. Your windup is great, TAB. Now let’s see your follow-through. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Ready to engage in the next fight

No rest for the righteous.

RedEquality

On Monday, national and state gay rights leaders and the plaintiffs who sued for marriage equality convened in front of the Texas Capitol to make a different kind of vow: The fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is not over. The next frontier, they said, is pushing for more protections against discrimination in areas including employment and housing.

“In many states, including my home state of Ohio and right here in Texas, you can get married but then suffer consequences,” said Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the landmark case that legalized same-sex marriage. “You can get married and then lose your job, lose your home and so much more because we are not guaranteed nondiscrimination protections. … Friday’s historic ruling is a victory, but it’s just the beginning.”

Obergefell was joined Monday by a coalition of from the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBT civil rights organization; Democratic state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin; Equality Texas; two same-sex couples who filed suit over Texas’ same-sex marriage ban; and others who announced that they would be part of a statewide campaign for nondiscrimination protections.

[…]

Texas is a huge part of a national strategy to pursue nondiscrimination ordinances because it’s the largest state in the country that offers no statewide protections for LGBT residents, Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith said Monday.

Democratic proposals for statewide nondiscrimination laws have been non-starters in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where conservatives have tried to override local ordinances. Among opponents of the nondiscrimination ordinances are Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, who as the former state attorney general said such ordinances violate freedom of speech and religion.

This has left Texas with a patchwork of local protections against discrimination in employment, housing and other public areas like buses and restaurants.

At least nine Texas cities with a population of more than 100,000 have passed some nondiscrimination rules or legislation.

[…]

In defending the need for more protections for LGBT residents, Mark Phariss, one of the plaintiffs in the Texas gay marriage case, likened those protections to the Americans with Disabilities Act that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities like Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since he was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1984 accident.

At the time of his accident, Abbott was not protected against discrimination “as a result of that disability,” said Phariss, who attended law school with Abbott and said he visited him in the hospital after his accident.

“That has been fixed. The ADA now provides protections for Americans who are disabled, just like Greg, from being discriminated against in their workplace and in public accommodations,” Phariss said. “And that is the exact same protection that we seek for ourselves — nothing more, nothing less.“

Of course, Abbott opposes the ADA, too. All of his accommodation needs have been met, so what does he care about anyone else? Enacting NDOs in more cities and eventually at the state and national level are important and need to be done, but as noted before there are other fights as well, including the birth certificate issue for adoptees and transgender folks, transgender issues in general, and just making sure the laws that are on the books now, including marriage quality, get enforced. Towards that end, Sen. Rodney Ellis sent a letter to the DOJ.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, on Monday sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking the department to “monitor the implementation of Obergefell and intervene, if necessary, to ensure that Texas officials do not flout the Supreme Court’s ruling and blatantly discriminate against same sex couples.”

[…]

In his letter, Ellis blasted Paxton for the guidance and said “religion must not be relied upon as an excuse to discriminate and refuse to fulfill the duties of government taxpayer-funded jobs.”

“Where does this end?” he asks. “Will judges be able to argue that they should not have to recognize or authorize divorces if it offends their religious sensibilities? Could a judge refuse to sentence a defendant to the death penalty under his or her belief that ‘thou shalt not kill’ means just that?”

A copy of Sen. Ellis’ letter is here. Slippery slope can be tendentious and sometimes ridiculous, but when the state’s top lawyer encourages local officials to ignore a Supreme Court ruling, it’s hardly unfair to ask these questions. And nothing would make me laugh harder than having DOJ observers camp outside Ken Paxton’s office. All Paxton needs to do to make this go away is promise to obey the law. That may be tricky for a guy with Paxton’s past history to promise, but it is what he needs to do.

Pointless “pastor protection” bill passes House

Whatever.

RedEquality

The House tentatively approved Thursday a bill saying that Texas pastors, churches and religious institutions can’t be sued by private parties or penalized by government for spurning gay weddings.

Many clergy, especially Southern Baptist ministers opposed to gay marriage, have testified they very much need the legal shield.

“Maybe pastors won’t be sued. But we need some protection in case they are,” said Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, bill supporter.

The bill’s critics, though, have expressed skepticism that same-sex couples would try to coerce a reluctant religious leader to officiate at their unions. Even if some did, the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1999 already protect pastors, opponents have said.

Rep. Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and out lesbian, said she hopes the U.S. Supreme Court soon will declare a constitutional right to marry.

If it does, though, Israel said she and her partner of 20 years would never ask to be married by a pastor who interprets the Bible as against loving, same-sex unions.

“Rest assured [we] will not be going to them to bless our union,” she said. “We will be going to someone who loves us and respects us for who we are and how we take care of one another.”

[…]

Estes’ bill would confer legal immunity on clergy and religious institutions if they refused to open facilities, provide services and sell goods to same-sex couples because it would violate “a sincerely held religious belief” to do so.

Rep. Scott Sanford, a McKinney Republican who is a Baptist pastor, filed a companion bill that died in last week’s bill-killing maelstrom before a key House deadline. Sanford also sponsored the Senate-passed version.

Following Sanford’s example, Estes agreed to one change. He deleted a phrase saying clergy and religious institutions could refuse to treat a same-sex marriage “as valid for any purpose.” Bill opponents warned those words could shield, say, a religious hospital from challenge if it barred a spouse legally married to someone of the same sex in another state from making medical decisions for a partner.

See here for the background. The vote was 141-2 in favor. If you’re wondering why it was so lopsided, the Trib has the answer.

“I truly believe that there is space for LGBT justice and religious freedom and this, I feel, is the space for that,” said state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, who has called herself the only openly pan-sexual elected official in the nation.

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said in a speech supporting the bill that she will one day marry her longtime lesbian partner in Texas. Pastors that don’t support their union shouldn’t worry about her trying to get them to conduct the ceremony, she said. SB 2065, Israel argued, would ensure that a clergy member that wants to support the ceremony can.

“This Roman Catholic urges you to vote yes,” Israel said.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Equality Texas withdrew its opposition to the measure and encouraged House Democrats to vote for it.

