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Harold Dutton

A clean separation

Well done.

Richard Carranza

Former Houston ISD superintendent Richard Carranza’s resignation from the district involved no financial settlements, and the two sides agreed not to sue each other following the separation, according to documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

A written agreement between Carranza and HISD board members shows a clean break after Carranza announced in early March that he planned to become chancellor of New York City public schools. Carranza officially resigned on March 31 and started his job in New York City on April 2. HISD board members have appointed Grenita Lathan, who previously served as the district’s chief academic officer, to serve indefinitely as interim superintendent.

Carranza’s three-year contract ran through August 2019, leading to questions about whether he would face any repercussions for resigning midway through that term. His contract didn’t include any penalties for resigning before August 2019, and it did stipulate both sides could mutually agree to end the agreement.

Carranza was paid his regular salary of $345,000 and benefits through March 31. He was allowed to take accrued but unused personal days through the last week of his employment.

[…]

Trustees have given no timetable for hiring a permanent superintendent. District officials on Wednesday named an interim chief academic officer, Noelia Longoria, to fill Lathan’s position. Longoria previously served as assistant superintendent of HISD’s Office of School Choice.

No drama is fine by me, and the terms are boringly normal. May it be this easy finding the right candidate to replace Carranza.

On a side note, the Chron editorial board calls for a change in how HISD trustees are elected.

One significant change that Houston ISD should consider is changing the way it elects school board members. Currently, the nine trustees are elected from single-member districts, rather than by voters from throughout the school district.

Texas law allows a couple of alternatives. One would be a board made up of a mix of single-member and at-large trustees. This is similar to how Houston’s City Council is elected. Sixty smaller school districts across Texas use this governance system, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

Another alternative would be to switch to cumulative voting, where voters across the school district would be allowed to cast as many votes as there are candidates. This option has been available to Texas school districts since 1995 and is used by a number of smaller school districts for at-large trustee elections.

Changing the governance model could help address one of the biggest challenges facing the school board: Members are concerned about struggling campuses in their own electoral district, but not necessarily in the districts of other trustees.

Single-member districts have played a major role in assuring more diversity on school boards. They help ensure that multiple voices are heard in the development of education policy. But they also can result in a balkanized school district, with trustees focused on their individual parts rather than the whole.

The Chron notes that this “balkanization” was one of the reasons Rep. Harold Dutton pushed through HB 1842, the bill that now has HISD under the gun for the chronically low-performing schools. I’m kind of meh on this idea. I suppose a hybrid district/at large model would be all right, though I’d like someone to try to persuade me that At Large Council members are better at looking out for the interests of the entire city than the district members are (and I say that as someone who supports having At Large council members). I’m not convinced we need to change to do a better job of achieving our goals, but I’ll listen if you want to make a pitch. Campos has more.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 4

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, and the full endorsements page is here. I had thought this would finish up all the races of interest for us, but then I decided the Republican races were sufficiently interesting as well, so I’ll do those tomorrow.

CD18: Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Sheila Jackson Lee is so deeply entrenched in her congressional seat, knocking her off her throne is pretty close to mission impossible.

She won her post 24 years ago after downtown power brokers — notably Enron CEO Ken Lay — abandoned then-congressman Craig Washington over his opposition to NAFTA and the space station. Since then Jackson Lee has become legendary for her aggressive self-promotion, whether it’s speaking at Michael Jackson’s funeral or planting herself on the aisle before State of the Union speeches to get her picture on television shaking the president’s hand.

But even Democratic politicos who joke about her insatiable appetite for camera time have come to respect Jackson Lee as a hardworking voice for progressive causes. With almost a quarter-century of seniority, she now serves on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Budget committees. She likes to brag about her role in securing federal funds for a wide range of needs — from education to veteran services — for constituents in her district.

As you know, I agree. Nothing to see here, let’s move on.

SBOE4: Lawrence Allen

Lawrence Allen, Jr. who was first elected to the board in 2004, has been a principal, assistant principal and teacher across town and is now community liaison at Houston Independent School District. He holds a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from Prairie View A&M University. As the senior Democrat on the board, Allen, 56, says that he sets the tone for his fellow Democrats about how to approach an issue in a professional way that’s not cantankerous. His collaborative style has been useful in steering this board away from the shores of political controversy and toward fact-based governance.

Since Allen has been on the Board for more than a decade, some could argue that it’s time for a change. However, Allen’s opponent, Steven A. Chambers, is not the person that voters should turn to as his replacement. Chambers, a pastor and educator, told the editorial board that he believes creationism should be taught as an option alongside evolution in Texas schools. After years of struggles with religious fundamentalists, the board has finally started embracing science standards and rejecting dogma. Electing Chambers to the board would risk reigniting this debate and undo the progress made by the board.

This isn’t my district, but I’ll sign on to that. Say No to creationism, always and in every form.

SD15: John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

Long-time State Senator John Whitmire, 68, is facing two talented challengers in the March 6 Democratic primary, but we endorse him for re-election because his experience and political skills will be needed as recovery from Hurricane Harvey continues.

State storm aid has been hard enough to come by even with him in Austin. We can only imagine how it would be without him and his 44 years in the state legislature, the last 35 in the Senate.

He is the dean of that body, has a deep knowledge of how it works and a rare ability in these polarized times to bridge political differences to get things done.

[…]

Of his two opponents, we were particularly impressed by Damian Lacroix, 43, a lawyer who offers a vision of a Texas Democratic Party that fights for its ideals and tries to heighten the contrast with Republicans rather than working behind the scenes for smaller and smaller gains.

“Being a state senator is more than just passing legislation and regulation,” Lacroix told the editorial board. “It is also being able to galvanize people and getting a message out to people, bringing them into the fold.”

There’s something to what LaCroix says, but especially when you’re in the minority you need some of each type. Whitmire’s the best we’ve got at the first type. There are more appealing options elsewhere in the Senate to add to the LaCroix type.

HD147: Garnet Coleman

Rep. Garnet Coleman

After 27 years on the job, state Rep. Garnet F. Coleman, 56, knows his way around the Texas Legislature about as well as anybody there and better than most. He’s a liberal Democrat in a sea of conservative Republicans who manages to get a surprising number of things done.

“Some people know how to kill bills, some people know how to pass bills. I know how to do both,” he told the editorial board.

[…]

Coleman has a long history of working on issues of mental and physical health and of seeking funds for the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, both in his district, which extends from downtown southeast past Hobby Airport.

He also says the state needs a revolving fund like the water development fund that local governments can tap into for flood control projects.

It was an oversight on my part to not include Rep. Coleman on the list of people I endorse. He’s one of the best and he deserves our support.

HD146: Shawn Thierry

Rep. Shawn Thierry

Freshman state Rep. Shawn Nicole Thierry, a 47-year-old attorney, showed a lot of promise in her first session of the Texas Legislature last year as she learned the ropes of being a Democratic legislator in a heavily Republican body.

She was successful enough to get six bills through the House of Representatives — not bad for a rookie legislator — and worked with Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst to pass a bill in the special session that extended the Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity.

The task force, which is studying our state’s Third Worldish maternal mortality rate and what to do about it, was scheduled to end next September, but now will continue until 2023.

Thierry has learned the importance of the personal touch in legislating – it was her letter to Gov. Greg Abbott that convinced him to include the task force issue in the special session.

As noted, Rep. Thierry was selected by precinct chairs as the substitute nominee for HD146 in 2016 after Borris Miles moved up to the Senate to succeed Rodney Ellis. She wasn’t my first choice for the seat – I’d have voted for Erica Lee Carter if I’d been one of the chairs who got to vote – but I agree that she’s done a good job and deserves another term. And with all due respect to her two male opponents, the Lege needs more women, not fewer.

HD142: Harold Dutton

Rep. Harold Dutton

State Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr. has served as representative for District 142 since 1985 and we see no compelling reason to lose his seniority and its advantages at a time when Democrats need all the help they can get.

The 73-year-old attorney has been a loyal fighter for his heavily black and Hispanic district that starts in the Fifth Ward and goes east then north to 1960. In last year’s legislative session he authored 106 bills, a big part of them having to do with criminal justice.

He cites improvements to the Fifth Ward’s Hester House community center as his proudest achievement, but he also passed laws that restored the right to vote to ex-felons, effectively stopped red-lining by insurance companies and protected home-buyers from fraud in the use of contracts for deeds. He is involved in efforts to improve struggling district high schools Kashmere, Worthing and Wheatley.

He is also responsible for the state bill under which the Texas Education Agency is threatening to shutter those schools. That might make him vulnerable to a strong challenger.

Rep. Dutton is definitely getting dragged on social media over his authorship of that bill, and also over some nasty remarks he’s directed at Durrel Douglas, who’s been among those fighting to save the mostly black schools that are at risk. His opponent isn’t particularly compelling, but he could be vulnerable going forward. I don’t have a dog in this fight – like most veteran legislators, Dutton has some good and some not-so-good in his record, but his seniority gives him a fair amount of clout. I expect him to win, but this is a race worth watching.

HD139: Jarvis Johnson

Rep. Jarvis Johnson

State Rep. Jarvis Johnson is being challenged by former Lone Star College board chairman Randy Bates in the largely black and Hispanic District 139 on the city’s near northwest side.

He served three terms on the Houston City Council before winning his first term in the Texas House in 2016, succeeding Sylvester Turner who left to run for mayor.

Johnson, 46, is a strong supporter of vocational education, proposes that police officers be required to get psychological exams every two years, holds job fairs in the district and wants to prevent gentrification of historic neighborhoods such as Acres Homes.

Bates, 68, was on the Lone Star board for 21 years, seven of those as chairman, and the main building on its Victory Center campus is named for him. He’s an attorney who heads Bates and Coleman law firm.

He ran for the state seat in 2016 and is running again because he said people in the community complained that Johnson “is not doing enough for our district.”

We have a lot of respect for the work Bates did on the Lone Star board, but he didn’t give us a compelling reason to support him over Johnson.

This is almost certainly the best chance to defeat Rep. Johnson, who doesn’t get the seniority argument that most of the other incumbents listed above have. He didn’t do much as a freshman, but that’s hardly unusual for a member of the minority caucus. I don’t have a strong opinion about this one.

HD27: Wilvin Carter

Four-term incumbent state Rep. Ron Reynolds is running for re-election despite the fact that he may be facing a year in jail for his conviction in 2016 for five cases of misdemeanor barratry, also known as ambulance chasing for his law practice.

He’s being challenged in his Fort Bend district by another lawyer, Wilvin Carter, a former assistant attorney general and Fort Bend County assistant district attorney. The district includes Sienna Plantation, Stafford and most of Missouri City. No Republicans are running for this seat so this Democratic primary essentially serves as the general election for District 27.

[…]

The unfortunate thing about Reynolds is that he is has a strong record for supporting environmental protection and gay rights, but with the possible jail sentence hanging over his head it’s hard to support him. He is a lawmaker who has been convicted of breaking the law, which is a breech of trust. Also, practically speaking, how much can he do for his constituents if he’s behind bars?

Voters should support Carter instead.

Reynolds is good on reproductive choice and a whole host of other issues as well. The Chron has endorsed Reynolds’ opponents in recent years due to his legal troubles and they have been pretty harsh about it, but here they recognize the dilemma. Reynolds’ voting record and personal charm have helped him maintain support, and I would bet on him being re-elected. I continue to hope he will step down and get his life straightened out, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

Filing news: Jerry’s back

Former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson would like his office back, please.

Jerry Patterson

Patterson, who was first elected as the state’s land commissioner in 2003, wants to head the agency that manages state-owned lands and the Alamo. He gave up the job to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, but came in last in a four-way GOP primary race.

Patterson has long been critical of Bush, including the office’s response to Hurricane Harvey. Since 2011 the office has also overseen housing recovery efforts after natural disasters.

“If your headline is that Jerry Patterson wants his old job back, that would be wrong,” Patterson told the Houston Chronicle. “I don’t need this job and I would prefer to be praising George P. Bush.”

He decided to run himself — after looking for someone else to make the race against Bush — because he believed he was “watching this agency crater for the past three years.” That criticism comes after watching the agency refuse to disclose details about the Alamo restoration project that the Land Office is overseeing and after seeing tens of thousands of Texas homeless after Hurricane Harvey while just two homes have been rebuilt so far.

“This morning, Harvey victims who have been sleeping in tents awakened to the snow,” Patterson said.

I’ll say this about Jerry Patterson: I disagree with him on many things, but he was without a doubt one of the more honorable people serving in government while he was there. He took the job of Land Commissioner seriously, he was a stalwart defender of the Texas Open Beaches Act, and in my view he always acted with the best interests of the state at heart. He’s not going to be my first choice, but I’d take him over Baby Bush in a heartbeat.

Land Commissioner was one of two statewide offices for which there had not been a Democratic candidate, but as the story note, that is no longer the case:

[Miguel] Suazo, an attorney from Austin, announced Friday he would run for the post as a Democrat.

