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Eddie Lucio

The bathroom bill would affect disabled people, too

Yet another problem caused by this harmful “solution”.

As lawmakers this summer debate yet another controversial measure regulating bathroom use based on biological sex, disabled Texans say they — like many transgender men and women — believe the Legislature is further complicating something that’s already difficult to navigate.

On Tuesday, the Texas Senate advanced Senate Bill 3, which would restrict bathroom use in local government buildings and public schools based on the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate or DPS-issued ID, and gut parts of local nondiscrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people to use public bathrooms of their choice.

The bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, argues her measure is meant to protect privacy in the bathroom and would dissuade sexual predators from taking advantage of trans-inclusive bathrooms policies.

But for many caretakers and disabled Texans, the issue goes much deeper. Rosanna Armendariz said she fears if a “bathroom bill” passes, people might think her [8-year-old autistic] son is breaking the law — even though the Senate’s version of the measure exempts people with disabilities.

“As my son gets older, someone might get upset and call the police if they see him in the women’s room,” she said. “It’s horrifying to think me or my disabled son could be subject to criminal prosecution just for using the toilet.”

In an effort to address this exact issue, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, tacked an amendment on to Kolkhorst’s bill on Tuesday exempting disabled Texans from having to use the bathroom matching their biological sex.

Advocates for the disabled say it’s not enough: Not all disabilities are obvious, and even with Lucio’s amendment, they say, a person with a disability would be forced to prove they have one.

“When you look at the word ‘disability,’ it covers a very broad scope of people — from mental illness to physical disabilities to someone who might be in a wheelchair,” said Chase Bearden, director of advocacy and engagement for the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. “You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

It should be noted that the version of SB3 that was introduced contained no exemptions for people with disabilities, not even the exemptions that had been in the bathroom bill that the Senate passed during the regular session. “Because of some of the signals we received from the governor’s office, we left [those exemptions] out” was how bill author Sen. Lois Kolkhorst described it. That’s some kid of compassion and empathy right there. The point here is that even with this exemption, the bill is still bad for people with disabilities because it further singles them out and increases the burden on them. It’s bad for a lot of people, in a lot of different ways. I keep thinking we’re going to run out of ways to say that, and then we keep finding new ones.

“It’s harder to paint us as monsters when there’s a human face on it”

Words of wisdom from one very dedicated and engaged citizen.

Stephanie Martinez

Monday marked Stephanie Martinez’s 12th time participating in a lobby day hosted by Equality Texas at the Capitol. But this session, in response to Senate Bill 6, the 48-year-old transgender woman from Austin felt compelled to do more.

After waiting 16 hours to testify against the anti-trans “bathroom bill” during a Senate committee hearing March 7, Martinez called the offices of all 31 senators to encourage them to vote against SB 6.

She said she was “shocked” when she received a return phone call from the office of Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, the lone Democratic senator to support the bill, who requested a personal meeting. Lucio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When they met last week, Martinez said Lucio told her she was the first trans person he’d spoken to one-on-one, which inspired her next campaign. Beginning last Thursday, Martinez visited the offices of all 181 members of the Texas Legislature over three days, using vacation time from her job as a programmer at AT&T.

“I decided I could not let this session go forward without visiting every office and saying, ‘I’m here, I’m real, I’m a Texan, I’m transgender, and this bill would hurt me,’” Martinez said. “It’s harder to paint us as monsters when there’s a human face on it.”

Read the whole thing, which includes a report from the Equality Texas Lobby Day. I sure hope Stephanie Martinez is right that by meeting with all the legislators, or at least their staffs, she is putting a human face on something they have been blithely abstract about, if they had given the matter any thought at all. Unfortunately, as the incredibly mean-spirited and downright un-charitable comments made by the likes of Sen. Lois Kolkhorst – who as literally one of the most powerful people in the state has no business claiming to be “persecuted” – and her ideological cohort in this story make clear, she has her work cut out for her. As do we all. I stand in awe of Stephanie Martinez’s effort and commitment.

Senate passes bathroom bill

Take your victory lap, Dan Patrick.

The Texas Senate on Tuesday tentatively signed off on the so-called “bathroom bill” on a 21-10 vote with one Democrat — state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville — voting in favor of the bill.

Senate Bill 6, a legislative priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and other publicly-owned facilities that match their “biological sex” and not gender identity. And it would preempt local anti-discrimination laws meant to allow transgender residents to use public bathrooms that match their gender identity.

The vote on the controversial legislation came after a four-and-a-half-hour debate over discrimination against transgender Texans, local control and whether the proposed regulations would actually deter men from entering women’s restrooms.

Before passing the bill, senators considered 22 amendments. Republican senators joined the bill’s author, state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, in rejecting all but three amendments that make minor tweaks to the legislation but did not alter the main bathroom policies proposed in the legislation.

More than a dozen amendments were rejected including one that would have added discrimination protections for transgender individuals to the bill and another that would have prohibited individuals from personally investigating the gender identity of someone using a public bathroom. The Senate also rejected amendments that would have required the state to study the bill’s economic impact as well as crimes that occur in bathrooms.

You know the story by now, so I’ll just skip ahead. The Senate has to take one more vote on this, but that will be a formality. All the Republicans and the one Democrat who sorely needs to be primaried supported this atrocity. It’s up to the House to kill it, whether by neglect or by voting it down. Two things to call your attention to: One is the statement from the Texas Association of Business.

“We’re disappointed the Texas Senate would choose to pass discriminatory legislation like Senate Bill 6, despite clear indications that its passage will have an economic impact in Texas. TAB remains committed to fighting and defending the Texas economy against bills that discriminate and run counter to Texas values.

“Our members believe everyone deserves to be treated fairly and equally, and we have heard what they know- equity and non-discrimination is a twenty-first century economic imperative. Senate Bill 6 is simply not worth the risk, and it will do nothing to improve personal safety.

“Given the overwhelming economic evidence, and the clear rejection of the public safety argument from Texas law enforcement, Senate Bill 6 is a solution in search of a problem, and we hope that the Texas House will strongly reject this measure.”

RG Ratcliffe notes how business has lost control of the Republican Party. I’ll just say it again, if the TAB doesn’t work to defeat at least a few of the SB6 advocates, starting with Dan Patrick, then their opposition to SB6 basically meant nothing. Yes, there is a risk in trying to kill the king. This, and bills worse than it, is the risk of doing nothing. Your choice, TAB. And two, I give you this Statesman story on Jessica Shortall of Texas Competes:

Jessica Shortall, head of a Texas business group that advocates for LGBT rights, delivered a thoughtful and impassioned speech about the transgender bathroom debate at the South by Southwest conference on Sunday. It was the kind of speech that brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation — twice.

[…]

Shortall’s speech sprinkled anecdotes of her own life, touched on the Texas Competes mission, and worked in themes such as why it’s important to find common ground with political opponents.

“Assume there are no monoliths,” Shortall said. “The second you do that and label a whole group, you miss all the opportunities to find allies and build bridges.”

[…]

On Sunday, with a notepad in one hand and a handful of photos and data points projected on to a screen, she emphasized the need to build bridges with people who hold different beliefs, of finding common ground by rooting arguments in data, not emotion.

Midway through the speech she told the story of a trasngender girl who had an accident in a hallway at school because teachers couldn’t figure out which bathroom she should use.

“I wanted to shout,” Shortall said. “But I took a breath.” She noted that it feels good to be ideological and righteous, and isn’t as fun to stick to a strategy that involves talking to the other side and find common ground.

“Do you think I wanted to be the most boring, most data-driven LGBT advocate in the country?” Shortall said. “I am half-Venezuelan, raised in New Jersey, a very loud person. I like things big. But my job is to create this delicate new space for the business community to get involved in something risky. If I burn that down with my anger, I’d be at zero. I don’t matter. What matters is the goal.”

But she noted that arguments based on data and facts can only get you so far. To create change, you have to tap into empathy and love, she said. “Love is the only bridge that lets us see the people around us simply as people,” she said.

You can see a video of her speech here. I’ll take ten Jessica Shortalls over all 21 Senators who voted Yes on this piece of crap. A statement from Sen. Jose Rodriguez is here, a statement from Sen. Borris Miles is here, and the Chron has more.

Eddie Lucio is the worst

Screw this guy.

The worst

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

“Sanctuary cities” bill passes in Senate

As expected.

The Texas Senate late Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a controversial immigration measure to ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in the state.

Senate Bill 4, filed by state Sen. Charles Perry, would punish local and state government entities and college campuses that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials or enforce immigration laws. The vote was 20-11 along party lines.

It would also punish local governments if their law enforcement agencies fail to honor requests, known as detainers, from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to hand over immigrants in custody for possible deportation. The punishment would be a denial of state grant funds. The bill doesn’t apply to victims of or witnesses to crimes, public schools or hospital districts.

[…]

The vote came after Perry added tough civil and criminal penalties for entities that don’t comply with the bill’s provisions. One amendment would make a department head whose agency violates the provisions of SB 4 subject to criminal prosecution in the form of a class A misdemeanor. Another added a provision that would subject the local agency to civil penalties, including a fine at least $1,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for each subsequent violation.

The severity of the proposals prompted state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston to ask Perry how far he was willing to go.

“What’s the next [amendment] going to do? Take their first born?” she asked.

The upper chamber also predictably shot down by party line votes several amendments Democrats offered to make the bill more palatable to their constituents, including a measure by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would have excluded college campuses. An amendment by state Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, which sought to require peace officers to learn immigration law was also voted down, as was another by state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. that would have prohibited the arrest of a person only because he or she was in the country illegally.

Garcia also asked Perry to remove a section of the bill that would punish a local entity for “endorsing” a policy that prohibits or discourages enforcing immigration law. Garcia said that section could be a violation of an elected official’s right to free speech and could be interpreted broadly.

See here for the background. There will certainly be lawsuits filed when this thing gets signed into law. The fact that legal genius Ken Paxton swears it’s legal is irrelevant – was there ever a chance he wouldn’t say that? – though what the courts ultimately do with this remains to be seen. (Other lawyers disagree with Paxton’s assessment.) The thing that needs to happen of course is for there to be a political price to pay for passing this bill. Lots of people showed up to testify against SB4. We need that same kind of turnout next November. Stace has more.

Some officials take note of special education funding restrictions

It’s a start.

The vice chairman of the State Board of Education, a Houston school board member, a key state senator and scores of parents and disability advocates all expressed strong opposition on Monday to a Texas Education Agency performance-based monitoring system that has kept thousands of disabled children out of special education since 2004.

[…]

Thomas Ratliff, a Mount Pleasant Republican who is the second-highest-ranking member of the State Board of Education, expressed dismay at TEA’s 8.5 percent special education target.

“It looks awfully arbitrary and in no way mirrors reality,” he said. “The concentric circles of damage that this has done I think is immeasurable at this point.”

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, the vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, called the issue an “utmost priority.”

“We have a constitutional duty and a moral obligation to provide all Texas children with the services that are required to ensure that every student can thrive academically,” said Lucio, D-Brownsville, echoing statements made by several of his Democratic colleagues in the Legislature. “By urging schools to limit the number of students they enroll in special education services, our state is turning its back on students that need our help the most.”

[…]

Gene Acuña, a spokesman for the Texas Education Agency, declined further comment. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Joe Straus also declined comment.