So there you have it. I don’t know that I’d agree that this bill was worth supporting, but I do agree that it’s likely to not have much effect, something even its most ardent supporters concede. Gotta say, though, when the phrase “sincerely held religious belief” is invoked, the possibility exists for all kinds of unintended consequences to arise. Be careful what you ask for, pastors. Hair Balls has more.

Point/counterpoint on online voter registration

Point.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texans can use www.Texas.gov for nearly 1,000 services, such as applying for concealed handgun licenses and driver records, and renewing driver licenses, vehicle registrations and many state-required professional licenses. It is time to allow Texans to use this proven, secure online portal to register voters.

Online voter registration does not allow online voting. Under the process that has been proposed for our state, Texans with a current Texas drivers license or Department of Public Safety-issued photo ID could electronically register to vote so long as the license and three other identification measures authenticate them to do so.

[…]

The National Council of State Legislatures calls online voter registration a truly bipartisan election issue. A 2014 Pew study reports states have not seen any change in the balance of party affiliation of registered voters following the introduction of online voter registration. States also report no security breaches or voter impersonation. The study further finds online registration applications five times more accurate than paper applications.

The three Texas agencies – Secretary of State’s office, DPS and Department of Information Resources – that would execute online voter registration are confident in their ability. Their representatives testified that registering voters online can work in Texas.

Department of Information Resources Executive Director Todd Kimbriel told the House Elections Committee that the state-contracted Texas.gov vendor processes more than $2 billion in annual payments from taxpayers. Since initiation in 2001, Kimbriel told lawmakers, there have been no security breaches.

An existing Texas.gov platform for voter registration is already in place, used to update residential addresses when a voter moves within a county. To initiate registration online, a person would be required to possess a valid Texas driver license or DPS ID that can only be obtained in person.

More than 60 percent of Texans polled in 2014 favor registering voters online. State Reps. Celia Israel, D-Austin and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, bill authors, agree it’s an opportunity to work together to make our voter registration system more efficient, accurate and cost-effective.

That was written by Elaine Wiant, the president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. The arguments are familiar, and I at least think they’re pretty persuasive.

And counterpoint:

Proponents of online voter registration point out 20 states currently have such systems in place. But that means that 30 states do not. They also point out cost savings with online registration but cannot accurately identify what those would be in Texas.

[…]

The current voter registration system in Texas works and works well. Virtually no case has come to light of someone wanting to register within the applicable deadlines and being unable to do so.

Those who wish to register can exercise several options. Eligible citizens may register at the Texas Department of Public Safety, many social service organizations, local libraries, post offices and any of the 16 Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s branch offices. Potential voters also may print an application from many websites to be completed, signed and mailed.

The Voter Registrar’s experienced and nonpartisan professionals cross check data to ensure accuracy of each application. Officials code voters for the proper voting precinct, verify the data submitted and mail out a voter certificate. This both protects the registration process and provides new voters with relevant information, including the voter’s eligible jurisdictions.

During the most recent federal election, the state’s election management system temporarily shut down on Election Day, almost crippling local voter activity. The Secretary of State’s office is scheduled to undergo a major software upgrade this year. This is long overdue but full of unknowns. It would be very risky to implement a new system for online voter registration with this pending upgrade, especially leading into a presidential election.

That of course is from Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who as we know opposed the bill to enable online voter registration. His arguments are familiar as well, and until that last paragraph above, not terribly persuasive to me. The one part of his case that I do find effective is the reminder about the state’s website problems last November. Add that to the problems that DPS had with the One Sticker rollout, and one can understand why someone like Sullivan might be skeptical about this kind of bill and any assurance from DPS and/or the SOS that they can handle it. That may be a reasonable justification for delaying this implementation, but not for not doing it at all. Just because something works well enough doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be improved. Online voter registration should be the goal, and whatever needs to be done to make it feasible in the next session should be on the to do list. Let’s not have the same debate in 2017.

Online voter registration bill appears to be dead

Alas.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A group of Harris County officials have succeeded in scuttling a bipartisan bill that would have made Texas the 27th state to let citizens register to vote online.

The proposal was co-sponsored by a majority of the House, but stalled in the chamber’s Elections Committee after the Harris County Clerk and the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s offices rallied opposition, arguing it would make Texas more vulnerable to voter fraud, even with the state’s controversial voter ID law.

Rep. Celia Israel, who sponsored the measure as a way to boost voter turnout and save the state millions of dollars, pronounced it dead Friday afternoon.

“Texas wants this. The majority of the people on this floor want this,” said Israel, D-Austin, gesturing to her colleagues. “But I can’t get it out of committee because of some partisan election officers from Harris County.”

[…]

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan, a Republican whose job includes being the county voter registrar, denied that politics played any role in his position. He also denied that officials had organized a unified effort to derail the bill.

“Our state is not ready,” Sullivan said, arguing he had seen glitches from time to time in voter data that made him believe his office was not prepared to integrate information from the Texas Secretary of State and the Department of Public Safety into an electronic system.

Even a small risk of making it easier for fraudsters to falsely register to vote or steal information, or of software being compromised, is not worth the convenience for the few people that would sign up online, he said.

“I have a sworn duty to maintain the integrity of the voter roll,” Sullivan said. “I’ve sworn to do it. I campaigned to do it.”

National groups that have monitored the implementation of online voter registration in other states have dismissed the concerns as unfounded.

“No state with online voter registration has reported fraudulent activity or security breaches occurring through their systems,” according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

Online systems actually reduce fraud, according to the report, by virtually eliminating errors due to poor handwriting and other flaws of paper systems.

See here and here for the background. I don’t get this at all, and based on the reporting I’ve seen the objections seem a lot like foot-dragging to me. But perhaps there is a way to shed some light on this.

Sullivan, who said he opposed a similar measure last session, could see himself supporting online voter registration if his questions about voter data are addressed.

“I consider myself open to new technology, I consider myself open to new ways of doing business,” he said Saturday. “It would be a mischaracterization to say that I am forever opposed to online voter registration.”