No stranger to politics, Suazo worked as an aid to U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, in Washington D.C. and has also worked as an energy and environment associate for Wellford Energy Advisors, a manager for regulatory affairs for the the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. He has also worked as an oil and gas attorney in Houston.

“I am running for Land Commissioner because I am qualified for the office and eager to bring new leadership to Texas,” Suazo in a statement declaring his candidacy. “I represent small and large companies and also regular folks who need a job done. I know business and I know people . . . I’m self-made, nothing’s been handed to me. I intend to bring that approach to the General Land Office.”

Suazo, a proponent of block-chain technology, said he may be the first candidate in Texas to launch his campaign using proceeds from Bitcoin investments.

Here’s his campaign Facebook page. I’m so glad there will be a choice in November.

Other news:

– The other statewide office that was lacking a Democratic candidate was Comptroller. That too is no longer the case as Tim Mahoney has filed. I don’t know anything about him as yet beyond what you can see on that website.

– Someone named Edward Kimbrough has filed in the Democratic primary for Senate. Sema Hernandez had previously shown up on the SOS candidate filings page, but hasn’t been there for several days. Not sure what’s up with that, but be that as it may, it’s a reminder that Beto O’Rourke needs to keep running hard all the way through. On the Republican side, someone named Mary Miller has filed. As yet, neither Bruce Jacobson nor Stefano de Stefano has appeared on that list. It will break my heart if Stefano de Stefano backs out on this.

– Scott Milder’s campaign sent out a press release touting an endorsement he received for his primary campaign against Dan Patrick from former Education Commissioner Dr. Shirley J. (Neeley) Richardson, but as yet he has not filed. He did have a chat with Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune the other day, so there’s that.

– Believe it or not, Democrats now have at least one candidate for all 36 Congressional offices. CD04 was the last holdout. Among other things, this means that every county in Texas will have the opportunity to vote in March for at least one non-statewide candidate. Very well done, y’all. Republicans are currently skipping a couple of the bluer Congressional districts. They also have nine candidates for CD21, which is the biggest pileup so far.

– Here in Harris County, in addition to the now-contested race for County Judge, there are a couple of challenges to incumbent legislators. Damien LaCroix is once again running against Sen. John Whitmire in SD15, and Richard A. Bonton has filed in HD142 against longtime State Rep. Harold Dutton. Also, there is now a Democrat running in SD07, the district formerly held by Dan Patrick and now held by his mini-me Paul Bettencourt, David Romero, and a candidate in HD129, Alexander Karjeker. Still need someone to file in HD135.

The filing deadline is Monday, and that’s when any real surprises will happen. Enjoy the weekend and be ready for something crazy to happen on the 11th, as it usually does.

Bill to ban straight-ticket voting advances in the Senate

This could happen.

Rep. Ron Simmons

A Texas Senate panel approved legislation Thursday that would end straight-ticket voting in all elections.

The Senate Committee on Business & Commerce voted 7-0 to send House Bill 25 for potential consideration by the full chamber. Two members, the only Democrats on the panel, were absent.

The vote came less than a week after the House passed the legislation, mostly along party lines. Starting with the 2018 elections, the bill would take away the option for voters to automatically cast their ballot for every candidate from a single party.

[…]

In the Thursday hearing, proponents of the bill — including its Senate sponsor, Hancock — said it would force voters to make more informed decisions when casting their ballots. Critics suggested it could lead to voting rights violations.

“We believe that this takes away one method of voting that minority voters overwhelmingly use to choose the candidates of their choice,” said Glen Maxey, legislative affairs director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Maxey also questioned why the bill wound up in the Business & Commerce Committee, not the State Affairs Committee. Such a maneuver is “what the federal courts have noted as abnormal legislative procedure,” Maxey said.

A federal judge blocked a similar law last year in Michigan, saying it would disproportionately affect black voters. After that ruling came up in Thursday’s hearing, Hancock noted that the Michigan law moved through a “completely different court system than we’ll move through” if HB 25 becomes law and it is challenged.

Hancock also sought to reassure critics of the bill who said it would lead to longer lines at polling places, saying more locations would solve the problem.

See here for the background. Sen. Hancock is correct that more locations – and more machines per location – can solve the problems, but those words are meaningless without funding from the state to cover the costs. Not covering costs, going through a different committee, taking a vote when the two Dems on the committee were absent – none of this is going to look good when the inevitable lawsuit is filed.

House Democrats on Friday argued eliminating the “one-punch” choice would constitute an attack on Texans’ voting rights, particularly the disabled, the elderly and voters in large cities, where ballots and lines are longer and more people rely on public transportation.

Multiple lawmakers said minority voters rely on the straight-ticket option more than Anglos, evidence that was used as the basis of a 2016 federal court ruling that blocked a similar law in Michigan.

“This bill hasn’t been vetted,” said Representative Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City. “We don’t know how much it will cost; we don’t know if it will violate the Voting Rights Act of 1964. What we do know is that federal courts have ruled recently that laws passed by Texas discriminated against African-American and Hispanic voters.”

Three federal court rulings since March have found that Texas intentionally discriminated against African-American and Hispanic voters in voter ID and redistricting cases. The author of HB 25, Representative Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, said repeatedly during debate Friday night that he was not aware of the rulings.

“I’ve been busy down here,” he said on the House floor, defending his lack of knowledge of the widely reported court decisions.

Representative Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, predicted the bill would be challenged “as a voter suppression bill.”

In the Michigan ruling last July, a federal judge wrote that abolishing the straight-ticket option would disproportionately impact African-American voters, who use it more often and already face longer voting lines in urban areas. The measure was designed “to require voters to spend more time filling more bubbles,” which could “discourage voting,” wrote Judge Gershwin A. Drain. The Supreme Court declined to hear Michigan’s appeal in September.

We’ll see what happens. There’s still time for the bill to be amended to address the concerns that Democrats have raised. I don’t expect that – why should the Republicans change their ways now? – but at least they can’t say they weren’t warned.

Pot bills get their own post

They got their own story in the Trib, so why not their own post.

Zonker

Texas lawmakers across the state say they want leniency in how the state prosecutes marijuana crimes. In an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith Monday, State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said he thinks the Legislature could decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana next year, especially after several states did so on Election Day.

“We’re spending our tax dollars on incarcerating [people that don’t deserve to be incarcerated] because they got caught with a small amount of marijuana,” said Isaac, whose district encompasses Texas State University. “These are people that we probably subsidize their public education, we probably subsidize where they went to a state school, and now they’re branded as a criminal when they go to do a background check.”

Isaac added that last session he was approached by state Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody, D-El Paso, who asked Isaac to sign on to a decriminalization bill but didn’t because he “didn’t feel like it was the time.” During the interview Monday, however, Isaac said “it is the time now” and publicly pledged to sign on and work to get a bill passed that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

Among the Texas proposals that have been filed thus far:

  • House Bill 58 by state Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders based on the principle that first-time defendants are often self-correcting. The measure is intended to conserve law enforcement and corrections resources, White said in a news release.
  • State Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody, D-El Paso, filed House Bill 81, which aims to replace criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $250. The bill also allows Texans to avoid arrest and possible jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Moody authored a similar bill during the previous legislative session; it did not pass.
  • State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, filed House Bill 82, which aims to classify a conviction for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor instead of Class B. However, if a person is convicted three times, it would revert back to a Class B misdemeanor. Dutton co-authored a similar bill last session with Moody.
  • State Sen. José Rodríguez filed Senate Joint Resolution 17, which would allow voters to decide whether marijuana should be legalized in Texas, following the pattern of a number of states.
  • Senate Joint Resolution 18, also authored by Rodríguez, would allow voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use if recommended by a health care provider. “It is long past time we allow the people to decide,” Rodríguez said in a statement.
  • Rodríguez also filed Senate Bill 170, which would change possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one.

Some of this is a continuation of efforts from 2015, some of it is in recognition of the multiple pro-decriminalization referenda that passed in other states, and some of it is from the desire to save a few pennies on law enforcement and criminal justice. I don’t care about the motive, I applaud the direction. As was the case in 2015, the main (though not only) obstacle is likely to be Greg Abbott, who was not interested in anything more than the meager cannobinoid oil bill that passed during that session. Typically, Abbott has had nothing to say about whether he remains firmly anti-pot or not. We’ll have to see what the lobbyists can do with him. For those of you who want to see changes, these are the bills to follow for now.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

Here come the candidates for SD13

Here we go again.

Rodney Ellis

Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Borris Miles came prepared with signs Saturday when Rodney Ellis all but secured a seat on Harris County’s Commissioners Court – not in support of Ellis, but to launch his own campaign.

Ellis’ selection as the Democratic Party’s nominee to replace late Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has begun to ripple across the November ballot, freeing up the first in what could be a series of openings in Harris County’s legislative delegation.

The 26-year state senator now must withdraw his name from the ballot for Senate District 13, requiring Democratic precinct chairs to meet yet again on July 16 to select a replacement candidate. Their nominee will run unopposed.

Miles, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green have thrown their hats in the ring as others mull joining the race.

The three-week campaign sprint is projected to be as contentious as the commissioner’s race was cordial.

“Many of the candidates have complex political histories that could result in a high level of discord,” Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said. “I don’t think these people are going to be playing nice.”

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former Houston City Councilman C.O. Bradford said they also are considering running for Ellis’ seat. City Councilman Dwight Boykins and state Rep. Harold Dutton said they opted not to.

Rep. Dutton was a supporter of Gene Locke for Commissioner, so he might have encountered some resistance had he chosen to run for SD13. As noted on Sunday, Reps. Miles and Thompson were at the Saturday precinct convention that placed Ellis on the ballot for County Commissioner. Green was not there but announced his candidacy via Instagram. Rep. Coleman had expressed his interest in the seat in May, but hasn’t said anything official as yet. This is the first I’ve seen Bradford’s name – and Green’s, for that matter – in one of these stories. We’ll see if other names come up. There are 94 precinct chairs in SD13, according to this story, with 78 in Harris County and 16 in Fort Bend. None of them are me, and I’m happy to be an observer and not a participant this time. Good luck to those who have the task of selecting Ellis’ successor.

Filibuster threat for open carry

We could have some end of session drama this year again.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez

State Sen. José Rodríguez said Thursday that if the opportunity arises, he plans to filibuster a bill allowing the open carry of handguns in Texas.

Speaking at a Texas Tribune event, the El Paso Democrat said he thought the legislation was “totally unnecessary” and presented a threat to the safety of police officers and the public.

“I think my back is problematical, but I assure you, for this issue, I will stand as long as I can,” Rodríguez said.

The legislation — House Bill 910 from state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman — has already passed both chambers of the Legislature. It is headed to a conference committee, where Senate and House appointees must iron out key differences in the bill.

See here for the background. Sen. Rodriguez’s threat came before the controversial “no-stop” amendment was stripped from the bill by the conference committee.

“The Dutton/Huffines amendment is dead,” said state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevárez, an Eagle Pass Democrat who took part in the negotiations over House Bill 910.”There’s nothing more to do. That was the only bit of housekeeping on the bill that was to be had. It’s a done deal, for all intents and purposes.”

Once the House and Senate appointed a conference committee to work out differences on HB 910 Thursday, it took only a few hours for the panel to release a report.

Both chambers still have to approve the amended bill, and I have no doubt that they will if they get to vote on it, though there will surely be some gnashing of teeth over the change. The deadline for passage is midnight Sunday, so if Sen. Rodriguez is going to make a stand, that’s when it will happen.

In the meantime, campus carry is also going to conference committee, and will also likely emerge in a different form.

In the Senate on Thursday, the bill’s author, state Sen. Brian Birdwell, requested a conference committee on the legislation to work out differences between the two chambers.

The Granbury Republican said he had concerns with language added in the House that would include private universities in the new law.

“I am duty-bound to protect Second Amendment rights parallel to private property rights,” said Birdwell. “We must protect most private property rights equally, and not protect one or the other.”

Lawmakers who argued for requiring private universities to follow the same rules as public institutions say it’s a matter of fairness.

“If we are going to have it, I don’t know how I’m going to make a distinction between my kid who goes to Rice University and one kid at Houston,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

[…]

House lawmakers also added provisions that exempted health facilities and let universities carve out gun-free zones. When the bill originally passed the Senate, Birdwell rejected several amendments attempting similar changes.

I suspect this one will take a little longer to resolve, but we’ll see. Maybe Sen. Rodriguez will set his sights on it, too. See this Trib story about how removing the “no-stop” amendment also removed a headache for Greg Abbott, and Trail Blazers for more.

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?

Where the education reform bills stand

As we know, the attempt to take a first stab at school finance reform did not make it to the House floor. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some action on school-related issues. This Chron story from the weekend recapped a couple of the major bills that did make it through.