Previously, former Gov. Rick Perry, during whose administration the 8.5 percent enrollment target was first put in place, declined to discuss the monitoring system.

In Washington, a U.S. Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed that her office was ready to take action, if needed, to ensure that children with disabilities get services.

“We are looking into it,” she said.

See here for the background. The headline on the story is “Officials vow to end limits put on special ed”, but let’s be honest. Until at least two of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Joe Straus make that vow, nothing is going to happen. Those three, as well as Rick “Dancing Terribly With The Stars” Perry, should not be allowed to “no comment” their way out of this for more than a few days, too. I greatly admire what the Chron has done with this story, but they need to call those three’s offices every day until they have some answers. The other news outlets in this state are more than welcome to get in on that action as well. In the meantime, I hope there’s more to report on, and I definitely hope to hear of some followup from the US Department of Education soon.

Oral arguments before SCOTUS on HB2

From Texas Monthly:

Right there with them

Right there with them

It’s been a circuitous journey for HB2, the omnibus abortion bill the Texas Legislature passed 2013. Suits have been filed, the law has been overturned, appeals have been made. A collection of Texas abortion clinics, led by Whole Woman’s Health, filed the most debated lawsuit, which is aimed the broader provisions of the bill: Specifically, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt challenges the constitutionality of HB2’s requirement that doctors performing abortions in Texas have admitting privileges at hospitals and also the requirement that each clinic meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical center.

Although the case had a similar courtroom path to previous suits against the law—including being overturned at the district level—Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt went even further. The Supreme Court stepped in almost immediately to issue an injunction against HB2 going into effect until the high court had the chance to hear it on appeal.

That happened Wednesday.

New York-based attorney Stephanie Toti, representing Whole Woman’s Health (and joined by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli), made her arguments against HB2 before the eight-members of the court; representing Texas and Hellerstedt, our state’s Solicitor General Scott Keller defended the law.

There are a few key issues to be determined by the court. The first is if Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt is the appropriate case to be raising these arguments, or if another case, Planned Parenthood vs. Abbott, should have addressed them. Also related to that facet of the case is if the window for examining the law has since closed because that suit didn’t appeal to the Supreme Court. The second issue—and the one that received the majority of the focus Wednesday—is on the question of the “undue burden” on Texans seeking abortions. In the last major abortion case the court heard, 1992’s Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, the court found that states could impose restrictions on abortion if the restrictions didn’t pose an undue burden on the rights of the person who seeks an abortion. But that ruling didn’t specify a definition for “undue burden,” so attorneys on both sides attempted to make claims that the phrase does—or doesn’t—refer to HB2.

[…]

The pressure stayed on Keller throughout the duration of his argument, with Sotomayor and Kagan looking past “undue burden” to get to the ultimate question surrounding the bill since it was being debated in Austin: Namely, is this about increasing standards of care, as some proponents of the bill have argued, or is it about restricting access, as the law’s opponents have claimed? (It’s worth noting that some of the bill’s supporters in the legislature—from former Lt. Governor Dewhurst to Sen. Eddie Lucio—have expressed more openly that they passed the bill out of an interest in opposing abortion.)

This came to a head near the close of oral arguments. Kagan hit on several points about the state’s interest in raising standards of care: She’d asked, for example, about whether the state had the right to require all health care providers to meet the standard of the best hospital in the country (citing Massachusetts General), to which Keller responded that the state did have that right, so long as it didn’t create an undue burden on people seeking treatment. Breyer and Sotomayor noted that the rate of complications in colonoscopies are higher than in abortions, but facilities that offer colonoscopies don’t face the same regulations that abortion clinics do under HB2. (The word “colonoscopy” was said a surprisingly high number of times for a Supreme Court hearing about abortion.)

But near the end of Keller’s argument, Kagan cut to the chase. She noted that she understood that Keller’s argument was that the law allows Texas to impose regulations on abortion clinics that it doesn’t apply to other procedures—but she wanted to know why it picked abortion.

“You said that as the law is now, under your interpretation of it, Texas is allowed to set much, much higher medical standards, whether it has to do with the personnel or procedures or the facilities themselves, higher medical standards, including much higher medical standards for abortion facilities than for facilities that do any other kind of medical work, even much more risky medical work. And you said that that was your understanding of the law; am I right?” Kagan asked Keller, “And I guess I just want to know: why would Texas do that?”

In all, it was an aggressive series of questions from the court’s liberal justices—but the fact that the four liberal justices would find a lot to dislike in HB2 isn’t exactly news. In the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death, the question became much more about what could be expected of the four remaining judges on the bench.

From Think Progress:

Prior to Wednesday’s oral argument and Scalia’s death, however, it was an open question whether this law would actually “withstand judicial obstacles.” The question on most Court-watchers’ mind was which Justice Kennedy would show up to hear this case. On the one hand, Kennedy finds abortion icky — just read some of the gruesome descriptions of a particular abortion procedure in Kennedy’s opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart to get a sense of just how icky he regards it. On the other hand, Kennedy is unwilling to kill Roe outright. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Kennedy coauthored an opinion that limited abortion rights, but which also purported to retain “the essential holding ofRoe v. Wade.” So the question on many Court-watchers minds before oral argument was whether Icky Kennedy or Casey Kennedy would show up to work today.

Icky Kennedy stayed at home. Though Kennedy did ask some tough questions about a procedural issue in this case, he largely remained silent as the liberal justices tore into Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller. And he asked a few questions on the merits that were critical of Keller’s arguments.

The liberal justices treated Texas’ arguments in much the same way that Holly Holm treated Ronda Rousey’s head. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out that it makes no sense to require clinics to comply with expensive requirements applied to surgical facilities if those clinics perform no surgeries. Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor noted that Texas imposed these heavy burdens on abortion clinics, but did not impose them on facilities that perform riskier procedures. Colonoscopies, according to Breyer, are 28 times more likely to result in a complication than an abortion, but they do not need to be performed in an ambulatory surgical center.

[…]

Kennedy was almost completely silent during these one-sided exchanges, although he did chime in with a few questions while Keller was at the podium. At one point, he suggested that Keller’s arguments lead to the conclusion that Texas’s law creates an “undue burden” on the right to obtain an abortion, a conclusion that, under Casey, would require the Court to strike the law down. At another point, Kennedy expressed concern that the law caused many women who would otherwise have medication abortions to instead receive surgical abortions, a shift that “may not be medically wise.”

So that’s the good news for Team Choice. If this case is decided on the merits, it appears very likely that Kennedy will vote to strike down the Texas law.

The bad news is that it is far from clear that the Court will reach the merits. For complicated reasons related to the fact that the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical centers requirements were implemented on different schedules, the lower courts in this case ruled on a facial challenge to the first provision before fully considering the second one. Whole Woman’s Health came to the Supreme Court as an appeal from the second decision, and Texas argues that the plaintiffs are effectively precluded from pressing their facial challenge to the admitting privileges requirement at this stage of the litigation. Without diving into the very arcane nuances of this argument, it’s worth noting that this is a serious enough procedural complication that Justice Ginsburg raised it shortly after the lawyer for the plaintiffs’ took the podium.

During the Court’s discussion of this procedural issue, Kennedy raised the possibility of sending this case back down to the trial court so that it can engage in additional fact-finding that will help the justices sort through this issue. Should the Supreme Court ultimately go this route, it could delay final resolution of the case for as long as a couple of years. That’s not death to the abortion clinics in Texas, so long as the Texas law is stayed pending resolution of the case, but the possibility of more litigation undoubtedly hit abortion advocates with a thud as they contemplated two more years of fighting and uncertainty.

From SCOTUSBlog:

But when the argument turned from the reason for closures to a question of the capacity of any remaining clinics to handle the tens of thousands of abortions that women in the state seek every year, the case shifted abruptly. It was Kennedy who raised the possibility that the case be sent back to lower courts to allow lawyers to put in evidence about that capacity question.

Several things immediately seemed important about that suggestion.

First, it would allow the Court to avoid a decision about the validity of either part of the Texas law, if it should turn out that, at Friday’s planned discussion of the case in a private Conference, the initial vote came out split four to four (the late Justice Antonin Scalia was a fervent foe of abortions). Returning the case for gathering of new evidence would avoid that outcome — indeed, any immediate outcome — and thus would avoid the even division that settles nothing and always disappoints the Court. It might even put off the case until the current vacancy on the bench is filled with a new Justice.

Second, of equal or perhaps even greater importance, there may have been a logical basis for that suggestion and it could have been in Kennedy’s mind. If he had any inclination to uphold either or both of the provisions, Kennedy would understand that this would probably lead to a four-to-four tie. But taking that position would mean he had done so without knowing whether the capacity of the remaining clinics — nine or ten at most — would be enough to handle all abortions that would be sought in the state (recently, between 60,000 and 75,000 a year)? Thus Kennedy might hesitate even more to push the Court into a tie vote.

Third, Kennedy’s hesitation on taking a stand on the merits of the law seemed even more likely because of a question he asked later in the argument. He pressed the lawyer for Texas, state Solicitor General Scott A. Keller, on whether the enforcement of the two provisions would actually lead more women to have more abortions through surgery, by forcing them to wait, with more risk than having an earlier abortion through the use of drugs that induce termination of pregnancy (“medical abortion”).

Kennedy cited data that the number of drug-induced abortions had increased nationally, but the number in Texas was down, and he commented that “this may not be medically wise.” The abortion clinics and doctors who are challenging the Texas laws have made that prospect a part of their argument that the two provisions impose an unconstitutional burden on Texas women’s constitutional right to seek an abortion, and Kennedy appeared to have taken that seriously.

Returning the case to lower courts to get more evidence on the incidence of later abortions might be one way to deal with that prospect, but so would striking down the law — by a five-to-three vote — because of the negative consequences of inducing more mid-term abortions. Since Roe v. Wade, the Court (including Kennedy since he joined the bench) has always been more comfortable with earlier abortions, partly because they are safer but also because of a concern for protecting the developing life of the fetus. Kennedy was a key part of the Court’s compromise ruling in 1992 (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey) when the Court expressed new support for state power to protect potential life, an interest that was said to increase the longer a pregnancy continues.

The Justices will cast at least a preliminary vote on the case when they assemble on Friday morning for a private Conference. If the case is going to be sent back to lower courts, or if the Court essentially gives up and casts a four-to-four vote, those outcomes might be announced quite soon, perhaps as early as next Monday. There is, of course, the possibility that more discussion would be necessary to sort out where the Court wants to go.

So basically, there’s a case for optimism, with the possibility of the law being struck down, and the possibility of it being sent back to the lower court for more hearings, while the injunction presumably stays in place. If the latter happens, then the issue could be revisited after a new justice is appointed, hopefully by President Clinton or Sanders. We may know quickly if that is going to happen, or we may not. Keep your fingers crossed. The WaPo, SCOTUSBlog, the Trib, and the Observer have more.

UPDATE: Still more, from Dahlia Lithwick, Alexa Garcia-Ditta, Genevieve Cato, and Jessica Mason Pieklo.

Dan Patrick’s defeat

The Observer reviews how Dan Patrick’s Senate could ultimately take no firmer a stance against same sex marriage than to pass a resolution disapproving of it.

RedEquality

In last night’s “debate” over the resolution, Lucio, a passionate pro-life Catholic, rose to give a personal speech about his own convictions. “From our bibles, we learn of one man and one woman,” he said. “For me, nothing is more sacred than our biblical teachings.” The institution of marriage came from Jesus himself, and cheapening it was sacrilege. “By now, everybody knows how this senator from the Rio Grande Valley feels,” he told the chamber.