I would have expected Mike Sullivan to be open to new technology, so I was disappointed to see that he opposed this bill. I wanted to understand why he took this position, so I emailed him to ask about it. He respectfully declined to comment, however, so for now at least we are left with speculation. Whatever the basis for this is, I hope we can get past it next time.

Not everyone likes the idea of online voter registration

And most of them are from Harris County.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A House panel got a taste late Monday of the deep skepticism toward bringing online voter registration to Texas, skepticism coming from at least one population-rich part of the state.

It was mostly shared by a handful of Harris County officials who expressed concerns the practice could compromise voter privacy and lead to fraud at the ballot box. Some members of the House Elections Committee took note of the common thread, and Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, ended its meeting by cautioning her colleagues against letting the “negative comments of one county in the state of Texas rule the evening.”

The panel nonetheless heard praise for two pieces of legislation, House Bill 76 and House Bill 953, both with the same purpose: adding Texas to the list of 20 states that already let its citizens sign up to vote online. The committee left both bills pending late Monday.

Israel touted her HB-76 as a sign of the bipartisan support the idea enjoys under the dome, pointing out it has several dozen co-authors from both parties. Rep. Carol Alvarado, the Houston Democrat sponsoring HB-953, pitched it as a way of curbing the government waste that comes with paper registration, which is costlier and more labor-intensive than the online alternative.

“This bill is about efficient government. It’s about cutting wasteful spending,” said Alvarado, who has estimated Texas could save more than $11 million by ditching paper registration.

Alvarado had some back-up from several speakers including Samuel Derheimer of The Pew Charitable Trusts. He cited recent polling from the organization that showed more than 60 percent of Texans support online voter registration, and a third think the state already has it.

Among those from Harris County opposing the bills were Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan, Ed Johnson of the County Clerk’s Office and Alan Vera, chairman of the Ballot Security Committee of the Harris County GOP.

“Our current system works, and it works well,” said Sullivan, who like the two other speakers from Harris County expressed unease with the security of the state software that would handle registration.

Vera added that online sign-up could make it easier for voters to be impersonated at the polls, saying the “main fuel for voter fraud is registered voters who don’t show up to vote.”

See here for the background. Someone is going to have to explain to me what Alan Vera is talking about, because what he said makes no sense to me. To all those people who say they’re worried about fraud, I have to ask: Isn’t this the stated rationale for passing voter ID legislation? I mean, I could submit a registration request for Mickey Mouse, but unless someone shows up at the ballot box with one of the very few legally accepted forms of photo ID showing that he is in fact Mickey Mouse, what good would it do? I don’t see what the problem is here.

What about voting by mail? You don’t need a photo ID for that. That’s true. It’s also true that opponents of voter ID have made that exact same point about a billion times since the state GOP decided to push voter ID laws beginning in 2007. If you are concerned about the possibility of fraud via mail ballot, then you should discuss these concerns with your state legislators, since they most pointedly did not address any of those concerns in the voter ID law that they passed back in 2011. I’ll leave it to you to review the history of the voter ID fight to understand why the focus of that bill was entirely on in person voting and not at all on absentee voting.

But look, sooner or later we are going to transition from our current methods of voting, with the increasingly archaic and outdated machines we use now, to something more modern and in tune with the way people live their lives these days. Which is to say, we will do this via mobile technology. For sure, that introduces risks and security challenges. Believe me, I do that sort of thing for a living, I get that. If you think there aren’t glaring security holes in the systems we use now, you’ve got your head in the sand. We can choose to work with the technology of today and the emerging tech of tomorrow and meet those challenges head on, or we can pretend that what we’re doing now will be good enough forever and resist all attempts to change. I know which path I would prefer to take.

Let the budgetary games begin

The House takes up the budget today, with over 300 amendments and riders queued up for votes. A couple of things to watch for as the debate goes on:

Killing vouchers.

BagOfMoney

Lawmakers in the Texas House will have a chance to draw a line in the sand over private school vouchers during the upcoming battle over the budget Tuesday.

An amendment filed by state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi, would ban the use of state dollars to fund private education for students in elementary through high schools, including through so-called tax credit scholarships.

If passed, the measure — one of more than 350 budget amendments covering topics from border security to abortion up for House consideration — would deliver a blow to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

[…]

If Herrero’s amendment fails, it would represent a dramatic change in sentiment for the chamber, which overwhelmingly passed a similar budget amendment during the 2013 legislative session. Patrick, a Houston Republican who served as state senator before taking office as lieutenant governor in January, led that chamber’s education panel at the time.

Rep. Herrero’s amendment from 2013 passed by a 103-43 vote. Neither Speaker Straus nor Public Ed Chair Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock is any more pro-voucher than they were last year, and neither is Dan Patrick any more beloved, so you have to feel pretty good about the chances this time, though it’s best not to count your amendments till they pass. If it does, that won’t fully drive a stake through vouchers’ cold, greedy heart for the session, but it’ll be a solid blow against them.

“Alternatives To Abortion”

As the Texas House prepares for a floor fight Tuesday over its budget, a flurry of amendments filed by Democrats seeks to defund the state’s Alternatives to Abortion program.

A group of Democratic lawmakers filed more than a dozen amendments to either reduce or eliminate funding for the program, which provides “pregnancy and parenting information” to low-income women. Under the program, the state contracts with the Texas Pregnancy Care Network, a nonprofit charity organization with a network of crisis pregnancy resource centers that provide counseling and adoption assistance.

Since September 2006, the program has served roughly 110,000 clients. The network features 60 provider locations, including crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes and adoption agencies.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, said she filed an amendment to defund the entire program because the state is giving more money to “coerce women” into a “political ideology instead of providing information and services” at a time when Texas women’s access to health services is being reduced.

The proposed House budget allocates $9.15 million a year to the program in 2016 and 2017 — up from $5.15 million in the last budget.

“I think it’s troublesome that here we are going to almost double funding for a program that has not proven to be successful in any way,” said Farrar, chairwoman of the Women’s Health Caucus in the House. An additional amendment by Farrar would require an audit of the program.