Jimmie Don Aycock

Lawmakers likely could have killed House Bill 2804, the A-F and accountability legislation, by delaying debate until midnight Thursday, the deadline for passing House bills out of that chamber. Instead, out of respect for [Rep. Jimmie Don] Aycock, the bill’s opponents chose to allow a vote even though they knew it would win approval.

On Friday, Aycock said he would be proud if the bill is the last piece of legislation he helps shepherd to passage.

“I was pleased and surprised that some people who opposed the bill, had every right to oppose the bill, chose not to kill it on the clock,” said Aycock, who is mulling whether to retire from politics. He was elected in 2007 and quickly rose to become chairman, but at nearly 70, says he wants to return to his central Texas ranch life.

[…]

Originally, House Bill 2804 sought solely to revamp the way schools are held accountable by placing less emphasis on state standardized test performance in grading campuses.

Sensing he didn’t have the political support to pass the bill as it was, however, Aycock amended it to mandate schools be given A-F grades, a proposal popular with many Republicans. Educators and many Democrats oppose the A-F scale, saying it stigmatizes low-performing schools.

Aycock says having an A-F system won’t be an issue if the grades are determined fairly: “It’s not the horrible deal that everybody thinks it will be if you have an accountability system on which to base it. If you have the present accountability model, then it’s just totally unacceptable.”

Schools are graded now either as “met standard” or “improvement required,” based largely on student performance measures. Under House Bill 2804, 35 percent of a school’s grade would be determined by measures like completion and dropout rates, and by how many students take AP and international baccalaureate classes. Ten percent would be based on how well the school engages with its community, and 55 percent on state test scores with a particular emphasis on closing the gap between the top- and bottom-performing students.

[…]

House Bill 1842, which would force districts to improve failing schools or face tough consequences, passed the House the day before with little of the discussion Aycock’s other legislation generated. Aycock called the bill “one of the most far-reaching bills of the session,” and said while he carried it, Dutton was the architect.

“I think House Bill 1842 is the best bill on public education that helps students more than any bill that I’ve seen in this Legislature, and I’ve been here 30 years,” [Rep. Harold] Dutton said Friday. “We have never pressured districts to do something about (low-performing schools). This does that. This says to the school district, ‘Either you do it, or we’ll get someone who can.’ ”

The legislation would require any school that has received a failing grade for two straight years to create an improvement plan to take effect by the third year. If the school has not improved by the end of the fifth year, the commissioner of education would have to order the school’s closure or assign an emergency board of managers to oversee the school district.

Schools that have received consistently failing grades, such as Kashmere and Jones High Schools in the Houston Independent School District, would have one less year to implement a turnaround plan.

“Kashmere is what started me down this road,” Dutton said.

Kashmere earned the state’s “academically acceptable” rating in 2007 and 2008, but it has failed to meet standards every other year over the last decade. Its enrollment has fallen to about 500 students, most of whom come from poor families. Last school year, more than a quarter were in special education and 2 percent were designated as gifted, state data show.

“We’re just going to wait and see what the state does,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said about Aycock’s legislation. “If the state gives us the option of trying to manage it, we would implement some of the same strategies we have found to be successful in North Forest.”

I don’t care for the A-F grading system. I tend to agree with the critics that say it will stigmatize some schools. Not just the schools that get a D where they might have gotten a “meets standards”, but perhaps also the ones that get a B instead of an “academically recognized”. Who wants to send their kids to a B school if an A school is available? As for HB 1842, I don’t have any problem with the concept, but I’d like to know there’s some empirical evidence to suggest something like this can work, and has worked before. We haven’t done much to track the progress of students that were taken from failing school districts that the state shut down, so there’s not much of a track record here. What happens if we try this and it doesn’t work? What comes next?

The Observer updates us on some other education bills.

“Parent Empowerment”

Under a measure passed in 2011, parents can petition the state to turn schools with five consecutive years of poor state ratings into charter schools, to have the staff replaced, or even to close the school. It’s a tactic known as a “parent trigger,” and Taylor’s Senate Bill 14 would reduce that period to three years.

“This is about parent empowerment,” Taylor said when he introduced his bill in March. “[Five years] is too long to have young children stuck in a school and to have people defending that failing school district.”

California adopted the nation’s first parent trigger law, and its use there has prompted controversy. Critics say the few instances when the law has been invoked led to community conflict, teacher attrition, and dubious results. Nevertheless, reform advocates hope to spread and strengthen such laws across the country.

SB 14 easily passed the Senate in April but has less support in the House. The measure will also be heard in the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday.

Virtual Schools

Texas law allows public school students in grades 3-12 to take up to three online courses, paid for by the student’s school district at up to $400 per course. Senate Bill 894, by Taylor, would lift the three-course cap and extend online courses to students in kindergarten through second grade.

Texas needs to remove existing barriers and provide greater opportunity for students to access online courses, Taylor said as he introduced his bill in March.

David Anthony, CEO of Raise Your Hand Texas, a nonprofit education advocacy organization, has called SB 894 a “virtual voucher” that would drain funds from public schools and direct them to for-profit virtual school providers.

Research has shown that student performance lags in corporate-run virtual schools compared to their traditional brick-and-mortar counterparts. “There is little high-quality research to call for expanding [virtual schools],” according to a 2014 report from the National Education Policy Center.

SB 894 was voted out of committee in April but has yet to be brought up on the Senate floor for a vote.

Vouchers

After numerous defeats by a coalition of rural Republicans and big-city Democrats during past sessions, the fight for school vouchers returned to the Capitol this session.

Senate Bill 4, by Taylor, would create scholarships to enable mostly low- and middle-income students to attend private and religious schools. Under the measure, private businesses would receive a tax credit for funding the scholarships.

Students from families with an income of not greater than 250 percent of the national free and reduced-price lunch guideline would qualify—for a family of five that means an annual income of about $130,000. Patrick proposed a very similar measure in 2013.

Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) memorably used a hearing on this measure to denigrate public education.

The bill passed the Senate, but several representatives told the Observer vouchers will be easily defeated in the House. SB 4 is currently stuck in the House Ways and Means Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Dan Bonnen (R-Angleton). Bonnen has emerged as a fierce foe to Patrick this session, and it is not clear if he will even bring the bill up for a vote.

Here’s Raise Your Hand Texas testifying against the “parent trigger” bill. I can’t say I’ll be sad to see any of these die.

And finally, there’s still the budget, which as always has an effect on schools. Here’s some information of interest for anyone who lives in HISD from local activist Sue Deigaard:

HB1759, that would have made structural modifications to school finance and added $800 million more to the $2.2 the House added in their budget for public education, was pulled from the floor on Thursday. Basically, there were so many amendments it was unlikely there was time left to get it to a vote and the time spent on a HB1759 vote would have preempted other bills from being discussed. It also sounds like the vote in the Senate for HB1759 would have been especially steep even if it had been approved by the House.

So, HISD will go into “recapture.” That means that per Ch 41 of the Texas education code, because HISD is a “property rich, student poor” district, instead of HISD receiving money from the state we will have to send local tax revenue TO the state to redistribute to other districts. We are projected to lose as much as $200 million over the coming biennium. Here’s the fun part…the electorate in HISD gets to decide whether or not to send that money back to the state. Yet, not really. First, the HISD board will have to vote on whether or not to even have such an election. If they don’t hold an election, the state comes and chooses properties within HISD and annexes them on paper to other school districts. If they do hold an election and voters do not approve to give money to the state (which is the likely outcome), then the state comes and chooses properties within HISD and annexes them on paper to other school districts. The “ask” now is for the budget conferees, which include a few members of the HISD legislative delegation, to approve the House pub ed allocation that increases basic allotment for pub ed by $2.2 billion instead of the Senate version that increases it by $1.2 billion. Also, at least as I understand it, that “increase” still does not restore the per pupil allocation that was cut back in 2011, and like last session mostly just funds enrollment growth. As logic would dictate, adding the extra $1 billion in the House version over the Senate version infuses the system with more money so HISD has to send less back to the state through recapture. Basically….House budget = better for HISD.

Unfortunately, the Senate won this skirmish.

The budget conference committee — made up of five senators and five House members — approved a $1.5 billion boost to public education beyond enrollment growth, according to the LBB. The figure matches what the Senate had requested. The House had pushed for a $2.2 billion increase, and had briefly considered an additional $800 million on top of that tied to reforms in the state’s convoluted school finance system.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, was the lone “no” vote on the committee’s decisions to set the level of public education funding, in large part because he felt the amount was too little compared to how much the state was putting toward tax cuts and border security, he said.

“Conservatives spend money like they’re printing money,” Turner said, except on education.

Budget conferees included Rep. Sarah Davis and Sen. Joan Huffman. When HISD has to raise taxes or cut programs to cover this loss, you can thank them for it.

Grand jury reform bill in trouble

Not good.

Sen. John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

Six weeks after sailing through the Texas Senate, efforts to reform the state’s controversial grand jury selection system have stalled in the House.

A closely watched bill to end the “pick-a-pal” system suffered an unexpected setback late Monday when the lawmaker carrying the bill in the House weakened it and then withdrew the measure altogether amid opposition from a Brazoria County judge.

The moves transformed the proposal from a political sure-shot to a long-shot.

“To say I’m totally disappointed at what happened in the House is an understatement,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, the sponsor of the measure in the upper chamber. Whitmire vowed to redouble his push for what he called potentially the most important legislation in this year’s session. “This bill is clearly too important to let it not pass.”

[…]

On Monday, Republican Rep. Ed Thompson of Pearland rallied opposition to the measure on the House floor, citing the feelings of a judge in his district.

“He said, ‘we have this system, we know it and it’s working well,'” Thompson said in an interview.

Sensing the risk of defeat, bill sponsor Harold Dutton, D-Houston, put forward an amendment. The compromise would allow judges to continue to use the “pick-a-pal” system if they came up with a written justification.

The change also made sense, he said later in an interview, because of the importance of flexibility in some rare cases.

Still, Thompson moved to amend the bill to make it apply only to Harris and Dallas counties. On a 73-69 vote, he won.

While supporters managed to push through yet another amendment to make it apply to a few other large counties, Dutton at that point decided to voluntarily withdraw the bill, postponing debate.

“I just don’t think it makes good policy to apply different laws to different counties in the criminal justice system,” Dutton explained afterward.

Dutton chalked up the setback to a “unique set of circumstances,” with several amendments flying around and some members not understanding what they were voting on.

He said he soon would bring up the Senate version of the bill. Because it is cleaner, he said, he was optimistic he could find a few votes to get it through.

“I’ll twist some arms if I have to,” Dutton said.

See here for some background. I’ve got to say, I don’t understand the reluctance, and I’m more than a little boggled to see an unnamed judge in Brazoria County wielding that much influence. Maybe this was a matter of some members not understanding the issue, but geez, it’s not like this came out of nowhere. It’s been a hot topic for months. Can we pay a little more attention to issues that matter, please? Grits has more.

UPDATE: This version of the Chron story, plus Lisa Falkenberg’s column identify the judge in question as Patrick Sebesta.

Marijuana reform advocates get their day

This will be worth watching closely.

Rep. Joe Moody

Four proposals to relax penalties for possessing pot have been scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, setting up what is sure to be a closely-watched debate in the middle of the legislative session.

It will not be the first Texas committee hearing on marijuana bills, which historically have been introduced and heard, but ultimately killed. This time, however, optimistic supporters will benefit from the makeup of the committee, which this year counts three Democrats and a pro-legalization Republican among its seven members. The panel is led by state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown.

“There’s no question that we’re hopeful that this committee will be especially open to considering these bills,” said Phillip Martin, deputy director of Progress Texas, an Austin-based liberal organization that is helping lead the push. “A lot of the legislators on the committee understand the importance of the issue.”

The legislation is still unlikely to win final approval in the conservative-dominated Legislature, but Martin and other members of the bipartisan Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy coalition say committee approval would represent a step forward in a years-long process.

The coalition has collected nearly 15,000 signatures of support and plan to deliver them to the Capitol on Wednesday, Martin said.

Here’s Progress Texas’ report on the bills that will get a hearing on Wednesday.

Rep. Joe Moody’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 507

  • The most effective civil penalties bill filed
  • Changes possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a civil penalty – similar to jaywalking or not wearing a seat belt
  • Anything over one ounce of marijuana remains a class B misdemeanor

Rep. Harold Dutton’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 414

  • Would change any marijuana possession less than one ounce to a Class C Misdemeanor
  • Makes possession a simple ticketable offense you could pay
  • Punishments increase if ticketed multiple times in a year

Rep. Gene Wu’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 325

  • Possession of less than .35 ounces of marijuana becomes a Class C Misdemeanor
  • Makes possession a simple ticketable offense you could pay
  • Punishments increase if ticketed multiple times in a year

Rep. Senfronia Thompson’s (Democrat) Bill – HB 1115

  • Rather than potentially being arrested when carrying up to four ounces of marijuana an officer will only give a citation; However, the person charged is still responsible for appearing in court at a later date.
  • Does not reduce the penalty of marijuana possession (Class A or B misdemeanor), which can still result in jail time.