Nonetheless, he’d had a change of heart. He wouldn’t be signing the resolution, and he’d be withdrawing Coleman’s poor bill.

Patrick, who’d been listening to Lucio intently and rocking in his chair, stood to speak. With clasped hands, he told the chamber he’d given Lucio an ultimatum. If he tried to strip the anti-gay language out again, Patrick wouldn’t let the bill come to the floor. But Lucio had made his decision.

So, having been deprived of the chance to approve the strong, consequential language from HB 4105, senators drafted last night’s resolution on the fly. While it was being debated, the text of the resolution hadn’t even been uploaded to the Capitol website. The resolution was approved quickly. The thin document is the only real say-so the Legislature will have on the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer.

It’s a comprehensive flop for the forces who oppose gay marriage. Nonetheless, Patrick told the Senate to buck up. They “should be proud,” he said. “The House decided not to have this debate.” That’s a dig at Speaker Joe Straus, of course. But since Patrick couldn’t get anything consequential out of his own chamber either, who is he pointing fingers at?

See here for the background. I figure any session that includes Steven Hotze throwing a hissy fit at Dan Patrick over his impotence on this can’t have been a total loss. Sorry, Danno.

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?

Bell’s anti-same sex marriage license bill lives again

WTF?

RedEquality

A Democratic state senator has dredged up anti-gay marriage legislation that advocates thought was dead this session, attaching the language to an uncontroversial county affairs bill under the noses of his fellow Democrats.

While gay rights advocates decried the move, the bill’s original sponsor in the House said he would never let his legislation pass with the anti-same-sex marriage language in-tact.

“I’m the author of the bill. I will resolve the bill,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D- Houston, a staunch gay marriage advocate.

House Bill 2977, as Coleman originally filed it, was an uncontroversial county affairs placeholder bill, meant to act as a vehicle for lawmakers to ensure important local issues can be passed late in the session.

As the bill was headed to the Senate committee for approval this week, however, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. attached a number of other bills to Coleman’s legislation, including one that would seek to block a Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage.

Lucio attached House Bill 4105 by Magnolia Republican Cecil Bell, Jr., to Coleman’s placeholder bill. Bell’s bill, which was defeated in the House earlier this month, would bar state or local governments from using public money to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

The Supreme Court is slated to rule on the issue later this summer, possibly striking down same-sex marriage bans in Texas and 12 other states that still prohibit the practice.

“At its core, the amendment added to HB 2977 by Sen. Lucio is an attempt to subvert any future ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the freedom to marry,” said Chuck Smith, executive director for the gay rights group Equality Texas. “Pursuing a strategy to defy the Supreme Court will cost Texas taxpayers millions in litigation and cause great damage to our economy and reputation. In its present form, HB2977 must be defeated.”

Coleman said he would do just that.

If the bill passes in the GOP-dominated Senate, which Coleman expects it to, it would need to return to the House, where the lower chamber’s members would have to concur with the changes. Coleman said if he can’t strip the anti-gay marriage off his legislation, then he would withdraw it completely.

“If I can’t get it off, then the bill goes to bill heaven,” Coleman said. “I don’t support that legislation or that language.”

See here for what I had thought would be the last update on this. Rep. Coleman is a staunch ally and knows his procedures, so if he says this will not pass, I believe him. It’s still a shock and a disgrace and another reminder that Eddie Lucio (the Senator; his son the State Rep is fine) needed to be put out to electoral pasture a long time ago. I really really really want to see someone primary him. The Trib and Equality Texas have more.

The alternate approach to statewide regulations for Uber and Lyft

That’s one way to do it.

Uber

Another round of sparring between Texas cities and car service companies like Lyft and Uber played out on Tuesday before a panel of Texas lawmakers. The proposal that was debated — which would let cities regulate Lyft and Uber the same way they regulate traditional taxi companies — would have the opposite effect as a bill another House committee considered last week to strip cities of that authority.

The House Urban Affairs Committee heard public testimony on House Bill 3358 by state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, which gives cities oversight of all commercial transportation services, expanding their control of taxicab and limousine services to include transportation network companies like Lyft and Uber.

“This bill is about fairness — period,” Lucio said. “If they’re going to provide the exact same service, whether it’s on a part-time basis or not, it should be done fairly.”

Lyft

Representatives for both companies criticized Lucio’s bill, saying a patchwork of unique city regulations would stifle their innovative business model.

April Mims, public policy manager for Lyft, said applying taxi regulations to transportation network companies was “forcing a square peg into a round hole.”

But traditional cab companies, whose business practices are highly regulated by cities, argue that Lyft and Uber should have to play by the same rules as everyone else.

Ed Kargbo, president of Yellow Cab Austin, said allowing Lyft and Uber drivers to operate without city background checks was like allowing doctors or lawyers to practice without a degree just because they work part time.

I believe we are all familiar with the arguments by now. I oppose this bill for the same reason I oppose the other bill – it should be up to cities to decide how to regulate vehicles for hire, as they have always done. As I said before, I think it would be appropriate for the state to set minimum standards for insurance and background checks and the like, but in the end it should still be up to cities to decide if and how to open their doors to these services.

Sanctuary cities bill clears first Senate committee

As expected.

Senate Bill 185 by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would cut off state funding for local governments or governmental entities that adopt policies that forbid peace officers from inquiring into the immigration status of a person detained or arrested.

Some Texas cities have taken the position that such enforcement is the federal government’s job, not theirs — which Perry patently disagrees with. “Rule of law is important and we must ensure that local governments do not pick and choose the laws that they choose to enforce,” Perry told the subcommittee.

The bill now goes to the full Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and Military Installations, where it’ll likely be passed and sent to the full chamber. The debate in the full Senate promises to be a repeat of the emotion-fueled scene of 2011, the last time the controversial legislation was considered. That year Democrats argued the bill would lead to racial profiling, costly litigation and make witnesses to crimes reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement.

[…]

The bill was voted on Monday on a party-line split, with state Sens. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, and Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, voting for it. State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, voted against. Monday’s adopted version was tweaked from the original bill; it now does not apply to commissioned peace officers hired by school districts or open enrollment charter schools, and exempts victims or witnesses to crimes.

It gives entities found out of compliance 90 days to change policies after they are informed they are in violation.

During the debate, Lucio asked Perry why a handful of amendments that would have made the bill more palatable to him weren’t adopted, including one that would have exempted faith-based volunteers who do humanitarian work within the immigrant community from being questioned if they were detained.

“I walked out of here pretty happy,” Lucio said, referring to last month’s hearing when the original bill was heard and he was told his amendments would be considered. “I would have co-authorized your legislation.”

Perry said that after discussions with legal experts, including staffers in the office of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, he decided to go another way. Republicans argue the bill is a simple measure that allows local police to ferret out undocumented immigrants who are in the country to do others harm.

See here and here for some background. This bill will very likely pass the Senate, on party lines, but it may or may not make it through the House, partly because time is short and partly because there’s less appetite for it there. I know it’s been six years since Tom Craddick was deposed as Speaker, but I still find it hard to believe sometimes that the House is now the more mature and deliberate chamber. Relatively speaking, anyway. It’s scary to think we could have had Speaker Craddick in addition to Dan Patrick running amok in the Senate. Things really can always get worse.

That wasn’t the only bill heard yesterday.

Heartless, draconian and economically irresponsible. That’s what opponents of Senate Bill 1819 Monday called the effort by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, to stop allowing certain undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities.

The bill was laid out in a Senate subcommittee on border security during a marathon hearing. As of Monday afternoon, about 160 witnesses had signed up to testify before the committee, including dozens of students who donned caps and gowns amid a standing-room only crowd. As of Monday evening, the vast majority of witnesses urged the committee to vote against the measure.

It marked the beginning of the first true attempt in years to repeal 2001’s HB 1403, by former state Rep. Nick Noriega, D-Houston. Since then, minor attempts to repeal the tuition law have generally faltered without fanfare or attention, usually as amendments that failed to pass.

Current law — approved with near unanimous legislative consent 14 years ago — allows undocumented students who have lived in Texas for at least three years and pledge to apply for legal status as soon as they can under federal law to pay in-state tuition rates.

Campbell’s bill would end that, and allow universities to establish a policy to “verify to the satisfaction of the institution” that a student is a legal resident or citizen

Campbell was as mendacious and ill-informed during the hearing as you’d expect. As of this writing, we don’t know if the bill was voted on in committee or not, but the same thinking applies to it as to the sanctuary cities bill. If time runs out on them, it will be interesting to see if Greg Abbott forces the issue with a special session. RG Ratcliffe, recalling one of the few worthwhile things Rick Perry said during his otherwise disastrous 2012 Presidential campaign, and the Observer have more.

Bill to kneecap Public Integrity Unit stuck in the Senate

For now, at least.

Rosemary Lehmberg

A Republican bill to transfer the Public Integrity Unit out of Travis County has snagged in the Senate, where the legislation does not have enough support to force a floor vote — at least for now.

The author of Senate Bill 10, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, acknowledged Monday that she is still trying to line up support from Republican senators but added that she remains confident of success.

“I’m close,” Huffman said, raising the possibility of a vote this week. “We’re almost there.”

News that the bill had stalled came in a Monday letter by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and who has made moving the Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office a legislative priority.

Watson said SB 10 does not have the 19 votes needed to allow a Senate vote and asked Patrick not to take advantage of the planned absence of state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, who will be attending funeral services for his brother Joe Lucio this week.

With one senator absent, a floor vote could be triggered by support from only 18 senators.

“I want to make you aware that Sen. Lucio has told me that he would not vote” to bring SB 10 to the floor, Watson said in the letter. “As a result, SB 10 does not have sufficient support to allow for (a vote).”

[…]

Because all Democrats oppose the bill, Watson’s letter indicates that at least two Republicans are not on board with SB 10.

Huffman said she would bring SB 10 to the floor during Lucio’s absence only if she has 19 votes. “Clearly it’s going to be close,” she said. “I’m working to make sure I am answering everyone’s questions.”

See here and here for the background. I’d love to know who the two GOP holdouts are, and what their reasons are for hesitating. As of Wednesday, an effort to find a compromise to move the bill forward came up short.

A behind-the-scenes effort to get a controversial ethics bill moving again in the Texas Senate derailed on Wednesday, after a bipartisan plan to move the Public Integrity Unit to a white-collar investigative arm of the Texas Department of Public Safety was rejected by Senate leaders.

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, author of Senate Bill 10 that would move the ethics-enforcing PIU from the Travis County District Attorney’s office to the Attorney General’s office said she declined an amendment by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, that was designed as a compromise to remedy strong opposition to the measure.

[…]

According to senators, the compromise proposed by Seliger and others would have transferred the PIU to a public-corruption section staffed by Texas Rangers at DPS. If an investigation warranted prosecution, the chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court would appoint a special prosecutor, according to a copy of the plan reviewed by the Houston Chronicle.

Huffman said she did not think the proposal was as good as her bill, even as she was continuing to review options to get the measure moving again.

“I’m still listening to suggestions, and I’m still working to get the votes,” Huffman said. “It’s still a work in progress. Let’s just say that.”