Several House Democrats filed similar amendments, including Borris Miles of Houston, Celia Israel of Austin and Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, whose amendments would transfer more than $8 million from the Alternatives to Abortion program to family planning services and programs for people with disabilities.

“These facilities have very little regulation, no accountability and no requirement to offer actual medical services,” Turner said, adding that funding could be used for other medical programs. “My amendments are an attempt to address our state’s real priorities and needs.”

Two Republicans, meanwhile, filed measures to boost the program’s funding.

I don’t expect Dems to win this fight, but it’s a fight worth having.

Other women’s health funding issues

The state currently administers three similar women’s health programs that cover things like annual well woman exams, birth control and cancer screenings for low-income women.

The newest program, the Expanded Primary Health Care Program, created in 2013, is slated to get the funding bump, bringing the total for women’s health services in the House version of the budget to about $130 million per year.

Here is the breakdown of funding for each program:

  • Texas Women’s Health Program: $34.9 million in 2016, $35.1 million in 2017
  • Expanded Primary Health Care Program: $73.4 million in 2016, $73.4 million in 2017
  • Family planning program administered by Department of State Health Services: $21.4 million in 2016, $21.4 million in 2017

In 2011, motivated by a never-ending quest to defund Planned Parenthood, the Texas Legislature slashed family planning funding by nearly $70 million, leaving about $40 million for preventive and contraceptive services for low-income women. A recent study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project, a research group that studies the effects of family planning budget cuts, found that more than 100,000 women lost services after the 2011 cuts and 82 family planning clinics closed. In 2013, the Legislature restored the $70 million and put it into the newly created Expanded Primary Health Care Program, which became a separate item in the state budget. Still, advocates and providers have consistently fought for more money, arguing that the state is only serving one-third of women eligible to receive services.

[…]

Here is a list of other women’s health amendments and riders to watch for:

  • State Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) filed an amendment that would allow teenagers who are 15 to 17 years old and already mothers to get contraception without their parents’ consent. Right now, state law requires that all teenagers under the age of 18 get their parent’s permission for birth control. The amendment mirrors Gonzalez’s House Bill 468, which she presented to the House State Affairs Committee in mid-March.
  • State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) has proposed a rider that would ensure sex education programs teach “medically accurate” information to public school students.
  • State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) proposes adding even more money to the Alternatives to Abortion program by taking almost $7 million from the Commission on Environmental Quality.
  • A House budget rider by state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) protects the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program that provides breast and cervical cancer screenings for uninsured women, under attack this session by conservative lawmakers hell bent on, you guessed it, defunding Planned Parenthood.

Some possible winners in there – in a decent world, Rep. Gonzalez’s bill would be a no-brainer – but again, fights worth having. Rep. Sarah Davis has received some liberal adulation this session for trying to do good on women’s health issues. That budget rider will be a test of whether she can actually move some of her colleagues or not.

Public education

An amendment by the House’s lead budget writer, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto would allocate $800 million more to certain public schools as part of a plan announced last week to diminish the inequities that exist among districts under the current funding scheme.

[…]

At the news conference Monday, Austin state Rep. Donna Howard said at least 20 percent of public schools still will receive less per-student funding than they did in 2011 under the proposal. That year, state lawmakers cut $5.4 billion from public education, restoring about $3.4 billion two years later.

“We aren’t keeping up as it is,” Howard said.

She also noted the plan also does not include the $130 million that had been earmarked for a bill containing Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to bolster pre-K programs — an amount she described as insufficient considering it does fully restore funding to a pre-K grant program gutted in 2011.

Howard has filed a budget amendment that would allocate $300 million for pre-K.

Pre-K is one of Greg Abbott’s priorities this session, but his proposal is small ball. Rep. Howard’s amendment has a chance, but we’ll see if Abbott’s office gets involved.

And finally, same sex benefits, because of course there is.

Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) is again trying to bar Texas school districts from offering benefits to the same-sex partners of employees.

Springer has introduced a budget amendment that would eliminate state funding for districts that violate the Texas Constitution, which prohibits recognition of same-sex partnerships.

The amendment is similar to a bill Springer authored two years ago, which cleared committee but was never considered on the floor. Under Springer’s budget amendment, the education commissioner, in consultation with the attorney general, would decide whether districts have violated the Constitution. Districts would have 60 days to correct the problem.

According to Equality Texas, Springer’s amendment is aimed at the Austin, Pflugerville and San Antonio school districts, which offer “plus-one” benefits that are inclusive of same-sex partners. But the group says those benefits are in line with a 2013 opinion from former Attorney General Greg Abbott, which found that such programs are only illegal if they create or recognize a status similar to marriage.

Yes, as noted, Rep. Springer has tried to meddle in this area before. I admit, I’m more worried about a budget amendment this year than a bill in 2013. Keep a close eye on that one.

Not a good session for equality

I know, duh, right?

RedEquality

Texas lawmakers have filed at least 20 anti-LGBT proposals this year—likely the most in the history of any state.

It’s the type of onslaught that was widely expected among LGBT advocates, due to backlash over the spread of same-sex marriage.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said the group is “well-positioned” to defeat every piece of anti-LGBT legislation. Williams called it the worst session for LGBT rights since 2005—when the state’s marriage amendment passed and a proposal to ban gay foster parents was defeated on the House floor.

But things have changed since then, he said, pointing to the Texas Association of Business’ decision to oppose one well-publicized anti-LGBT proposal—a “religious freedom” amendment that would protect discrimination—prompting its author to back down.

“What’s different about this Legislature than 2005 is that Texas, like most of the nation, has evolved on LGBT issues, and that mainstream voice is emerging and is being heard in the Texas Legislature,” Williams said. “It damages the Texas brand, and I think that’s why you’re seeing so many business voices get involved. … We also know how this process works better than our opposition does.”

Williams wouldn’t elaborate on strategy, but out lesbian Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) suggested the best one may simply be to run out the clock.