Also up for a hearing is Rep. David Simpson’s full scale legalization bill. As the story notes, the Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy coalition is putting most of its energy into Rep. Moody’s civil penalties bill. Bills to legalize medical marijuana have been referred to a different committee and don’t appear to have as much traction. The bills to be heard Wednesday face opposition from local sheriffs and an uncertain future in the Senate. Still, just having a hearing for them is something. I look forward to seeing how it goes. For further reading on the subject, see this interview with Rice sociologist William Martin.

Budget passes House as most amendments get pulled

It was a long day in the House on Tuesday and Wednesday but not a terribly bloody one as many of the budget amendments and riders that had been queued up got withdrawn. A brief recap of the action:

Border “security”:

BagOfMoney

House Democrats tried — and mostly failed — to divert funds allotted for border security and the Texas Department of Public Safety to other departments during Tuesday’s marathon budget debate.

But the rancor over immigration enforcement that many expected didn’t materialize after lawmakers agreed to pull down amendments that, if debated, would have aired ideological differences over the contentious issue.

After predicting a “bloody day” on the House floor, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, pulled an amendment that would have reduced the appropriations for a public college or university by the same amount that it awarded in grants or financial aid to undocumented students.

Last month, Stickland expressed frustration over the lack of traction for a bill he filed to eliminate a 2001 provision that allows undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.

But on Tuesday, Stickland, with little attention or fanfare, withdrew the amendment after discussions with lawmakers.

“We did some negotiations,” he said.

An amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, that would have defunded the state’s Border Faculty Loan Repayment Program, which was created to help keep doctoral students on the border to teach, was also withdrawn with little attention.

On the funding, Democrats made good on their promises to try and take money from border security operations, which was at about $565 million when the day began, to local entities or other state departments.

[…]

One border lawmaker had tentative success in transferring money from DPS to his district for local law enforcement grants. An amendment by state Rep. Alfonso “Poncho” Nevarez, D-Eagle Pass, would take $10 million from the agency for that effort. But it’s contingent upon another measure — Republican state Rep. Dennis Bonnen’s House Bill 11, an omnibus border security bill — making it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk and getting signed.

Republicans had a bit more success in shifting money.

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, was able to direct money into the state’s military forces for paid training for Texas’ 2,300 members of the reserve unit.

“Most of them reside in most of our districts, and we have zeroed out money for training,” he said.

But the success came after a lengthy back and forth between Huberty and members upset at where the funds would be taken from. Huberty offered one amendment that would have taken $2.2 million from the Texas Agriculture Department. That didn’t sit well with Democrat Tracy King, D-Batesville, the chairman of the House Agriculture and Livestock Committee. Huberty eventually pulled that amendment and instead took $2.2 million from the Texas Facilities Commission.

Huberty specified on Monday that the money is not intended to extend the Texas National Guard’s deployment on the Texas-Mexico border.

The Senate wants to spend even more money on the ridiculous border surge, so this fight is far from over. The fact that this is a complete boondoggle that makes the rest of the state less safe, it’s one of the few things that certain legislators actually want to spend money on.

The voucher fight was similarly deferred.

A potentially contentious vote on a measure that would have banned spending public money on school vouchers was avoided after its author withdrew the amendment.

Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) said he pulled the amendment because it wasn’t necessary.

“Given the commitment of the House to supporting public education, I felt this amendment was duplicative,” Herrero said. It also would have forced some lawmakers to take a difficult vote, caught between turning their backs on their district’s public schools and potentially earning the ire of conservative interest groups.

A coalition of Democrats and rural Republican lawmakers has coalesced during the past two decades to defeat voucher legislation. Herrero said the anti-voucher coalition is still strong.

“The coalition is solid,” Herrero said, “Vouchers for all intents and purposes are dead in the House.”

The coalition may be strong, but Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Mechler is working to weaken it. Mechler sent a letter to GOP legislators Tuesday pushing them to vote against Herrero’s amendment.

If you followed the budget action on Twitter, this was the first major amendment to get pulled, and it was a sign of things to come. Attention will shift to Public Education Chair Jimmie Don Aycock when that loser of a bill passes the Senate.

Finally, you knew there had to be a moment that would be worthy of the Daily Show and the kind of viral mockery that makes us all heave deep sighs. Sure enough:

Seven hours into Tuesday’s debate on the House’s $210 billion two-year budget, things got first heated and then uncomfortable as state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, R-Kaufman, successfully pushed an amendment to move $3 million from HIV and STD prevention programs to pay for abstinence education.

A line of opponents gathered behind the podium as Spitzer laid out his amendment and proceeded to grill, quiz and challenge the lawmaker on his motives.

“Is it not significant that Texas has the third-highest number of HIV cases in the country?” state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, asked. “Does it bother you to know there are people walking around with HIV, undiagnosed?”

Turner and Spitzer also had an exchange over how Spitzer had arrived at his price tag. “If we gave you a billion dollars for abstinence, would that be enough?” Turner asked. “Or would you need two?”

[…]

Texas allows school districts to decide whether and how to approach sex education, as long as they teach more about abstinence than any other preventive method, like condoms and birth control. But a number of representatives questioned the effectiveness of this program.

State Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, pointed out that the state currently has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country, and the single-highest rate of repeat teen pregnancy.

“It may not be working well,” said Spitzer, in reference to the current abstinence education program. “But abstinence education is HIV prevention. They are essentially the same thing.”

State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, took to the podium and asked Spitzer, “Were you taught abstinence education? Did it work?”

Spitzer replied that he was a virgin when he married at age 29. “I’ve only had sex with one woman in my life, and that’s my wife,” Spitzer said.

Dutton continued. “And since you brought it up, is that the first woman you asked?”

“I’m not sure that’s an appropriate question,” Spitzer responded.

The House was called to order, and Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, took the microphone. “Earlier you stated that you could not get STDs without having sex,” she said.

“It depends on what your definition of sex is,” said Spitzer. “I can go through of all of this if you want to.”

“If you still think you can’t get an STD without having sex, then maybe we need to educate you,” Collier added.

Spitzer’s amendment ultimately passed 97 to 47.

Spitzer is a medical doctor, because having one Donna Campbell in the Lege just wasn’t enough. He must have been absent the day they went over how intravenous drug use is a frequent means of transmission for HIV. This is another lesson the state of Indiana could teach us if we cared to pay attention. The Observer, Nonsequiteuse, RG Ratcliffe, Trail Blazers, and Newsdesk have more.

The Dave Wilson bill

A little too little and a little too late, if you ask me.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Houston Community College Trustee Dave Wilson has made his way to Austin — in spirit, at least.

A bill filed by state Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston would make it a felony to misrepresent one’s residence when running for office — something Wilson has been accused of doing. He has been cleared by both a jury and a judge.

[…]

Dutton’s bill would make lying about residency to run for office a third degree felony — on the level of assault, theft or evading arrest — which is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Wilson, who maintains that he lives in District II, takes credit for inspiring the bill, calling it “the Dave Wilson bill.”

“I’m honored that I’m so important that I have the state Legislature spending their time writing a bill about it,” Wilson said.

Should the bill get a hearing, Wilson says he’ll show up to speak in favor of it: “I think people should live in the district they run for.”

The man knows how to troll, I’ll give him that much. Dutton’s bill is HB816. I appreciate the effort, but this doesn’t address the real issue, which is that there’s no enforceable standard for residency, which the Wilson case proved. Under what circumstances would anyone even break this law? Let’s address that question, then we can worry about punishment.

When might marijuana be legalized in Texas?

Zonker

Very interesting debate going on in the Baker Institute Blog about when marijuana might be legalized in Texas. Here are the posts they’ve published, in decreasing order of optimism:

Texas will legalize medical marijuana in 2015 and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol in 2017

Texas will legalize marijuana in 2019

Texas voters will push for marijuana legalization by 2019

When will marijuana be legal in Texas? Maybe not till 2023

Marijuana won’t be legal in Texas anytime soon

I’ve discussed this issue before myself, in response to this Trib poll analysis that suggested support for pot legalization was broad but shallow. My personal crystal ball doesn’t extend beyond 2019. In 2023, we’ll have had three gubernatorial elections and another round of redistricting, not to mention nine years for public opinion to shift. Nine years ago, we were gearing up to pass that awful constitutional amendment against same sex marriage. Needless to say, things are different now, nationally and in the state, even if the change in attitude isn’t reflected in state government yet. Point being, who the hell knows what attitudes and the political atmosphere will be like in 2023? I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess.

I was going to write a detailed response to the last post above, written by Rice poli sci prof Mark Jones, but Grits beat me to it and mostly said what I wanted to say. So let me crib from him:

Where Jones’ analysis goes south is his odd assumption that “legalization” or other drug-policy reform couldn’t happen while Texas is run by Republicans. He thinks 2023 will be the first gubernatorial race Texas Democrats can win but cautions that pot legalization won’t be high on their priority list. But that reading ignores divisions within the GOP that play out along the pro-free market, less-government, “Right on Crime” axis touted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation. There are Republicans in the Texas Legislature who are perfectly comfortable suggesting the state reduce criminal justice costs by reducing the number of things we criminalize.

Jones doesn’t appear fully aware how much criminal-justice reform legislation has passed since the GOP first came to power in Texas. Heck, often advocates themselves have been surprised, both by reforms that inexplicably had legs and more modest proposals that seemingly couldn’t buy a break. Any Bayesian prediction of the odds must be moderated by the rodeo truism: There’s never been a horse that can’t be rode, never been a cowboy can’t be throwed. A fractured, ultra-conservative GOP presents opportunities for peeling off factions, much like when Democrats controlled Texas as a one-party state a generation or two ago.

Grits believes framing the debate in terms of “legalization” does a disservice to the much-more moderate proposals likely to actually make it out of committee in 2015. In the near term, the issue isn’t so much “will Texas legalize” but “will Texas reduce penalties for low-level pot possession?” Right now, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, meaning in theory the defendant faces a threat of up to six months in the county jail. Because the defendant’s liberty is at risk, the county must pay for an attorney if they’re indigent. Changing low-level pot possession to a Class C fine-only offense – or, some have suggested, a non-criminal “civil” citation akin to those given out by red-light cameras – would move low-level non-violent offenders out of the jail, save counties money on lawyers, and possibly even generate a new stream of fine revenue from future ticket writing.

I agree that this issue doesn’t fall cleanly along party lines – there are definitely conservatives for criminal justice reform, and there has been progress on that front in recent legislative sessions. That said, I find it telling that the Texas voters will push for marijuana legalization by 2019 post, written by the assistant executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), most prominently cited a bill from the last session by Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton. Be that as it may, I definitely agree that decriminalization, which will likely mean reduction of the crime of pot possession from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, as laid out in Rep. Dutton’s bill, will be the first step and is what reformers of all stripes should focus on. I will admit I’m less optimistic than Grits is about action on this in 2015. I feel like the current crop of Republicans, especially in the Senate, just don’t care about this. There’s nothing in the toxic Republican Party platform to suggest change of that kind is in the air.

Texas would do well to get that far (reduce penalties to a Class C for less than 2 oz) by 2017 or ’19; next year would be possible but optimistic. Whenever it happens, that would be a huge get. From there, to me it depends on what happens in Colorado and Washington. If it turns out to be no big deal and a new source of tax revenue we’re just missing, legalization by 2023 is perhaps on the outer edge of possible. That’s not because Democrats might be back in power by then but because the Lege will covet the money and public opinion is rapidly changing. On the other hand, if there’s some horrible, unforeseen harm that befalls those states, that might push things back. Any prediction on such matters beyond a five year time horizon IMO is tantamount to fiction writing.

Texas could eventually alter its marijuana policies to the point where they could be dubbed “legalization,” but only after a series of false starts, half-measures and incremental steps that will each take time to pass and implement. It’s not uncommon for far less controversial legislation to take two or three sessions (4-6 years) or more to pass. And marijuana bills will not fly under the radar.

I agree that the most likely fulcrum for change will be a change in public attitudes, which will likely follow if the Colorado and Washington experiments are successful. However, the Republicans that are getting elected these days aren’t interested in generating extra revenue. They might be persuaded to reduce penalties for pot on cost-cutting grounds, but all they want to do with the money they free up is cut taxes. They don’t care about extra revenue because they don’t want to spend it on anything. Again, I don’t want to speculate three or four elections out, but that much will have to change to put legalization, and not just decriminalization, on the menu.

UPDATE: PDiddie has more.

Combs tells strip clubs to pay up

Interesting.

Susan Combs

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs is pressing the state’s strip clubs to cough up millions of dollars she says they owe under a new “pole tax” even though the $5-a-patron fee still faces a court challenge.