Not sure if this means Sen. Seliger is one of the holdouts or if he was just acting as a broker. My expectation at the beginning of the session was that this bill would pass the Senate (its future in the House would be less certain), but now I’m less sure. Again, it would be good to know the who and the why. One way or the other, I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing more about this.

Republicans will push pro-discrimination bills

I have three things to say about this.

RedEquality

Two days after the Plano City Council approved an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people, a Texas legislator filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the ability of cities to enforce such laws.

On Wednesday, Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) filed House Joint Resolution 55, which is similar but not identical to Senate Joint Resolution 10, filed last month by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), one of several lawmakers who sent a letter to the Plano City Council opposing the nondiscrimination ordinance, also announced on Twitter Tuesday that he’s drafting a bill “to protect Texas business owners from unconstitutional infringements on their religious liberty.” As of Thursday morning, Leach’s bill hadn’t been filed, and he didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.

Nevertheless, a month before the session begins, the flurry of legislation suggests that, thanks in part to the legalization of same-sex marriage across much of the nation, conservatives will challenge gays rights in the name of religious freedom in the 84th Texas Legislature.

The resolutions from Campbell and Villalba would amend the Texas Constitution to state that government “may not burden” someone’s “sincerely held religious belief” unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” and it is the “least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”

Experts say such an amendment would effectively prevent cities that have passed LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances from enforcing them. In addition to Plano, those cities include Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

That’s because business owners could claim exemptions from the ordinances if they have sincerely held religious beliefs—such as opposition to same-sex marriage—making it legal for them to fire employees for being gay or refuse service to LGBT customers.

“It blows a hole in your nondiscrimination protections if people can ignore them for religious reasons,” said Jenny Pizer, senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

But Pizer and others said an even bigger problem could be the amendments’ unintended consequences.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said in addition to the First Amendment, the state already has a statute that provides strong protections for religious freedom—known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA. But Williams said the proposed constitutional amendments would supplant RFRA and go further, overriding exceptions in the statute for things like zoning regulations and civil rights laws.

[…]

Williams noted that similar resolutions from Campbell have failed in previous sessions. Amending the state Constitution requires two-thirds support in both chambers as well as a majority public vote.

“That’s a very high bar, and the Legislature’s a deliberative body,” Williams said.

But Williams said the key to defeating the legislation this go-round will be economic arguments.

“This would have a detrimental affect on businesses that are looking to relocate to Texas,” he said. “Businesses that want to relocate to Texas will think that their LGBT employees and the family members of their LGBT employees are not going to be welcome.”

1. Between equality ordinances, plastic bag bans, payday lender regulations, and anti-fracking measures, the obsession that Republican legislators may have this session with nullifying municipal laws may overtake their obsession with nullifying federal laws. I continue to be perplexed by this obsession.

2. We are all clear that these “freedom to discriminate” bills are, intentionally or not, also about the freedom to discriminate against Jews or blacks or whoever else you don’t like, right? I mean, every time they get pinned down on it, proponents of such bills admit as much. I don’t suppose it has ever occurred to the Donna Campbells of the world that one of these days they themselves could be on the receiving end of such treatment, if someone else’s sincerely held religious beliefs hold that antipathy towards LGBT folks is an abomination before God. I’m just saying.

3. Assuming Speaker Straus maintains the tradition of not voting, the magic number is fifty, as in fifty votes in the House are needed to prevent any of these travesties from making it to your 2015 ballot. There are 52 Democrats in the House, plus one officially LGBT-approved Republican, so there are three votes to spare, assuming no other Republicans can be persuaded to vote against these. We know that there are four current House Dems that voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment of 2005. One of them, Rep. Richard Raymond, has since stated his support for marriage equality. Another, Rep. Ryan Guillen, may be persuadable. The current position of the others, Reps. Joe Pickett and Tracy King, are unknown. Barring any absences or scheduling shenanigans, we can handle three defections without needing to get another R on board. This is the key.

(Yes, eleven votes in the Senate can also stop the madness. Unfortunately, one of those votes belongs to Eddie Lucio. I’d rather take my chances in the House.)

Unfair Park and Hair Balls have more.

No action on SB5 in the Senate

The name of the game is running out the clock.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Texas Democrats, far outnumbered by Republicans in both the House and the Senate, are nonetheless on the verge of killing one of the most restrictive abortion proposals in the nation — at least for now.

Using delaying tactics and parliamentary rules, the minority party argued into the wee hours in the state House on Monday morning and then stuck together to keep the GOP from jamming Senate Bill 5 through the Senate in the afternoon. Republicans vowed to try to try to muster enough support to push the bill through again Monday night, but it was unclear if they could change any minds.

SB 5, by state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks and would establish stringent new requirements for facilities that perform abortions. Supporters of the bill say it would make the procedures safer for women and protect unborn babies. Abortion rights proponents say the legislation would shut down most of the abortion facilities in Texas.

With barely more than a day left in the 30-day special session called by Gov. Rick Perry at the end of May, that means Democrats have moved much closer to putting the controversial measure within the range of a filibuster.

“I think we are now in a position to try to do what’s right for the women of this state,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “We need to be protecting women’s health in this state, and we need to be protecting a woman’s right to make choices about her body.”

Sen. Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth Democrat and rising star in the party, has vowed to launch a filibuster. Unless Republicans can change some votes, the abortion measure can’t be brought up for debate until Tuesday morning at about 11 a.m. Since the session ends at midnight Tuesday, that means she could kill the legislation by talking nonstop for about 13 hours.

The Democrats won a test vote at about 4 p.m., turning away a GOP attempt to fast track the abortion legislation by suspending a 24-hour layout rule. It takes a supermajority — two-thirds of those present — to suspend that rule. The Democrats voted as a bloc and stopped debate on the measure.

There was a second attempt to get a motion to suspend but it failed as well. The Senate is in recess until 10 AM today. As noted, from that point on it’s a matter of someone talking till midnight, at which point the session expires. There could, of course, be a second session called, but you take your victories where you can.

In the meantime, let the blame game begin!

Accusations of who’s to blame for the anti-abortion proposal’s potential demise already are starting to fly.

Look no further than the always vocal Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who blasted leadership after the Senate recessed Monday afternoon.

In a short back-and-forth with reporters, Patrick said “very clearly it does not look like there was coordination between the people who lead the majority” when it comes to Senate Bill 5.

“It’s just clear that we appear to be flying a little bit by the seat of our pants. These are important bills. You don’t fly by the seat of your pants when you try to pass important bill.”

Patrick added: “We’re the majority if the majority can’t pass the legislation they think is important and the people think is important then that’s a great concern to me.”

In response, Lt. Gov David Dewhurst said Patrick misrepresented leadership’s strategy and that he “had a very clear plan” to “pass good pro life legislation.”

Dewhurst quickly turned the table to focus on the House, which passed SB5 Monday morning.

After passing the bill, the House sent SB5 to the Senate for the upper chamber to concur with a change it made when the lower chamber put back language to ban abortions at 20-weeks.Concurring with the House change is the final step for the Senate before sending the bill to Gov. Rick Perry.

But because the House wrestled with SB5 from Sunday evening all the way into Monday morning, it delayed the Senate’s ability to move forward and cut short the potential for an even longer filibuster from Democrats.

“I asked the House ‘please don’t send it to us at the last minute, please,’” Dewhurst said. “Send it out at the latest on Sunday afternoon, so we’ll be able to take it up outside of filibuster range. “

Dewhurst added: “The House, by passing this out late this morning, it means that we can’t bring the bill up until tomorrow at 11 o’clock … most of us … could stand up for 13 hours and talk. That’s the reason why I wanted Senate Bill 5 passed out of the House by late afternoon Sunday, so we could bring it up this afternoon, and I think out of filibuster range where its difficult for most people to talk for 36 hours in a row.”

I don’t know, I might have included Rick Perry in the blame, since he sets the session agenda and all. But then, Dan Patrick isn’t (possibly) running against Perry. And it must be noted, Dewhurst did try to go the extra mile.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in a letter Monday that the he plans to move forward with a package of strict abortion restrictions even if the San Antonio Democrat is away attending services for her recently deceased father.

“I cannot in good conscience delay the people’s work on these important matters,” Dewhurst wrote Monday.

[…]

Van de Putte’s vote could be what determines whether Democrats can block Republican efforts to suspend the 24-hour layout rule. Without her, Democrats don’t have enough votes to block it.

And Van de Putte is scheduled to be in San Antonio on Monday attending services for her father, Daniel San Miguel Jr., who was killed in a car accident last week. Van de Putte lobbed a letter at Dewhurst a day earlier (rumors have been swirling all day at the Capitol about Van De Putte potentially showing up; her office declined to comment).

In his letter, Dewhurst offered condolences but made clear the Senate cannot wait because time is running out on the special session.

“I believe we can fulfill our obligation to the people of Texas while honoring your beloved father’s memory,” he wrote.

The wild card in the equation: Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville.

Lucio supports the package of anti-abortion bills, and he’s also planning to vote in favor of a motion to suspend the 24-hour layout rule. But he’s said he won’t cast that vote unless Van De Putte is on the floor.

“Senator Van de Putte asked me directly — knowing I support Senate Bill 5—to nonetheless vote no on suspending the 24-hour posting rule on the bill until she can be in the Senate chamber to cast her vote against it.” Lucio said. “I am honoring Senator Van de Putte’s request.”

Heck of a guy, that David Dewhurst. Remember when he tried to take advantage of John Whitmire being in the bathroom to push through a vote on voter ID during Mario Gallegos’ convalescence after his liver transplant? Good times. Lucio thankfully stuck to his word, and Dewhurst was thwarted – for now – having ruined Sen. Kevin Eltife’s vacation for nothing.

So it comes down to today, and there will be filibustering. Maybe the Rs have something up their sleeve to overcome that – after 10 AM, all they’ll need is a majority vote – and as noted, maybe Rick Perry will call another session. But this is a win, and as was the case ten years ago with the Killer Ds, it’s a galvanizing event. If you’re in Austin today, you can be there to see it for yourself. And wherever you are, you can keep the ball moving after sine die, whenever that may be.

Finally, I can’t let this go without a tip of the hat to Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, who demonstrated that one does not have to be a man to say something profoundly stupid and offensive about rape. As they say, sometimes no sarcastic remark seems adequate. PDiddie has more.

Transportation funding advances

Between redistricting and abortion, transportation funding has taken a bit of a back seat in the special session despite being the first additional item on the agenda. The Senate took the first step on that yesterday.

Sen. Robert Nichols

Despite concerns raised by both Republicans and Democrats, senators on Tuesday tentatively passed a resolution that aims to solve the state’s transportation funding woes by diverting future revenue from the Rainy Day Fund.

Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would eventually have to be approved as a constitutional amendment in November by voters, would split a portion of oil and gas severance taxes currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund between that fund and the State Highway Fund.

With traffic on Texas roads continuing to rise and transportation funding at a 10-year low, the state’s department of transportation “needs a revenue stream that allows for future planning,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.

[…]

The resolution is estimated to add nearly $1 billion a year for transportation, money that would keep coming in until the drilling boom dies. But, as Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, pointed out, that is only a fraction of the $4 billion a year that transportation officials say that TxDOT needs to maintain current traffic levels.

“This problem is not going to go away. It’s only going to get worse. The 4 billion barely relieves congestion,” he said. “As politicians we don’t need to go around thumping our chests saying we fixed the problem. We need to be realistic to voters and taxpayers and tell them it’s going to take more money in the form of new revenue to fix this problem.”