“I feel good about our chances of stopping it, because there are so many major issues out there, that these small hateful and divisive bills will get pushed to the back of the agenda,” Israel said. “We’re going to run out of time, and we will be able to make a statement that there’s no place for that kind of law in the state of Texas.”

I should point out that Daniel Williams also posted this on Facebook:

Thirty-two pro-LGBT bills filed in the Texas legislature this session, more than we’ve ever had before, by more authors than we’ve ever had before; the most vocal, most educated, most diverse group of supporters we’ve ever had in office… and the national organizations, who seemed to have finally understood that Texas has a function other than serving as an ATM, can only howl about the bad bills – inviting people who don’t live here to add their snide comments about my home.

I don’t want to ignore or gloss over that, because it is a big deal and this isn’t 2005 any more. It’s better in some ways and worse in others. Having said that, I do remain concerned. Running out the clock is a good strategy, but it only works when the end of the legislative session really is the end of legislators being in Austin. We had too many special sessions under Rick Perry – remember, the awful HB2 passed during a special session – for me to feel confident. Maybe Greg Abbott will be different in that regard, but I expect him to come under some pressure, especially around the time SCOTUS issues a ruling on same sex marriage. The recount of signatures in the HERO repeal petition case – which we’re surely going to get Any Day Now, right? – will also be a pressure point. I hate to be a negative nellie, but I will not rest quietly until the coast really is clear.

And just to rub a little salt in it:

Barely two months after a federal judge struck down Texas’ hair-braiding regulations, a move to erase the unconstitutional statute already has bipartisan support. Not so for Texas’ anti-sodomy law, which remains on the books a dozen years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

“Absolutely, there is a difference,” said Rep. James White, R-Hillister, who has filed a bill to do away with the braiding statute but wants to keep a similarly illegal law that criminalizes homosexual sex.

The braiding regulation, he said, “was a way of disenfranchising them out of the marketplace. I don’t necessarily think this was the case with sodomy.”

A federal judge in January struck down the state law requiring those who teach hair braiding to get barbers’ licenses and submit to other onerous regulations. Four lawmakers, two Republicans and two Democrats, since have filed bills to remove the unconstitutional statute from the books.

A Texas law criminalizing “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex” is likely to remain on the books, however, even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2003.

“By leaving this provision in the law, it’s insulting to Texans in the (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) community,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who has filed legislation to do away with the statute. “It’s inconsistent, bordering on hypocritical to say one should remove something that’s been struck down … and not remove other statutes and language that has been struck down.”

[…]

Texas has dozens of these unconstitutional laws still on the books, but the more politically sensitive ones have little chance of being removed, said Tulane University constitutional law professor Keith Werhan.

“That’s pretty common,” said Werhan of states’ tendencies to leave these laws alone. “Basically, part of it is going to be inertia and part of it is maybe more willful in some areas. This may fall into the willful area.”

Yeah, I’d say “willful” is a good word. Some attitudes haven’t changed since Molly Ivins was there to document them. Again, there’s a lot to be optimistic about as well, as Daniel’s post makes clear. But haters are still going to hate.

Bill filing deadline has passed

Believe it or not, we are almost halfway through the legislative session, and we have now passed the point where new bills can be filed.

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

Racing to beat a deadline for filing bills, state lawmakers on Friday submitted hundreds of measures on everything from abolishing the death penalty to the licensing of auctioneers.

By the time the dust settled, 928 bills had been filed in the state House and Senate on Friday, setting the chambers up for a busy second half of the legislative session.

“Now, it’s game on,” longtime lobbyist Bill Miller said.

In all, some 8,000 measures are now before the 84th Legislature, including 4,114 House bills, 1,993 Senate bills and 1,771 resolutions.

[…]

The most high-profile bill filed Friday was an ethics reform package supported by Gov. Greg Abbott that long had been expected to be submitted by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano. Abbott had declared ethics reform a legislative emergency item during his State of the State address last month.

Taylor’s proposal, known as Senate Bill 19 and also backed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require state officials to disclose contracts with governmental entities, prohibit lawmakers from serving as bond counsel for local and state governments and make departing legislators and statewide elected officials wait one legislative session before becoming lobbyists.

“There is no more valuable bond in democracy than the trust the people have with their government,” Taylor said in a statement. “The common-sense ethics reform outlined in Senate Bill 19 will strengthen that bond and send a clear message to the people of Texas that there is no place in government for those who betray the trust given to them by the voters.”

Tax policy also was a common theme, with [Rep. Dennis] Bonnen submitting his hotly anticipated proposal to cut business and sales taxes.

The Senate, which in some ways has been moving faster than the House, already has debated several tax proposals, and the issue is expected to be a priority focus of the session.

The Trib highlights a few bills of interest.

— House Ways and Means Chairman Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, filed his long-awaited proposals to cut the rates for both the margins tax paid by businesses and the broader state sales tax. The margins tax bill, House Bill 32, is identical to one filed by Senate Finance Chairwoman Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound. The measures should draw the House more into the tax cut debate this session, which until now has been focused more on the Senate, where Nelson has already held hearings on some high-profile measures.

— Several measures filed Friday aimed at allowing Texas to change its approach to immigration, even as broader proposals stall in Washington.

House Bill 3735 by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, seeks to establish a partnership with the federal government to establish a guest-worker program to bring skilled and unskilled labor to Texas.

House Bill 3301 by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, would recognize undocumented Texans as “citizens” of the state. It would allow them to apply for driver’s licenses, occupational licenses and state IDs if they meet certain residency criteria and are can verify their identity.

“It also opens the door for future conversations about the very real fact that these Texans without status are here, they are not leaving, and we should be doing everything we can to help them find employment, housing and opportunity,” said Laura Stromberg Hoke, Rodriguez’s chief of staff.

— House Bill 3401 by state Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler, seeks to establish an interstate compact between interested states for the detection, apprehension and prosecution of undocumented immigrants.

— Looking to add restrictions on abortion, state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker, filed House Bill 3765 to beef up the state’s informed consent laws when it comes to minors. Texas law already requires patients seeking an abortion to go through the informed consent process, but Laubenberg’s bill would require notarized consent from a minor and a minor’s parent before an abortion is performed.