“Any claim that ongoing litigation is a basis for nonpayment of the Sexually Oriented Business Fee is not valid,” insists an April 11 letter from the comptroller’s tax division that was sent to roughly 200 clubs in Texas that offer nude entertainment.

The fee, which strip club attorneys have claimed is an unfair tax, has been the subject of legal fights virtually since it was passed in 2007 as a way to fund programs for sexual assault victims and health care. The strip clubs’ lobby organization, the Texas Entertainment Association, filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the fee, arguing that erotic dancing is a form of expression protected by the First Amendment. But in 2011, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the fee did not violate free speech.

A new challenge, still under consideration by the 3rd Court of Appeals, argues that the “pole tax” is unconstitutional because the fees are not used appropriately. In the April 11 letter, Combs’ office said the continuing legal battle doesn’t mean the clubs can avoid paying all the fees they owe since the law took effect six years ago.

[…]

“They don’t like to be seen or heard,” state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, said of the club owners. “And I think that is what caused them to get in the ditch on this thing.”

So far, Dutton is the only lawmaker defending the clubs. In an April 23 letter to Combs, he asked the comptroller why her office decided last month to send out letters while the clubs’ latest court challenge is awaiting a decision from the 3rd Court of Appeals.

“I did send her a letter, asking her what has changed,” said Dutton, who opposes the fee. He said that if sexual assault programs need money, “the Legislature ought to step up to the plate and do that.”

Instead, what often happens, he said, is that lawmakers create fees against things they don’t like, like strip clubs.

“Where does it end once you start down that road?” he said.

A spokesman for the comptroller’s office, R.J. DeSilva, indicated in an emailed response that there was nothing remarkable about the timing of the collection notice.

“Our agency regularly sends notices or updates to taxpayers on various taxes and fees,” he wrote. “This particular notice was to remind business owners that the Sexually Oriented Business Fee is still in effect while litigation continues.”

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the strip clubs’ challenge after the Texas Supreme Court determined that the fee does not violate the First Amendment.

Now, the clubs are arguing that the state “fee” is really an occupation tax that should be directed to public schools under the Texas Constitution. They contend that the fee violates the state Constitution, which requires that one-fourth of occupation taxes go to public schools, because none of the money goes to schools.

The clubs’ attorneys are also asking the court to consider free speech provisions in the Texas Constitution, which they claim are broader than that of the First Amendment.

The state maintains that the fee is not an occupation tax, though, and it rejects arguments that it encroaches on free speech.

I must have missed the news about the second lawsuit, because I didn’t find anything in my archives about it. As noted, the original lawsuit was decided in favor of the state in 2011 by the Supreme Court, so it’s fair to wonder why now, almost three years later, the state is finally demanding payment from the clubs and rejecting the argument that ongoing litigation is no excuse. That said, while I may sympathize with Rep. Dutton about how the Lege should appropriate money for various things, the fact remains that the strip club fee was passed by the Lege and has been upheld by the Supreme Court, and wishing that the Lege did its business differently doesn’t change that. Not clear what effect, if any, this may have on the city of Houston’s strip club fee, which is also still being litigated.

Wilson sued over residency for HCC

Dave Wilson and lawsuits go together like peanut butter and jelly.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

The Harris County attorney sued Houston Community College trustee-elect Dave Wilson on Thursday, alleging the small business owner and anti-gay activist was not a resident of District II when he was elected to the post last month.

“We think there is a reasonable doubt as to whether he lives within the district, and it needs to be clarified,” said First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard.

The three-page civil suit petition, filed in the 151st District Court, does not say where Wilson lives, but Soard said the grounds for the lawsuit are “similar” to ones raised by the defense in a still-pending lawsuit that Wilson, a perennial candidate, brought against the Harris County Democratic Party chairman in 2010, when he was kept off the ballot after filing to run for Precinct 4 Harris County commissioner.

That year, then-Chairman Gerry Birnberg argued that Wilson was ineligible to run because he had listed an address on his application that was not his residential address, as required by election code. Wilson’s wife, Connie, still lists a property at 7370 Lake Lane, which is in the Lone Star Community College System district, as her residential homestead, according to the Harris County Appraisal District website.

Wilson, who ousted HCC Chairman Bruce Austin in the Nov. 5 election by 26 votes, contends that he lives in “a 1,140-square-foot apartment upstairs” at his office, located at 5600 W. 34th St. in the college system’s District II.

The building there is an 11,340-square-foot commercial metal warehouse, according to county records.

Asked Thursday if he was living separately from his wife, Wilson said, “That’s a personal matter, and it’s none of yours or the Chronicle’s business.”

“I think that county records still show that we’re married. That’s all I’ll say,” Wilson said.

So to review, Wilson was removed from the ballot in 2010 by then-HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg on the grounds that he did not live in County Commissioner Precinct 4. Wilson then filed a lawsuit against the HCDP to be reinstated on the ballot, but he lost. He subsequently also filed a federal lawsuit against a larger list of plaintiffs alleging that his civil rights were violated by being denied a spot on the ballot. The suit was dismissed by a federal district court, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted his petition for a rehearing in 2012. I don’t know where that now stands.

In any event, in looking at these old posts, three things stand out to me. One is that the address Wilson was using to get on the ballot in 2010 was 1512 W. 34th Street, not 5600 W. 34th Street as he apparently used for his HCC filing. He was still using the 1512 address in his 2011 filing for Mayor. Does he have more than one warehouse that he claims to be his residency when he needs it, or did he move between then and now? A little fooling around on Google Maps tells me the two addresses are 2.8 miles apart. Not very far, but it’s not impossible that one might cross a political boundary or two in the journey. That would be another reason why it would ne nice to know when he started using the 5600 address. Second, while Wilson is playing coy with his marital status now, in 2010 he stated he that he was in fact separated from his wife. Finally, the one constant in all this is the 7370 Lake Lane address where Connie Wilson lives. Make of this what you will.

So what this means is that we ought to get a fuller airing of the facts this time. In 2010 he was booted at Gerry Birnberg’s discretion, and the courts declined to give Wilson relief. Here it’s Harris County that’s taking action after the fact, and I very much look forward to seeing the case play out. The HCC Board itself says it wasn’t their job to vet the candidate filing. That’s a question Rep. Harold Dutton brought up to them, and I have a sneaking suspicion Rep. Dutton will attempt to deal with that in the next legislative session. Wilson ran again for County Commissioner in Precinct 4 in 2012. That time, his application was accepted, and he wound up losing in the primary to Sean Hemmerle. I don’t know which address he used for that application, but clearly someone should find that out. If he was still using 1512 W. 34th Street, then he needs to be pinned down on when he moved.

Anyway. The saga continues, as they often do. No indication in the story when there will be a hearing on this, but one presumes it will be after the holidays. One also presumes the question of whether or not the County Attorney has standing to file such a suit will arise. Like I said, I very much look forward to seeing how this plays out.

Final filings: We have a statewide Democrat

Boy, I didn’t see this coming.

Judge Larry Meyers

Judge Larry Meyers

Longtime Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence “Larry” Meyers announced Monday that he is leaving the Republican Party to run as a Democrat for the Texas Supreme Court.

Meyers, of Fort Worth, filed Monday on the last day of filing to seek Place 6 on the Supreme Court, currently held by Jeff Brown.

“I am thrilled to welcome Judge Meyers to the Texas Democratic Party,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said. “I am even more excited to know that Judge Meyers doesn’t stand alone. Every day, I hear from real voters that our party represents the strongest path forward for our state.

“Texas is changing and voters will continue ot reject a Republican Party more focused on ideology than ideas.”

Meyers’ party switch makes him the first statewide Democratic officeholder since 1998.

What’s more, since his term on the CCA isn’t up until 2016, no matter what happens in that race he’ll be on the bench at least until then. It’s a little strange having a criminal court judge running for a civil court, but that’s far from the strangest thing that’s happened this cycle. Meyers announced a challenge to Sharon Keller in the GOP primary in 2012 despite having previously been an ally of hers, but as far as I can tell he didn’t actually go through with it; the SOS page for the 2012 GOP primary shows her as unopposed. In any event, welcome to the party, Judge Meyers. Best of luck in your election.

That was the first surprise of the day but it wasn’t the last and may not have been the biggest, for next came this.

U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, has filed to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the March GOP primary, joining at least eight other hopefuls vying for the senior senator’s seat, according to a spokesman with the Republican Party of Texas.

Stockman, who had filed for re-election in Congressional District 36, had to withdraw from that race to seek Cornyn’s seat.

In an interview with the website WND, Stockman said he was running because he was “extremely disappointed in the way [Cornyn] treated his fellow congressmen and broke the 11th commandment and undermined Ted Cruz’s fight to stop Obamacare.”

There’s crazy, there’s bat$#!+ crazy, and then there’s Steve Stockman, who does a triple lutz barrel roll with a half-gainer but still sticks the landing. Take that, Louie Gohmert!

GOP political consultant Matt Mackowiak said Stockman faces an uphill battle, from recent investigations into his political and fundraising operation to Cornyn’s “huge bankroll.”

“Now we will find out if Sen. Cornyn is truly vulnerable, which I have doubted,” Mackowiak said, adding, “I predict that not one member of the congressional delegation will support Stockman. Ultimately, he will need outside groups to spend, and that is the most important unknown right now.”

All I can say is that so far, no one has gone broke underestimating the insanity of Republican primary voters. I suppose there’s a first time for everything. In the meantime, I join with PDiddie, Texpatriate, Juanita, and BOR in marveling at the spectacle.

Stockman’s change in office means that he won’t be running for CD36, which means there’s at least a chance Congress could be a tiny bit less wacko in 2015. There are three other Republicans running, and one Democrat.

Meanwhile, Michael Cole has had his eye on the heavily-Republican district since 2012, when he ran as a libertarian. He got about 6,000 votes in that election.

Now Cole, a 38 year old teacher from Orange, Texas, is running again as a Democrat. He says he has a campaign team in place, has been crisscrossing the district, and is about to file his first report on fundraising to the Federal Elections Commission. He said he’d focus on getting things done and charged outgoing Stockman with wasting time on politics.

“I can listen to what my constituents want instead of just showboating against Barack Obama,” he said, noting that his major focus would be on middle class job growth.

The change in candidates doesn’t change the fact that this is a 70% GOP district. But still, a Republican and a Libertarian both turning Democrat to run next year? Not a bad day if you ask me.

Anyway. Here’s the TDP list, which will not include people that filed at their county offices, and the Harris County GOP list; I’ve put the HCDP list beneath the fold, since the updated version of it isn’t online just yet. Stace notes the contested primaries of interest in Harris County, but here are a few other highlights:

– In addition to Larry Meyers, the Dems have two other Supreme Court candidates (Bill Moody and Gina Benavides, who is a Justice on the 13th Court of Appeals) and one CCA candidate (John Granberg for Place 3). Not a full slate, but not too bad. According to a TDP press release, Granberg is an attorney from El Paso (as is Moody, who is a District Court judge) and Benavides is from McAllen.

– Kinky Friedman has a second opponent for Ag Commissioner, Hugh Asa Fitzsimons III. Either the Dems got used to the idea of Friedman on the ballot or they failed utterly to find an opponent for him that isn’t some dude. I never thought I’d say this, but as things stand today I’d vote for Kinky.

– Another press release from the TDP makes a nice-sounding claim:

Today, the Texas Democratic Party announced its slate of candidates for 2014. Texas Democrats are fielding more candidates for statewide office in this election cycle than any time since 2002.

In addition to the statewide slate, the party devoted significant time to recruiting for down ballot races, and announced challengers in State Senate districts 10 and 17, and a full slate of candidates to the State Board of Education.

The party spent significant time recruiting Justices of the Peace, County Constables, County Judges, County Commissioners and others in places like Lubbock, Wichita Falls, San Angelo and across Texas.

I like the look of that. I wish they had more information in that release, but it’s an encouraging sign regardless.

– There will not be a rematch in CD33 between Rep. Marc Veasey and Domingo Garcia. As a fan of Rep. Veasey, I’m glad to hear that.

– Rep. Harold Dutton did file for re-election in HD142. Some people just can’t be rushed, I guess. Rep. Carol Alvarado joined Rep. Alma Allen in drawing a primary challenger, as Susan Delgado filed at the last minute in HD145. I’ll be voting for Rep. Alvarado, thanks. Oh, and the GOP did find a challenger for HD144 – Gilbert Pena, who lost in the primary for that district in 2012.

– Dems did not get candidates foe each local judicial race, but there are a few contested judicial primaries. Yes, that’s a little frustrating, but people will run where they want to run.

– No one is running against Commissioner Jack Morman, and no one else is running for County Judge. Alas. Ann Harris Bennett has an opponent for County Clerk, Gayle Mitchell, who filed a finance report in July but has been quiet since.