[…]

SJR 2 needs a final vote to officially pass the Senate, and it must be approved by the House, where lawmakers have offered their own proposals. Instead of directly pumping up the highway fund, House Joint Resolution 16 from Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, would send some of the revenue currently earmarked for the Rainy Day Fund to public education, undoing a long-standing diversion of the state’s 20-cent gas tax, of which a nickel currently goes to schools. The measure has the backing of the House’s lead budget writer, state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, who has signed on as a co-author.

Pickett’s proposal could draw support from some House Republicans who had opposed additional funding for TxDOT during the regular session in part because the measures didn’t end the gas tax diversion. Yet those same lawmakers may be wary of any proposal that reduces the funding stream to the Rainy Day Fund, widely regarded as the state’s savings account.

For either proposal to pass, they will need to muster strong bipartisan support as both amend the state’s Constitution, a move that requires the backing of two-thirds of both chambers.

The fact that this is a Constitutional amendment and thus requires a two-thirds vote in order to pass actually gives the Democrats some leverage on the abortion issue.

Since there are 12 Democrats in the chamber, Republicans will need the support of at least two of them for the transportation proposal But most of the Democrats are opposed to the abortion measures, so there’s a chance of extracting concessions for their vote on transportation.

Of course, that depends on how things play out among the Democrats. Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, is voting for the abortion measures, so there’s no reason for him to vote against transportation on that front. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, voted for one of the abortion measures in committee, but against the rest, so I want to ask her what she plans to do. Other Democrats may have reasons for supporting the transportation measure.

Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who heads the Senate Democratic Caucus, said some senators are determined to use whatever tools they have “to try to stop this assault on women.”

While Republicans generally support the anti-abortion measures, some have expressed concern about various proposals, which include a ban on abortion at 20 weeks, increased regulations for abortion facilities, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and new requirements for administering drugs that cause abortions. The provisions are wrapped into one omnibus bill, and there are separate bills on each.

There was also a math problem for Democrats who oppose the proposed new abortion regulations, related to procedural rules and Tuesday attendance. The transportation measure is ahead of the abortion legislation on the “regular order of business” agenda for the Senate, meaning a two-thirds vote would have been required to take up the abortion measures first and bypass the transportation. But this two-thirds requirement isn’t a hard two-thirds — it’s a two-thirds of those present. And not all the Democrats are present now.

It may all get worked out, but the delay shows the difficulty for Republicans who thought they could discount Democrats by virtue of special-session rules, which don’t require a two-thirds vote to take up all legislation.

Remember, the session ends next Thursday. It will be fine by me if the session runs out without the abortion legislation passing, of course. Yes, I know, Rick Perry can call them back again. But who knows, maybe he won’t. Until something passes, there’s hope. In the meantime, the full House will take up redistricting this Thursday, after the committee cleaned up its little oops from Monday. We are definitely headed into the home stretch. Trail Blazers has more.

UPDATE: Senate Democrats did ultimately get something for their leverage over the transportation bill, but not much.

After hours of emotional debate, the Senate late on Tuesday evening approved omnibus legislation to tighten abortion restrictions.

“My objective first and foremost, second and third, is to raise the standard of care,” said state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, the author of Senate Bill 5, which passed 20-10 and now heads to the House for approval.

SB 5 includes three abortion regulation measures that failed to reach the floor of either chamber during the regular legislative session: a requirement that abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, which state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, has filed as SB 24 in the special session; a requirement that doctors who perform abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility; and a requirement that if doctors administer the abortion inducing drug, RU-486, they do so in person, which state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, has proposed separately in SB 18 in the special session.

In a debate that lasted late into the evening, conservative Republican legislators who supported the measure argued it was designed to protect women and improve the standard of care for abortion services. Most Democratic senators, however, contended the abortion bill was designed to curry favor with GOP primary voters and that it amounted to an attack on women’s constitutional rights to access health care.

Hegar early in the debate offered an amendment, which was accepted, that removed the so-called preborn pain provision that would have banned abortion at 20 weeks of gestation. Although he strongly supported the 20-week ban on abortion, which he filed separately as SB 13, Hegar said he felt it was necessary to remove the provision from SB 5 so that the House would have adequate opportunity to debate the bill. He denied an insinuation by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, that he had compromised his “pro-life position for political expediency.”

“It appears to me at this point, this committee substitute seems the most practical and logical way for us to talk about standard of care, while also trying to protect innocent life,” Hegar said.

I suppose if the House adds back the 20-week limit or otherwise amends SB5, there’s a chance it could still get blown up before the end of the special session. I sure hope so.

Shark fins

I’m not sure why the practice of shark finning wasn’t illegal already.

We’re the dangerous ones

Texas lawmakers are considering a ban on the sale and possession of shark fins, a move that reflects a growing trend to protect the imperiled creatures at the top of the ocean food chain.

Conservationists say the global trade for the age-old delicacy has helped drive rampant illegal shark finning. The practice involves slicing off valued fins from living sharks and dumping their still-writhing bodies back into the ocean to die.

They estimate that tens of millions of sharks are killed each year to support the shark fin market. By also banning the trade, “we are reducing the number of sharks killed specifically for their fins,” said Katie Jarl, Texas state director for the Humane Society of the United States, which is lobbying for the ban in Texas and elsewhere.

Eight states already have outlawed the trade, but Texas would be the first along the Gulf Coast to prohibit it. The Senate could sign off on House Bill 852 by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, a Brownsville Democrat, as soon as Monday.

While the legislation has bipartisan support, some fishing operators who catch sharks legally oppose the ban. The fin, which is used to make an expensive Chinese soup, is the most valuable part of the shark, said Buddy Guindon, who owns Katie’s Seafood Market in Galveston and operates commercial fishing boats in the Gulf.

“All it will do is drive fishermen out of Texas,” perhaps to Louisiana, which has less stringent catch limits and no ban on sales, Guindon said. “It’s not going to stop illegal shark finning.”

Texas and the United States already have some of the world’s toughest restrictions on shark fishing. The state limits fishermen to one shark per day, while federal law requires that sharks caught legally in all U.S. waters must be landed with fins attached.

But the regulations are difficult to enforce because the fins are easy to conceal.

Here’s HB852. Unfortunately, it appears to be dead in the water after running into some resistance on the Senate floor, mostly from frequent anti-environmentalist Troy Fraser. It’s not like the wholesale slaughter of sharks is some kind of major issue with global implications or anything. That does argue for federal action, since it almost surely is the case that banning it in Texas would simply shift the practice to Louisiana, but generally speaking state action is a great catalyst for federal action, and we just missed a chance to make something happen. Sorry about that, sharks.

UIL moves to limit high school football practice time

They are doing it to limit the risk of concussion.

Established in 2001, the University Interscholastic League’s Medical Advisory Committee has done its best to be proactive and stay ahead on issues.

That’s been the case in requiring schools to have automated external defibrillators, dealing with concussions and establishing protocols.

On Sunday, the committee did just that, unanimously recommending a resolution to the UIL legislative council to limit in-season, full-contact practice. Each athlete would be limited to 90 minutes per week of game-speed tackling and blocking to the ground during the regular season and playoffs.

Every recommendation from the advisory committee has been approved by the executive council.

[…]

D.W. Rutledge, the executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association and a committee member, said there could be pushback from coaches but little resistance once they understand the wording on the rule.

“I think with the vast majority of coaches, that fits into their practice schedules without them having to make any adjustments at all,” said Rutledge, who led Converse Judson to four state championships.

Not clear to me how much difference this will make if coaches are generally adhering to this schedule already, but it’s still a step in the right direction. State Rep. Eddie Lucio III has filed HB887 that would do basically the same thing; it was passed unanimously out of the Public Education committee on April 9 and is awaiting a slot on the House calendar. We sure have come a long way from the Bear Bryant days, haven’t we?

Zaffirini and Uresti stand against needless abortion restrictions

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charter bill passes Senate, voucher bill passes out of committee

Score one for Sen. Dan Patrick.

As colleagues praised Education Chairman Dan Patrick’s efforts at building consensus, a significantly altered version of his expansion of the state’s charter school system quickly passed out of the Senate Thursday afternoon.

Patrick, R-Houston, said the bill accomplished what should be the goal of lawmakers — lifting everyone through quality education.

“The key to that is to have the opportunity for a great education, and I’m real proud to be a member of the Senate today,” he said as senators approved the measure by a vote of 30 to 1.

[…]

Talking with reporters afterwards, Patrick said the measure focuses on closing poor performing charter schools while allowing high quality schools to open.

Calling it “the most important education bill of the session,” he predicted by the time lawmakers go home in May, they will have passed “some of the biggest reforms in education that we’ve passed in a long time.”

Patrick originally intended to lift the state’s 215-school cap on charter contracts. After amendments, including one from Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, it now incrementally increases the limit on charters, reaching a hard cap of 305 by the year 2019. Charter schools aimed at dropout recovery or operated within traditional school districts would not count toward that cap.

The Senate dropped a requirement for school districts to lease or sell underused buildings to charter schools and another that would have provided facilities funding for charters, which — along with the state cap on charter school contracts — is a primary issue in a lawsuit pending against the state.

Patrick was hailed by Democrats after the vote for his willingness to listen and work with them. (The lone No vote was cast by Republican Sen. Robert Nichols, in case you’re wondering.) You know that I’m a frequent critic of Patrick’s, for very good reasons, but I do recognize that he’s got skills, and when he puts them to use in service of non-ideological items, he can be both good and effective. Patrick drew praise from Raise Your Hand Texas for his performance, and his SB 2 got kudos from Sen. Jose Rodriguez, who is very much on the opposite side of Sen. Patrick ideologically. I’ll throw in my own “attaboy”, since this bill does most of what I would have preferred and not much if any of what I opposed. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned. The Observer and Harold Cook have more.

And just to balance out all those good feelings, Patrick’s voucher bill, SB 23, was voted out of committee, with four Rs and one D (Eddie Lucio, of course) voting Yes. It seems likely that the remaining Democrats will unite against it, which will be enough to block it from coming to the Senate floor, but you never know. All in all, not a bad week for Dan Patrick.

Getting on the same page on marriage equality

Harold Cook asks a darned good question.

As SCOTUS hears arguments on marriage equality this week, it reminds me of when the Texas Legislature voted for the state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage in Texas eight years ago. Texas voters subsequently approved the measure that November by a 3-to-1 margin. I wonder if any of the legislators voting on that piece of crap would vote differently today?

I am particularly reminded of the Democrats who voted yes (or Present, Not Voting). Some of the statements of vote (scroll to the bottom) are surprising and disappointing, including those made by various House Democrats, two of whom are now in the US Congress and several of whom remain in the legislature or otherwise in the public eye. (and one of whom was, ironically, drummed out of office in part for gay baiting).

In the Senate (in which it was debated with zero votes to spare, while two Democrats voted yes):

HJR 6 was adopted by the following vote: Yeas 21, Nays 9.

Yeas: Armbrister, Averitt, Brimer, Deuell, Duncan, Eltife, Estes, Fraser, Harris, Jackson, Janek, Lindsay, Lucio, Madla, Nelson, Ogden, Seliger, Shapiro, Staples, Wentworth, Williams.