— House Bill 3785 from Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, would permit patients with cancer, seizure disorders, PTSD and other conditions to medical marijuana. The measure is broader than other bills filed this session that would only allow low-level THC oils to be used on intractable seizure patients.

— The National Security Agency might have some trouble in Texas if Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, gets his way. House Bill 3916 would make it illegal for any public entities to provide water or electric utility services to NSA data collection centers in the state.

— State Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Port Arthur, filed a pair of measures, House Bill 3839 and House Joint Resolution 142, which would ask voters to approve the creation of as many as nine casinos. Under Deshotel’s plan, most of the casinos would be built near the Texas coast, and a large portion of the tax revenue would go toward shoring up the troubled Texas Windstorm Insurance Association, the insurer of last resort for coastal Texans.

— In an effort to pave the way for a Medicaid expansion solution that would get the support of conservatives, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed House Bill 3845 to request a block grant from the federal government to reform the program and expand health care coverage for low-income Texans. Though GOP leaders have said they won’t expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, they’ve asked the feds for more flexibility to administer the program. Coleman’s proposal, titled the “The Texas Way,” intends to give the state more wiggle room while still drawing some Republican support.

Here’s a Statesman story about the casino bills. There’s been a distinct lack of noise around gambling expansion this session, which is change from other recent sessions. I suspect Rep. Deshotel’s proposals will go the way of those previous ones, but at least there’s a new angle this time.

Here’s a press release from Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) in favor of the medical marijuana bill from Rep. Marquez; there is a not-yet-numbered companion bill to HB3785 in the Senate, filed by Sen. Jose Menendez, as well. Two other, more limited, medical marijuana bills, the so-called “Texas Compassionate Use Act”, were filed in February. I don’t know which, if any, will have a chance of passage. I will note that RAMP has been admirably bipartisan in its praise of bills that loosen marijuana laws. Kudos to them for that.

If you’re annoyed at Jodie Laubenberg going after reproductive choice again, it might help a little to know that Rep. Jessica Farrar filed HB 3966 to require some accountability for so-called “crisis pregnancy centers’. Her press release is here.

I am particularly interested in Rep. Coleman’s “Texas Way” Medicaid expansion bill. (A companion bill, SB 1039, was filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez.) I have long considered “block grant” to be dirty words in connection with Medicaid, so to say the least I was a little surprised to receive Rep. Coleman’s press release. I have complete faith in Rep. Coleman, so I’m sure this bill will move things in the direction he’s been pushing all along, but at this point I don’t understand the details well enough to explain what makes this bill different from earlier block grant proposals. I’ve sent an email to his office asking for more information. In the meantime, you can read Sen. Rodriguez’s press release and this Legislative Study Group coverage expansion policy paper for more.

Finally, one more bill worth highlighting:

The proposal introduced by out lesbian Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) would prohibit mental health providers in Texas from attempting to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people under 18. Those who violate the law would face disciplinary action from state licensing boards.

Israel acknowledged that House Bill 3495 has little chance of passing the Republican-dominated Legislature, and it wouldn’t apply to faith-based practitioners, but she said it’s an important response to the Texas GOP’s 2014 platform plank endorsing reparative therapy.

“I don’t think that they recognize how hurtful these kinds of things can be,” Israel told the Observer. “To suggest that some young kid that happens to be gay is less than normal is very hurtful and harmful and dangerous, and I think I put myself back in those years when I was first discovering who I was. … I felt strongly about introducing a bill that was a counter to that, to say, ‘We don’t need fixing. We just need your love.’”

Virtually all of the major medical and mental health organizations have come out against reparative therapy, from the American Psychological Association to the American Medical Association and the American Counseling Association.

I agree that this bill isn’t going anywhere, but as I’ve been saying, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have been filed. Good on Rep. Israel for doing what’s right. Equality Texas has more.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

As of Monday afternoon, a bill repealing the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition rates, had yet to emerge. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick promised while campaigning that he would work to repeal the act. The bill could part of legislation that is reserved for priorities set by the lieutenant governor.

All bills can be seen on the Texas Legislature site. Here’s a list of other noteworthy legislation filed Monday: 

Guns

State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and James White, R-Woodville, filed legislation, House Bill 106 and House Bill 164, respectively, that would allow Texans to openly carry handheld guns. 

House Bill 176, filed by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, would create the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which would say a federal law “that infringes on a law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 23, Article I, Texas Constitution, is invalid and not enforceable in this state.” 

Transportation

Senate Joint Resolution 12 and Senate Bill 139, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would eliminate diversions from the state highway fund to the Department of Public Safety to ensure those funds are only used on road construction. Currently, part of the state highway fund is paying for state highway police. 

Health

Senate Bill 66, filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would require schools to stock EpiPens, and that employees are trained in how to use the medical devices that combat serious allergic reactions.

Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 97, also filed by Hinojosa, would introduce regulations of vapor products, or  e-cigarettes, in Texas. SB 96 prohibits the use of vapor products on school property, while SB 97 would apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products.

House Bill 113, filed by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would make it illegal to perform an abortion based on the sex of the child.

House Bill 116, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. 

Education

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed several higher education related bills. Senate Bill 24 would increase the orientation training for university system regents, while Senate Bill 42 would prevent the governor from appointing a student regent if that person did not submit an application to the university or its student government. Senate Bill 23, also filed by Zaffirini, would make pre-kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds in Texas and make half-day pre-K available to 3-year olds who meet certain at-risk measures.

Senate Bill 150, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would fund 64 construction and renovation projects at higher education institutions across the state. It would cost $2.86 billion.

House Bill 138, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would stop independent school districts from banning schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. 

Voting

House Bill 76, filed by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would allow citizens to register to vote online. 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed three bills in an attempt to increase civic engagement in Texas. Senate Bill 141 would create a voter education program in Texas high schools, Senate Bill 142 would allow deputy registrars to receive their training online, and Senate Bill 143 would notify voters who were rejected while registering of what mistakes they made on their registration forms. 