– Possibly the biggest surprise locally is that outgoing CM Melissa Noriega filed for HCDE At Large Position 7, making that a three way race with Traci Jensen and Lily Leal. I will have more on that later.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say about many of these races soon. Here’s the Chron story for now, which doesn’t add anything I didn’t already have here. What are your thoughts about the lineups?

(more…)

Filing deadline today

Before I get into the details of who has or hasn’t filed for what, I have a bone to pick with this AP story.

Perhaps what the candidate filings reveal most is the relative strength and depth of the political parties in Texas. Four top Republicans are in a fierce battle for lieutenant governor, three for attorney general and five for agriculture commissioner.

Three Republicans are in the race for the Railroad Commission, an entry-level statewide office that gives the winner routine access to the state’s biggest campaign donors as well as the governor and attorney general. The only competition in the judicial races is for open seats vacated by Republican incumbents.

If a party can be judged by the number of people who want to lead it, Republicans certainly remain popular and thriving. Most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections.

Democrats have yet to field a complete slate of statewide candidates and have just one candidate each for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner. The only potentially competitive race pits failed gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman against Jim Hogan for agriculture commissioner.

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor, was first elected to the Texas House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1999. She has the most campaign experience among Democratic candidates followed by Davis, who won her Senate seat in 2008. Freidman and attorney general candidate Sam Houston have run statewide offices before, but have never won.

That lack of experience and the shortage of candidates reveal the shallowness of the Democratic bench after 20 years out of power. There are young Democrats who have statewide potential, such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, but they’ve decided like some others to sit out the 2014 race, likely to let others test the waters before they take the plunge themselves.

I’ll stipulate that the Republican side of the ballot has more overall experience. For obvious reasons, it’s the only primary that features statewide officeholders. But to say “most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections” overstates things considerably. Outside of the Lt Governor’s race, most of their candidates are current or former legislators, and I submit that decades of winning a gerrymandered legislative district is hardly indicative of statewide potential.

To break it down a bit more scientifically, the GOP field for the non-Governor and Lt. Governor races are made up of the following:

Railroad Commissioner: One former State Rep and three people you’ve never heard of.
Land Commissioner: One scion of a political dynasty making his first run for office, and some other dude.
Ag Commissioner: Two former State Reps, the Mayor of a small town, and a state party functionary who lost a State Rep race in 2004.
Attorney General: A State Senator, a State Rep, and an appointed Railroad Commissioner that defeated a Libertarian in 2012 in the only election he’s run to date.
Comptroller: A State Senator, a State Rep, and a failed gubernatorial candidate.

Not exactly Murderer’s Row, is it? What they have first and foremost is the advantage of their party. That’s no small thing, of course, but it has nothing to do with anything any of them has done.

That said, most current statewide officeholders made the initial leap from legislative offices – Rick Perry and Susan Combs were State Reps before winning their first statewide elections, with Combs spending two years in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office in between; Todd Staples and Jerry Patterson were State Senators. Dems have plenty of legislators that would make fine candidates for state office – two of them are currently running – but it’s a lot harder to convince someone to give up a safe seat for what we would all acknowledge is an underdog bid for higher office. How much that changes in 2018, if at all, depends entirely on how well things go this year. If we have one or more breakthroughs, or even if we come reasonably close, you can bet there will be plenty of candidates with “decades of experience winning elections” next time.

Anyway. As we head into the last day of candidate filing, the local Democratic ballot is filling in nicely. Dems have at least one candidate for nineteen of the 24 State House seats in Harris County. Four are GOP-held seats – HDs 126, 127, 128, and 130 – and one is HD142, which is currently held by Rep. Harold Dutton. Either Rep. Dutton is just dithering until the last day, or he’s planning to retire and his preferred successor will file sometime late today. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. The two additions to the Democratic challenger ledger are Luis Lopez in HD132, who appears to be this person, and Fred Vernon in HD138, about whom I know nothing. Dems also now have two Congressional challengers, James Cargas in CD07 as expected, and Niko Letsos in CD02, about whom I know nothing.

By the way, for comparison purposes, the Harris County GOP is only contesting 14 of 24 State Rep seats. The three lucky Dems that have drawn challengers so far are Rep. Gene Wu in HD137, Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 – we already knew about that one – and Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148, who draws 2011 At Large #3 Council candidate Chris Carmona. I have to say, if they leave freshman Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 unopposed, I would consider that an abject failure of recruitment if I were a Republican. Beyond that, the thing that piqued my interest was seeing the two worst recent officeholders – Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners – back on the ballot, as each is running for the two At Large HCDE Trustee offices. Putting aside their myriad and deep incompetencies while in office, the only possible reason these two clowns would be running for the HCDE is that they want to screw it up for the purpose of killing it off. As we know, Dems have Traci Jensen and Lily Leal running for one of those seats. Debra Kerner is the incumbent for the other seat and I believe she has filed but with petitions, so her status hasn’t been finalized yet. All I know is that we have enough chuckleheads in office already. We don’t need to put these two retreads back into positions of power.

Statewide, Texpatriate noted on Saturday that Dale Henry has filed to run for Railroad Commissioner, which will pit him against Steve Brown. Henry ran for this office as a Dem in 2006, 2008 (he lost in the primary to Mark Thompson), and 2010. Henry is a qualified candidate, but he’s a dinosaur in terms of campaign techniques and technologies. That might have been charming in 2006 or 2008, but it’s way out of place in 2014. All due respect to Dale Henry, but I’ll be voting for Steve Brown. We are still waiting to see how many statewide judicial candidates we’ll get. Word is we’ll have them, but who and how many remain unknown. Finally, between the Harris County primary filings email and the TDP filings page, I see that Dems have at least two candidates for the 14th Circuit Court of Appeals – Gordon Goodman for Place 7, and Kyle Carter, who was re-elected to the 125th Civil District Court in 2012, for Chief Justice. There are still slots on that court and on the 1st Court of Appeals, so I hope there are more of these to come. As always, if you are aware of other filings or rumors of filings, leave a comment and let us know.

LaCroix files in SD15

Damian LaCroix

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

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

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

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

Pot policy

From Hair Balls:

A silly image for a serious topic

Rehman Bhalesha was raised around marijuana. That’s not to say that he dealt, or that he pushed, or that he used. He didn’t have to. Weed, growing up, turned wherever he went.

“Living in South Texas, you really see the substance flood high school and college campuses and neighborhoods, without any regulation, in a completely illicit market,” Bhalesha, set to be a third-year student at the South Texas College of Law, told Hair Balls. “I’ve spent my entire life seeing a strong need [for regulation].”

Experiences in Houston and Austin crafted his views. Academic research buttressed his conclusions. And then, in 2012, after letters to legislators affected little change, a blog post from Rice University’s Baker Institute Drug Policy Program lit an idea. Bhalesha approached his dean. What was the potential for a crossover? What was the potential for a joint project between STCL and one of the preeminent drug-focused think tanks in the nation?

“We really have an amazing dean — he’s really forward-thinking when it comes to stuff like this,” Bhalesha related. “The stars just aligned.”

Months after that initial notion, and after Bhalesha had contacted those affiliated with the Baker Institute’s DPP arm, he’s produced a 22-page paper (below) examining the realities and challenges facing marijuana legislation within Texas. Surveying tax policy and enforcement methods, detailing relationships between marijuana and tobacco, observing opportunities to reduce adolescent marijuana usage and increase state revenue, Bhalesha has taken a fresh eye to the issue of marijuana enforcement within Texas.

Furthermore, the paper comes at an opportune time, published on the heels of the ACLU’s recent report blasting Texas for the racial disparities within marijuana-related arrest rates.

Bhalesha’s paper is worth your time to read. He makes a good case for decriminalization, noting that among other things, getting busted for pot makes one ineligible for federal student loans, and at the end of the paper he includes a model bill for the legislature. I can’t see that going anywhere in 2015, but I could see some criminal justice reformers such as Rep. Harold Dutton getting behind it. As with many other issues, this is the sort of thing that will have to demonstrate a certain level of public support and more importantly public engagement before it is likely to gain traction in the Lege. It could happen, but not without enough people pushing for it. Bhalesha’s document is a good starting point for that.

Water, water, not so fast

So much for that.

A major bill on the top of Gov. Rick Perry’s priority list that would authorize spending billions of dollars on state water projects faltered in the Texas House on Monday night after a contentious debate over where to pull the money from.

“My understanding is it’s doorknob dead,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland, said after debate on the measure, which was backed by Speaker Joe Straus, was halted over a legislative technicality.

[…]

Ritter’s bill, House Bill 11, would have taken $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund — a multi-billion dollar reserve of mostly oil and gas taxes — and spent it on water-supply projects, in an effort to help the state withstand future droughts.

Another Ritter bill the House passed earlier this month, House Bill 4, would create a special fund to administer the money.

But HB 11’s backers faced an uphill battle to get enough votes, because drawing from the Rainy Day Fund requires a higher bar — 100 votes rather than the usual 76 votes — to pass.

Democrats’ objections were grounded in the argument that if the Rainy Day Fund gets used for water, it should also be raided for other purposes like public education. Some far-right conservatives, meanwhile, worried about drawing at all from the Rainy Day Fund, which they say should be reserved for emergencies.

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, ultimately avoided a vote on HB 11 by raising a point of order, a legislative term for a procedural problem with the bill. Ritter said the bill in its current form is now dead; Perry has previously threatened to call a special session if lawmakers cannot find a way to fund water projects.

If lawmakers do not provide the funding, “I think we’re back in special session, but that’s above my paygrade,” Ritter said.

The Senate, meanwhile, has already passed a measure to move $5.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund into public education and water and transportation projects.

The House had previously passed a bill to create the fund, which the Senate has now also passed, but this was the bill to actually put money in the fund. The Senate also voted to tap the Rainy Day Fund for this and other purposes, but the House was the heavier lift. Bipartisan support was required, which meant as Burka noted that the House Democrats had leverage. He thinks they overplayed their hand, but the reason their support was so badly needed was because of ideological fractures on the GOP side.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank with close ties to several of the state’s political leaders including Perry, announced Sunday it was opposed to the bill.

“The 83rd Texas Legislature has on hand more than $8 billion in new general revenue to pay for increased spending in areas like Medicaid, roads, water and education,” foundation president Brooke Rollins said. “But instead of setting priorities to make the new spending fit within available revenue, the Legislature appears ready to spend far more than this.”

In an unusual disagreement with the group, Perry made the case for a big one-time withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund for water projects in his op-ed. The governor, who considers himself a fiscal conservative, has made economic development his signature issue. And if water gets tight, he said businesses relocations to Texas would dry up.

“The good news is that current economic conditions and available balances in the Rainy Day Fund provide a unique opportunity for the state to partner with communities by offering financing to develop and implement new water supplies,” Perry wrote in support of a one-time transfer of $2 billion from the fund.

Asked about the split among conservatives, Rich Parsons, the governor’s spokesman, said: “We have infrastructure needs in the state that need to be met.” He added: “I think Texans recognize the need for action and expect state leaders to take action, and that’s precisely what the governor is doing.”

Hammond, of the Texas Association of Business, said Monday in support of HB 11: “I think the business community is pretty much united. … It’s necessary [because] unless we do something more than what we’re doing now, in 50 years demand will be up by about 22 percent and supply will be down by about 10 percent. That’s a disaster.”

“It’s already being used against us,” Hammond said, “that Texas is in a drought and they’re not doing anything about it.”

When Rick Perry and Bill Hammond are on the pragmatic, get-stuff-done side, you know how far off into the weeds the enforcers of “conservative” purity have gone. They opposed using the Rainy Day Fund because they oppose spending money – the purpose for the spending and the need it addresses don’t matter. Too many Republican legislators in the thrall of these hegemons, and this is the result.

So now what happens?

Even with the collapse of Ritter’s bill, there are other options. The Senate, which would rather put the politically difficult question before voters, has approved a resolution calling for constitutional amendments that would make available nearly $6 billion from the rainy day fund for transportation and water projects, as well as education.

Another possibility may be House Bill 19 by Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo. The bill would draw $3.7 billion from the rainy day fund for water and transportation projects.

“This issue is too important to leave its fate uncertain,” Perry said after the demise of HB 11. “I will work with lawmakers to ensure we address this need in a fiscally responsible manner.”

A special session is a possibility, since Perry has identified the water infrastructure fund as one of his top priorities. Also possible is the for the House budget negotiators to rip up everything they’ve done so far and appropriate the money from general revenue, which is what the slash-and-burn crowd is advocating. That would of course means however much money would then need to be taken away from everything else in the budget, which I don’t think the Senate will go along with. Some other bill may come to the rescue – where there’s a sufficiently broad caption, there’s a way. I think this is more likely to be a temporary setback than a “doornail dead” situation, but we’ll see. PDiddie, EoW, the Observer, and the TSTA have more.