Nays: Barrientos, Ellis, Gallegos, Hinojosa, Shapleigh, VanideiPutte, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

And in the House:

The roll of those voting yea was again called and the verified vote resulted, as follows (Record 396): 101 Yeas, 29 Nays, 8 Present, not voting.

Yeas — Mr. Speaker(C); Allen, R.; Anderson; Baxter; Berman; Blake; Bohac; Bonnen; Branch; Brown, B.; Brown, F.; Callegari; Campbell; Casteel; Chisum; Cook, B.; Cook, R.; Corte; Crabb; Crownover; Davis, J.; Dawson; Delisi; Denny; Driver; Edwards; Eissler; Elkins; Escobar; Farabee; Flynn; Frost; Gattis; Geren; Gonzalez Toureilles; Goodman; Goolsby; Griggs; Grusendorf; Guillen; Haggerty; Hamilton; Hamric; Hardcastle; Harper-Brown; Hartnett; Hegar; Hilderbran; Hill; Homer; Hope; Hopson; Howard; Hughes; Hunter; Hupp; Isett; Jackson; Jones, D.; Keel; Keffer, B.; Keffer, J.; King, P.; King, T.; Kolkhorst; Krusee; Kuempel; Laney; Laubenberg; Madden; McCall; McReynolds; Merritt; Miller; Morrison; Mowery; Olivo; Orr; Otto; Paxton; Phillips; Pickett; Quintanilla; Raymond; Reyna; Riddle; Ritter; Rose; Seaman; Smith, T.; Smith, W.; Solomons; Straus; Swinford; Talton; Taylor; Truitt; Van Arsdale; West; Woolley; Zedler.

Nays — Allen, A.; Alonzo; Anchia; Bailey; Burnam; Coleman; Davis, Y.; Deshotel; Dukes; Dunnam; Dutton; Farrar; Gallego; Herrero; Hochberg; Hodge; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Moreno, J.; Moreno, P.; Naishtat; Noriega, M.; Puente; Rodriguez; Strama; Thompson; Veasey; Villarreal; Vo.

Present, not voting — Castro; Chavez; Giddings; Gonzales; Jones, J.; Leibowitz; Turner; Wong.

Absent, Excused — Eiland; Luna; Menendez; Nixon; Oliveira; Pitts; Smithee.

Absent — Flores; Martinez; Pena; Solis; Uresti.

I’ve helpfully highlighted all of the yea-voting Democrats in bold. All of the non-voters were Democrats except for Martha Wong, Joe Nixon, Jim Pitts, and John Smithee. You should click over to read some of the statements made by the non-voters, several of whom would have voted Yes and several of whom had less-than-stellar reasons for voting No. The good news is that there’s only a handful of yea-voting Dems left in the Lege – Eddie Lucio in the Senate; Ryan Guillen, Tracy King, Joe Pickett, and Richard Raymond in the House. Allan Ritter is still in the House but switched to the GOP in 2011.

I wanted to know what these legislators thought about marriage equality today. I sent the following emails to their communications directors and/or chiefs of staff:

As you know, the Supreme Court is hearing two cases this week that have to do with marriage equality. Eight years ago, the Texas Legislature approved HJR6, which was “a constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman”, which was subsequently ratified by the voters. Recent polling makes it clear that as with the rest of the country, Texans’ attitudes towards marriage equality are evolving, and Texans today are more favorably inclined to the idea than ever before. Democrats in particular are quite favorable to marriage equality, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2005, [your boss] was one of only three Democrats to vote Yes on HJR6 in the Senate/fifteen Democrats to vote Yes on HJR6 in the House. I would like to know, if he had to do it again today, would he still vote for HJR6?

This session, there are several joint amendments that would repeal this amendment – HJRs 77 and 78, and SJR 29. While I recognize that it is highly unlikely any of these resolutions will come to a vote, I would like to know if one of them did come up for a vote, would [your boss] vote for it?

I am sending this question to all five Democratic members of the Legislature who voted for HJR6 in 2005 and who are still serving as Democrats in the Legislature today. I intend to print the responses on my blog when I receive them. I look forward to receiving [your boss’] answer. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks very much.

The only complete response I got was from Rep. Richard Raymond:

In 2010 I decided that the only position I would take on the issue of marriage would be that I am pro marriage. Period.

Whether a person is gay or straight should be irrelevant.

What matters is that two people who love each other and want to get married should be able to do so.

Obviously, I’m glad to hear that. I wish I could say I got the same kind of answer from everyone I asked, but I can’t. Rep. Ryan Guillen responded that he had not read the legislation to repeal HJR6 – “I typically read bills as they come up for consideration and make my decision at that time”, he said. I followed up to inquire about whether he had changed his mind about his vote on HJR6, but did not get a response. Sen. Lucio declined to comment. I got no response from Reps. Tracy King or Joe Pickett despite two and three emails sent to them, respectively. So there’s still work to be done here. But we have come a long way. As Texas on the Potomac noted, not a single Texas Democrat voted against DOMA in 1996 – Sheila Jackson Lee, who voted “present”, was the only one not to vote in favor of it – but now many of them are full-throated in support of marriage equality. We will get to where we need to be, with marriage equality. I don’t know how long it will take, and I don’t know who will refuse to come along, but ultimately we will get there. It’s just a matter of time.

TSTA polls about public education

From the inbox, via the TSTA:

A strong majority of Texas voters support using some of the $12 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund to restore the $5.4 billion cut from the public education budget two years ago, and the support is strong across party lines, a poll commissioned by the Texas State Teachers Association shows.

The statewide telephone poll of likely voters, conducted Feb. 19-25 by Democratic pollster Keith Frederick and Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen, also indicated strong growth in public awareness that the funding cuts were hurting educational quality in classrooms. The poll included an oversampling of Republican primary voters.

The question about restoring school funding was asked two ways. One version simply informed respondents of the recent, rapid growth in the Rainy Day Fund and asked if they favored putting $5 billion back into public schools. Some 79 percent said yes, including 93 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republican primary voters.

The second version asked respondents if they favored spending $5 billion of Rainy Day money to hire more teachers, reduce class sizes and restore important academic programs or if they believed spending that money could lead to future tax increases and schools should first do a better job of cutting waste, bureaucracy and overhead. Some 69 percent favored restoring the funding, including 83 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republican primary voters.

Answering another key question, 61 percent said they believed the funding cuts hurt the quality of classroom instruction, and 32 percent said the cuts were absorbed by cutting waste in schools. That was a marked difference from responses to a similar poll question asked in late 2011, before the full impact of the spending reductions was widely known. At that time, only 47 percent thought the cuts hurt classroom quality, and 49 percent believed they would be absorbed by eliminating waste.

Presented with options, two-thirds of Texas voters (66 percent) would use the nearly $12 billion Rainy Day Fund to restore public school funding. This includes 39 percent who chose education funding over roads (4 percent) or water (5 percent) plus 27 percent who would spend Rainy Day money on all three needs. Only 22 percent would save the entire Rainy Day balance for future needs.

“Texans are not fooled by the rhetoric coming from the education-cutters in Austin,” said TSTA President Rita Haecker. “The vast majority of voters – Republicans, Democrats and independents alike – know that the budget cuts have hurt our classrooms. They also know that the Legislature has enough money to restore the funding without raising anyone’s taxes, and they demand that their legislators do the right thing for our children.”

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent for the entire 800-person sample and plus or minus 7 percent for the oversample of 200 Republican primary voters.

Four Democratic Senators – Ellis, Davis, Lucio, and Rodriguez – have filed legislation that would use Rainy Day funds for the purpose of restoring public education funding. See beneath the fold for their joint press release. You can see the poll data in this PowerPoint file, which for some reason isn’t on the TSTA webpage but which I’ve uploaded for your perusal. It’s great to have public opinion on one’s side. But there’s a disconnect right now between public opinion and what’s happening in the Capitol. Part of that is a function of the way legislative lines are drawn, since the opinion of Republican primary voters is so often at odds with the opinion of everyone else, including Republican non-primary voters. Part of that is the lack of a fully functional Democratic Party at the statewide level, or of a communications infrastructure to get the message about this disconnect through. More people need to lose elections over this. Nothing will change until the leadership changes. Burka has more.

(more…)

Here come the voucher bills

The Observer reports from the Senate, where two voucher bills were on display.

In fact, the business-tax-credit-totally-not-vouchers bill had already been filed Monday, by McKinney Republican Ken Paxton. So ends the great mystery, begun in a little Catholic schoolroom last December, of who would carry Sen. Dan Patrick’s voucher bill.

That leaves two school voucher proposals—defined as programs that would divert public money to private school tuition—floating around the Senate today. Here are more details on the pair:

Paxton’s Senate Bill 1015 would let companies steer up to 75 percent of what they owe in state taxes to a nonprofit that, in turn, awards private school scholarships for students. Only low-income students, in schools rated “unacceptable” the previous year, would be eligible for the scholarships. Those nonprofits awarding the scholarships can’t spend “100 percent” of their scholarship awards at one school—though they could presumably spend 99 percent at a given school.

[Tommy] Williams’ SB 115, discussed this morning in the Senate Education Committee, would provide a voucher for parents of children in special education programs, with its value tied to the special education funding the school would get from the state. Texas Education Agency General Counsel David Anderson told lawmakers this morning it’s hard to estimate just what that would be worth, because the state’s funding varies widely depending on a student’s disability.

The bills represent just the latest chapter in a decades-long school choice soap opera—either one would represent a milestone in Texas, though House Speaker Joe Straus has already warned his chamber isn’t likely to support any voucher plan.

See here for more about SB 1115. The preamble to this story was about how it had been reported that Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio was planning to file a voucher bill, a statement that he later flatly denied making. I have no idea what happened there, but whether accurate or not if that story led to a lot of people contacting Sen. Lucio and telling him in no uncertain terms that they didn’t want him to file such a bill, it’s all good by me. I think it’s unlikely either of these bills gets anywhere, but that doesn’t mean the idea can’t go forward. We’ll need to keep a close eye on the usual late-in-session amendment shenanigans. For now, these are the bills to watch. The Trib has more.

The war on women continues apace

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

Right there with them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here come the craft beer bills

From Brewed and Never Battered.

Senator Kevin Eltife (R-District 1) introduced bi-partisan legislation along with Co-Authors, Senators Brian Birdwell (R-District 22), John Carona (R-District 16), Eddie Lucio (D-District 27), Leticia Van de Putte (D-District 26), Kirk Watson (D-District 14), and John Whitmire (D-District 15) to modernize the state’s alcohol regulatory system to make more competitive Texas’s small, craft brewers.

Senate Bills 515, 516, 517 and 518 expand the rights of the state’s craft breweries and brewpubs to provide parity versus what brewers in other states are allowed to do.

From a Press Release put out by Senator Eltife’s office:

“Government shouldn’t be involved in picking winners and losers in private industry.  Texans believe consumers make the best choices about products in the free market,” said Senator Eltife.  “These four bills will level the playing field for the small business segment of Texas brewing industry.”

“Legislators should encourage entrepreneurial spirit by creating a climate for small business development opportunities that leads to capital investment and job creation in our state,” added Senator Eltife.  “This legislation will provide the proper regulatory framework for these businesses to operate and grow.”