House Bill 111, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would create same-day voter registration. 

Energy and Environment

Senate Bill 109, filed by Sen.-elect Van Taylor, R-Plano, establishes new deadlines for processing water rights permits in Texas. In a statement on Monday, Taylor said the bill was aimed at bureaucracy that is preventing parts of North Texas from accessing water.

House Bill 224, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the “Texas Energy Resources Commission.” Similar legislation has failed in the past.

Other

House Bill 55, filed by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, would allow money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to go to veterans hospitals in the state. The Texas Enterprise Fund became embroiled in controversy this past election season, when it was revealed that several recipients of the fund never formally submitted applications.

House Bill 92, filed by Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would change the legal definition of an “illegal knife.” 

House Bill 150, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would nix daylight savings time in Texas.

House Bill 161, filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would allow counties to house prisoners in tents.  

There’s plenty more, some good, some bad, some bat$#!+ crazy, some blatantly unconstitutional, many with no hope of ever getting a committee hearing. As always, I’ll do what I can to keep track of ’em as we go. The Chron, Stace, Grits, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

Celia Israel wins HD50 special election runoff

Congrats, Rep.-elect Celia Israel.

Rep. Celia Israel

In the special runoff election for District 50 in the Texas House, Democrat Celia Israel took the lead after early voting.

Israel, a Realtor, earned 58.8 percent of the early vote, and Republican Mike VanDeWalle, a chiropractor, took 41.1 percent. The total number of ballots cast during the early voting period, which ran four days last week, was 4,541, or 4.67 percent of all register voters in the northern Travis County district.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday, and hour later than normal. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir successfully petitioned a local district judge earlier in the day to grant a request for the additional hour of voting because of inclement weather and the closing of eight of 36 polling places that operated out of schools that were closed due to bad weather.

The special election in District 50 took place to replace former state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, who resigned last year to lead Google Fiber in Austin.

The final total is here. Israel wound up with 60.2% 59.4% of the vote. And yes, turnout was pathetic. The weather obviously played a part of that, but there were other factors, too.

Turnout during early voting was extraordinarily low. Just 4.5 percent of eligible voters cast early ballots in the election — about half as many as in the last special election runoff in Travis County, according to the county clerk’s office.

Supporters of both campaigns have acknowledged the awkward timing of both early voting and election day. Early voting began last Tuesday, one day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and ended Friday, when polls opened five hours late because of icy weather.

So there were only four days of early voting instead of the usual five – really, more like three and a half days of early voting. And this runoff occurred during the heat of the primaries, three weeks before early voting for that begins. I think people could be forgiven if they took their eye off the ball a bit on this one. Such downward pressure on turnout can sometimes cause bizarre results, which would have been greatly magnified given the subtext of this election.

[Jeremy] Bird is one of the founders of Battleground Texas, a group dedicated to making this Republican stronghold competitive for Democrats. Celia Israel’s race for an open seat in the state House of Representatives is not expected to be difficult considering the district has historically voted for Democrats.

“It’s nice to have a special election and a little bit of a test,” Bird said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Identifying, engaging and turning out voters will help the Israel campaign now and (gubernatorial candidate) Wendy Davis, (lieutenant governor candidate) Leticia Van de Putte and other Democrats in November. Not only are people more likely to turn out to vote again, but the results will give us a chance to check our voter model and fine tune it for the election.”

[…]

On Saturday, Israel’s volunteers each had a list of homes to visit where Battleground’s research showed a reliably Democratic voter could be found. The volunteers were given a recommended script to follow, including thanking the prospective voter, asking whether the person would be willing to volunteer, and taking down an email address.

The data collected by Battleground staff, combined with publicly available voter records, is critical to the group’s strategy to identify, register and recruit the 2 million Democrats they estimate are not voting in Texas elections.

“Data collected from personal conversations is much more effective for predicting who people will support and at what level they’ll participate,” Bird said.

Israel is running against tea party Republican Mike VanDeWalle, but few voters know about the election, so Battleground’s help in getting out the vote is critical. Battleground Texas volunteers have knocked on over 14,000 doors over two weeks, Bird said.

“Battleground Texas is not just a political slogan, it’s a political muscle, and we’re going to use it in 2014,” Israel said.

The final total in this election was far less than 14,000 votes, but the weather was a big factor in that. That cut both ways, however, and in the end Israel’s vote percentage was quite good. Here’s how she compared to the top scoring Democrat in HD50 going back to 2002:

2012 results
2010 results
2008 results
2006 results
2004 results
2002 results

Year High D High D% ========================== 2014SpR Israel 59.4% 2012 Obama 57.8% 2010 White 55.9% 2008 Obama 60.3% 2006 Moody 58.7% 2004 Molina 51.2% 2002 Sharp 54.3%

Note that Bill White and Bill Moody both outperformed the rest of the Dem ticket in their year by several points, and in all three off years several Republicans carried HD50. If 2008-level performance is the norm in other State Rep districts this fall, I’ll be plenty happy, and so I suspect will Jeremy Bird. For the record, I don’t think this special election runoff is a harbinger of any kind for November. It’s nice, but it’s one little data point. That said, if Israel had struggled to win, or even worse if she had lost, you could have wallpapered Reliant Stadium with the collected writings of every damn pundit, blogger, and assorted loudmouth in the state blathering on about how this portended doom for the Dems and proved Battleground Texas was a sham. I think I’m entitled to point out that Israel and BGTX easily met expectations, at the least. And now Rep.-elect Israel gets to do it again in November, against the same Republican opponent. I’ve made it this far without mentioning that Rep.-elect Israel becomes the second out gay member of the Legislature, joining Rep. Mary Gonzalez of El Paso, so I’ll rectify that here; see Lone Star Q and the Dallas Voice for more on that. Congratulations, Rep.-elect Celia Israel, and best of luck to you in November.