House passes major changes to testing and graduation requirements

This is a big deal.

Texas public high school students would face far fewer high-stakes exams and gain more freedom in choosing courses under a major education bill approved by the state House on Tuesday.

Hours of debate among lawmakers centered on whether the state was giving students much-needed flexibility or scaling back too far – eliminating an Algebra II class as a standard graduation requirement, for example.

The bill, which is similar to proposals in the Senate, says students would have to pass five end-of-course exams to graduate, down from 15. It also scraps the default requirement that students take four years of math and science courses.

Supporters say House Bill 5 would decrease dropouts, letting students take more meaningful vocational classes that will prepare them for jobs after high school if they decide against college.

“I believe this is good policy. I think most people in Texas believe this is good policy,” Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said after his bill passed following nearly nine hours of discussion.

[…]

The legislation would end the three-tiered diploma system that kept some students on the lowest level from being admitted into most colleges.

All students now would have to complete a “foundation” curriculum that includes four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies.

Students could add on “endorsements” by taking courses in a speciality: business and industry; science, technology, engineering and math; public services; arts and humanities; or a mixture. Those students also would have to take a fourth math class, meant to raise the rigor, under an amendment from Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas.

Students who complete an endorsement and take four years of science and math, including Algebra II, would meet the “distinguished” standard.

The Statesman notes the main issue debated during the daylong discussion of this bill, led by Rep. Mark Strama, who was one of only two votes against it.

A bipartisan coalition of members led by Strama argued that the state would be backing away from the rigorous requirements that have produced results, particularly among low-income and minority students, in the name of giving students flexibility.

“Every conversation I’ve had for months has revolved and swirled around this issue,” Aycock said.

Under current law, the 4×4 curriculum is the default graduation plan for all students unless they opt for a minimum plan requiring fewer credits for graduation that doesn’t qualify the student for a four-year college.

Strama put forth an amendment that would make the default plan under House Bill 5 the “distinguished diploma,” which is close to the 4×4 plan and a prerequisite to qualify for automatic college admission under the state’s top 10-percent law.

The distinguished diploma requires four years of science and math, including Algebra 2, rather than the three years called for in the “foundation diploma.” Algebra 2 is seen by many educators as a key indicator of whether a student is ready for college.

“We should assume all of them want a college prep curriculum and are capable of it, and let them decide if they don’t,” Strama said.

Higher Education Committee Chairman Dan Branch, R-Dallas, signed on to Strama’s amendment and said he was concerned that looser requirements might be sending the state in the “slightly wrong direction,” away from ensuring students are prepared for the 21st century economy.

Forcing students to choose between an upper and lower track would stigmatize the foundation diploma as the lesser option when that isn’t the intention, said Aycock and his allies.

“It would have all these students have to admit at the very beginning of school: ‘I can’t hack this. I have to drop down to a lower level in order to get through high school,’” state Rep. Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said of Strama’s amendment.

After nearly 90 minutes of debate, Strama’s amendment was set aside on a 97-50 vote.

Bill McKenzie, for one, heartily approved of Strama’s amendment. Strama explains his No vote here, and it’s worth your time to read it.

In a preview story, the Trib expanded on these concerns.

Over the past several years, Texas has had “significant gains among all students, especially those of low income backgrounds,” in college and career preparation, said Sonia Troche, the Texas regional director of La Raza. “What they are doing now is actually helping.”

Primary among the concerns of opponents like Troche is a provision that would do away with the state’s so-called 4X4 graduation plan, which requires four years of courses in math, science, social studies and English. Instead, students would complete a “foundation” program with four credits in English, three in math, two in science, three in social studies and then they would earn “endorsements” by completing five credits in areas of study like humanities, science, engineering, technology and math, or business and industry.

The array of choices available to students could prove difficult to navigate for low-income and minority students whose parents are not acquainted with the system because of language or educational barriers, Troche said. Under the current plan, the default is a diploma that requires all of the courses needed for college readiness. The proposal would also reduce the number of end-of-course exams students must from 15 to five total tests, one each in reading, writing, biology, algebra I and U.S. history.

“To a family that may not know all the details, they might think their son or daughter just graduated from high school and are now eligible for college,” Troche said. “But, in fact, if they did an endorsement type of program and graduated from high school but didn’t complete all the required courses, they would have a high school diploma, but would not ready to go to college.”

[…]

State education officials like Higher Education Coordinating Board Commissioner Raymund Paredes and Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams have joined Shapiro and Troche in sounding an alarm about the proposed changes.

Paredes said in a February interview that even if there are currently high-paying jobs in fields that do not require post-secondary education, the job opportunities for those without a college degree continue to dwindle.

“There’s an increasing amount of information that suggests career technical education is going to be done increasingly in two-year institutions, because once again, the demands of advanced manufacturing jobs and high skilled industrial jobs are growing,” he said.

High school, Paredes said, needs to prepare students to be successful in that setting.

At a Senate hearing Monday, Williams said he would recommend the number of required end-of-course exams to be reduced to eight — three more than under the HB 5 plan in either geometry or algebra II, world history or geography, and chemistry or physics. In remarks delivered around the state, he also said he does not support moving away from the 4X4 curriculum.

See Burka for more on that. I don’t agree much with the Texas Association of Business, which has been among the most stalwart supporters of the STAAR tests, to the point of hostage taking, but this is a valid concern, and it tracks with what I’ve been hearing from people who actually work in schools. Raise Your Hand Texas on the other hand seems pleased with HB5. I’m not sure what to make of all this just yet.

Rep. Harold Dutton knows what he makes of it.

No Child Left Behind, and its precursor Texas system, was created to make sure that, well, no child was left behind. But to Dutton’s way of thinking, no version of accountability, past to present, has touched the lives of African-American males in the Texas school system. So Dutton, being Dutton, proposed our accountability system be based solely on the progress of African-American males.

Aw, ever the jokester, that Dutton. On the floor, near the tail end of yesterday’s debate, Dutton talked about the dominance of African-American males in the state jails, county jails and the probation system.

“What’s the one thing they have in common, other than their race? You know what that one thing in common is?” Dutton asked from the front microphone of the House. “The TEAMS test didn’t help them. The TAAS test didn’t help them. The TAKS test didn’t help them. The end-of-course exams didn’t help them, and the reality is that House Bill 5 is not going to help them, either, unless we do something about it.”

And Dutton’s idea of doing something about it would be to judge school districts by how they teach the children on the bottom rung of academic progress. Needless to say, he didn’t get a lot of support in the House.

Not a lot of big-money lobbyists for that, I’m afraid.

The Observer tracked the amendments that were proposed for HB5.

The amended bill includes new requirements that STAAR tests be given later in the year—no sooner than the third week of May—and that copies of the test be released annually instead of every three years. (Strama introduced both of those.)

Amendments approved back-to-back by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont) and Rep. Chris Turner (D-Arlington) would bar anyone working for a test contractor like Pearson from making political contributions or serving on advisory committees for the state. The amendments appear targeted at Pearson lobbyist Sandy Kress, who serves on a Texas Education Agency committee on accountability.

Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio) tacked on an amendment limiting the benchmark tests school districts can give to two benchmarks per STAAR test. The House also approved his amendment that requiring a review of the bill’s effects on graduation rates and college readiness.

Villarreal said he supports HB 5 because he’s seen how vocational opportunities help students in his district. He said some students who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in school get to see how classroom concepts apply to the real world, and find high-paying jobs after graduation.

Rep. Diane Patrick (R-Arlington) voted for the bill, but tried in vain to add protections for rural students in small schools, who she worried wouldn’t have enough course options to finish one of the “endorsements” required for a distinguished diploma.

“My concern is that we have created a plan that is not available, not attainable to all students,” Patrick said. Some representatives suggested distance learning would solve that problem.

Strama sparked the day’s toughest debate around noon, with a proposal to make the college-ready “distinguished” path the default for students, reflecting concerns from higher ed leaders and some Latino and African-American members that HB 5 would leave too many minority students unprepared for college. Strama’s amendment failed, and he eventually voted against the bill.

After the vote, Strama told the Observer that while there are many issues with standardized testing in Texas, the problems are with the execution of the tests and not with the number of end-of course exams.

“I’m afraid that in the upper level coursework we’re going to have wildly varying degrees of rigor and achievement across the state,” he said. “It is more important than ever that we measure kids with one yardstick.”

As the state’s low-income population continues to grow, Strama said it’s more important that students in poor schools are held to the same tough standards as all students.

“If we can’t get those kids to pass these tests, we’re going to pay a high price, and saying they don’t have to pass the test isn’t going to solve the problem,” Strama said.

Here’s a press release from Rep. Villarreal on his amendments. Like I said, I’m still thinking about all this. To say the least, it’s a big and complicated subject, and I don’t claim any particular expertise. I am certain that there will be differences with the Senate bill, and there will be much horse-trading in conference committee. Reducing the number of exams, and aligning them with college admissions makes sense to me. Providing viable alternate paths to high school graduation that prepare kids for a professional career and aren’t viewed as lesser achievements is a good idea, too. I feel confident that whatever we do this session, we’ll be revisiting it next session, and likely again after that.

Knife rights

With all the talk about guns this year, it should be noted that they are not the only weapons under consideration in the Legislature.

HB936 by Rep. Harold Dutton would decriminalize the possession, manufacture, transfer, repair, or sale of switchblade knives in Texas by amending Sections 46.05 (a)(d)(e) of the Penal Code. At the same time, it would reaffirm that switchblade knives could not be brought into the very same areas defined as “no go” areas for CHL holders with weapons.

HB1299 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland is a pre-emption law; it would forbid cities, towns, and Counties from writing anti-knife laws more restrictive than State of Texas knife laws. Again, this normalizes knife laws, and makes them more like gun laws in Texas. For example, Travis County does not get to ban AR-15s, though I’m sure some of the denizens there would like to.

Molly Ivins used to say “I’m not anti-gun, I’m pro-knife”. I wonder what she’d have to say about all this. As for me, I favor HB936. I’ve never quite understood why switchblades are treated differently than other kinds of knives. It makes sense to me to make the code more uniform, and to decriminalize that which didn’t need to be criminalized in the first place. As for HB1299, I don’t feel particularly strongly about it one way or another. I do find it interesting that a politician who would fiercely resist the federal government telling a state what it can and can’t do, as Rep. Stickland is, would have no trouble using the power of the state to tell cities what they can and cannot do. I don’t quite get the theory behind that, but then I’m not one of those people that thinks the federal government is per se a bad thing. Your mileage may vary. In any event, you might want to keep an eye on these bills. See here for more.

African-American State Reps state their map objections

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Black-lawmakers-blast-revised-Texas-voting-maps-2346838.php

Contending that African Americans have been an afterthought during the contentious yearlong redistricting process, four Houston lawmakers on Monday voiced their objections to the interim House map a three-judge panel drew recently.

“A lot of emphasis over the past year, even up to now, has been focused on redistricting’s impact on Republicans and Democrats and Hispanics with their increasing population,” said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, “but what we have concluded is that there’s not enough talk and conversation and debate with respect to the impact that redistricting will have on African Americans.”

At a news conference at the Julia C. Hester House in Fifth Ward, Turner noted that he and his fellow lawmakers – Reps. Borris Miles, Harold Dutton, Alma Allen and Senfronia Thompson – had no objections to maps drawn for the state Senate and for Congress.

They objected to the House map, he said, after an analysis of the numbers led them to believe that predominantly African-American districts in Harris and Dallas counties were being diluted and historic communities of interest were being divided.

These legislators raised these objections previously, during the feedback period. As noted then, if you read their brief, most of the changes they want involve precinct swaps between predominantly African-American districts; note Rep. Dutton’s complaint about Fifth Ward residents being placed into a Third Ward district. My point being, accommodating their changes would not affect the partisan makeup of the court’s map.

Greg delves more deeply into the concerns that these legislators raised.

Now that the politicians have been removed from the process, the districts aren’t quite to their liking. Here’s one instance, with what is apparently now MY State Rep district:

Rep. Borris Miles, who represents House District 146, said that he will lose 60 percent of his African-American district. “They split Sunnyside right in half,” he said. “It’s obvious to me that the three court judges did not know what they were doing when they came in and drew these new lines.”

As luck would have it, Borris gave his nickel version of this complaint at the same Meyerland Dems meeting where I was invited to speak at. He talked briefly about the numbers in the new district, as proposed by the San Antonio court: 41.6% Hispanic and 41.5% Afr-Am. He pointed to Gulfton in the district and said while he knew he could win the district because Gulfton had a lot of “non-voters”, he said his concern was for the person who came after him … or after the “sleeping giant” of Hispanic voters finally woke up.