What the Bills Do

SB 515

  • Increases the production limit for a brewpub from 5,000 to 12,500 barrels annually
  • Authorizes a brewpub to sell their products to the wholesale tier for re-sale
  • Authorizes a brewpub to self-distribute up to 1,000 barrels annual to the retail tier for re-sale

SB 518

  • Authorizes a production brewery under 225,000 barrels of annual production to sell up to 5,000 barrels annually of beer produced by the brewery to ultimate consumers for consumption on the premise of the brewery

SB 516 & 517

  • Authorizes a production brewery under 125,000 barrels of annual production to self-distribute up to 40,000 barrels annual of beer, ale and malt-liquor to retailers. (Note: this right currently exists but is being adjusted. Currently, a brewery under 75,000 barrels of annual production may self-distribute up to 75,000 barrels. These bills increase the size of a brewery that may self-distribute while reducing the amount they may self-distribute. There are two bills because it affects both the “Manufacturer” license – Ch. 62 of the code – and the “Brewer” permit – Ch. 12 of the code.)
  • Eliminates discrimination against out-of-state suppliers.

This is great to hear. I don’t remember there being this kind of broad support for previous bills, but if this is any indication there just might be a breakthrough this year. These bills encompass most, but not quite all, of what the microbrewers and brewpubs have been pushing for. Beer, TX notes the exception:

Notably, the bill regarding on-site sales for production breweries does not include any provision for selling beer for off-premises consumption or giving packaged beer away following tours. That had been a major push during the past two legislative sessions. In 2011, a bill made it through the House and Senate committee but was never called for a floor vote because of opposition.

That opposition hasn’t gone away and the small brewers abandoned efforts to include such a provision in this year’s proposals.

That’s a bummer, but sometimes you have to take a smaller step forward before you can get where you really want to go. Here’s Open the Taps:

Open The Taps continues to work closely with the [Texas Craft Brewers] Guild to help shape and guide the legislation and we are pleased with the general direction of the debate, but we believe these bills can and should go further by allowing microbreweries to sell set quantities of beer directly to patrons for off-premise personal consumption.

We will be working with members of the Senate Business and Commerce Committee and the House Committee on Licensing and Administrative Procedures to share our position and elicit their support.

I’d rather have stronger bills, too, but better to get these bills passed and come back in two years for more than fail again and have to start all over again in two years. Passing these bills will be progress, and we need that. The key is that the usual suspects do not appear to be standing in the way this time, as the Chron story notes.

Several of the parties involved in developing the proposals say there is at least some agreement within the industry and in the state Senate.

“Conceptually, we’ve agreed,” said Rick Donley, president of the Beer Alliance of Texas, which represents Silver Eagle Distributing and other major wholesalers.

[…]

Charles Vallhonrat, executive director of the Texas Craft Brewers Guild, applauded the work of lawmakers “in bringing industry stakeholders – from small and large brewers to distributors and retailers – to the table to discuss how to make Texas a compelling place for breweries to do business.”

Scott Metzger, the Freetail owner who pushed for a brewpub bill two years ago, agreed that pre-session working groups organized by Van de Putte created “a really good, open process.”

Getting past that opposition is huge, but nothing is certain until the governor puts his signature on it. As always, now is an excellent time to contact your Senator and your Representative to let them know you support these bills, and you would like them to support these bills as well.

Dan Patrick wants to play doctor

Clearly, the man missed his calling.

Before Texas’ abortion sonogram law passed last legislative session, some women seeking to end pregnancies in rural communities relied on telemedicine, with physicians — working in partnership with medical technicians or nurses — administering prescription drugs via videoconference to induce early-stage abortions.

If new legislation filed by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, passes in 2013, women in remote corners of the state may have even fewer options to get the procedure.

2011’s abortion sonogram law — another measure Patrick championed — requires that a physician, as opposed to a technician or nurse, perform a sonogram on a woman seeking an abortion at least 24 hours ahead of the procedure. That in effect prohibits the use of telemedicine for drug-induced abortions, which opponents of the procedure call a welcome consequence for a little-discussed practice.

SB 97, Patrick’s latest measure, would further increase the in-person requirements for physicians. In addition to the in-person sonogram 24 hours ahead of the abortion, doctors would have to personally administer both of the two medications used for drug-induced abortions, and see the patient again for a follow-up appointment within 14 days, a particular challenge for the roving doctors who treat women in the state’s rural counties.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of the abortion provider Whole Women’s Health, said that before last session’s sonogram law took effect in February, her clinics in Beaumont, McAllen and Fort Worth relied on telemedicine. A technician would perform the sonogram and a physician based in Austin would review the patient’s medical records, then videoconference with the patient to answer any questions.

“Through telemedicine we were able to serve women in communities, mainly more rural communities, where access to abortion was much more difficult,” she said.

Silly woman. Don’t know you know Dan Patrick knows what’s best for you and your patients? Don’t make him have to pass a bill requiring his express written consent for anyone to get an abortion in this state, because he will if you make him mad enough. This would be a good time for those of you whose Senators are Eddie Lucio, Judith Zaffirini, or Carlos Uresti to start calling their offices and telling them not to vote to bring this travesty to the floor, like they did in 2011 with the sonogram bill. With the defeat of Jeff Wentworth, the last pro-choice Republican in the state, we’ll need at least two and possibly all three of them to stand with their fellow Democrats in opposing this, depending on when the election to succeed the late Mario Gallegos is concluded. This would also be a good time for so-called “moderates” like Sarah Davis to do something to earn that designation and actively oppose this ridiculous intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship, instead of waiting till the bill comes to the floor of the House and casting a token vote against it.

Williams in, Lucio out for Congress

Now that the Lege has finished its job with Congressional redistricting, expect to hear a lot more stories about the hopefuls and the not-hopefuls and their plans. For instance, Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams.

With the race for Senate getting crowded, Republican Michael Williams figured the new North Texas congressional seat might just be the ticket to Washington. The former Railroad Commissioner has changed his campaign web site and refiled his papers with the Federal Election Commission as a candidate for Congressional District 33. The district is one of four new seats that Texas gets as a result of population growth. The Legislature passed the new congressional map last week and sent to the governor. The map likely faces legal challenges and has to win federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. But Williams’ campaign consultant Corbin Casteel says the new Arlington-based Republican district is a perfect fit for Williams.

“Michael knows if he gets to Washington as a senator or a congressman, it doesn’t matter which, he’s going to be a conservative leader,” Casteel said. “This is a much more direct path. The Senate race is crowded. It’s not going to be clear for several months who’s going to break out of that, so he said this congressional seat is in my home town, it makes plenty of sense.”

Williams first talked about this a couple of weeks ago, not long after the first map came out. Despite his lackluster Senate campaign, you’d have to make him a frontrunner for this seat, assuming it survives a Justice Department review.

Meanwhile, a more surprising announcement is that State Sen. Eddie Lucio will not run for Congress in CD34.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio says he will not run for Congress, even though a new heavily Democratic open district has been created that is anchored in Brownsville.

[…]

Lucio first talked publicly about running for Congress in an exclusive interview with the Guardian at a legislative event at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen in September 2009. The 2010 Census was just around the corner and Lucio felt sure that the huge population growth in the Rio Grande Valley over the last decade would result in a new congressional seat being awarded to South Texas.

Here are his comments to the Guardian in September 2009:

“We deserve to have at least three congressional districts anchored in the Valley and going north. I will work to that affect next session and I will seriously look at running for one of those seats.

“If I lose another 15 pounds and continue to have the energy I have today I would very seriously like to cap my political career… not so much my political career but I would love to address and tackle the issues that are important to us internationally, immigration, health care, water, the environment.

“I think there are a lot of wonderful things we could do at the federal level that would benefit the Valley and South Texas.”

This is surprising because the conventional wisdom was that Lucio, who is on the Senate Redistricting Committee that produced the initial map, was said to have drawn CD34 for himself. There were rumors that he’d vote for the final map, though that turned out to be untrue. He made his announcement on Twitter last Friday; his full statement about why he chose not to run is here.

Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos has expressed an interest in running in District 34. However, as Lucio points out, it has yet to win pre-clearance from the Department of Justice. The Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force has said the new map leaves more than 200,000 Latinos in Nueces County “stranded” in a congressional seat (District 27) where they cannot elect their preferred candidate of choice. On Friday, the Task Force announced it had filed a voting rights lawsuit in federal court in San Antonio.

Stories about that lawsuit are here and here. There was already a lawsuit filed by LULAC in the same U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio, and LULAC is listed as a member of the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, so it’s not clear to me if these are separate lawsuits or not. If they are, I’d say the odds are good they eventually get combined. As for Armando Villalobos, he had announced his interest in running for Congress back in May, well before a map made an appearance. As with CD33, we’ll see how the legal reviews shake out.

Republicans admit that the Rainy Day fund has been spent

I’m sure you’ve heard Rick Perry and other Republicans talk about how they’ve “balanced” the budget without tapping into the Rainy Day fund. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear that they’re lying.

Republicans have given up any pretense that they’re saving the remaining $6.5 billion rainy day fund for some unknown rainier day.

House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, spoke against a Democratic effort to use $4 billion from the rainy day fund for public schools in the 2012-13 budget by saying that money “technically doesn’t exist.”

“The funds aren’t available,” Eissler said, echoing a point that has been openly acknowledged by other Republicans during this special legislative session. They were a little forthcoming during the regular session.

Almost $5 billion of that fund will be needed to cover the tab for Medicaid in the 2012-13 budget. But legislators won’t pay that bill until they return in 2013.

We already knew this, but it bears repeating, and it’s good to see more of them being forced to acknowledge it. The budget they’ve passed is a sham that passes several billion bucks on to the next Legislature. Anyone who tells you otherwise is at best misinformed.

The “Democratic effort” is, I presume, referring to a press release (which you can see here) by Sens. Rodney Ellis, Wendy Davis, and Eddie Lucio that announces legislation they filed to close various tax loopholes and use the Rainy Day fund to restore the $4 billion in funding that had been cut from public education. EoW has a summary of their proposals. The good news is that by flushing the Republicans out on this, Democrats were able to do something about it.

Democrats scored a minor victory Thursday when House members voted to spend any growth in the state’s rainy day fund over the next two years on student enrollment increases in public schools. An amendment offered by Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, would require that any growth in the rainy day fund above the $6.5 billion that is projected to be in the fund at the end of the next two-year budget cycle will go to schools to pay for additional students. The amendment, adopted on a voice vote, was part of a state fiscal matters bills that was tentatively approved on Thursday.

[…]

Howard conceded that Republicans have blocked access to the projected $6.5 billion in the fund, but asked them to compromise and take any monies above that amount to cover enrollment gains in schools over the next two years. She estimated that enrollment increases of 70,000 to 80,000 students per year will cost school districts an extra $2.2 billion – and that would be the maximum that could be taken for education under her proposal. Republicans were generally supportive of the idea and the amendment was easily approved. It was unclear, however, whether the Senate would support the idea.

Assuming it survives the Senate, that still may amount to nothing, but you take your victories where you can. Trail Blazers and PoliTex have more. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Soda tax

There are three things you can say about a soda tax for Texas:

1. It would raise some revenue.

2. It would make people drink less soda, which would likely have some modest health benefit.

3. It ain’t gonna happen.

Republican lawmakers have vowed to close the budget hole without a new tax. But that hasn’t stopped Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, from proposing a penny per ounce tax on soft drinks.

At a Senate Finance hearing [Monday] morning, he suggested his measure could bring in billions of dollars to the state, while curbing consumption of sugary drinks linked to childhood obesity and diabetes.