UPDATE: When I wrote this post last night, the Travis County results page had been updated at 9:13 PM, and the cumulative totals page showed 39 of 39 precincts completed, with Israel at 60.2% of the vote. It also showed that all of 700 votes had been cast on Tuesday, but who was I to argue with that? In any event, a 10:23 PM update shows 5807 votes cast on Tuesday, with Celia Israel now receiving 59.42% of the overall total. That’s down a bit from what she had as of the 9:13 update, but still a higher percentage than any other Democrat other than President Obama in 2008 (former Rep. Mark Strama was unopposed in 2012, the only year in which he ran under the new boundaries), so my point about how she and BGTX did in this race remains.

LaCroix files in SD15

Damian LaCroix

As of the Monday candidate filing update from the HCDP, Damian LaCroix has made official his primary challenge to Sen. John Whitmire in SD15. He announced his challenge in August, and what I said at that time still holds true for me as a voter in SD15 – I’m not interested in making a change unless it’s a clear upgrade, and so far I don’t see any evidence of that. I intend to interview both candidates for the primary, so we’ll all get a chance to learn more at that time.

Other than the District Attorney race and a rerun in CD07, this is the only other local Democratic primary action of which I am aware. There are of course several statewide primaries – Wendy Davis has an opponent, Kinky Friedman will square off against some guy named Jim Hogan for Ag Commissioner, and there are now four candidates for US Senate with the entries of David Alameel and a dentist from Odessa named HyeTae “Harry” Kim – but not that much in the legislative primary department. There are two open seats, HD50, where Celia Israel appears to have a clear path in March to try to succeed Mark Strama – she’s in a runoff for the special election right now – and HD23, where I have no idea who has filed to try to succeed Rep. Craig Eiland. Seriously, does anyone know anything about this one? There are several potential candidates, I just haven’t heard if any of them has actually filed or even announced. State Rep. Marisa Marquez of El Paso, who caught some (deserved) flak for backing Republican Dee Margo in his failed re-election bid against Rep. Joe Moody, has an opponent. She’s the only House incumbent I’m aware of who’s been challenged.

There are also two new Democratic House challengers on the scene – Laura Nicol in HD133, and Amy Perez in HD150. These are obviously two tough districts, but it’s good to see new faces and it’s especially good to see more Democratic women running for office.

There are still plenty of offices for which no one has filed as a Democrat. Texpatriate bemoans the lack of candidates in Tarrant County, despite its higher profile this year. In Harris County, there are three races to watch. One is County Judge, where Ed Emmett so far appears to be getting a free ride. I’m a believer in running everywhere, but it’s hard to get too worked up about that. Emmett does a good job, he has a ton of goodwill still from his performance during Hurricane Ike, and he’d be tough to beat. Given that this may be his last term, I’m fine with concentrating on other races, like DA and County Clerk. County Commissioner Precinct 2 is harder to swallow. Glorice McPherson has said she’s running against first term Commissioner Jack Morman, but she hasn’t filed yet and she’s unlikely to raise the kind of money needed to mount a serious challenge. Precinct 2 was very competitive in 2012, but that was under the old map, and we don’t know how it will perform in an off year, even one with as much promise as this one. Still, giving Morman a free ride, or just an easy ride, would be a big disappointment. Finally, as BOR notes, Rep. Harold Dutton still hasn’t filed in HD142. He’s the last holdout among Democratic legislative incumbents, and a last-minute retirement announcement is not out of the question. The deadline is December 9, and that’s sure to be a busy day. What are you hearing out there?

Election results: Texas

Short and sweet: All nine constitutional amendments passed, all by substantial margins. Here’s The Observer on Prop 6.

The Texas Water Development Board will now oversee a $2 billion water bank, seeded with capital from the Rainy Day Fund, to help pay for water supply projects and water conservation across the state. The large margin of victory is testimony to the growing public awareness of the state’s serious water problems. (And so much for those silly predictions that “the rain” would dampen enthusiasm at the polls.)

Boosters, including many of the industrial interests that have the most to lose from water scarcity, did a good job positioning Prop 6 as the solution. The message was basically, “Want to do something about our water problems? Here’s the solution. Got a better idea?”

I did notice that a few rural East Texas counties posted large margins against Prop 6. Of course, that’s where the water is and the people aren’t. It’s not unreasonable for East Texans to worry that a multi-billion-dollar water bank will fund projects to move water from east to west. Indeed, they need only look at Dallas’ official plans. In Red River County, where the long-contested Marvin Nichols Reservoir is proposed, the vote on Prop 6 was 57 percent opposed to 43 percent in favor.

Gov. Rick Perry hailed Prop 6’s passage. “Today, the people of Texas made history, ensuring we’ll have the water we need to grow and thrive for the next five decades, without raising state taxes.”

Most large environmental groups supported Prop 6, in large part because of a target that at least 20 percent of the funding from the state water bank will go toward conservation and water reuse projects. Ken Kramer, the former director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, was instrumental in lining up the conservation earmark and was one of the most persuasive voices in favor of Prop 6. He celebrated the victory tonight but sounded a note of caution too.

“Now the real work begins,” Kramer said in a statement. “Texans need to become actively involved in regional water planning and in local government water supply decisions to make sure that the potential for Prop 6 to advance water conservation and enhance water planning is achieved.”

That more or less sums it up for me. See here for more about the other amendments, if you’ve already forgotten what they are.

The only other result of interest is the special election in HD50 to fill out the remainder of former Rep. Mark Strama’s term.

Republican Mike VanDeWalle and Democrat Celia Israel advanced to a runoff Tuesday in the race to replace state Rep. Mark Strama in the Texas House.

Incomplete returns showed VanDeWalle with nearly 39 percent to Democrat Celia Israel’s 32 percent. Democrats Jade Chang Sheppard and Rico Reyes were far behind in the Democrat-leaning district that covers parts of North Austin and eastern Travis County.

Celia Israel is backed by the Victory Fund and would join Rep. Mary Gonzalez as the second LGBT member of the Legislature if she wins. Of course, even if she survives the runoff she would still have to win a Democratic primary in March and then the 2014 general election. Regardless, I’ll be rooting for her in December.