I like Borris. I’m proud to have been a part of the team that got him elected in 2006. I’m looking forward to giving him all sorts of grief as my State Rep starting in January 2013. But he’s flat out wrong on this. The reason should be obvious if you’ve read more than a handful of posts here during the past year. It’s not that Gulfton has a lot of “non-voters” who might “wake up” and finally start voting. It’s that Gulfton has a lot of non-citizens. Who can’t vote. Period. In fact, by the time, you get to viewing the district’s Citizen Voting Age composition, it turns out that HD146 is 55% African-American. That’s better than HD131 and HD147, both of which are over 50% as well.

Another part of the complaint with the drawing on the south side is that Sunnyside is carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. What’s odd about this being a complaint from Borris is that he’s not won Sunnyside once in the three times he’s been on the ballot. Shedding a bit of Sunnyside might not be the worst thing in the world for him. There’s also the fact that the other two Afr-Am State Reps in the area reside in adjoining precincts to HD146 – Coleman to the north, Allen to the south. So if the concern is keeping Sunnyside whole, someone would likely have to be drawn out of their district. I’m fairly certain that there are no volunteers for this.

Point being, redistricting is hard, and it’s more multidimensional than just R versus D, which is why I say it’s way too early to take Steve Munisteri’s saber rattling with more than a grain of salt. I hope these complaints can be addressed for these legislators, but we’ll never get to a point where everyone, or even everyone in one party, feels like all of their concerns have been met.

More redistricting lawsuits filed

And to think, we don’t even have a Congressional plan yet.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday by some Texas House members blasts the use of “inaccurate” 2010 Census data in the remapping of state political jurisdictions.

The lawsuit by the Mexican American Legislative Caucus against Gov. Rick Perry and top lawmakers alleges that the census vastly undercounted Hispanics, especially in the border region. As a result, Latinos will be shortchanged in their representation at the Legislature and the State Board of Education, the lawsuit claims.

Additionally, the lawsuit calls for an end to at-large statewide election of the three Texas Railroad Commission members, replacing that system with voting by single-member places. The lawsuit says that since 1891, only three Hispanics have served as railroad commissioners — none in the past 20 years — but that “a fairly drawn single-member district can result in one district with a majority Latino citizen voting-age population.”

Alleging violations of the federal Voting Rights Act, the lawsuit says census tallies from Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb, El Paso, Dallas and Harris counties severely underestimated the Hispanic populations there. Bexar County wasn’t mentioned.

That “none in the past 20 years” statement about Hispanics serving as Railroad Commissioner is clearly wrong – just ask Victor Carrillo – but the overall point is well taken. Along these lines, there was briefly a plan on the TLC District Viewer page for that 3-district RRC plan. It was Plan E 124, submitted by Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, and while it is no longer visible on that page, I received a copy of it from the TLC, which I have posted as a Google doc here. I daresay District 1, which includes El Paso, most of South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, Bexar, and the Democratic parts of Harris (the only subdivided county in the map), could elect a Dem, while the other two would be solidly red. Perhaps this map will be little more than a historical curiosity, but there you have it. NewsTaco has more.

Elsewhere on the redistricting litigation front, State Rep. Harold Dutton says that prisoners should be counted where they came from, not where they’re incarcerated.

Dutton says the state should count prisoners at their last address, not where they are serving their time. He said if the courts agree, Harris County could get 25 seats in the Texas House. Under a House redistricting proposal, the county would only get 24 seats.

Dutton said some rural counties are awarded more population than they deserve using current prisoner population counting methods. Urban counties, meanwhile, should be able to report higher population counts, he said. Dutton said the way the state counts prisoners violates rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

I’ve noted this before. I suppose the only surprise is that it took this long for a lawsuit to be filed. The AusChron has more.

House passes its budget

The Trib has a good writeup of how it went down on Sunday. Mot of the heavy lifting was done before then, in the bills that closed the books on the previous biennium and allocated Rainy Day funds for them and in Friday night’s session, when the articles that deal with public education and health and human services were debated. So far, Democrats have done what they’ve needed to do politically. They’ve offered amendments that show their contrasting priorities and try to mitigate the damage being done, nearly all of which have gone down on a straight party line vote and a few of which generated some whining from Republicans who knew they were being forced to take bad votes. They voted unanimously against HB1 (two Republicans joined them) and made numerous statements about how bad it is, several of which I’ve reproduced beneath the fold. That needs to continue, in a steady drumbeat, all the way through next November, and it needs to directly refute this:

“It lives within the available revenue that we have to work with,” [House Appropriations Chair Jim] Pitts said. “…This budget is the result of the worst recession that anyone in this room has ever experienced.”

No. It was the result of deliberate policy choices made by the Republicans, who for the most part still haven’t acknowledged, much less taken steps to fix, the structural deficit caused by the 2006 property tax cut. We will be in the same position two years from now regardless of how good the economy is because of that. We will also see hundreds of thousands of jobs lost due to the choices the Republicans have made. And there was a lot more revenue available that the Republicans refused to take, from another $6 billion in the Rainy Day Fund to many billions more in outdated and inefficient tax expenditures, plus whatever non-tax revenue the Senate manages to scrape up. Speaking of which, Rep. Harold Dutton gets credit for best line of the night when he said “Thank God for the Senate” as things wrapped up. That will put the lie to Pitts’ assertion about available revenue, and it will make everyone feel a little better, but it will still fall far short of what we need to do. The budget is a failure in every way. Here’s the LSG analysis of the budget again to remind you just what it will do. PDiddie, Martha, Bob Moser, and Abby Rapoport have more. Read on for the Democratic statements.

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The “Dan Patrick thinks you’re too stupid to know what you’re voting for” bill

Ugh.

A bill that would remove churches and schools from the drainage fee Houston voters narrowly approved last November as part of Proposition 1 is scheduled for a public hearing Wednesday before the Senate Intergovernmental Relations Committee.

Dubbed Rebuild Houston, the measure amends the city charter to provide for the improvement and renewal of Houston’s drainage and streets by creating a dedicated $125 million-a-year pay-as-you-go fund.

“The language on the ballot was confusing, even to the most informed voter,” Patrick said. “What was not clear to the voters was that the new fee would be placed on churches and school districts, as well as businesses and homes.”

That’s Sen. Dan Patrick, who thinks the federal government should stay out of the state’s business and who isn’t a city of Houston voter, getting the state of Texas involved in the city’s business. Prop 1 opponents were talking about churches having to pay the fee well before the election, and I know there was organized opposition from some of the megachurches in town, so if people didn’t know about this, whose fault is it? Even though he’s not mentioned in this story, you can be sure that Paul Bettencourt, who is costing the city a bunch of money with his frivolous anti-Prop 1 and anti-water rate hike lawsuits, is behind this.

[Mayor Annise] Parker has noted in the past that eight of the state’s 10 largest cities have drainage fees, and that none of the eight exempt churches. For cities with a fee, only Austin and Lubbock exempt schools, while El Paso has a 10 percent discount for schools.

Patrick said he also objected to the drainage fee, because it puts the city in the position of taxing another government entity – school districts. “School districts can little afford to pay a tax to the city and should not even be asked,” he said.

The level of hypocrisy for Dan Patrick to object to this, given his willingness to cut nearly $10 billion from public education funding and his unwillingness to address the structural deficit that has hamstrung school districts since 2006, is beyond my ability to calculate.

Under Senate Bill 714, the city also would be restricted from transferring the reduction in drainage fees from churches and schools to homeowners and businesses. State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, is sponsoring a companion bill.

Why don’t you just revoke our charter while you’re at it, too? Shame on you, Rep. Dutton, for abetting Patrick’s screw-you to the voters.

Sonogram bill passes the House

It was inevitable.

Flexing their super-majority muscle in the Texas House, Republican lawmakers swatted away a swarm of amendments offered by the Democratic minority on Thursday and gave preliminary approval to a House version of a bill requiring doctors to perform a sonogram on women requesting an abortion. Declared an emergency by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, the measure passed by a vote of 103 to 42.

House Bill 15, sponsored by state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, requires a doctor performing an abortion to conduct the sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure was to take place. The doctor also is required to show the woman the sonogram image, play the sound of the fetal heartbeat for her and describe in some detail the image that appears on the sonogram. The woman does not have to view the sonogram or hear the heartbeat, although she still would have to hear the doctor’s description.

Miller’s bill is a more stringent version of Senate Bill 16, sponsored by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, which passed two weeks ago. Patrick’s bill, approved by a vote of 21-10, requires the sonogram to be performed within two hours of the abortion. It also makes an exception for women who have been the victim of rape or incest or where the fetus has fatal abnormalities. The House version does not allow exceptions.

There were many amendments proposed by Democrats along the way, ostensibly to weaken or kill the bill, but given the political reality mostly to point out just how absurd this thing is. For example:

State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, offered an amendment that would, in the event that a woman decided to carry her child to term after undergoing a sonogram as required by the bill, require the state to pay for that child’s college tuition. When that didn’t work, Dutton proposed that the state pay for the child’s health care until age 18. That failed, too. He followed up with a similar amendment that only went up to age 6, but with no more success.

Dutton told the members that such amendments signaled that the state feels less responsibility to children after they are born. “We want to see all these children around, but the state of Texas ends its obligation to that child when it’s born,” he said. “We want it born, but we don’t want to do our duty.”

The jokes about how Republicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth get less funny every day, don’t they? Here’s another:

As the debate on sonograms for women seeking abortions hit the four and a half hour mark, Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, offered an amendment that shook up the House and changed some alliances.

For all the hours before, Republicans stuck together and kept the votes along partisan lines. But Marquez offered something that had most of the women — Republicans and Democrats — clapping.

Her amendment said that if a pregnant woman has a sonogram before an abortion and decides to keep the baby, then she can take out a court order to mandate the baby’s father undergo a vasectomy — if he has caused two other pregnancies outside of marriage.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” Marquez said.

“I’ll have to draw the line and say no more cuts,” sonogram bill sponsor Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville, quipped.

Sure, because this is all about the women, who shouldn’t have gotten themselves pregnant in the first place, am I right?

The good news, if you can call it that, is that the House version of this bill won’t pass the Senate as is.

Patrick acknowledged that the discrepancies between the two bills could be a problem. State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, whose district reaches into the far reaches of West Texas, agreed with Patrick. He sponsored a successful amendment to Patrick’s Senate bill to reduce the amount of time between the sonogram and the abortion procedure.

“The 24-hour waiting period in the House bill would be a tremendous imposition on women in my district because of its vast size and the limited availability of medical facilities,” Uresti said. “If the bill returns to the Senate in its current form, I intend to stand firm on the Senate amendments that limited the waiting period to two hours, struck the provision requiring a woman to provide documentation about being raped and restored the ability of doctors to communicate with their patients by telephone.”

Try not to dislocate your shoulder while you pat yourself on the back, Sen. Uresti. The fact that the Senate bill is a tiny bit less ugly than the House bill doesn’t change the fundamental nature of its ugliness, or the fact that you could have done a whole lot more to prevent this assault on women’s rights.

There’s not much else to say about this right now, but there will be plenty more to say next year, that’s for sure. Stace, nonsequiteuse, and BOR have more.

House adopts rules

Once again, not much drama in the lower chamber.

After an all-day debate, the House approved its rules for the 2009 legislative session in a relaxed atmosphere overseen by new Speaker Joe Straus.

The most intense squabble came when the chamber overrode the wishes of the speaker’s point man on rules, Rep. Burt Solomons, over the assignment of bills relating to the telecommunications and electric industries.

Solomons, with Straus’ approval, had first suggested eliminating the Regulated Industries Committee and spreading those issues over several committees.

However, the chamber ultimately moved the telecommunications and electrical industries into the State Affairs Committee in an 82-65 vote.

You can read the details on that debate here. The main event was over the procedure to remove the Speaker, which was the fulcrum that ultimately led to the successful overthrow of Tom Craddick before this session began.

[I]n response to attempts in 2007 to remove Craddick as speaker, the House passed a rule saying a majority — 76 members — can remove a speaker.

Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, urged members to raise that number to 90, saying removing the speaker is an emotional vote that could jeopardize legislation. (Craddick himself supported that higher bar Wednesday.)

But Rep. Jim Keffer, an Eastland Republican and one of the leaders in the revolt against Craddick, disagreed.

“It’s a problem to build a firewall around a speaker who’s not doing his job,” he said.

In the end, the House voted 87-60 to allow a majority to remove a speaker.

Rep. Larry Taylor of Friendswood made a similar objection, also to no avail.

There was a move by the Democrats to pass a rule saying the House would not vote on any bill that cleared the Senate without a two-thirds procedural vote until the appropriations conference committee report is done. You know what that was in response to. The votes for it were not there, and it didn’t make it to the floor. In the end, the rules were adopted by a 147-1 vote, with Speaker Straus casting a Yes and Houston Rep. Harold Dutton being the only No. There will be 34 committees instead of 40, with some committees having more members on them. Committee assignments are still a week or more away, though the Senate should get theirs today.