“I have become convinced we cannot cut our way out of the financial hole we find ourselves in without devastating the services millions of Texans rely upon,” he said.

But while public health experts testified that the measure would dramatically curb the purchase of soft drinks, and limit the calories and caffeine young people consume, representatives from the beverage industry questioned the data, and said there’s no simple solution to the obesity epidemic.

“Common sense tells us, and science proves, that taxes don’t necessarily make people healthier,” said Bill McManus, director of government affairs for the American Beverage Association. “Making smart, educated decisions about diet and exercise do that.”

Lucio’s bill is SB1004. Among other things, legislation that raise revenues must originate in the House, so that should tell you what its odds are. But let’s be clear about a few things. This would raise revenue, which the state desperately needs. It would also reduce the consumption of soda, as any price increase would, and in doing so would reduce the amount of sugar and high fructose corn syrup that people consume. Given the evidence that the consumption of these items is bad for you, reducing their consumption would be a boon for better health. It’s by no means a cure-all – only beverage industry lobbyists say that it claims to be – but it would help a little, and the only way we’re going to see a marked improvement in Americans’ health is by doing a lot of things that each help a little. In other words, it’s much like tobacco taxes. That’s how I see it, anyway. Not that it really matters since it ain’t gonna happen, but there you have it.

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

Excellent.

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

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

[…]

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonogram bill passes out of committee

As expected.

One of Gov. Rick Perry’s designated “emergency” pieces of legislation cleared an early hurdle on Wednesday when the Senate State Affairs Committee voted in favor of a bill that would require a physician to perform a sonogram on a pregnant woman at least 24 hours before performing an abortion.

The bill passed on a 7-2 vote, with Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, dissenting. It is likely to be heard by the full Senate as early as next week.

And barring anything unusual, it will be passed. I had wondered if there were enough Democratic votes to prevent it from coming to the floor, but with Sens. Lucio and Zaffirini in favor of it, the answer is no. I don’t see anything stopping it.

In its original form, doctors would be required to perform a sonogram, explain the procedure as it is performed and require a woman see the image and hear the heartbeat of the fetus. That version contained language that allowed a woman to “avert her eyes” if she chose.

A committee substitute introduced Wednesday would not compel the doctor to perform the sonogram or detect a heartbeat if a woman’s pregnancy was the result of sexual assault or incest or if the fetus has an “irreversible medical condition or abnormality.”

In any circumstance, the doctor and the woman cannot be prosecuted for the woman’s decision not to see the sonogram or hear the heartbeat.

“This is an issue about empowering women,” said [bill sponsor Sen. Dan] Patrick, an outspoken abortion opponent. “What this bill does is remove the barrier that is placed in front of women now from getting information they’re entitled to.”

No, it’s about shaming them, which Patrick hopes will lead to fewer abortions. If he could have passed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to write 100 times on a blackboard “I am a bad person and I should be ashamed of myself”, he’d do it. This was the next best thing. Patrick and his ilk think these women are ignorant victims who are being duped by unscrupulous doctors. This is why anti-abortion legislation never holds the women responsible for getting an abortion they’re trying to make illegal even though they say it’s murder. In the case of this bill, the only penalty provided is that the doctor could be subject to losing his or her license if they fail to show the sonogram. Shouldn’t “empowerment” imply some kind of responsibility? It would if that’s what this were really about, but it’s not.

I’ve no doubt that Sen. Patrick is sincere in his desire to reduce the number of abortions in Texas. It may surprise him to know that I share that goal. It’s just that I would go about it by trying to reduce the number of unintended and unwanted pregnancies. That means a greater investment in making contraception more accessible and affordable, better and more comprehensive sex education, ensuring prenatal care is more available and affordable, and ensuring the social safety net is strong, since people do take financial factors into account when they consider their options. (It’s expensive to be pregnant, birth a child, and rear it, in case you hadn’t heard.) That would require spending some money, which outside of making other people spend theirs on unnecessary sonograms, the Senator is not inclined to do. It’s true that my method would not eliminate the need for abortions. But then, neither will Sen. Patrick’s. Even if he someday succeeds in his goal of outlawing them completely, women will still get them, one way or another, just as they did before Roe v. Wade. At least my way would have the ancillary benefit of improving women’s health overall. Other than maybe sonogram machine manufacturers, I don’t know who will benefit from SB16. Katherine Hanschen has more.

New frontiers in open meeting laws

There’s an awful lot here to think about.

The Texas Legislature may become the first in the nation to tackle whether tweeting and texting is being used to circumvent open meetings laws and whether the private devices of public officials can be subject to open records searches.

“They are new tools to communicate with constituents … and in some ways they are a better way to engage the public in the public policy process,” said Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

But he told the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday that the tools of the Internet and smart phones can lead to quorum and open meetings violations.

“Everybody here today has been texting and answering e-mails,” Elkins said. “It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a quorum of any body has texted each other to say ‘Yes, I’m voting and why.’ ”

[…]

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, said he would be concerned that people may think he was violating the law by texting during a meeting when, in fact, he may be dealing with a family emergency, a message from a constituent or even taking a moment to read the Gospel of the Day.

“Texting has become an excellent way to get staff to assist you during committee meetings,” Lucio said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, said he is concerned about subjecting private computers and private cell phones to public information requests. He said he also is worried that public officials may end up having to carry three cell phones to cover public use, campaign use and private use.

“Everybody ought to have some expectation of privacy, even if they are a public official,” Duncan said.

No question there’s a can of worms here, but I am sympathetic to what the Senators have to say. Among other things, many public officials are parents, and I’d bet they get lots of text messages from or about their kids, just like millions of other parents do. Basically, this is in some sense no different than email, and we had this conversation about email some years ago. Everyone more or less understands the rules with email – what you can and can’t send from your official account, for example – and it shouldn’t to too hard to translate those rules for other forms of communication. Just codifying what’s allowed and what’s not will do a lot to discourage official business from taking place out of sight.

That doesn’t mean that there won’t be loopholes to exploit. That happens now with email. We’ve seen Governor Perry and various members of the Bush administration use personal email accounts for a lot of stuff that may have been official or campaign communications because they can avoid this kind of scrutiny by doing so. There isn’t always a sufficiently clear distinction between different kinds of communications, so any number of things can fall between the cracks by accident or design. With new technologies constantly emerging, those who want to operate in secret will always have an advantage, as the law will never be able to keep up. Confusion is an issue, too, as illustrated by this paragraph:

Not long after a Florida state commission recommended all agencies adopt policies on electronic messaging last year, the state’s utility regulation agency was caught in a scandal when staff gave out private Blackberry messaging accounts to utility lobbyists, who treated them to a Kentucky Derby trip. Though no texts were preserved, it gave the appearance of trying to circumvent the state’s open meetings law.

I’m not what they mean by “BlackBerry messaging accounts”, but as far as I know, one normally sends text messages to a phone number. You can use BlackBerrys for instant messaging as well, however, and I suspect this may have been referring to IM accounts, which can be on various services like AIM or Yahoo or Microsoft OCS if you are on a BlackBerry Enterprise Server that is configured to work with it. Personal IM usage would not be recorded on a BES, if that’s what these guys were doing. Getting a real handle on this will be a challenge, but using existing guidelines for email usage will be our best bet for where to start.

One last thing: The opening sentence of this story referred to “tweeting and texting”, but that was the only mention of anything related to Twitter. Say what you want about Twitter, it’s not normally used for clandestine communication. Yes, you can protect your tweets, and yes you can send text-like direct messages, but for the most part Twitter is the opposite of what needs to be dealt with here.

Like I said, it’s a complex issue. Vince makes a compelling case that what’s at issue is open records, not open meetings. I encourage you to read what he has to say on the subject.

Stiffed by State Farm

Those good hands we’re supposed to be in? They’re squeezing the heck out of us.

To leading lawmakers and even some insurance industry experts, State Farm hasn’t exactly been like a good neighbor in recent dealings with state regulators.

The state’s largest property insurer shows no sign of compromising on its marathon legal battle over the state’s ruling that it overcharged homeowners hundreds of millions of dollars.

The insurer – which had an improved bottom line in 2009, according to figures released Monday by the state – has yet to pay a penny to policyholders.

After filing twice in eight months to increase rates, company officials gave a cold shoulder last month to state Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin, who suggested State Farm needed to give its customers a break.

And on Thursday, State Farm will take Geeslin and the Texas Department of Insurance to court in an effort to keep the agency from publicizing documents related to the rate spikes, which represent a statewide increase of 13 percent.

That was today, and State Farm won a temporary restraining order barring the TDI from posting the documents, though that could change depending on what Insurance Commissioner Geeslin does. The Chron’s Loren Steffy explains what State Farm is trying to get away with.

State Farm’s cry that disclosure will be anti-competitive is just another industry red herring.

Homeowners insurance is a market with fixed demand, meaning it isn’t really free to begin with. In a free market, after all, competition drives down prices.

Yet in Texas, the Big Three — State Farm, Farmers and Allstate — repeatedly push to raise rates and would hike them even higher if the state didn’t restrict the increases.

Because homeowners rarely change insurers, yet most are required to have it by their mortgage companies, the Big Three retain a stranglehold on the market even as they raise prices and reduce coverage.

State Farm has been battling the insurance department since 2004, demanding higher rates, rejecting the state’s finding that it’s overcharging and appealing the order that it refund hundreds of millions of dollars to customers.

Now it wants to hide the its rationale for yet another rate hike.

Insurance rates have been going up faster than property taxes for a lot of people, not that anyone in the state’s Republican leadership seems all that worked up about it. Democrats, however, are all over it.

Under the current file and use system, insurance companies can introduce drastic rate hikes without obtaining approval from the state insurance commissioner, the Legislature, or Texas consumers. The commissioner has few tools to keep the marketplace in balance.

“There is no backstop here. The solution could not be clearer, we must give our commissioner the tools to bring these companies in line,” said Representative Jessica Farrar. “We need a system of prior approval requiring insurance companies to justify rate increases before they pass them on to their customers and TDI Sunset provides that opportunity.”

It sure would be nice to have some accountability for the insurers, wouldn’t it? We’ll see how the lawsuit proceeds.

Lucio says he wants to run for Congress

State Sen. Eddie Lucio is looking ahead to 2011 and the possibility that there’s a seat in Congress for him.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio says he will seriously consider running for Congress after the next round of redistricting, which takes place in 2011.

The Brownsville Democrat says the huge growth in population in the Rio Grande Valley over the last ten years merits the creation of two new U.S. House seats anchored in the four-county region, in addition to the district currently represented by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.

“We deserve to have at least three congressional districts anchored in the Valley and going north. I will work to that effect next session and I will seriously look at running for one of those seats,” Lucio told the Guardian, in an exclusive interview.

“If I lose another 15 pounds and continue to have the energy I have today I would very seriously like to cap my political career… not so much cap my political career but I would love to address and tackle the issues that are important to us internationally, immigration, health care, water, the environment,” Lucio said.

“I think there are a lot of wonderful things we could do at the federal level that would benefit the Valley and South Texas.”

Sen. Lucio is the least reliable Democrat in the Senate caucus, whose doublecross on an anti-environment bill aimed at Houston in 2007 helped earn him a spot on the Ten Worst list (he was upgraded to Furniture for this past session) and still personally chaps my hide. But I wouldn’t underestimate his ability to get a district drawn that he could win. Just another thing to keep an eye on as we head towards the next session.